The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
No spoilers. (Promise)
The Wolf in the Whale has one of the most unique premises I've ever come across: a historical fantasy that combines Norse and Inuit mythology. And then there's the fact that it starred, what I thought, was a femme protagonist. But as it turns out, Omat is trans.
I actually changed the description up there. The actual description uses female pronouns for Omat, which makes no sense because he spends the majority of the book using male pronouns. In modern culture he'd probably be considered FTM transgender, except that implies that he was assigned female at birth. But despite having a "woman's body," he was raised as a boy, because he inherited his father's soul. The whole thing boils down to "This baby is trans because magic."
This of course leads to excellent conflict and exploration of gender, gender roles, and sexuality. One of the villains is a cis woman who is very masculine. One of the good guys is a cis man who is very soft, gentle, and therefore somewhat feminine. Omat goes from strictly adhering to gender roles in order to claim and verify his manhood to "fuck the rules, I do what I want."
In terms of pacing, the book is a little slow. The first hundred pages are spent establishing Omat's world, the Inuit culture and mythology, and his magic and family dynamics. We don't even meet one of the main villains until page 103.
Once the book gets going, though, shit gets real. Omat has to overcome a tall order of villains and obstacles in order to achieve his goals, which vary from survive to rescue my brother to save my people. There are Inuit villains, Norse villains, godly villains, and nature itself is a bit of a villain at times.
One of the most interesting things about this book is its theme of sexual violence. Thanks to some transphobia and misogyny on the Inuit villain's part, Omat is raped. It's not graphically described, but it's still very upsetting. While it's the only time it happens to Omat, it's not the only time it's talked about in the book. It's also talked about from the other side: a rapist who is trying to seek forgiveness and redemption, and has to work for it. You rarely see that in fiction--or anywhere, really. Needless to say, even the "good guys" in this story are very grey.
The whole cast of characters are amazing. The Inuit are a tight-knit group and adore each other, but they're willing to sacrifice Omat if the alternative is death. The Norse are fierce warriors and mostly considered villains, but many of them are victims themselves. The gods are a mash-up of good and evil, created by humans and in turn affecting humans in both positive and negative ways. (This book adheres to the rules of American Gods to a T.)
I know shamefully little about Inuit culture and even Norse culture, but considering the fact that Harvard grad Brodsky goes ham on research by actually visiting the places she's writing about and (gasp! shock!) talking to people in those cultures, I think we can trust it. Maybe not the part about a vengeful god living on the moon and a massive snake wrapped around the world, but the more historical aspects.
Honestly, my only complaint about this book is that it's exhausting. In a good way, but still. The book hangover is not appreciated. While there is no gratuitous violence, the story itself is brutal. Rape, character deaths, animal deaths all get thrown at Omat like a never-ending parade of misery. The poor kid just can't catch a break, and neither do we. I need a nap.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.
In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.
But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It's a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston's School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.
But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.
And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems
No spoilers (promise)
As a general rule of thumb, I tend to avoid any and all historical fiction for a variety of reasons. One is the same reason I avoid contemporary fiction or anything else that isn't fantasy or sci-fi: it doesn't interest me. I won't say those stories are boring (they're not, and every now and then I find one that's really good even without supernatural elements), but it doesn't spark my interest the way a fantasy or horror story does.
The other reason I avoid historical fiction is because, as someone who has a bachelor's in history and continues to study it, I usually find half a dozen major problems with the historical setting within the first few chapters. The most common crime is that the time period is very idealized. We're seeing it through the thick lens of nostalgia (specifically, white and/or male nostalgia) rather than how it really was. Basically, the writer just doesn't do their research, which is extremely important even if you're doing an alternative history.
Justina Ireland side-steps these problems very neatly. Firstly she brings zombies into the equation, which is a surefire way to get my attention because I love zombie stories. It's rare that a story cannot be improved by adding a bit of the undead into the mix. Secondly, she definitely did her research on the Reconstruction Era. For those who are drawing a blank on what that is, the Reconstruction Era is that bit of time right after the Civil War when the U.S. tried to piece itself back together, fix up the destroyed South, end the slavery thing, and failed horribly on all accounts. Historians disagree on when, exactly, the Reconstruction Era ended--if indeed it's ended at all--and most agree that it could have gone a lot better, especially for the newly freed slaves, many of whom were forced to become indentured servants employed and abused by the very whites who owned them as property a few years ago.
