Today’s post is going to be something a bit different. Instead of one big review, it’s going to feature a whole bunch of mini-reviews, in the style of if you like this, you’ll love this! As we can all expect to be spending a lot more time at home (on the positive, more reading time!), I thought I’d feature a lot of lovely books to try and give you some inspiration for the days and weeks to come. This is also completely not selfishly motivated to help me reduce my NetGalley backlog at all, obviously – and unconnected to the fact that I’ve been ill and can’t focus for long enough to write proper reviews!
So without further ado, if you love…
…dragons, slow-burn enemies to lovers and wlw fantasy in the vein of Tehlor Kay Meija’s We Set the Dark on Fire, Nina Varela’s Crier’s War or Rebecca Kim Wells’ Shatter the Sky, check out The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli!
While The Sky Weaver is nominally the third in the Iskari trilogy, each of the books works just as well as a standalone. In this one, Safire, commander of armies, is vexed by Eris, a pirate and thief until they are forced to cooperate for the good of the realm. Throughout their quest to find Asha, the last Namsara, their lifes and fates become entangled and their hate evolves into something more… Beautifully written and well paced, this thrilling and action packed story will captivate you from start to finish! While the romance is not at the centre of the narrative, it is one of the most well-crafted slow-burn relationships I have ever read, and I have been on the lookout for something similarly well written ever since I read The Sky Weaver! The book also features dragons, aka the best animals ever, so there’s absolutely no reason not to order this from your indie of choice! I’ll leave a Hive link here for your convenience!
…creepy historical novels, ghosts, and eerie atmospheres in the spirit of Marian Womack’s The Golden Key, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre or Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep, give Alma Katsu’s The Deep a go.
Set in a dual narrative on the Titanic in 1912 and her sister ship, the Brittanic in 1916, The Deep follows young Annie Hebbley as she leaves home and works on both ill-fated ships. Following a series of unexplained events, and heists, join Annie in questioning her sanity. A haunting tale of obsession, The Deep takes unexpected turns and features a host of morally questionable characters that demand your attention. While this high-seas narrative does not feature any mermaids, the book as a whole is as alluring as a siren. Order yourself a copy from your indie of choice or here!
…ragtag bands of misfits, political turmoil and anti-heroes as seen in such wonderful books as R.F. Chuang’s The Poppy War, Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow, K.S. Villoso’s The Wolf of Oren-Yaro or Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, then I suggest you put Dave Wragg’s The Black Hawks on your TBR!
Chel is just your average dude. And then he accidentally breaks his oath and swears a new one to a prince. Now he has to bring said prince across the country. Except, both he and the prince are utterly clueless what they’re up against. On the way, they join forces with the eponymous Black Hawk Company, a wonderfully scrappy band of mercenary rogues, shenanigans and political mess ensuing. An entertaining debut featuring an excellent cast of characters full of flaws and personal motivations, Dave Wragg has delivered an intriguing beginning to his series. Thrilling and humorous, The Black Hawks is one to distract you from the worries of 2020. Treat yourself to a copy here.
…magical YA full of ensemble casts, dark forces looming and artificially created powers, reminiscent of great reads such as The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco or The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, check out the Diviners series by Libba Bray. Book four, The King of Crows was just published and concluded the series wonderfully (yes, I’m cheating slightly).
The King of Crows is an explosive conclusion to the last ten years of Diviners stories. Evie and her band of diviners now face a an enemy threatening the world as they know it: the King of Crows. Having lost the goodwill of the people thanks to events earlier in the series, they undergo one last mission to try and repair the rift between worlds. Featuring a diverse cast addressing many of the issues present in early twentieth-century America, the characters evolve and grow into their own in order to defeat the King of Crows. My one gripe with the book was that, as the group was split into several smaller parties, the narrative was too split up, leading to a lack of depth in the individual plots. I would have preferred a tighter book at times. But then, that is personal preference, and I still very much enjoyed my read! You can order yourself a copy of this massive brick here.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with copies of all these wonderful books in exchange for my honest opinions!
