Wyrd & Wonder May Wrap Up

Updates

Well that was an absolute blast! My first Wyrd & Wonder is over and I read some great books and met some even better people 🙂 I did have a tentative TBR I aimed to get to, which included nine books. That was kind of ambitious to begin with to be honest, as nine books in a month is actually kind of a lot for me and I only ended up reading two off the list (technically two and a half because I set Foundryside to one side for a while because I absolutely hated it with the fiery passion of seven hells, don’t @ me).



I kicked off the month with a re-read of Melissa Caruso’s THE TETHERED MAGE, book one of her Renaissance Venetian-inspired flintlock fantasy series Swords and Fire. I re-read this because A) it’s awesome, but B) because I never got round to reading book three of the series so it gave me a nice excuse to refresh my memory and write a review, which you can have a glance at if intrigue, fire warlocks and court drama sounds like your cup of tea. I moved on to A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO after that and I feel like I might have a new auto-buy author in P. Djèlí Clark if his other stuff is this good! A detective solving a murder in an alternative turn of the century Egypt, where djinn have crossed the borders between worlds after the fabric of space was torn asunder. With shades of steampunk and weird cosmic horror shit thrown into the blender. *Chef’s kiss*. THE GRAND TOUR was a collection of short horror stories that I got an advance copy of from the good folks at Apex. It was the first E. Catherine Tobler stuff I’d read and I’m really glad I discovered her, because some of these stories are simply phenomenal. I believe I described it as ‘horror with a heart’.



AMBERLOUGH was my favourite read this month. I was blown away by this glitzy spy thriller featuring some incredible character writing. Having just recently finished Jade City and Jade War by the master of character Fonda Lee, I feel like my bar for good character writing is pretty high right now, so the fact that Lara Elena Donnelly still managed to be this impressive should tell you just how great this book is. OF DRAGONS, FEASTS AND MURDERS was an ARC of Aliette de Bodard’s upcoming stabby court drama murder mystery and it will come as no surprise to anyone that I loved it! Aliette de Bodard is a firm fave of mine and I’m almost guaranteed to enjoy anything she writes. My final Wyrd & Wonder read was KINGS OF THE WYLD by Nicholas Eames, proud holder of the Fastest Book To Make Me Cry Award. This was just great fun and also really touching. An unapologetic fantasy romp featuring all the Dungeons & Dragons tropes and party shenanigans, from absent-minded wizards and enchanted weapons to terrifying wyverns and villainous characters that are villains for the sake of being villains (but not quite).


Before I head off I just want to say a massive thank you to Imyril, Jory and Lisa for organising Wyrd & Wonder. It’s been such great fun and I’m so happy to have discovered a bunch of new blogs and met some cool fellow bookwyrms to nerd out over all things fantasy with. Counting down to next time already 🙂


Reviews:

A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO by P. Djèlí Clark
THE TETHERED MAGE by Melissa Caruso
STORM FRONT by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files #1)
JADE WAR by Fonda Lee
THE GRAND TOUR by E. Catherine Tobler
AMBERLOUGH by Lara Elena Donnelly

Other posts and updates:

My Wyrd & Wonder TBR 2020
Humble Beginnings: My First Fantasy Book
The Best Things Come In Three: The Books of D&D
Books I Can’t Wait To Read
Get To Know The Fantasy Reader tag


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Get to know the fantasy reader – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

Updates

This would have been a great introductory post if I’d had the foresight to actually plan any of my Wyrd & Wonder posts, but if we met through Wyrd & Wonder and have exchanged a few words, I’m hoping this is a fun little way for you folks to get to know me as a reader 🙂 I came across it on a few blogs, including Maryam at The Curious SFF Reader, Sahi at My World Of Books and Maddalena at Space and Sorcery and I thought it looked like fun.


1. What is the first fantasy novel you read?
I used to think it was The Hobbit, until I realised fantasy didn’t just have to mean elves and dragons and dwarves. Then I realised it was Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Thinking about it though, I think I probably read The Chronicles of Narnia books even before that, so it might even have been The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe followed by The Magician’s Nephew. Memory is a nebulous thing and I just remember always reading when I was a little ‘un.

2. If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?
This is a funny question cos I probably would’t want to be at the centre of any of the crazy shit that goes on in most of the books I read; that’s much more drama than I want in my life thank you very much. I’ll stick to reading about other people’s crazy adventures from a safe distance with a hot cup of tea.