Ireland takes that time period, adds a healthy dose of zombies, and goes to town. While it's definitely a YA novel--with the teenage protagonist, lightning-fast speed, critical view of authority and government--it's a story that readers of almost any age can enjoy and learn from. She's also got the language down perfectly. Several historical fiction authors have their characters and narrator talk either too contemporary or too blandly. Jane McKeene--who is both the main character and the narrator--talks exactly the way someone raised in 1870 Kentucky and educated in 1880 Maryland would talk.
Jane herself is an awesome character. She's a badass fighter, notorious troublemaker, and is one of those stupidly brave people who you respect for Doing The Thing, but at the same time you kind of want to strangle her because you're going to get yourself killed, you idiot! Kind of like Jon Snow, but more interesting.
Playing her foil and partner is Kate, her fellow classmate who is Jane's opposite in every way. Well, not every way, seeing as Kate isn't a horrible racist with dangerous delusions on how a society should overcome the zombies. That position goes to the villain, who we actually don't meet until halfway through the book. I won't go into detail because spoilers, but I will say that he's the perfectly crafted villain, in that I want to beat him over the head several times with a dictionary. He's the guy who just has to die. And I say that as an anti-death penalty advocate and pacifist.
The other characters are well-written, too: enemies, allies, the crush and ex-boyfriend who both cause an absolute minimum of tension, thank God. Actually, there's not much of a romantic subplot here, for which I'm glad. The ex--named Red Jack--is someone that Jane sees only as a mistake, refuses to get back together with despite his repeated advances, and while she still has some lingering feelings for him and gets jealous whenever someone else gives him goo-goo eyes, she ruthlessly squashes them down to concentrate on the task at hand. That is an attitude sorely lacking in many YA protagonists that I deeply appreciate, especially in a zombie story, where the most common mistake an author makes is focusing on the petty drama rather than the very real threat of imminent doom.
(We also find out about three-quarters of the way through the book that Jane is bisexual, or at least fluid and flexible enough to have made out with a pretty girl. Yay, diverse characters!)
My only complaint about this book is that there are a couple of loose ends, namely the fate of one of Jane's friends who goes missing. She spends a good amount of energy looking for him before she's forced to leave, so it's not like Ireland forgot he existed. She just refuses to tell us where he went off to, which is frustrating. Though I think she plans on bringing him back if she ever publishes a sequel, which is a distinct possibility. Watch me not complain about that.
So, yeah. Welcome to the Favorites page, Dread Nation! Please don't eat my brains.
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
No Spoilers! (Promise)
You know those books where, once you finally set them down, you think WTF did I just read, but in a good way? That's Poppy War.
This was largely because of the book's ending, which I will not get into because I have a strict no-spoiler rule on this blog. Suffice to say, even though the entire book has been leading up to that specific decision of the main character's, it still caught me off-guard. Because I'd never seen a book go that direction without warning before.
The Poppy War centers around Rin, and is told almost exclusively from her point of view (third person limited). Right from the start she's an extremely captivating character, despite the fact that most of what she does is react, making her a passive character. Her taking the test, going to Sinegard, becoming a soldier and fighting in a war, all of those are her reactions to what the world throws at her. It's not until the very end that she acts first, forcing the world to react to her.
Normally, I hate passive characters. They're boring. Best case scenario, they get dragged along with the plot and their primary function is to complain about how horrible the world is. But Rin is different, and it's the way she reacts that sets her apart. We learn very early that she doesn't do anything half-assed. Her foster parents tell her she's to marry someone three times her age for their criminal enterprise? She risks her life to steal opium to bribe a local tutor to help her study for the exam. Her period cramps are so bad that she's going to miss at least three days of school every month? Better drink a potion to make herself infertile so she doesn't have to deal with it. Enemies attacking the school? Burn the whole place down with newly-discovered magical powers!