I told you there would be a few blog tours this month! This one is for The June Boys by Court Stevens, a bit of a departure from the usual fare here on Libri Draconis. Rather than fantasy or science fiction, The June Boys is a YA murder mystery, and although I read them far to rarely, I do still have a soft spot for a good crime novel. There has been a recent resurgence of great YA mysteries and thrillers, and I’m all here for it – if you’re intrigued by The June Boys, check out the Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson and Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer, and vice-versa!
Check out the tour schedule on the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s site to see all of the other amazing bloggers and bookstagrammers participating and read what they think of The June Boys. There is also a giveaway for a finished copy of the book for one lucky US participant, which you can enter by clicking on this Rafflecopter link!
As always, thank you so much for having me, FFBC, and thank you to Netgalley and Thomas Nelson for the eARC in exchange for an honest review!
RELEASE DATE: 03/03/2020
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: The Gemini Thief could be anyone. Your father, your mother, your best friend’s crazy uncle. Some country music star’s deranged sister. Anyone.
The Gemini Thief is a serial kidnapper, who takes three boys and holds them captive from June 1st to June 30th of the following year. The June Boys endure thirteen months of being stolen, hidden, observed, and fed before they are released, unharmed, by their masked captor. The Thief is a pro, having eluded authorities for nearly a decade and taken at least twelve boys.
Now Thea Delacroix has reason to believe the Gemini Thief took a thirteenth victim: her cousin, Aulus McClaghen.
But the game changes when one of the kidnapped boys turns up dead. Together with her boyfriend Nick and her best friends, Thea is determined to find the Gemini Thief and the remaining boys before it’s too late. Only she’s beginning to wonder something sinister, something repulsive, something unbelievable, and yet, not impossible:
What if her father is the Gemini Thief?
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Death, suicidal ideation
OPINIONS: Oh, YA, you wonderful genre where teenagers bumbling along using scraps are always the ones that find the culprit before the trained professionals in possession of the full evidence and data, please never change. As it is often the case with these kinds of books, The June Boys requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief to make the story work. It is interesting that for me, mysteries are much harder to just take at face value than fantasies, where I don’t have this issue at all.
However, The June Boys turned too much into a locked-house mystery once it became clear that Aulus’s disappearance was connected to the Gemini Thief. Blame was thrown around from character to character, as they were suspected and accused one after the other. Thea, as a main character, frustrated me to no end, as she had a tendency to trust or not trust others on a whim, sometimes changing her mind halfway through a conversation. At times, she would trust a complete stranger with her full life story and theories about the Gemini Thief, only to refuse to share a theory with someone who has proven trustworthy before.
What stuck with me was Aulus’s storyline. His harrowing experiences locked away were hauntingly told through letters written to a figure only named as ‘Elizabeth’. Days passing without food or water led to losing touch with reality and suicidal ideation, descending into desperation.
My main issue with the story was the feeling of ‘Deus ex machina’ that permeated the book. There were plot holes gaping open (why is the FBI spearheading the investigation in Thea’s town, when all the June Boys except Aulus, who might not even be one, have gone missing in a different state, and why is everyone in Thea’s town panicking that their sons might go missing?), incredible coincidences of timing and entirely too much trust put in God. I also had the weird feeling that I had read this book before, but I don’t know why – if you know of a similar book published a few years ago, please let me know!
