Today’s review is brought to you courtesy of Midas PR and Audible UK: The Far Wild by Alex Knight. This is an Audible Exclusive – so only available as an audiobook. I love this concept of writing straight for audio, especially in this year of insanity, I think I and many others have been relying on a variety of mediums to get our reading fix in.
Thank you to Amber Choudhary and Audible for the advance audio of The Far Wild, as usual all opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 03/12/20
SUMMARY: An expedition gone awry.
Suni Koudounas is enamoured with the wonders — and dangers — of the Far Wild. As a naturalist’s apprentice, she’s studied every book and expedition report about the miraculous wilderness. But when her mentor goes missing on expedition, Suni sets aside the Far Wild of ink and paper to venture after him into the primordial jungle.
A missing skyship.
As the empire’s most beloved adventurer — or most successful raconteur — Senesio Suleiman Nicolaou doesn’t want much. Wealth beyond measure, fame beyond reason and a small kingdom somewhere warm should be about enough. When news of the rescue mission reaches him, Senesio knows there’s no better opportunity to add to his living legend.
The most dangerous wilderness known to man.
With unexpected enemies above and monstrous predators in the jungles below, it’s up to Suni, Senesio and their companions to uncover the truth of what’s happening in the Far Wild. It’s a revelation that will shake the empire to its core and reshape the lives of all involved — assuming, of course, they don’t all get eaten first. (from Audible)
OPINIONS: As this is audiobook original, it was written especially for audio and performed as such. At times, the narration is almost reminiscent of an audio play rather than just a book read aloud. It has a full cast of narrators, being read by Stephanie Lane, Carlyss Peer and Peter Kenny for the different perspectives. Sadly I found Peter Kenny’s voice grating, and the narration in general to be too dramatic, which lead to me tuning out at times. I am quite particular when it comes to narrators, and found that this style and especially the male voice did not work for me. If you are intrigued by the synopsis, do make sure to listen to a sample first to ensure that it does work for you!
In terms of the content of The Far Wild, I loved the world. Reminiscent of a fantasy version of Jurassic Park, the Far Wild is a remote and dangerous region, with huge beasts threatening anyone who dares explore there. (Just look at the amazing illustration the publisher sent me to accompany my review!) That, combined with the university framing of the story made me enjoy the world-building a lot even if I struggled with the narration. Led by two main characters, Suni, an apprentice naturalist, and Senesio, an explorer who is very assured of his own worth, The Far Wild tells a compelling story of betrayal, discovery and personal growth. The story is fast paced and interesting, though I didn’t connect to the characters as much as I would have liked. Senesio, as an arrogant male, was rather annoying to me, reminding me of issues in the current world, leading my thoughts to wander. However, he did provide a great counterpoint to the naive and enthusiastic Suni.
If you are looking for a thrilling adventure I do recommend you check out a sample of The Far Wild. While the narration might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the story is fun and entertaining. Add it to Goodreads here, and order the audio from Audible here.
You had the big yearly overview, now it’s time to talk about a few books that I’m specifically excited for in January! 2021 is going to be an excellent year for book releases – almost everything I’ve read coming out next year has been amazing and I can’t wait to dive into more. These three books are all very high up on my TBR.
Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long is an epic Viking fantasy out from Titan Books on the 19th of January. Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. When her village is raided and the remaining Eangi slaughtered, she has to go on a quest to seek vengeance and regain her goddess’ favour. On the way, she realises that the gods might not be all that they’re cracked up to be and there are bigger powers at work. It sounds fantastic! Pre-order a copy via Bookshop here. (affiliate link)
The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick is out on the 21st of February. It is an exciting fantasy featuring a con artist and a dazzling world of dreams and intrigue. Corrupt underworld and masquerades, I’m very tempted. Trickery and aristocrats just help the matter… And just look at the cover for The Mask of Mirrors. How can you not want this? Order a copy from Bookshop here. (affiliate link)
And to round off this list, a middle grade. The City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda is the newest book in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. Out on the 5th, it features Mesopotamian mythology – featuring characters from the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of humanities oldest surviving texts. Thirteen-year-old Sik wants a simple life going to school and helping at his parents’ deli in the evenings. But all that is blown to smithereens when Nergal comes looking for him, thinking that Sik holds the secret to eternal life.Turns out Sik is immortal but doesn’t know it, and that’s about to get him and the entire city into deep, deep trouble… Order a copy from Book Depository here.