Rin is impossible not to watch. Half of the time, she knows the thing she's about to do is a horrible decision, but she does it anyway because, in her mind, the alternative is even worse. She's very self-aware, even though, as a teenager, she can still be kind of stupid.
She's supported by a wide variety of supporting characters: her teachers, her rivals, and the few friends she manages to make. Several of these people die, because this book is definitely grimdark, and they're all very well crafted. I do wish that I could see more of Rin's young foster brother, largely because she feels guilty for leaving him when she goes to Sinegard and thinks about him later in the book. But we only get one scene with him, and that's when she leaves for the academy. Another scene or two showing them together would have gone a long way toward showing Rin's more human side that she becomes in danger of losing.
The worldbuilding leaves something to be desired. Not the magic or the gods, those are fine, but the history and political climate need work. I'm not as well-versed in Chinese history as I should be, but even I knew after one glance that this "fantasy world" is basically 19th-century China. The real world saw two Opium Wars; this world has two Poppy Wars (poppy being the plant that opium is made from). Japan used to be militarily aggressive and constantly fought with China; in this universe they're the Federation of Mugen. China had an ancient strategist named Sun Tzu who wrote The Art of War; Rin studies a guy named Sunzi who wrote The Philosophy of War, whose lessons and parables match Sun Tzu word-for-word.
I am all for using history as a stepping stone in worldbuilding. Hell, I do that all the time! The most famous example is George R. R. Martin, who based his Game of Thrones series off of the Wars of the Roses. But there's a difference between using something for inspiration like Martin and just copy-and-pasting like Kuang.
But that's honestly my only real complaint about this book. The characters and plot are both more than strong enough to carry the otherwise weak worldbuilding. The theme is also very well done. Kuang does not shy away from the horrors committed by the supposed "good guys." Considering the atrocities that Rin's nation and, eventually, Rin herself commits, the overall message is "war, oppression, and drugs really suck, guys, so maybe let's not?"
But while Kuang's book laments the horrible conditions that war brings out, she doesn't use it as an excuse to dismiss the negative aspects of her characters. She puts the responsibility for the characters' actions squarely on the characters, not letting them fall into the "oh, it was just a bad time, so it doesn't really count as my fault" mindset. Rin herself admits that her actions are inexcusable, morally atrocious, while also, in her mind, necessary.
One last thing, and this is probably one of the best things about this book: THERE'S NO ROMANTIC SUBPLOT. You could argue that Rin has a crush on one of her classmates, but that's a lot less romantic and a lot more hero-worship. I mentioned earlier: she destroys her own uterus as a teenager just to stay in school. Romance and family are the last things on her mind.
The Poppy War is landing solidly on my Favorites page. I would recommend it to anyone who's looking for a non-traditional military fantasy story, and/or is looking for a femme protagonist of color, and/or likes it when things get set on fire, because that happens a lot.
Words of Radiance - Book 2 of The Stormlight Archive - by Brandon Sanderson
Six years ago, the Assassin in White, a hireling of the inscrutable Parshendi, assassinated the Alethi king on the very night a treaty between men and Parshendi was being celebrated. So began the Vengeance Pact among the highprinces of Alethkar and the War of Reckoning against the Parshendi.
Now the Assassin is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin's master has much deeper motives.
Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status "darkeyes". Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.
Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.
Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.
No Spoilers for Words of Radiance (pinky-promise)
It should come as no surprise that after I reviewed the first installment of The Stormlight Archive, The Way of Kings, I immediately went and got the second book. (And am now currently waiting for Amazon to deliver book three.) This is shaping up to be an excellent series, and I know for a fact that, as soon as I finish book three, I'm going to be a burning mass of rage and impatience while I wait for book four in 2020. (Fun fact: there are ten books planned for this series.)
While Way of Kings focused primarily on Kaladin's story, with flashbacks to him growing up and joining the military, Words of Radiance focuses on Shallan. This makes sense as, out of the three main characters in series so far (her, Kaladin, and Dalinar), she's the one who undergoes the greatest change in this book. A lot of it is her learning how to use her magical abilities, the way Kaladin learned to use is. While Kaladin's powers are about "Lashing" and strength, Shallan's powers are kind of like Loki's from the MCU. She can create illusions. The problem is she needs to be able to balance the lies she tells with what the truth is, which involves delving into some pretty nasty secrets in her own past.