Overall, I did enjoy reading The June Boys, although I had some issues with the suspension of disbelief. If you’re slightly less knit-picky about your YA mysteries, I do recommend you give it a shot and see for yourself. Just because a book doesn’t work perfectly for me, doesn’t mean it won’t for someone else. You can add The June Boys on Goodreads here, and order a copy from Book Depository here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Courtney “Court” Stevens grew up among rivers, cornfields, churches, and gossip in the small town south. She is a former adjunct professor, youth minister, Olympic torchbearer and bookseller at Parnassus Books. These days she writes coming-of-truth fiction and is the Community Outreach Manager for Warren County Public Library. She has a pet whale named Herman, a bandsaw named Rex, and several novels with her name on the spine. You can find her at the following places:
March is not only the month of many fabulous releases, it is also the month of blog tours at Libri Draconis! As of now, I’ll be taking part in FOUR blog tours organised by the wonderful people over at the Fantastic Flying Book Club this month – it’ll be another busy one here on the blog. And because I’ve always wanted to be cool enough to have secret publishing (well, reviewing) news: there is something I’m very very excited about that I’ll hopefully be able to tell you all about this or next week!
But back to business: Today’s book is The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett, which I’m reviewing as part of the FFBC’s blog tour – check out the full schedule here for the other bloggers and their no doubt great contributions as well! I absolutely loved The Winter Duke, part fairy tale, part political fantasy and part wlw romance and am very happy to give you the chance to win your very own copy by following this link here to the Rafflecopter (two copies available, open until the 18th, sadly this is US only and out of my hands).
Thank you to the Fantastic Flying Book Club for having me, and Claire Eliza Bartlett and Little Brown / the NOVL for providing me with an advance copy of The Winter Duke!
RELEASE DATE: 03/03/2020
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: An enchanted tale of intrigue where a duke’s daughter is the only survivor of a magical curse.
When Ekata’s brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family’s icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness.
In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother’s warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love…or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family’s power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.
Part Sleeping Beauty, part Anastasia, with a thrilling political mystery, The Winter Duke is a spellbinding story about choosing what’s right in the face of danger.
OPINIONS: Last year, Claire Eliza Bartlett broke out with a unique feminist fantasy about a ragtag group of women pilots fighting for their role in the war, We Rule the Night. Now she is back with an utterly different, but no less charming and special book: The Winter Duke. Weaving together strands of political intrigue, personal growth, family drama, magic and love, Claire creates an immensely readable tale that sucks the reader into its lands of Kylma Above and Kylma Below, and spits them back out wanting more.
The story is excellently written and crafted – if you would like to see for yourself, check out this sample chapter on the NOVL’s site to get a taste of the book. But its true strength lies in its characters. Ekata, a princess who wants nothing more than escaping her family and the constraints of her role, is suddenly forced to confront the challenges of rulership. Inkar, daughter of an enemy ruler, suddenly finds herself married, in a land utterly different from her own. Sigis, the obvious villain, ex-foster brother to Ekata, now desperate for power, tries to marry her despite her best efforts. The rulers and citizens of Kylma Below, whose behaviour is truly a mystery… They, and the remaining cast of The Winter Duke, are portrayed multi-dimensionally, and all come with their set of aims and motivations behind their actions. Especially Ekata and Inkar undergo immense character growth over the course of the story’s progression, and it is beautiful to see how they grow into their own as independent young women.
One of my favourite parts of the book was that sexuality was a topic that was never discussed – when Ekata chose her bride, that was accepted as fact, and while the process and her motivations were questioned, the gender was never a topic of discussion. Despite queer relationships being more and more accepted these days, it is refreshing to read books where they are a matter of fact rather than discussion, where the narrative has moved so far past the need for discussion that things can just be.
Another thing I loved, and which reminded me of another of my favourite YA fantasies (which is far too underhyped!), State of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury, is the inclusion of an election in the book. While its not a proper democratic process in this case, the fact that this is something YA novels are addressing is very important to me, and I am glad that it is becoming a thing. Politics and democracy are so crucial to our society and future, and, for someone who learns best through reading about issues, what better way to subtly encourage young people to engage with the matters!
If this sounds like a book that’s right up your alley, click here to add The Winter Duke on Goodreads, and here to order it from Book Depository. Naturally, all good book dealers should be able to provide you with copies as well.