I don’t read a lot of thrillers these days. But I adored the witchy short story collection Tess Sharpe co-edited a couple years ago, Toil & Trouble, so I was very intrigued to check out longer work by her. The Girls I’ve Been is something of a genre-defying book, featuring a thriller-like main plot, combined with a backstory mystery and queer romance. And, spoiler alert, it’s just as wonderful as I hoped for!
It’ll also be turned into a Netflix film starring Millie Bobby Brown soon, so the excitement is high for The Girls I’ve Been – I’m very glad that it holds up to the scrutiny!
Many thanks to Becci Mansell and Hachette Children’s Books for sending me an ARC. All opinions are entirely my own.
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 04/02/21
SUMMARY: Meet Nora. Also known as Rebecca, Samantha, Haley, Katie and Ashley – the girls she’s been.
Nora didn’t choose a life of deception – she was born into it. As the daughter of a con artist who targeted criminal men, Nora always had to play a part. But when her mother fell for one of the men instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con herself: escape.
For five years Nora’s been playing at normal – but things are far from it when she finds herself held at gunpoint in the middle of a bank heist, along with Wes (her ex-boyfriend) and Iris (her secret new girlfriend and mutual friend of Wes… awkward). Now it will take all of Nora’s con artistry skills to get them out alive.
Because the gunmen have no idea who she really is – that girl has been in hiding for far too long… (from Hachette Children’s)
OPINIONS: Damn is this book good. The only reason I didn’t finish it in a single sitting is because I’m getting old and I need sleep these days. Narrated by Nora, a whip-smart, wise-cracking girl, The Girls I’ve Been is thrilling and addictive. The reader soon gets pulled into the stories dominating the novel, both the present-day thriller plot and Nora’s mysterious past. But where The Girls I’ve Been truly stands out from other YA thrillers is through showing the emotional impact of the plot.
Despite the close first-person narration from Nora’s perspective, the reader gets a lot of insight into all of the main characters. Wes, Nora’s ex and current best friend and Iris, the girl she is dating, are strongly impacted by Nora’s previous lives and the way she handles her past and Tess Sharpe manages to convey the emotional rollercoaster these relationships undergo over the course of the story masterfully. All of them are such distinctive characters too, it was wonderful to become part of their group for the duration of The Girls I’ve Been.
There is not a single thing I would criticise about this book right now – maybe I’m being too generous, but The Girls I’ve Been has hit a sweet spot I didn’t realise needed scratching. Stellar writing, great pacing and strong upkeep of tension throughout the book coupled with fantastic characters. Not much more I could want.
There are some books that are simply beautiful. And Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley is one of those. Once I started reading, I could not put it down, I was so immersed in its world and I pretty much read the whole thing in a single sitting and yelled at all my friends that they needed to read the book IMMEDIATELY. This book is magical and I love it a lot.
Massive thanks to Hanna Waigh and Rebellion Publishing for sending me an ARC, all opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 16/03/21
SUMMARY: Skyward Inn, within the high walls of the Western Protectorate, is a place of safety, where people come together to tell stories of the time before the war with Qita.
But safety from what? Qita surrendered without complaint when Earth invaded; Innkeepers Jem and Isley, veterans from either side, have regrets but few scars.
Their peace is disturbed when a visitor known to Isley comes to the Inn asking for help, bringing reminders of an unnerving past and triggering an uncertain future.
Did humanity really win the war? (from Solaris)
OPINIONS: I have rarely read a book that is written as beautifully and engrossing as Skyward Inn. It is weird in a good way – although I’m not sure I fully understood everything that went on, and will have to reread it soon. This is the sci-fi-coffee-shop-AU book of my dreams. It is a slice of life found-family narrative that depicts life after war. Skyward Inn is not a grand narrative, it’s a cosy character-driven book. It’s tagline is “This is a place where we can be alone, together.” And really, I couldn’t imagine a book that would resonate more with me right now.