Also, she finally meets the other characters (after a shipwreck that delays her for half the book) and gets an arranged betrothal to Dalinar's son Adolin. Now, this little rom-sub is really cute. Adolin likes how Shallan is different from the other girls, Shallan likes how Adolin is hot and a decent human beings--unlike all the other men in her life--and they're just really adorable together.
What is not cute is the hints Sanderson is throwing about a possible love triangle with Kaladin. I want to give a firm no on that for multiple reasons, the first being that love triangles are inherently lazy, and Sanderson is better than that. The other reason is that Kaladin and Shallan work amazingly well as pseudo-siblings, not a romantic couple. Kaladin's first positive thought about Shallan is that she reminds him of his brother. And him silently stewing like an older brother while Shallan and Adolin make kissy faces at each other is the funniest thing.
But that's a problem for another time. As I said, Sanderson has only hinted at that, and there are eight more books in this series.
Bottom line: this book is just as good as its predecessor, expanding on the world and characters. We see things from the Parshendi side for the first time, which is really fun. Kaladin has to decide whether or not they should assassinate the king--you'd think that'd be an easy answer, but while the king is no Joffrey Baratheon, he's definitely the cause of a lot of problems. Dalinar learns that running a country is similar to running a babysitting service. And Shallan goes from adorable cinnamon roll to adorable badass. It's a fun time all around.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, book one of the Stormlight Archive
No spoilers. (Promise.)
This was a 1,200 page monster that I just could not put down. Which is impressive considering the fact that I had no idea what was going on for the first two hundred pages. It's not that Sanderson introduced too many people and concepts at one time--he didn't. The pacing of this story and the exposition are excellent. It's just that there's so much going on, so many characters in a world that is so unique and alien that it's a lot to digest. But if you can get through those first two hundred pages, then you're all set. And trust me, it's worth it. This book is absolutely stunning.
My attention was drawn to this series by one of my favorite YouTubers, Hello Future Me. In addition to being a super-geek, he also does some writing videos (which is why he's mentioned in my For Writers page). It was during one of these videos--I forget which one--that he mentioned the world-building of the Stormlight Archive.
In addition to the unique geography, Roshar also has a social structure I had never seen before. It's a pseudo-patriarchy that is extremely binary, nothing new there. But while men are pushed toward "masculine" traits such as leadership, military, labor, et cetera, the women have their own equally important "feminine" traits, such as architecture, science, engineering. Reading is, in and of itself, a feminine art. None of the men in this story--Kaladin, Dalinar, the king--know how to read! It's hilarious, but it also launches women into leadership roles themselves, as they're the advisors and creators of their society.
This, of course, begs the question: what about the people of the LGBT+ community? So far there has been no mention of same-sex relationship or genderqueer people, and I will be disappointed but unsurprised if that holds true for books two and three. But if, by chance, Sanderson has added them, then I imagine they'd be facing a lot of social adversity.
On a related note: romantic subplots are near non-existent! There's one with Dalinar and the king's widowed mother that's a little cliched, but it serves as some character development for Dalinar and introduces another awesome woman to the story. Even though he uses the word "beautiful" to describe her way too much. (We get it! You think she's hot! Maybe focus on some other traits, or at least pick up a thesaurus to mix it up a little.)
The story, at first, seems to be everywhere. It doesn't help that the novel is chopped up into parts that are divided by short stories. These stories seem random (except the ones about the Assassin in White, as he's very important despite his minor appearances), but they are very helpful in establishing the world itself and the political and social rules that influence the main characters. When one of the short stories includes a couple of scientists studying a type of magic, that type of magic becomes very important later in the book. A couple of servants talk about a mysterious woman who specializes in another type of magic, she ends up being the answer to a mystery that plagues one of the main characters. It's a very handy type of exposition.