3. What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that turned into a huge revelation?
Jade City and Jade War by the living genius Fonda Lee. These books are nothing short of masterpieces. The experience of reading these books was like forming actually existing memories in my mind, so that I legit feel like I lived through the events they portrayed. Like I was sitting in the bar of a Janloon lantern man reading the newspaper and I could hop back on a plane and go back there if I wanted to. This series blew my mind and I can’t explain how excited I am for Jade Legacy’s release.



4. What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?
I have such a complicated relationship with subgenres. They’re very useful – up to a point. Then they often degenerate into complete parodies of themselves as readers take them to extreme lengths and get into internet fights with strangers about whether a book is really solarpunk or cli-fi. If I was pushed I’d say grimdark is my favourite genre, but how useful that is as a term anymore is debatable. Let’s say I like gritty stories with no clear heroes and leave it at that.

5. Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?
It’ll come as no surprise, given my previous answer, but George R. R. Martin is one of my favourite writers. I gather that it’s quite fashionable to disparage A Song of Ice and Fire but they are legitimately incredible books that completely turned my idea of what a story had to be on its head. I remember being confused by them at first and thinking “There’s no good guys, whose side am I supposed to be on?”. And after a while coming to the realisation that that was the point and having my mind explode into all the fascinating possibilities that opened up. Plus the writing is stellar and is one of those rare series that pulled me nose over tail into the world of the story to the point of not being aware of my surroundings anymore.



6. How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..)
Most of my recs these days come from the fabulous people I talk to on Twitter and my fellow bloggers. Twitter is a fantastic place for book recommendations actually. You can ask for the most specific thing, like low magic economic fantasy with Machiavellian merchants and interdependent political systems and a bunch of people will respond with The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Kushiel’s Dart, The Dagger and the Coin series and more. I love my bookish pals 🙂

7. What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?
I guess I already mentioned Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee so it would be cheating to use that again. Fortunately we’re swimming in incredible books at the minute so I’m gonna say The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho. I actually haven’t read any Zen Cho before but I read the first line of the blurb for this book and was already hooked. A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Sold. Next.



8. What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?
That it’s all crusty white blokes with beards writing about elves and dwarves and dragons. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of books I love written by crusty white blokes with beards, but fantasy is (and always has been) so much more than that. On top of some of the folks I’ve already mentioned we’ve got writers like Chloe Gong releasing a fantasy Romeo & Juliet retelling set in 1926 Shanghai (These Violent Delights); Paul Krueger’s post-colonial Pokemon/ATLA mashup (Steel Crow Saga); P. Djèlí Clark, who’s written some fantastic steampunk detective mysteries set in early 20th century Cairo where the barriers between worlds has been torn asunder, allowing djinni to cross freely into our world (A Dead Djinn in Cairo & The Haunting of Tram Car 015).

9. If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
I’d do my best to tailor it to the specific person, given the sheer dearth of fantasy available now, but without any prior knowledge I’d steer away from the big hefty classics and opt for something more streamlined. I’m gonna go with The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso, Jade City by Fonda Lee (I will never shut up about this series) and Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, which I actually re-read recently and loved just as much now as I did as a youngster. Three very different flavours of fantasy (none of which contain dragons, elves or dwarves) that can show how much variety there is within the genre.

10. What’s the site that you like to visit for reviews, author interviews and all things fantasy?
One of my fave bloggers, Caitlin who runs Realms Of My Mind. She’s great and my TBR is under a great deal of strain because of her. If you don’t already follow her, what are you still doing here? Click that link and go read her blog!


Whew! That was fun. What about you folks? Let me know what kind of fantasy reader you are. If you don’t wanna do the full thing, mebs just answer one or two of the questions in the comments or let me know what you think about any of my answers. Toodle pip bookwyrms.


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Review: AMBERLOUGH by Lara Elena Donnelly

Book Reviews

AMBERLOUGH is a fantasy political spy thriller described as John Le Carré meets Cabaret. I was sold instantly. Put this book in my face, as I’m fond of saying. I came to it pretty soon after reading Jade City and Jade War by Fonda Lee and I’ve come to realise I’m so here for these more modern era, low-magic fantasy settings. Especially when they’re so richly populated with the kinds of complicated, true-to-life characters Lara Elena Donnelly has written in this book. Set in an alternative early 20th century secondary world with no magic, some people might quibble about whether this book is really ‘fantasy’ or not, but Amberlough represents everything I love about what speculative fiction can be in the 21st century.