ABOUT CLAIRE ELIZA BARTLETT:
She is writer and tour guide in Copenhagen, Denmark. Though she originally comes from Colorado, she left the US when she was eighteen and hasn’t lived there since. More permanent stops on her travels have included Switzerland, Wales and Denmark. The arrival of a Danish husband has somewhat cemented her living situation, but she gets her travel in smaller doses these days.
She like to write fantasy, mostly, though I dabble in soft sci-fi. Her short stories are more adult, my novels more YA. She has studied history, archaeology, and writing. She likes to take my inspiration from historical events, and the more unknown and inspiring the event, the better.
She is represented by Kurestin Armada of P.S. Literary. To keep up with what strange things she’s researching and writing, you can sign up for her newsletter here. She sends out a short newsletter once a month.
You can also find her at the following places:
While I never made it past the first book in Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Curse trilogy (I don’t really know why, it’s been years), The Midnight Lie stood out to me as soon as I heard about it. Magic, class wars, LGBT romance (in this case, f/f rep, which is not immediately obvious from the blurb!) and hints of revolution made me hunger to read this lovely book with one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen this year! I was lucky enough to be approved for a Netgalley ARC in exchange for an honest review – many thanks to Netgalley and Hodder for the opportunity!
RELEASE DATE: 03/03/2020
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colours. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.
Nirrim keeps her head down, and a dangerous secret close to her chest.
But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveller from far away, who whispers rumours that the High Kith possess magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted. (from Hodder)
OPINIONS: Now, as mentioned above, I have only read one of Marie’s previous books, and The Midnight Lie is set in the same world as that trilogy. While reading, I kept wondering whether I missed extensive amounts of background knowledge, but from what I have been able to gather from reading summaries is that Ethin, the city in which The Midnight Lie is set, is a sort of footnote in the original trilogy, so there really isn’t much to have missed, and there is no need to worry if you’re just starting here!
The story is beautifully written, and the world is well nuanced and finely crafted into its details. However, the plot and characters lean heavily into tropes, making twists and behaviours very predictable at times, and leading to slightly flat characterisations. I still loved every second of the book, and as I was reading this eARC on my phone, read it within about a day, picking it up whenever I could, even if it was just for five minutes on the tube. The Midnight Lie is extremely well paced, effortlessly switching from intimate conversations to action to tender descriptions without losing tension at any point.
While the story addresses issues of class, abuse, and revolution, what I believe to be at its centre is self-discovery and acceptance. Breaking free from one’s routine and questioning the status quo in every respect. Both Nirrim and Sid are forced to reevaluate who they are and who they want to be over the course of the story, and show signs of growth, and their blossoming romance is proof of that, as is the end of the book. I am very curious to see how the story continues in the next installment…
March is an evil month for new releases! Trying to compile this list, I had to decide very early on that I could not include any titles that I would be reviewing anyway, as my list was way too long as it was. I also purposefully don’t include any titles that are extremely hyped already to give some space to books you might not have heard of before.
It’s also my birthday month, so if any publishers of these books want to be extra nice to their resident blogger and send a copy of any of these my way… I wouldn’t say no!
Remember how February’s hype post prominently featured Sarah Gailey? Well, March is going to do the same. Because they are releasing another book, When We Were Magic. This time, it’s a YA about teens and accidental magic, and it sounds both amazing and hilarious. It is also queer and focuses on female friendship which gets many bonus points from me. This is out on the 3rd, and I’ve been desperate to get my hands on it since I first heard of its release last year. Pre-order it here.
Another prolific author, Wicked As You Wish is Rin Chupeco’s third novel in a year. They write wonderfully twisty fantasies inspired by their Filipino heritage with a touch of signature darkness. I have really enjoyed all of their books I have read so far, and last fall, I was even lucky enough to take part in the blog tour for The Never Tilting World (see my review here). This one is set in America, dealing with issues of immigration, and apparently features firebirds, magic and a Snow Queen. It’s out on the 3rd as well, and you can pre-order here.