After about two or four hundred pages, you see how all the different threads--Kaladin, Dalinar, Shallan, the Assassin--all start to weave together. There is some predictability; it's not like Game of Thrones where you have almost no clue which main character is going to get slaughtered next. But it's the good kind of predictability, the kind that drags out the tension. (Oh no, one of the major characters is in critical danger in the climax of the story, and only this other major character can save them, but only if they get over the major internal issues that have plagued them the whole book...WHY IS THIS TAKING A WHOLE CHAPTER. GO GO GO!)
It helps that all of these characters are very different from each other. Kaladin and Dalinar are probably the tropiest (most trope?) of the bunch, being the depressed hero with rotten luck and the super strict yet kind lord, but they're still extremely engaging. I cared about them, I worried about them, I cried with them through all their ups and downs. (Although, content warning, Kaladin seriously contemplates suicide relatively early in the book, and references it a few times later.) Shallan is a walking mystery; despite hundreds of pages we still know very little about her, and her last few chapters only raise more questions. Hell, the last fifty pages were dedicated to raising more questions and leaving cliffhangers, which is why as soon as I can, I'm purchasing book two.
Well played, Sanderson. Well played.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
No spoilers. (Promise.)
I've read and reviewed one of Nnedi Okorafor's other books before: her short sci-fi novel Lagoon about mystical aliens touching down in Nigeria. I was enraptured by her storytelling, and when I found out she had other books--many of them bestsellers--I added all of them to my wishlist, and had the opportunity to purchase Who Fears Death thanks to a Barnes & Noble gift card I got for Christmas. I had high expectations for Who Fears Death because of everything I'd heard, both about it and about Okorafor herself.
And I was not disappointed.
It's rare--or at least, rare for me in my little corner of America--to find popular SFF books that have a post-apocalyptic or fantasy setting outside of the U.S., or even Europe. So the setting itself of a fantastical, post-apocalyptic Africa was intriguing to me. I wish Okorafor had gone into just what, exactly the apocalypse was that completely reshaped the world and set up whole new religions and ethnicities, or even just the history of the world in general. We're given the religious version that everyone is told growing up and that main character Onye has little respect for, but not a definitive This is what happened, and this is why the world works this way now. But that's probably just the history major in me.
The magic system used is very unique and interesting. It's a soft magic system, which is the kind that basically allows the author to make it up as they go along (kind of like Tolkien or Game of Thrones), compared to the hard magic system where the rules are explained and strictly adhered to (i.e. Avatar: the Last Airbender and Fullmetal Alchemist). But while Onye and the other sorcerers' powers are many and varied, there's no deux ex machina that goes on. She still has limitations, especially in the beginning when she has no control.
The story itself starts out pretty slow. Onye is obviously very special and eventually has to set out to topple the unjust system of oppression and war that her mother's people is subjected to. But she and her friends don't start their journey until halfway through the book. The first half is Onye coming to terms with who and what she is (for the most part, at least), worldbuilding, and describing the struggles and conflicts between Onye, her mother, and everyone around them. So even though the pacing of the overarching story is very slow, there's still a lot that goes on that kept me turning the pages.
Oh, and in case you didn't get the hint from the book description, this story is not something to flippantly give to children. More on this later.
There are a lot of characters here. While the entire story is told in first person point of view by Onye, she runs into a lot of characters. There's her beau, Mwita, another sorcerer who knows more about magic but isn't as powerful as she is and functions as team healer. She has three best girlfriends, her mentors, her mother, her stepfather, and of course, her rapist father. Who is a real piece of work. Just...wow.
All of these characters are deeply flawed. Onye has some severe anger issues that are a direct result of how horribly her society treats her and her mother, leading her to do several things that she almost immediately regrets. The friends she sets out on her journey with turn out to be less than ideal travel companions, given that half of them abandon the quest out of fear. (Though the one that sticks around, while not magical in any way, is a total badass.) Mwita himself has some inferiority complexes. I mentioned that he's not as powerful as Onye is, and while it's clear that these two characters deeply love and go to great lengths for each other, Mwita has some sexist views that come out every now and then. He believes that he should be the sorcerer while Onye hangs back as the healer. Needless to say, this is a bit of a conflict between the two of them.
