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)

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)

Queen of Coin and Whispers

The Story

When teenage queen Lia inherits her corrupt uncle’s bankrupt kingdom, she brings a new spymaster into the fold … Xania, who takes the job to avenge her murdered father.

Faced with dangerous plots and hidden enemies, can Lia and Xania learn to rely on each another, as they discover that all is not fair in love and treason?

In a world where the throne means both power and duty, they must decide what to sacrifice for their country – and for each other …

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely loved this book! I read the audiobook, and the narrator really made it come to life. I really enjoyed the court intrigues, the plotting, but also the relationship between the main characters. This novel had me at the summary, honestly, because you can’t say queer f/f romance in fantasy setting without me being interested – but it also fully delivers on its promise. 
I especially loved Xania – I was frustrated alongside her, I could relate to her ethical quandaries, and I loved especially the subplot where she went from “all romance novels suck” to “let me just read this all night”, it was very relatable. 
There’s some tough themes of justice, torture, and recovery, that I was not fully expecting, but I really did enjoy where this book went and how it ended. I’m rarely this satisfied so I don’t really have the words. Just go read it!

Get the book!

From the publisher | Amazon UK / US (affiliates) | Gutter Bookshop (Ireland) | B&N | Waterstones

Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon

The Story

England is overrun by dragons of all shapes and sizes. Most people are blissfully unaware of them and the Pendragon Treaty that keeps the peace between human and dragon kind.  Only those born with preternatural hearing, like Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are able to hear and converse with dragonkind.

When the first firedrake egg laid in a century is stolen from Pemberley, the fragile dragon peace teeters on collapse. Darcy has no choice but to chase down the thief, a journey that leads him to quaint market town of Meryton and fellow Dragon Keeper, Elizabeth Bennet. 

Elizabeth shares a unique bond with dragons, stronger than anything Darcy has ever experienced. More than that, her vast experience and knowledge of dragon lore may be the key to uncovering the lost egg. . But Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy’s arrogance and doesn’t trust him to care properly for a precious baby firedrake. After all, he already lost the egg once. What’s to prevent it from happening again?

Can he win her trust and recover the stolen egg before it hatches and sends England spiraling back into the Dark Ages of Dragon War?

The Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was given a free copy of the audiobook in exchange for a fair review.

I’ve read somewhere that all stories can be improved with the addition of dragons – even in a Regency setting, why not? And this is exactly what this book does.

I’m a longtime fan of Austen, and Pride and Prejudice especially, so it was fun to see dragons added to that setting. And to spot the quotes and references as they went

Most of the main story arc has been kept–meeting Mr Darcy, the different balls, Mr Wickham, etc.– but this is woven with the existence of dragons, who have their own wishes and rights to order their keepers.

I really loved that Lizzie was given a major role in this dragon business, despite being a woman. Some of the male characters were rather more misogynistic than in the book, and I found that a particularly surprising choice for Darcy, who’s also a rightful classist pr*ck the first time we meet him, perhaps moreso than the original. This has made it hard for me to get interested in his relationship with Lizzie, but he does improve as he learns that *shocker* women can be competent too.

I appreciate the fact that the dragon society is given a lot of complexity, and its own prejudices and issues, especially with the local dragon claiming his right to dictacte who Lizzie marries. It was also great to see Mary given a more interesting role, I always felt like Jane Austen did her an injustice, so it’s good to see that righted. It did not entirely make sense to me that some of the plot points from the original happened here too – like the miscommunication surrounding Wickham. I feel like there should have been shared knowledge making it impossible, and it was a bit annoying, but it did make sense in the long term.

There’s something to be said for the audiobook narrator, who went to great lengths to give characters–and dragons–their own voices. It was only a bit jarring to me that a book I often see as centred around women, and with Lizzie as the main character (though admittedly Darcy gets a good chunk of that too) is narrated by a man. But it was really immersive and I especially loved how the baby dragons sounded.

Overall I quite enjoyed it, I’m only sorry that this ends round the time that Darcy leaves Netherfields/ after the ball while Collins is still there, so even though the dragon story arc is complete, the main story is not, and having read Pride and Prejudice, it leaves me with the feeling that it’s uncomplete. Guess I’ll just have to read the next book!

Get the book!

Audible | Amazon UK | Amazon US

Rise of One

The story

As zombies roamed, the earth went quiet. It is as if every critter knew that the only way to stay safe was to lay silent.

Rise and his coven were running out of fresh blood to feed on. With only one human – albeit pampered beyond belief – at their disposal, there wasn’t enough food to go around. He must find other human survivors if they want to avoid succumbing to the blackness of oblivion.