In 2018 I got to go to my very first proper author event while I was in Boston for a conference. One of the authors I met that day was the lovely, witchy, April Genevieve Tucholke, who signed my newly released copy of The Boneless Mercies. I loved that story about a band of warrior girls shamelessly questing for glory! And now its semi-sequel/companion novel, Seven Endless Forests, based on Arthurian legend, is being released on the 31st. As anyone who knows me is aware, I’m a sucker for anything medieval-based, especially now that I get to claim it as research. So, super keen for this one! Pre-order it here.
One of my first reviews on here was for the first book in Melinda Salisbury’s last duology, State of Sorrow. I loved that book so much, especially due to its political nature and portrayal of an election process in a YA fantasy. After finishing one of my favourite duologies of all time, Melinda is back with a supernatural mystery set in Scotland. I can’t wait to dive into it, even though I don’t really know much about it. This is out on the fifth, and if you are around London, Waterstones is throwing her a launch on the 14th, with tickets available here! Add Hold Back the Tide on Goodreads here and pre-order it here.
So, there’s been a lot of YA on this list so far, but Docile by K. M. Szpara is anything but. A dystopian speculative fiction novel thinking about issues of capitalism, free will and servitude, this one has received stellar reviews. I have been super excited for it since I first heard of it and am anxiously awaiting its release on the 3rd. Also, it’s edited by Carl Engle-Laird, the man who also brought us the grandiose Gideon the Ninth last year. So if that’s not reason to read it, I don’t know what is. Pre-order it here.
It is no secret that I’m a sucker for short story collections. And an anthology full of stories about black girls and enbys and their magic? Sign me right up! Featuring an amazing line-up of authors of colour, including names such as Elizabeth Acevedo, L.L. McKinney, Dhonielle Clayton and many more, and edited by Patrice Caldwell, this collection out on the 10th comes out just after the end of Black History Month shows that black experiences should be celebrated all the time. I will definitely be buying A Phoenix First Must Burn as soon as I find a copy! Pre-order it here.
RELEASE DATE: 18/02/2019
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. That’s why when she finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, a member of the rival royal family behind a humiliating scandal involving her little sister, she schemes to get revenge on the young nobleman in order to even the score between their families. The plan? Make him fall in love with her and then break his heart the way his family has broken hers.
Grey Emerson doesn’t connect with people easily. Due to a curse placed on his family by the Raos that his superstitious father unquestioningly, annoyingly believes in, Grey grew up internalising that he was doomed from the day he was born. Sequestered away at St. Rosetta’s Academy, he’s lived a quiet existence in relative solitude. That is, until Jaya Rao bursts into his life. Jaya is exuberant and elegant and unlike anyone Grey has ever met before, but he can’t help feeling that she’s hiding something behind her beautiful smile and charmingly awkward attempts at flirting. Despite his better instincts, though, he starts to fall for her.
Jaya’s plan isn’t totally going according to plan. For one, Grey is aggravatingly handsome. And for two, she’s realising there’s maybe more to him than his name and his family imply.
The stars are crossed for Jaya and Grey. But can they still find their fairy-tale ending? (From Hodder)
OPINIONS: Indian princess meets meets Lord at a fancy boarding school in the Colorado mountains. Easy enough. Though this story has more depth to it than that: adressing the centuries of colonialism and resulting resentment between India and England through the story of Beauty and the Beast, through a stolen ruby, a curse, and a rose necklace.
Despite its modern setting, Of Curses and Kisses is a fairly faithful retelling of the classic story it is based on (the fairy tale, not the Disney version with talking crockery). It is ultimately less about breaking curses than empowerment and making decisions for oneself and opening up towards change. In that respect, both of the main characters, Jaya and Grey, undergo major character arcs over the course of the story and break free of the constraints they themselves and their families and societies put on them. However, the secondary characters fall flat and dissolve into stereotypes upon closer inspection, serving only as a canvas for the main plot.