Meet Cyril DePaul. A covert agent pulled off his desk job and put back in the field to collect intel on the major players of a rising nationalist political movement in the loose federation of states called Gedda. Meet his lover and sometimes assignment, Aristide Makricosta, the star performer at The Bumble Bee Cabaret, moonlighting as a smuggler of both illicit drugs and refugees hoping to escape the rising tide of political violence. And streetwise Cordelia Lehane, a burlesque dancer at The Bumble Bee just trying to get by when she’s caught up in the intrigue, espionage and politics of a city on the brink of civil upheaval.

Recently I’ve realised that, more often than not, what really makes me fall in love with a story is great characters. I love complex world building and an exciting plot as much as anyone, but without great characters to truly bring it to life, a book can easily fall flat. Given the backdrop of ascendant far right nationalism that forms the political backdrop of this book, it would have been all too simple for Donnelly to present us with caricatures of the virtuous, morally faultless ‘good guys’, fighting the good fight against the rising tide of fascism, but what she delivers is something much more nuanced, complex and altogether more human. As always, no spoilers, but some characters end up doing some pretty shitty things, and while we can sit and admonish them from the comfort of our reading chair, their motives are entirely understandable and compel you to ask yourself what you would give up for the people you love. They also do some pretty brave, selfless things and I really got the sense that these characters were real people making tough decisions in pretty trying circumstances. Do they make mistakes? Absolutely. Did I understand why they made those mistakes? Abso-frickin-lutely.

Cyril and Aristide’s relationship in this book is some of the finest writing I’ve ever seen to be honest. Cyril is stubborn and secretive, Aristide is egotistical and jealous. They’re like flint and steel striking against each other and shooting sparks onto a pile of dry hay. They’re both disasters in their own way and their relationship, while far from conventional, is a beautiful thing and my heart breaks for them both. Cordelia is my favourite character in this book though. She grew up on the wrong side of the tracks; she’s brash and a bit rough around the edges, but she’s street smart and unapologetic and I really admired her a lot for that. Her character development is incredibly well-done too. There are so many ways I can think of for a working class burlesque dancer to be badly-written, but Donnelly gives every aspect of Cordelia’s life, history and personality the true attention it deserves and she really thrives and stands out for me.

I can understand why some of you might not feel inclined to read a book about the ascendance of right wing nationalism right now, given the state of the world, but there’s also so much hope in this book. It highlights the bonds that hold people together in all their messiness and complexity and how the bravery of ordinary people to resist oppression will never go away so long as it exists.

This is a story about its characters and it wraps up their story well, if not necessarily happily for everyone involved, but I honestly don’t think you could read this book and not want to find out what happens next, both for the world and the characters we get so close to along the way. AMBERLOUGH is a fantastic book and I can’t wait to read the sequel.


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Weekly Reading Update 27/05/2020

Updates

Welcome to Wednesday bookwyrms. The more discerning and long-reading among you may have noticed that I’ve dropped the Hey! Watcha Readin’ tagline from today’s post. That’s because I realised I was referencing something that a lot of you probably aren’t familiar with, and even if you are the reference isn’t particularly obvious haha. Anyone familiar with the TV show Gavin & Stacey? If so then you probably recognise Nessa’s catchphrase “Oh, what’s occurin’?” which is quite famous here in the UK. I enjoyed my little pop culture reference myself, but realised it probably makes no sense to anyone else… I dunno folks, let me know if you get the reference and/or think I should resurrect the Hey! Watcha Readin’ tagline. But before I digress too much, let’s just dive into what I’ve been reading this past week.



Recently Finished: OF DRAGONS, FEASTS AND MURDERS by Aliette de Bodard
I love Aliette de Bodard’s books so much. They just make me so happy and warm inside. This short and delightful novella is about a Dragon Prince and his stabby Fallen Angel husband who get roped into solving a murder when they return home for the Lunar New Year. Family drama and intrigue ensues when they both have to use their own brand of detective work – diplomacy and stabbing respectively – to get to the bottom of the mystery. Look forward to the full review soon 🙂

Currently Reading: KINGS OF THE WYLD by Nicholas Eames
I promised myself I’d finally read this one for Wyrd & Wonder and I am 😀 If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen me post about how this book takes the medal for quickest book to make me cry. I started reading it in bed one night with the intention of reading a few chapters and nodding off to sleep. By chapter 3 I was sobbing into my pillow and couldn’t put it down. I honestly picked this one up just expecting an unapologetic fantasy adventure romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously – which it absolutely is – I just wasn’t expecting so much heart to go along with it. Much fun.

