Review of Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight

I’ve been distracted to no end this new year and college exams (who said going back to school would be easy?) and I’m regretting how little reading I was able to put in. I did, however, manage to finish this great short story collection, so I thought I’d review it.

The Book:

Come discover the breadth and endless invention of her universes, ranging from a dark Gothic Paris devastated by a magical war; to the multiple award-winning Xuya, a far-future space opera inspired by Vietnamese culture where scholars administrate planets and sentient spaceships are part of families.

In the Nebula award and Locus award winning “Immersion”, a young girl working in a restaurant on a colonized space station crosses paths with an older woman who has cast off her own identity. In the novelette “Children of Thorns, Children of Water”, a shapeshifting dragon infiltrating a ruined mansion finds more than he’s bargained for when his partner is snatched by eerie, child-like creatures. And in the award-winning “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, three very different people–a scholar, an engineer, and a spaceship–all must deal with the loss of a woman who was the cornerstone of their world.

This collection includes a never-before seen 20,000-word novella, “Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness”, set in Bodard’s alternative dark Paris.

My cat Lucky here modelling with my copy of the book

The Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I always struggle to read — and review — short story collections. I just don’t have the focus for small slices, paradoxically. It’s easier for me to get invested when I can stick with the characters for longer. But I enjoyed the Xuya short stories I read before (the Tea Master and the Detective mainly was a great read!) so I wanted to give the wider universe a try. 

It helps that all the stories are in the same universe (except for the last two which are in the Dominion of the Fallen universe and got me really interested in that as well) with common themes of war and grief. I almost want a history book of Xuya to get to know more about the different empires and their background. But the slices we get definitely paint a good enough picture. 

I was invested in the various characters, each story hit right where it should, and they were all equally good – I usually find that short story collections have highlights and then others that drag the collection down but that wasn’t the case here. I liked some better than others, of course, and Pearl was probably the highlight for me, as well as the final short story, “Of Birthdays, and Fungus, and Kindness”. “Days of War as Red as Blood as Dark as Bile” also really got to me, and “the Waiting Stars” too, but again they were all really good!

(as a side note, I was disappointed when I received my copy because this cover is nice but it’s Not As Nice, in my opinion, as the US cover edition which I keep seeing everywhere online. It’s grown on me though.)

Find the book

Portal bookshop (UK): signed copies!! | Amazon UK / US (affiliates) |B&N (US)

December reads

I had a week off from work and Plans to read a lot more books (or at least finish the ones I’d started) before this year was over, but it didn’t really happen… I lost track of time and watched a lot of trashy tv instead, but well, everyone needs time off sometimes.

I still read some good stuff this month, so, final recap of the year here we come!

  • Rise of One, by Dixon Reuel. Indie Irish novel about vampires living through the zombie apocalypse! It was a fun little read, although I still struggle through ebooks in general. Full review here.
  • Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon by Maria Grace. Anyone say dragons and regency romance? Really loved the concept, not fully into the execution, but the audiobook narrator really made this worth listening to. Full review here.
  • The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett. I’ve spent this year trying to get through my Pratchett backlog, with the help of the library app… I’m not a fan of all the books, it turns out. But this one was a shortie but a goodie, it went against some of my expectations and well worth 3h of my time.
  • Dragon Physician, Joyce Chng. It had been on my wishlist for years and I finally got my hands on it! Who doesn’t love the idea of a trans commune taking care of dragons? It was perhaps a bit rushed and too short for the concept to be developed fully, which saddens me because I was really into it in theory. It’s a decent novella, but it could’ve been a great one with a bit more polish.
  • Drowned Country, by Emily Tesh. Along with the next book on this list, one of the highlights of this month for me. It was a highly anticipated read, and while it wasn’t at all what I expected, it did not disappoint! Full review here.
  • Queen of Coin and Whispers, by Helen Corcoran. I gotta admit (to myself, mostly) I’m a sucker for queer romance. I’m also a sucker for fantasy stories but that’s no news to anyone. I’m also ALSO a sucker for women making their way through in a complicated and kinda patriarchal society. And this one is also queernorm, somewhat, which we could use more of. It was a serendipitous read but I could hardly believe how much I enjoyed it. Full review here.