Another gripe I had was with the writing style – told in alternating third-person PoV between Jaya and Grey, it lacked immediacy and emotion, which I found disconnected me from the story. The author used their full names frequently while reflecting about themselves, something which I found rather irritating. But then, this is mainly personal preference and it might well be that it works better for others!
From what I’ve seen, the book has been very well received, even if it was not quite for me, and my copy has already been claimed by a friend, so do give it a chance! Here’s the link to add it on Goodreads and you can order it here, or from your favourite retailer. Thank you to Kate Keehan and Hodder Books for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review!
Oh how I love gothic novels. Gothic novels featuring lady detectives, spiritualists, fairy tales and mysteries are even more my cup of tea. Which means I raced through The Golden Key – I read about two thirds of this one on a plane ride to Switzerland and was quite upset that I had to stop reading! Many thanks to Lydia Gittins and Titan Books for sending me a review copy of this wonderful story (and look how beautiful the cover is!).
RELEASE DATE: 18/02/2019
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: After the death of Queen Victoria, England heaves with the uncanny. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.
Helena Walton-Cisneros, known for her ability to find the lost and the displaced, is hired by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.
But the Fens are an age-old land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. The locals speak of devilmen and catatonic children are found on the Broads. Here, Helena finds what she was sent for, as the Fenland always gives up its secrets, in the end… (from Titan Books)
OPINIONS: I’ve noticed a theme when it comes to reading Victorian and very early twentieth century settings: I pick them up with abandon, hesitate to start them and then completely immerse myself as soon as I do. The same happened with The Golden Key. I pushed out reading it for about a week, although I knew I needed to get the review out by the release date, only to fall in love as soon as I actually started.
Helena Walton-Cisneros is a fantastic character to base a series on, playing into stereotypes associated with the spiritualists the age was so obsessed with while employing psychology and detective skills more reminiscent of the great detectives of the ilk of Sherlock Holmes, albeit with more charm and less arrogance. She is a fantastically complex character, and there is much to discover about her still, giving Marian Womack plenty of fodder for future books. Her partner in the investigation, Eliza Waltraud, sapphic scientific mind, is equally complex, and it begs to wonder how her life will develop after the end of the narrative.
Together they solve the mystery of the missing children in the Fens, which has an unexpected answer threading through to their present day. Part fairy tale, part detective story, Marion Womack writes a gripping debut novel that will capture you from beginning to end. I can’t wait to read what else she comes up with.
Macabre, historical, magical. Three words that summon me at a moment’s notice. So I simply could not resist reading and reviewing this wonderful murder mystery set in late nineteenth century Paris, featuring an independent, strong-willed young woman.
Thank you to Macmillan/Tor Teen and Netgalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 11/02/2019
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: Paris, 1889. When the Exposition Universelle opens in Paris, Nathalie welcomes a much-needed break from the heartache of her friend’s murder. The fair is full of sensational innovations, cultural displays, and marvelous inventions from around the world.But someone is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the guillotine with a gruesome display of their own: beheaded victims in some of the Exposition’s most popular exhibits. Haunted by the past and burdened with new secrets, Nathalie struggles to use her wits and her gift. Yet she and her friends must stop the killer before the macabre display features one of them… (from Tor Teen)
OPINIONS: Jodie Lynn Zdrok is back with a vengeance. In the newly published sequel to Spectacle, Sensational, Paris is in the throes of the Exposition Universelle of 1889, and our heroine Nathalie is confronted with a new string of theatrically staged murders. This killer, dubbed the __, beheads his victims as part of a twisted play.