Next Read: A KING’S BARGAIN by J.D. L Rossel
This was also my ‘Next Read’ from last week, but haven’t got round to starting it yet. It’s an epic fantasy about a legendary warrior who just wants to settle down, but is dragged back into the world of adventure when he meets an ambitious village boy who wants to make a name for himself. They set out and become embroiled in the plots of monarchs, on the frontlines of an ancient war and at the mercy of an ancient sorcerer. I’ll be reading it as part of the Storytellers on Tour blog tour and I was initially drawn to it cos I really love that cover art- I mean just look at it ❤ Looking forward to diving into this one next 🙂


If you want to take part in WWW Wednesday, hosted by Taking on a World of Words, just answer the following questions:

What have you just read?
What are you currently reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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Hey! Watcha Readin’: Weekly Reading Update 20/05/2020

Updates

Welcome to Wednesday bookwyrms. I’m actually starting to get consistent with these weekly updates now; makes me feel like I’m starting to get the hang of this book blogging thing after…oh, eight months. Anyway, I have quite an eclectic collection this week. Everything I’m reading feels so different from the thing that preceded it. We’ve got a collection of short horror stories; a grand, epic, swashbuckling historical melodrama and a good rock solid epic fantasy. I also just finished AMBERLOUGH, a spy thriller set in an alternate early 20th-century secondary world, so I’m really doing the rounds of the genres at the moment.



Recently Finished: THE GRAND TOUR (A Jackson’s Unreal Circus & Mobile Marmalade Collection) by E. Catherine Tobler
This is an ARC I got from the fine folks at Apex Book Company and although I hadn’t read any of E. Catherine Tobler’s stuff before, I’ve been very impressed with the quality of fiction coming out of Apex, and the premise of this book piqued my interest enough to be very keen on getting an advance copy. I wasn’t disappointed. While somewhat difficult to categorise the collection as a whole, it’s definitely closer to horror than anything else, with a smattering of science fiction thrown in for flavour. As I’ve come to expect and love about the kind of fiction Apex publishes, it wasn’t standard fare; these stories are odd, bordering on the bizarre at times, but very well-written and deeply engaging.

Currently Reading: THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas
I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this yet! I actually started reading it at the start of May with my pal El from Ink and Plasma, with the aim of reading a bit every day alongside whatever else we’re reading. Cos folks, this is a loooong book. I’m currently listening to it on audio, cos I often find it easier to digest long books that way, but I’m fairly certain it’s around 1300 pages long. A chonker if ever there was one. If you’re not familiar with this classic story though, I’d really encourage you to overcome the intimidating length and give it a go. It was written in 1844 but still reads incredibly well, and tells the tale of Edmond Dantes, a young ship captain betrayed and wrongfully imprisoned for treason, who seeks the ultimate revenge against those who wronged him.

Next Read: A KING’S BARGAIN by J. D. L. Rosell
I signed up to read this as part of the Storytellers On Tour blog tour for this book. It’s the second tour I’m taking part in alongside them and had a blast last time reading and reviewing the urban fantasy thriller UNDER ORDSHAW by Phil Williams. A KING’S BARGAIN is in the more classic fantasy vein, which I really haven’t read much of for quite some time, so I’m looking forward to getting back to the roots of the genre. A KING’S BARGAIN is the story of Tal Harrenfel, a legendary warrior who, after decades of hunting warlocks, monster and mythical beasts, just wants to settle down. But then he meets Garin, a village boy who wants to make a name for himself, and receives an unexpected visit from a mysterious stranger. Tal and Garin begin a journey across the kingdom, becoming embroiled in the plots of monarchs, on the frontlines of an ancient war, and at the mercy of a fabled sorcerer.