In addition to expert storytelling, captivating worldbuilding, and engaging characters, Okorafor also weaves in several themes throughout this story. And when I say several, I mean all of them. I thought I was impressed by how many topics she was able to cover in Lagoon, but that's nothing compared to when she has an extra three hundred pages to play around with. Who Fears Death unflinchingly talks about rape, war, slavery, genital mutilation, misogyny, racism, religion and tradition used as tools of oppression, love, hope, death, and probably a dozen others that I missed in my first reading or just can't think of right now.
Bottom line, this is an amazing book. It is a bold, beautiful story that deserves to be on bookshelves everywhere.
I should give a quick update before I let Shannon from Read & Reels take over. A couple of weeks ago I got a second job working at Panera Bread as a delivery woman (well, technically it's my third job; my full-time position is PCA/job coach for people with disabilities, writing is my second job, and now this). At the same time, a bunch of other stuff happened this month:
In the middle of all of this, I realized yesterday, Shit! I need to blog this week, too!
Guest post to the rescue!
Unlike me, Shannon O. apparently has her life way more in order, and managed to not only finish reading a book, but write a review for it, too. Please enjoy while I go out and buy a much-needed planner.
"Slithers" by W. W. Mortensen: Book Review
Thank you so much for having me on your blog! It’s so awesome! Seriously, everyone needs to be reading it!
Today I thought I’d share a review of a Sci-Fi Horror I read recently, called Slithers by W.W. Mortensen!
There are so many things to like about Slither! Perfect setting, a tense atmosphere, wrought with fear, great writing, and good pacing. See what I mean, LOTS of things to like. That said, the ending is so huge and complex, I feel the author should have dedicated more time to explaining it better. I mean, I get the gist, but with such existential ideas to contemplate, readers would benefit from a more thorough conclusion.
This is the first book by Mortensen that I've read, and this one didn't put me off. On the contrary, I'm quite intrigued by his other titles, especially Eight. He's clearly very talented and based on the mood he creates in this story alone, I'm more than keen to read more.
Some other things worth mentioning: I loved all the creepy crawlies in this story. They very much reminded me of King's creatures in The Mist, which is high praise because that is one of my favourite short stories, and the gory scenes were also brilliant! I just loved how vivid and descriptive they were, so well done sir. Ugh... I'm shuddering just thinking about some of them.
Ultimately, I think the theme is about the universal question "What if?", and Slithers is an original, and entertaining approach to answering it. It may not be for everyone but many of you will really enjoy it!
Rating... B or 3.75 Gooey Truck Drivers out of 5!
Thanks again for letting me share on DZA today, it warms my heart to see so many amazing blogs like yours dedicated to Horror and Science Fiction!
Shannon O. (a.k.a. Shanannigans)
Blogger & Publicist
Yay, Shannon! I am definitely adding this to my reading list.
Be sure to visit her blog Reads & Reels. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Blade of Memories, Book One of the Black Shadow series, by Tina Hunter
While it won't be landing on my Favorites page anytime soon, Tina Hunter's Blade of Memories was quite good, and a joy to read. There weren't a whole lot of surprises, and there were a few parts of the book--like the whole thing with Lynn's ex--that had little to no relevance to the actual plot and only existed to set up future books. That's understandable for the first installation of a series, but it tried my patience when all I wanted was to get on with the actual story.
The pacing is excellent. It starts with a smaller heist that Lynn barely pulls off, introducing us to magic when she has to use enchanted crystals to scale walls and heal her broken arm. Funny enough, while magic crystals that anyone can use is widely accepted, people with innate magical abilities are harshly discriminated against. Which makes a certain amount of sense, as those with innate abilities are much more powerful than someone with a fancy glowing rock.
There are a few different cultures in this world that are very distinct and believable, and the magic system Hunter sets up is followed to the letter. I was intrigued to see that the setting is not based on Medieval Europe like 95% of epic fantasy. The existence of pistols and the costuming suggests something closer to the Victorian Era, though there is no steampunk element. The world-building is definitely an aspect that I want to see fleshed out in future books.