But murder is not the only challenge Nathalie has to face in the conclusion to her story: romance plays a much bigger role in this second installment. While ultimately reaching a satisfying conclusion, this storyline comes with its share of frustrations and subsequent trust issues that reach further than just romantic relationships… Continuing to flesh out her complex characters from Spectacle, Jodie’s new additions in Sensational are no less multi-dimensional and well-written. Even minor characters come with their sets of flaws, aims, and motivations which become clear throughout the book. She is a master at revelations, sowing just the right amout of doubt early to keep readers on their toes, without giving the game away. And of course we get more Stanley content – officially the best 2020 release featuring a cat named Stanley!
Nathalie also struggles with her powers as they change, an issue that can almost be taken as an allegory for mental health issues nowadays. Looked at under those circumstances, Jodie’s writing of what is both an ability and a disability – something that will become clear when you read the book for yourself – is very nuanced and insightful. (Pun not intended!)
The fourth in a series of standalone science fiction novels, I was a bit worried that it might feel too much like starting in the middle of a series. But never fear, it works as a true standalone novel, and is thrilling and will keep you in its thrall – I am now in dire need of all of Emma Newman’s other books! Massive thanks to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for providing me with a review copy for Atlas Alone‘s paperback release.
RELEASE DATE: 09/01/2019
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible, and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.
A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.
Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realises that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to risk losing her own. (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: Stuck on a starship after the destruction of Earth, Dee is thrilled when she is invited to join an elite gaming server that will challenge her to play as herself – her own physical and mental limitations will apply in the game as well. However, at the same time, she is also approached through untraceable messages undetected by her AI, insistently inviting her into another game… Emma Newman weaves a masterful narrative around gaming, AI, and morality, as well as the consequences that may arise out of actions not believed to be lasting. It is an interesting conundrum to consider whether killing that is intentional and desired but not considered to be binding is still murder or whether it lacks the gravity to be considered as such.
The technologies crafted for the near future are fascinating, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the standalones in this series to learn more about them! For example, Dee has a study that she can change to look like any place she desires for as far as she likes, and most food is accessed through printers. Sadly, the one weak point are the minor characters: apart from Dee and the antagonist, about whom I can’t anything without giving away too much, the remaining characters are relegated to side action and are not fleshed out very much. It would have been interesting to find out more about Travis and Carl, Dee’s friends. They felt more like characters from a short story rather than side characters from a novel, if that makes sense.
I went into reading this one without knowing much about it. While it’s only being released in the UK on the 6th of February, it’s been out in the US since last summer, and I had heard lots of praise, but never paid it much attention or looked into what the book was about. I won my copy at a giveaway at YALC way back in July and kind of forgot about it until I saw that publication was approaching and I really should get onto reading and reviewing Wilder Girls (I have a spreadsheet in my calendar to help me keep track of release dates and deadlines).
Despite this, it ended up being very different from my first impression and going in an unexpected direction. But more on that below the housekeeping:
RELEASE DATE: 06/02/2019
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SYNOPSIS: It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.
It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true. (from the author’s website)
OPINIONS: This one didn’t quite work for me. The story is told through the point of view of two girls, Hetty and Byatt – both unreliable narrators in the sense that they have very limited knowledge of what is going on around them and a sense of resignation leading them to lose much of their curiosity. They are best friends, stuck in a boarding school in survival mode after a mysterious ailment has struck, and we readers join them about eighteen months into quarantine.
Hetty gets chosen for a position of authority, and learns more than she bargained for about the way things are run, while Byatt is taken away after her affliction gets worse. It is only the disappearance of her close friend that gets Hetty to wonder if there might be something more sinister at work… Through the way the narration is set up and split into two separate strands, the characters stay rather superficial. There is some f/f rep, and plot and pacing are good – I read through Wilder Girls quite quickly. However, the book as a whole, and especially the resolution left me feeling very anticlimactic.
I would recommend fans of Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation and survival narratives check this one out, it might be that it is better suited to your tastes than mine! As usual, here is the Goodreads link and here is the Book Depository one.