If you want to take part in WWW Wednesday, hosted by Taking on a World of Words, just answer the following questions:

What have you just read?
What are you currently reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

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Review: JADE WAR by Fonda Lee

Book Reviews

This book. Is a masterpiece. Hands down some of the best fiction I’ve ever read in my life. JADE WAR is the second book in Fonda Lee’s The Green Bone Saga, a family drama and gangland fantasy epic that began with Jade City. There’ll be no overt spoilers in this review, but if you haven’t read the first book yet it’s likely you’ll make some inferences that could spoil parts of it for you. If that’s the case, have a quick glance at my review of Jade City and go read it, cos these books are off-the-scale incredible.



JADE WAR picks up in the aftermath of the violent power struggle waged between No Peak and The Mountain Clan on the island of Kekon. But while the overt violence of the gang war might be on hold, the two clans exist in a state of fragile peace and continue attempts to outmanoeuvre each other, whether through geo-political alliances with foreign powers and powerful drug kingpins, or economically through the Kekon Jade Alliance and investment opportunities that could undermine their rivals. Where Jade City concentrated largely on the island of Kekon, and the city of Janloon in particular, the sequel expands the scope of the intricate world Fonda Lee has so expertly crafted. War is brewing abroad and foreign powers are once again setting their sights on Kekon as the only source of bioenergetic jade that could give them the edge in the inevitable conflict. And because the Kekonese Green Bone warriors are the only people capable of safely harnessing its power, a criminal empire has arisen to smuggle and distribute ‘shine’, a drug that enables foreigners to temporarily harness the power of jade without succumbing to The Itches. Lee takes this ammunition and uses it with devastating effect to build a living, breathing world with fully-functioning, integrated economies, politics and cultures that at once exist alongside and clash against each other in such dynamic ways I didn’t think possible in fiction.

But what truly makes JADE WAR shine is the characters. And this might sound counter-intuitive at first glance, but it’s honestly difficult to separate the world-building from the characterisation in these books. I listened to a great episode of The Fantasy Inn podcast recently, where authors K. S. Villoso (The Wolf of Oren-Yaro) and Tasha Suri (Empire of Sand) were talking about what makes great world-building. They made the wonderfully insightful point that the best world-building is entwined with characterisation and vice versa. In our own everyday lives, the people we become and the choices we make are affected in countless ways by the world we grow up and exist in. Culture; social relations; political beliefs. We make choices based on the interplay of all these things, and many more besides. What Fonda Lee has done is create a world where all this stuff is present and plays a visible part in moulding the characters, while at the same time, giving them more agency to affect the world around them through their choices and actions than I’ve seen in almost any book I’ve ever read.

Shae’s journey is particularly fascinating to me for this reason. She starts out in the first book as the black swan of the Kaul family, living abroad and denouncing her affiliation to the No Peak Clan. But the traditions and culture of her society force her to make a choice – to reject her rightful place in the clan and face being an outcast? Or take up the mantle and embrace the role her society expects her to fulfil? Both choices involve major consequences and in JADE WAR we see the logical trajectory of Shae’s choice play out and bear fruit with those consequences on full display.

And this is the truly wonderful thing about Fonda Lee’s writing. She gives her characters choices and agency and lets the consequences of those choices play out to their fullest conclusion. And not once does it feel like any of those choices are forced or exist merely to serve some plot point she wanted to arbitrarily hit. Lee knows her characters inside out and lets them play out their lives on her page. Every single character in this book is an individual, with their own unique relationships and expectations, wants and desires in life. They each come with their own strengths and insecurities that manifest in the most authentic ways imaginable and, as a result, make those gut-wrenching moments all the more heart-breaking for it.

Jade City was one of the best books I’d ever read, until I read JADE WAR. It goes beyond anything I could ever have expected from a sequel. I cried, I cheered and I stared, mouth wide open in amazement at the sheer genius of this book. And I mean all those things very literally. The brilliance of this book is beyond my ability to adequately put into words. Fonda Lee is one of the best writers alive and these books are ink and paper proof of that.


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Hey! Watcha Readin’: Weekly Reading Update 13/05/2020

Updates

Welcome to another Wednesday bookwyrms. This week the update is actually on time. Not much in the way of an intro today, so let’s just dive in to what I’ve had my nose in this past week.



Recently Finished: FOUNDRYSIDE by Robert Jackson Bennett
So this isn’t strictly true. I never got to the point of finishing FOUNDRYSIDE because (oh boy this isn’t gonna be popular) I really hated this book. I keep feeling the urge to apologise because it’s so beloved in the bookish community that I almost feel guilty about it. Then I remember “No. It’s fine. I’m allowed to not like it”. I got about a third of the way through and had to set it aside before it made me hate reading so much I fell victim to a dreaded slump. I’m not DNFing though, I am gonna go back to it and see how things pan out after a little break.