The characters are odd and cranky, in strange relationships with each other and most of all wonderful and nuanced. They think, they interact, and they live their lives. A book this magical doesn’t need big mysteries, or a fast-paced narrative. It is slow but immersive, drawing the reader into its world, and the tensions between humanity and Qita, the relationships between Jem and Isley and Jem and her son Fosse. Part of me wishes that Skyward Inn were longer so I could have spent more time in its world, but another part knows that it was just right the way it is.
If you like philosophising about what happens after an explosive narrative ends, and imagining cosy coffee-shop AU’s, Skyward Inn is the book for you. Add it on Goodreads here, and pre-order it from Bookshop here. (affiliate link)
Mike Shackle is a damn great writer. I am very glad that I kept procrastinating on reading We Are the Dead so I was able to read A Fool’s Hope just a few days later and did not have to suffer for very long in between! While being a lovely person, he likes to torture his characters (and his readers), so be forewarned if you are considering diving into his excellent series – it’s addictive and soul-destroying.
Massive thanks to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for inviting me on the blog tour and sending me a review copy of A Fool’s Hope. As usual, all opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 03/12/20
SUMMARY: War takes everything.
From Tinnstra, it took her family and thrust her into a conflict she wanted only to avoid. Now her queen’s sole protector, she must give all she has left to keep Zorique safe.
It has taken just as much from Jia’s revolutionaries. Dren and Jax – battered, tortured, once enemies themselves – must hold strong against their bruised invaders, the Egril.
For the Egril intend to wipe Jia from the map. They may have lost a battle, but they are coming back.
If Tinnstra and her allies hope to survive, Jia’s heroes will need to be ready when they do. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: A Fool’s Hope starts off right where book one leaves off, minutes after the devastating end of We Are the Dead. It features many of the same excellent characters and stellar writing, and no less pain for its protagonists. I love those disaster kids with my whole heart and they suffer so badly – Mike, please be kind to them for a little bit! Tinnstra is one of my favourite characters in fantasy – she is a coward who ends up rising to the challenges placed before her and Zorique needs to be protected at all costs.
The one gripe I had with A Fool’s Hope is that I struggled with the passage of time. We Are the Dead took place over the span of a very short period of time, and as the second book started immediately after, it took me a while to realise that there were sometimes large gaps of time between chapters. A Fool’s Hope plays out over years, and I needed to get used to the new timescale. I wish there was more obvious guiding in that respect, although I read it as an e-copy and the paper version might be more helpful (or maybe I just overread signifiers, I sometimes do that).
The Last War series is very well written, fast paced and contains tight character work. Mike Shackle has written a series on the edge between true Grimdark and Epic Fantasy that is a true model of how the genre should be done. I need more of his writing, and I can’t wait to read the next book he publishes. Add A Fool’s Hope to your Goodreads here, and order it from Bookshop here. (affiliate link)
The Library of the Dead, one of 2021’s new YA urban fantasy obsessions. Set in a near-future Edinburgh and inspired by Zimbabwean magic, it is slightly reminiscent of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series (who also provided a cover blurb) in its very broad strokes. It features mystery, an occult library and magic, all ingredients for a good story!
Many thanks to Jamie-Lee Nardone, Stephen Haskins and UK Tor for the ARC. All opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 04/02/21
SUMMARY: Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and she now speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honour bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.
She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan . . .) as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets. And in the process, she discovers an occult library and some unexpected allies. Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted? (from UK Tor)
OPINIONS: Now, the most important thing to note about The Library of the Dead is that it’s more on the YA side of things than the blurb lets on. Ropa is fourteen, something that I had to keep reminding myself throughout the course of the story, as her character felt older to me – if I hadn’t had the age on the page I would have placed her in her late teens to early twenties. But she is a wonderful main character. Jaded, fearless and immortal as only teenagers are. She is also smart, pragmatic and creative. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story from her perspective.