Ending 2020 (and looking forward to 2021)

In retrospect, I think we can all agree that 2020 was a shitty, shitty year. Personally I started it in a drafty overpriced studio with terrible heating, finances sucked, I had to move out in February, plus I had to have (minor) surgery and spent some weeks recovering… Then lockdown started and my office job because very, very boring (but I’m one of the lucky people who still had a job so… can’t really complain here.)

I had something of a burnout during the summer because pandemic + abusive manager at work + a lot of other things going on, but I managed to turn this around with a new job and some decent things happening in the past month or though.

But through all that, and through the pandemic, one thing that’s kept me sane has been reading. I’ve read more this year than… Probably any year, really. There’s still a few days but I’m at 123 books read this year, and I think that’s a neat number. Mostly, it’s because I discovered that with my limited attention brought on by *gestures at the world* and bad mental health, I could now actually focus on audiobooks instead of needing to do 3 things at once. And the library app had a lot of cool audiobooks. The library’s been another great help – when they were open, but also when they weren’t, with online ebook and audiobook resources. I’ve listened to classics like Picnic at Hanging Rock or Little Women that I’d ignored so far. I’ve read a lot of amazing novels, and comic books.

I did #OcTBR in October, with the challenge of reading 30 books in 30 days, and got most of the shorter comicbooks and nonfiction off my list. Today, there’s 514 books on my TBR, so I won’t be lacking reading material for next year…

Oh, and I started this blog 🙂 but that was only recently so I didn’t have time to cross-post all my reviews. I just want to take the time to highlight some of my favourite reads of 2020! It’s a long list.

More of the gorgeous books I read this year (most were library or ebooks and audiobooks so… they can’t be on the picture)
  • Seanan McGuire: I want to highlight books, but really when it comes to Seanan, I absolutely loved every single one I read. I’ve continued the October Daye series, which is still so much fun even some 13 books in, and read more of the Wayward Children series which keeps blowing my mind by its complexity and joyful representation. 10/10 I’ll read any book of hers I can get my hands on.
  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. I’m a space junkie. I absolutely adored the Hidden Figures movie and this is that but with a side of science fiction/alternate history. It’s also really good to see Jewish characters centre stage, and that was weaved very well into the story. I need to read the next one!
  • Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett. I read it. I read it again with my Shakespeare book club (I’m a nerd, I know). It’s absolutely brilliant, it questions the colonialism and sexism inherent to The Tempest, it’s got magic, and f/f romance, and ghosts, and kickass young ladies. What more could you want?
  • All Systems Red (murderbot diaries) by Martha Wells. The main reason I’ve not read the whole series yet is that it’s really hard to get your hands on books 2 and 3 in paper… I want to know more about the sarcastic murder robot!
  • The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, by Olivia Waite. This book converted me into a romance reader. I just enjoyed every page of it, it’s beautifully crafted, it’s got astronomy and writing and embroidery and a great, complex f/f relationship, and I got book 2 as soon as I could find it. I’m currently savouring it very slowly to make it last. If I had to recommend one book out of all I read this year, this would be it.
  • Becky Chambers. Again, I read Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and Closed and Common Orbit but really I will read anything by Becky Chambers I can get my hands on. She hasn’t got nearly any books out there and I’m excited to see what’s coming out in 2021. If I had to describe them, I’d say space operas with a heart. It’s all about the found families, and I really dig it.
  • The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling. I don’t normally read horror but this book had me at the edge of my seat the whole time. I couldn’t put it down. It’s pretty claustrophobic, so fair warning, but it was just a little jewel and I wish I could read it again without knowing what’s going to happen. It got me really curious about spelunking too.
  • Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn. What if the French revolution… with magic? It’s basically the Scarlet Pimpernel without the pro-monarchy bs, it’s a well-balanced narrative on the Terror and how both nobles and revolutionaries were hurt, and all the people who really did not deserve what they got. It’s also got magic, and love, and queer women running around in pants saving the world their friends. Can’t wait for the next one!
  • The Invisible Library series, Genevieve Cogman. I read all the ones the library could get me and then promptly bought the next 3 at once… This is like the childhood dream come true for me, a magic library with all the books in the world(s). With added dragons, and fairies, and the possibility to make things happen with a word. They’re also more or less mystery books. There’s a lot going on in these, and they’re quick fun reads that always make my day.
  • This is How You Lose The Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Oh. My. God. This is one book that really deserved the hype around it. There was not NEARLY ENOUGH hype around it. It’s an absolutely brilliant, poetic, timey-whimey romance goodness.
  • Bitch Planet comics. I don’t… really know how to explain this one but it’s basically a futuristic patriarchal society that upholds some weird 80s gender bs, and women and gender non conforming and trans people go and just… kick the patriarchy’s ass. It comes with a trigger warnings attached but woah. absolutely brilliant.
  • Verona Comics, Jennifer Dugan. My other Shakespeare adaptation highlight of the year, absolutely brilliant. Full review here!
  • Big Black Stand at Attica, by Jared Reinmuth and Frank “Big Black” Smith. I’ve read quite a few Black comics, and books around the Black rights movement, but this one is just burned in my mind. It’s about the Attica Prison riot, an absolutely horrendous event for which there was no real justice. (TW: police violence, torture, murders)
  • Queen of Coin and Whispers, by Helen Corcoran. Look, my life doesn’t have nearly enough f/f fantasy in it. I’m not sure what I loved most, the political intrigues or the pining. Who am I kidding, it’s the pining. Full review here!
  • last but not least, Drowned Country by Emily Tesh. Great sequel to Silver in the Wood, and another writer added to my list of “will buy anything she writes”. Full review here!