Currently Reading: AMBERLOUGH by Lara Elena Donnelly
For those of you following my Wyrd & Wonder shenanigans, this wasn’t on the list of books I flagged to read this month, but I got thinking about it again after including it in my list of Books I Can’t Wait To Read. So I picked it up like twenty seconds after setting Foundryside aside. And reader, it was like a tonic. A rejuvenating, life-giving tonic. It’s so good so far. It’s a fantasy spy thriller about cabaret performers moonlighting as smugglers in a country on the brink of a fascist coup. Can’t wait to really get stuck into this one.

Next Read: KINGS OF THE WYLD by Nicholas Eames
I said this last week too and put it off in favour of Amberlough, but still planning on picking up KINGS OF THE WYLD as soon as possible. For those who didn’t read my update last week, or are otherwise unfamiliar with KINGS OF THE WYLD, it’s basically about a mercenary band, well past their prime, who get the band back together for ‘one last tour’. Think middle-aged dad rock band having a midlife crisis and getting the boys back together. It just sounds fun, you know?


If you want to take part in WWW Wednesday, hosted by Taking on a World of Words, just answer the following questions:

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What do you think you’ll read next?

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Review: STORM FRONT by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files #1)

Book Reviews

Can you believe I didn’t actually know what The Dresden Files books were even about until a few weeks ago? Like, I hear people talking about them all the time, but for whatever reason they never pierced my consciousness and I just didn’t make the effort to find out. Imagine my sheer surprise and delight when I found out they’re about a freelance wizard investigator who solves mysteries. I’m not kidding, as soon as I found out this was the premise, I bought the first book the same day and inhaled it in two more. I mean look at that mash up comparison on the cover: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Philip Marlowe”. Just yes. All the yes.



So at the beginning of STORM FRONT we meet Harry Dresden, wizard investigator for hire. And then there’s no breathing room from that point out. He immediately receives a phone call from an evasive and somewhat distressed woman whose husband has gone missing, offering to pay Harry a big old chunk of money to find out what happened to him. And for Harry Dresden, who’s always one rent payment away from eviction, this isn’t something he’s gonna turn down. On the same day, he’s also summoned to the scene of a gruesome crime scene by the Chicago Police department, where a double murder has been committed using magical means. Wham! Two mysteries right off the bat. And things only get more complicated for our intrepid wizard private dick from here. In his tenacious endeavour to solve both the mystery of the missing husband and the arcane homicide, he has to contend with the attention of the mob, lascivious vampires and his suspicious warden intent on ratting him out to the White Council for breaking the laws of magic.

This book was such a page-turner. There’s so much going on plot-wise that I just never wanted to put it down. This, combined with such a fabulously entertaining and colourful cast of characters, meant it was just a blast to read. Harry himself is your typical grizzled, misanthropic, hard-drinking libertine P.I. in a duster. And far from being tired and played out, he’s actually such an endearing character. His deadpan, dry humour was a constant source of enjoyment for me, especially in the scenes he shares with Bob. Bob is the best. Bob is an air spirit trapped inside a skull in Harry’s basement laboratory, who Harry sometimes cajoles into casting spells he wouldn’t otherwise be able to perform. There were a bunch of laugh out loud moments in this book, but I reckon most of them happened in scenes where Bob was around. On top of that there’s Toot-Toot, the dewdrop faerie Harry tricks into assisting him; Johnny Marcone, the don of the local Chicago mob and of course, Mister, Harry’s rather large and long-suffering cat. You’ve got your femme fatale, your dogged newspaper journalist, your well-intentioned-but-bound-by-the-rules police officer; I enjoyed reading about them all and while they’re mostly tropey as tropey gets, it’s done so well that it’s actually part of the charm.

The one thing I wish had been worked out better was the resolution to the mystery. Obviously no spoilers because that would just be the worst but, suffice to say I didn’t think we got to see enough of the villain for the big reveal to have much of an impact. I don’t know about you, but in these types of murder investigation mysteries, I want to have built up a connection with the eventual perpetrator over the course of the story, so that when the reveal is made, I can have some kind of reaction to it. Whether that reaction is “Yep, totally knew it was them cos of x, y and z said they said and did”, or “What??? I’d never have guessed it was them, they covered their tracks so well” or something else, but at least something. Unfortunately I thought the resolution to this story didn’t have any of that, so when the murderer was finally revealed I just thought “Oh, that’s who did it. Cool, makes sense”, but other than that I didn’t really care. Ultimately though, this didn’t matter to me too much because the journey there was so enjoyable.