The Library of the Dead is full of interesting characters – aside from Ropa, I loved Priya, a wheel-chair bound young woman whom she meets in the eponymous library, Rob, the leader of a band of criminals, or Wilson, henchman supreme. There are layers to all of them, and the brand of urban fantasy found in The Library of the Dead is a far cry from the bland fare often associated with the genre. This series is a breath of fresh air combining Zimbabwean magic (a culture which I don’t think I’ve seen represented before) with a Scottish setting and a wonderful library.
I am looking forward to reading more of this series, and finding out how Ropa’s story continues after the mystery of The Library of the Dead is solved. My favourite part of this volume was the setting, so I am intrigued to find out more about the library and the knowledge contained therein, although Ropa, her grandmother, and their brand of ghost talking are just as interesting for future stories.
When I’m asked about my favourite historical figures, Eleanor of Aquitaine figures very high on the list. So I was very hyped for The Revolt, written by Clara Dupont-Monod and translated from the French by Ruth Diver. Somehow I managed to read half of it this summer and then forget about it, only to pick it up again yesterday and devour the second half in a single sitting. Eleanor just has that kind of effect.
Massive thanks to Quercus and Netgalley for the eARC, all opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 06/08/20
SUMMARY: Richard Lionheart tells the story of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1173, she and three of her sons instigate a rebellion to overthrow the English king, her husband Henry Plantagenet. What prompts this revolt? How does a great queen persuade her children to rise up against their father? And how does a son cope with this crushing conflict of loyalties? (from Quercus)
OPINIONS: This short novel – just over two hundred pages – is told partially through the lens of Richard Lionheart and partially by Eleanor herself. The Eleanor presented here is sharp, witty, and hungry for power. Spanning the years from the revolt in the early 1170s to her death, The Revolt is very well-researched and captures the atmosphere of the era. Clara Dupont-Monod manages to present the family struggles within the Angevin dynasty both as a product of their time and as thoroughly modern characters that speak to us today.
It is a historical novel in that it puts a compelling narrative above strict adherence to the source material, but crucially manages to evoke the essence of the period. It is a lyrical novel, rather than a thrilling one, but nevertheless one that enthralls the reader. The Revolt is not only beautifully written by Clara Dupont-Monod, but also masterfully translated from the French original by Ruth Diver – work that needs to be acknowledged as it is only through her intermediary that this edition manages to capture the reader.
Today I’m thrilled to be part of the Caffeine Tours book tour for King of the Rising by Kacen Callender (yes, I am shamefully late because I am a mess of a person who is incapable of noting dates down correctly). This is the sequel to World Fantasy Award winner Queen of the Conquered, and picks up right where the first book left off. As such, this review will contain mild spoilers for the first book.
For the full schedule and a US giveaway, check out the launch post on Caffeine Tour’s website. I received an eARC from the publisher and Caffeine Tours as part of my participation in this tour, but as usual all opinions are my own.
- Rape/sexual assault
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 01/12/20
SUMMARY: A revolution has swept through the islands of Hans Lollik and former slave Loren Jannik has been chosen to lead the survivors in a bid to free the islands forever. But the rebels are running out of food, weapons and options. And as the Fjern inch closer to reclaiming Hans Lollik with every battle, Loren is faced with a choice that could shift the course of the revolution in their favor-or doom it to failure. (from Orbit)
OPINIONS: While Queen of the Conquered was Sigourney’s story, King of the Rising is all Loren’s. There is a total shift in voice and perspective between the two, not fully making it books able to stand on their own, but making them distinct stories. And while Sigourney is still present for large parts of the book, she is not the one telling the story, which I think makes the book all the much stronger for it. I find her an incredibly interesting character, but I noticed that I prefer her particular brand of protagonist to be relegated to a side character as she starts grating on me over time. She is incredibly self-righteous and lacks a moral struggle aspect that is very present with Loren, and I think that is a large part of why I preferred having him at the centre of the narrative. I liked Queen of the Conquered, but I felt like I enjoyed King of the Rising more.
The tension is constantly kept high and there are no boring passages in the book. There is always something interesting happening, some kind of intrigue, some mystery among the islanders or the Fjern. These books are so well-written and unique, and I feel like they truly do the morally grey protagonist trope justice. I am constantly in awe of how good of an author Kacen Callender is – and I was very close to giving King of the Rising a rare five-star rating. Ultimately, I personally disliked the ending, but I also found it satisfying in some ways, and I’m not sure how it could have gone in different ways.