There were so many more great books I read this year, but I tried to keep this list “short”. If you’ve read this far, I wish you a great end of year, and wish we all have a better year ahead!

Drowned Country

I’d been trying to get my hands on this book ever since… well, before it came out. Hodges Figgis (the Waterstones of Dublin) was unable to preorder it because it’s “a US publisher” for some reason, and other local bookshops didn’t have it on their website (lockdown and all that). I finally got it from The Portal Bookshop so many thanks to Lali for going through the trouble of posting to Ireland. Give them your business if you can!

Now, without further ado…

The Story

Even the Wild Man of Greenhollow can’t ignore a summons from his mother, when that mother is the indomitable Adela Silver, practical folklorist. Henry Silver does not relish what he’ll find in the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where once the ancient wood extended before it was drowned beneath the sea – a missing girl, a monster on the loose, or, worst of all, Tobias Finch, who loves him.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I don’t know what I was expecting as a follow-up to Silver in the Wood. I know I wanted more of that universe but it was also very self-contained. 
This novella picks up 2 years later, Silver and Tobias have broken up (I was very confused by that at first) and have to work together to investigate the disappearance of a young lady, probably kidnapped by a vampire.
Turns out the young lady has much more agency than you’d expect, and quite frankly she was the highlight of the book for me. Young Gothic woman wearing pants and bossing magical men around? Yes please! 
We discover more about Silver’s character, in ways that surprised me – and I found myself actually disliking him, but still loving what I was reading. It’s rare for me to dislike a protagonist and still love the book. 
Silver in the Wood gave us a glimpse of a fantastic world, but Drowned Country goes so much further to extend that universe with subtle and not so subtle worldbuilding, a whole Fairy dimension and lore, vampires and ghouls… And yet it’s not overwhelming, it’s just enough to make the story work.
It’s hard to talk about the ending without spoiling it, but I was pretty satisfied by it. I know it’s a duology but if Emily Tesh writes more in that universe, I’ll me giving her my money in a heartbeat!

Get the book!

Portal Bookshop (UK) | Amazon UK, US (affiliates) | Barnes & Noble (US)