Lynn's relationship with Dorjee--the young runaway she takes under her wing--is an absolute treasure. In fact, every relationship Lynn has with each character is unique, complicated, and very real. Lynn herself is a good protagonist to root for: she's smart, crafty, compassionate, and we're empathetic to her because of the deck stacked against her. The only time I rolled my eyes at her character was near the beginning, when she agrees to undergo this impossible, extremely dangerous heist to get...a necklace. Maybe I'm just too practical for sentimentality, but even if it had belonged to her deceased mother, going through all of that hell for a hunk of rock just seems really stupid. Later we find out that it has magical value, but at the time of the deal Lynn doesn't know that. If she had even the vaguest idea, then it would have made it a much stronger MacGuffin and seemed like a more realistic reason to go through with everything.
Once the necklace-triggered plot gets started, though, it's a fun ride. Lynn has to try to lead a team of people who want nothing to do with her, encounters several family members who are involved and each have a stake in this, and has to find a way to pull of the heist to get the necklace without actually giving her boss the stolen goods, because she knows he's going to do something absolutely horrible with them.
I would recommend this for light summer reading, something fun to distract yourself with when you're recovering from the crippling death of a beloved character from another story. I will be picking up book two when it comes out.
My Favorite SFF Books Read in 2018
Christmas was, of course, last week. If any of you readers are like me, you asked for--and hopefully received!--a lot of books for the holiday this year. Never mind that I'm a Buddhist and don't believe in God or their controversial demigods, I will take any excuse to beg for books. And spend time on family, I guess.
For me personally, 2019 seems to the be the year that I should really consider getting an extra bookshelf rather than just piling all the books in my room. But before we move forward, I thought it would be fun to look back on the best sci-fi and fantasy books I personally read and reviewed in 2018.
Note: these are in no particular order. Don't ask me to choose my singular favorite or to even vaguely list them. That'd be like torture.
Another note: these are all books that I read in 2018. While some of them did come out this year, some are a few years older. But they're included in this list because it's my blog and therefore follows my rules of time, space, and physics. Enjoy!
Throne of Glass Series
The Adventure Zone Graphic Novel
By Fire Above
Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze
The Nemesis series
What were your favorite books from this year? Let me know in the comments so I can add them to my reading list!
Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass series) by Sarah J. Maas
I've had conflicting views on this series as a whole, which I've made very clear in my overall series review and my LSQ article "How NOT to Write Romantic Subplots," and all of those views and emotions came to a head in this book.
Mind-bending plot twists? Check.
Aelin being awesome along with Maeve being a bitch? Check.
Unnecessary use of romantic subplots that honestly make me wish several of these characters would just die already? Check and mate.
If you follow my YouTube channel, you may have caught my review for Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, where I was endlessly frustrated not just by the books, but the fact that all of my problems with those books were major spoilers. So I kind of had to dance around them in my review while making it clear that there were some major issues. Well, it's the same thing with KoA: all of my complaints are spoilers, and I pledge myself to spoiler-free reviews. Which means this review is going to be short, with no small amount of frustration on my end.
So let me just say this: Sarah J. Maas needs to learn to kill off major characters. She uses the "saved by last-minute reinforcements" trope a few too many times in this book, and it kills the tension. Not to mention it makes this book incredibly crowded. When she does kill a character, it loses its impact because there are a dozen other characters for us to root for. To be completely honest, this is a big problem in the series as a whole. The only major characters she's killed this entire series are Nehemia and Sorscha. Remember them? I sure don't! Because there are too many goddamn characters!
And that...is my only real complaint, other than the usual "too many romantic subplots, not enough murder" bickering that's usually in my reviews, and I've already slammed into Maas for it on my BitchShelf column.
As usual, Maas has excellent characterization and pacing. I think my favorite part of this book is the temporary team-up between Dorian and Maeve. Yes, you read that right. Dorian and Maeve team up for a few chapters against Erawan, and it is incredible. I love the "bad guy and good guy are forced to work together against a worst guy" trope, and seeing Dorian and Maeve trying to manipulate each other while also manipulating Erawan was the highlight of my day.
I'll stop now because I'm dangerously close to spoiler territory. Bottom line: I do recommend this book and the series as a whole. It has it flaws, but it's still a good read. Anyone who's into YA fantasy will want this on their bookshelf.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!