This duology – the ending of King of the Rising seems final and as far as I’m aware no further books have been announced – is not an easy read, as it deals with a lot of heavy subjects such as slavery, abuse and violence, but ultimately, despite addressing many bleak topics is a gripping and thought-inducing book, rather than one that makes readers shy away. However, do have a look at the content warnings above to see whether this is a book that is suitable for you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kacen Callender was born two days after a hurricane and was first brought home to a house without its roof. After spending their first eighteen years on St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, Kacen studied Japanese, Fine Arts, and Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received their MFA from the New School. Kacen is the author of the middle grade novel Hurricane Child and the young adult novel This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story.
Only referred to as the “Bone Book”, I don’t think there has been any other book that has received the same amount of buzz in my circles as The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart has. Due to some delivery delays it has become a running gag and is constantly talked about, ensuring that I’m convinced that there can’t be anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Bone Book yet… Or maybe I’m biased.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Orbit for the eARC, all opinions are my own.
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 10/09/20
SUMMARY: The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.
Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people. (from Orbit)
OPINIONS: The Bone Shard Daughter is a solid, rounded up four star read. I loved Jovi’s PoV chapters, and especially his animal companion Mephi, who is the best creature ever, and the more the book went on, the more I enjoyed Lin’s chapters – the Emperor’s daughter. She starts out as a rather bland character, but as the story unfolds, mysteries come to light and her background becomes much more complex than is first hinted at. I was much less invested in the other characters, and I think I’ll have to reread the book to focus on their stories more.
The magic system is well-rounded and interesting, if not completely new. I thought that it was a good blend of taking concepts that are known and used elsewhere and making them into something that can stand on its own two legs. Bone shard magic is pretty cool after all. But while I kept seeing the book being praised for its established lesbian couple, for me it was really Mephi’s book. I was constantly looking forward to his moments and revelled every time he got to shine. His were my favourite bits. It seems that I’m that basic bitch who gets suckered in by a cute animal.
The Burning God is the last in the Epic Fantasy trilogy starting with The Poppy War. Set is what is presumed to be an alternate China and incorporating many aspects of real history, this series is often gruesome and hard to read – content warnings abound, such as for sexual violence, genocide, torture and more. Still, it is one of the most compelling series out there right now and it is beloved by it’s fans. But does the conclusion live up to the expectations?
I’ve specifically not offered a star rating for this one as I feel the opinions I have don’t lend themselves to the system.
Many thanks to Harper Voyager and Edelweiss for the eARC. All opinions are my own.
PUBLICATION DATE: 17/11/20
SYNOPSIS: After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it? (from Harper Voyager)
OPINIONS: The struggle was real with The Burning God. I’m not usually one to balk at violence in books or characters with murky moral alignments, but I had to take breaks while reading this one. Much more so that the first two installments of the series, I struggled a lot with Rin’s character here. Perhaps I noticed things less in the earlier books as I read them as audiobooks, where I’m more prone to miss details, but in The Burning God, it felt as if Rin went from selfish and morally gray over to uncaringly evil. And I can deal with killing when necessary, or battles or anything like that, but a protagonist coldly murdering people just because she wants to and… enjoying it, that I struggled a lot with.
For large parts of the book I didn’t know whether I was appalled or enthralled. I kept reading a couple of chapters, putting the book down because I couldn’t take it any more but then picking it up again a few minutes later because I needed to know what happened next and how the story ended. The thing is, R.F. Kuang is an excellent writer. She knows what she’s doing and I would think that it’s intentional. I am looking forward to reading a book by her that isn’t as tough to read as The Burning God or The Poppy War series as a whole.
All in all, The Burning God did work well as a conclusion to the series, it tied up most of the loose ends left by the earlier books, but destroyed much of Nikan in the process, just as it destroyed its readers. Do read it, but be prepared. Add The Burning God on Goodreads here, and order it from Bookshop here. (affiliate link)