I really enjoyed STORM FRONT and, while it didn’t completely blow my mind, it’s proof that with a fresh twist on a much-beloved trope, books don’t have to be particularly original to be a whole lot of fun. And this is definitely a whole lot of fun.


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Review: THE TETHERED MAGE by Melissa Caruso

Book Reviews

Empire politics! Court drama! Intrigue! In a renaissance-era fantasy Venetian setting? All the ticks to so much stuff I love. I feel like I talk about this book too much without having a review up. In truth I’ve been planning on posting a review of THE TETHERED MAGE for a while, I just wanted to re-read it first so I could do it justice. Now I have! And I enjoyed it just as much the second time round 🙂



THE TETHERED MAGE follows Amalia, a young noble of House Cornaro and heir to a seat on the Council of Nine that rules the Serene Empire of Raverra. An intelligent and bookish young woman, Amalia finds herself unwittingly tethered to Zaira, a fire warlock who has so far managed to avoid being conscripted to the military, as all mages in the Empire are bound by law to do. To complicate matters, the city of Ardence is being roused to rebellion by shady forces unknown, though many suspect the hand of the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are pulling the strings. As the only known fire warlock under the Empire’s control, Zaira is used as a threat to subdue the rebellion before open warfare breaks out and Amalia and Zaira must navigate the complex web of nobles, mages and courtiers to try and bring an end to the diplomatic rift before Ardence is consumed by swords and fire.

And boy you’ll have a whole lot of fun watching them do it! Amalia and Zaira are such a great duo. Amalia is an intelligent, not all too confident young woman who begins the book somewhat unsure of her ability or desire to be the Cornaro heir. She’s a character whose friends mean the world to her, someone who’d go through hell and back to keep them safe, though she perhaps doesn’t realise it to begin with. As a young noble, she is obviously very well-to-do, familiar with the luxury afforded by her social status, even if it does mean living in a veritable viper’s nest of distrustful and snake-tongued nobility. Zaira is pretty much her polar opposite. Foul-mouthed and unrefined, Zaira grew up hard on the rough edges of the city and, due to her innate magical ability, suddenly finds herself unwillingly thrust into the world of high politics, nobility and power. What I loved about Zaira was her downright refusal to change who she was to better appeal to the sensibilities of the high-minded aristocrats she is forced to keep company with. Her blunt, no-nonsense, cut-through-the-shit manner of speaking quickly elevated her to becoming my favourite character and she stayed on that pedestal throughout the story.

What I really enjoyed about this book was Caruso’s ability to construct a complex world with no moral absolutes without making the tone too heavy. Our protagonists are fundamentally good people trying to do good in a world whose power structures and competing factions often muddy the waters. This is where the rules of Caruso’s world come in. Melissa herself has said that the basis of the story stemmed from a conversation she had with her partner about what a society that included magic wielders would actually look like. And there are many approaches the different societies of her world take. In pre-Empire Ardence, mages were burned at the stake. In Vaskandar, they are elevated to rulers and in the Serene Empire of Raverra, they are forcibly brought under government control, conscripted to the military and magically ‘tethered’ to their Falcon, who controls the use of their powers. It’s a wonderful basis for a fascinating story that compels us to confront a bunch of difficult questions about the nature of power and freedom and, from a storytelling perspective, actually creates a lot of the page-turning tension that makes this book such a great read.

The one thing that didn’t work for me personally is the romantic sub-plot in the book. Amalia’s relationship with Lieutenant Marcello Verdi was something I could have done without. This is something I’m really interested in exploring about myself because I’m not exactly sure why it didn’t work for me. It’s not that I’m against romance in books as a hard rule by any means. I can name a bunch of great books I’ve read recently where I thought the romance enhanced the story (Xiulan and Lee in Steel Crow Saga, Kaaro and Aminat in Rosewater, pretty much every relationship in Jade City), this particular romance just didn’t work for me. What interests me about it on a personal level is that Marcello isn’t your typical macho, hard-edged love interest and while, on a conscious level, I can gladly say I appreciate the portrayal of emotionally-available men who are open to showing vulnerability, I still found something grating about him as a character and wonder whether this is somehow related to his disavowal of ‘traditional masculinity’ that triggers some lingering sense of socially- entrenched macho bullshit in me. To be fair, Amalia herself actually finds some of Marcello’s more irritating flaws worthy of calling him on (“Lieutenant Verdi, you have many admirable qualities, but your over-protectiveness is not one of them”). All the same, perhaps some self-reflection is in order.

This book is truly fantastic though. It’s fun; it’s complex; Amalia and Zaira are a power duo; the intrigue, court drama and shady, plotting nobility element is exactly the kind of thing I love. Definite recommend, if you like any of this stuff then THE TETHERED MAGE is a must read.


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Books I Can’t Wait To Read (Wyrd & Wonder Day 8)

Updates

Um…so today’s Wyrd & Wonder prompt is ‘Can’t Wait To Read’. Now reader, as a fellow bookwyrm I’m sure you can appreciate the pickle this puts me in because OMG THERE ARE SO MANY BOOKS I CAN’T WAIT TO READ IT MAKES ME WANT TO CRY!

*Ahem*.

So just a heads up, there’s gonna be no rhyme or reason to the books I pick here, it’s just gonna be a random selection of the hundreds of unread books currently waiting patiently on my TBR for me to, one day, pay them the attention they surely deserve. So let’s dive in, and hopefully I can rein myself in and emerge on the other side before I drown in a pile of books.


SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo
THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT by Seth Dickinson
AMBERLOUGH by Lara Elena Donnelly

It’s when I start thinking about this stuff that I realise just how many giants of fantasy I’ve never read a single word of. Leigh Bardugo for example. SIX OF CROWS sounds like my dream book. City of international trade, getting the team together, a heist! Seriously need to make room for this book, and soon. Ditto THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT. I get so excited about merchants and trade and banking in fantasy and this book puts that good stuff front and centre. AMBERLOUGH is desribed as John Le Carré meets Cabaret in this spy thriller where a gay double-agent schemes to protect his smuggler lover during the rise of a fascist government coup. Just hook it up to my veins already.


THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA by Scott Lynch
THE LAST KINGDOM by Bernard Cornwell
KUSHIEL’S DART by Jacqueline Carey

My first three choices are all books released in the past five years, so fairly recently. These three are a bit older, all written before 2010. THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA is one that everyone except me seems to have read and yet, with it’s dark blend of Robin Hood and Ocean’s Eleven, is another story that fits my book needs to a tee. With THE LAST KINGDOM, I actually didn’t know the Netflix show was based on a series of books until very recently to be fair to myself, but now I do know, I think I need to devour them. The cover says ‘Like Game of Thrones, but real’. Sign me up! KUSHIEL’S DART is another book I hadn’t heard of until fairly recently; it was recommended to me on Twitter when I said how much I loved fantasy worlds full of ruthless merchants and Machiavellian nobles.


THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Alexis Henderson
WHEN THE TIGER CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN by Nghi Vo
THE COURT OF MIRACLES by Kester Grant

Of this final selection, two books haven’t been released yet and one is very recent. I’m notoriously bad at reading books when they’re first released, though I’ve become naturally more inclined to do so the more I get involved with the bookish community, simply because I’m more keenly aware of release dates for the stuff I love. I hadn’t heard of Alexis Henderson before; I don’t know if this is her debut or if I’m just ignorant, but this dark witchy fantasy (horror?) story sounds so good! I don’t read enough witchy stories considering how much I enjoy them and this is one I’ll be picking up ASAP. Nghi Vo returns with her second novella WHEN THE TIGER CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN. Honestly, I haven’t even checked to see what this story is about yet, but I loved The Empress of Salt and Fortune so much I just know I have to read this one too. Finally, THE COURT OF MIRACLES by Kester Grant has (I think) been released elsewhere, though here in the UK it’s not available til June. Set in a violent alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Yep, that’s all I need, put this book in my face. Described as Les Misérables meets Six of Crows, it’s likely to whet many an appetite.


So that’s a small selection of a tiny percentage of a fraction of some of the books I’m excited to read. I’m equal parts enthusiastic and terrified to look at the other posts for this prompt; I just know my TBR is going to gobble up a bunch more recommendations and swell beyond it’s already bloated size. Who am I kidding, that’s part of the fun!


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