When the human survivors he rescued were infiltrated by Warwolves, an ancient order of vampire hunters, Rise soon realizes the danger he brought upon his kind. With the full intent to survive, Rise must purge all threats to his vampire race.

The world, although decimated, is ripe for rule. If he wished to set history on a new path, he must triumph — starting with the rise of one individual.

The review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review

 This is one that is going to take me some time to digest.
First I’d like to say that I rarely read vampire books anymore, and zombie ones even less so, but there’s something intriguing about the two mixed together.
I was not entirely convinced at first, especially because I didn’t – still don’t – really know what to think of the main point of view character. And not everything the characters did made sense to me.
But the story threads all seem to pull together in the final act, and suddenly I couldn’t stop turning the page.
It’s inventive, there’s great morally grey characters who, although you may really disagree with them or think they’re assholes, really make you want to know what happens to them next. I’m not sure what I think of Rise, or Cypriot, or even what the hell was going on with Elaine and Marnie, and I feel like the author kept a lot hidden, perhaps for the next volume in the series. At the same time I really enjoyed the characters anyhow – and the fact that it was made clear when Rise was being callous and unaware of his privilege. Although I often find it hard to get interested in a book that’s got an unlikeable POV, and this was no exception – the first half or so was kinda hard for me to get into. If I’m being honest, what I really want next is a book centered on Salter and Annette.
In short: not really my kind of read, but still a good and interesting novel with a lot of potential for the next books. 

Get the book – it’s out today!

Amazon & Kindle |

Verona Comics

The Story

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life. Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them–that is, when they’re even paying attention. They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret. Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I can’t lie, I’m a sucker for Shakespeare rewrites, and I’m a sucker for Romeo and Juliet – but it rarely hits the mark, really. This book, though! I had a blast listening to the audiobook! The voice actors really embody the characters, and Ridley especially. The poor kid has panic attacks and the writer and actor both did a wonderful job portraying that.

There’s a lot in this story about mental health, and family abuse and what it does to you, so it comes with trigger warnings – but the writer really did justice to the topic, showing how it’s really overwhelming sometimes and how those dynamics eat at you – but also how there are roads to recovery and ways to build support systems even if you think there aren’t.

It’s also really, really funny and geeky in the best of ways, and it’s a love letter to independent comicbook stores, and to queer kids. Most of the cast is queer in some way, including the main f/m relationship – which is very unusual and as a bi girl I found it really refreshing. It does a good job of portraying the anxiety that comes with navigating relationship as a bi/pan/…  person too, but remains very positive on that front. I don’t normally read contemporary  YA, but I absolutely loved this one and would absolutely recommend it!

Get the book!

Penguin | B&N | Waterstones

Girl of Hawthorn and Glass

I want to take the time to highlight this book, because I absolutely love it, and at the same time I think to be in the minority opinion. But it was a great queer read for me and I can’t wait for the next one.

Cover of Girl of Hawthorn and Glass by Adan Jerreat-Poole. On a black and dark green background with wreaths of green leaves and red berries, and shards of glass in the corners, the title is written in white across the whole cover as if with a paintbrush

The story

Even teenage assassins have dreams.

Eli isn’t just a teenage girl — she’s a made-thing the witches created to hunt down ghosts in the human world. Trained to kill with her seven magical blades, Eli is a flawless machine, a deadly assassin. But when an assignment goes wrong, Eli starts to question everything she was taught about both worlds, the Coven, and her tyrannical witch-mother.

Worried that she’ll be unmade for her mistake, Eli gets caught up with a group of human and witch renegades, and is given the most difficult and dangerous task in the worlds: capture the Heart of the Coven. With the help of two humans, one motorcycle, and a girl who smells like the sea, Eli is going to get answers — and earn her freedom.

The review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I picked this from the library’s ebook collection, knowing nothing about it, because the cover spoke to me. I was hooked from the first page.
At that point I read the summary and it sounded like your regular YA novel so I was a bit disappointed. But that wasn’t really what I got. It’s a brilliant story, very queer (always a nice surprise, I usually *pick* books because they’re queer rather than finding out as I read) with all leads being some flavour of LGBT+ and the main love interest being nonbinary. It’s refreshing.
The worldbuilding was subtle and dreamy. It’s not that straightforward alternate universe that makes perfect logical sense, it’s more like Alice in Wonderland or Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway, in that you piece out the logic as you go and not everything makes sense at first, and it’s not the kind of universe that works like our own world, which was refreshing to read too. It has the atmosphere of a fairy tale.
I think one of the main attractions for me was Eli’s experience of herself and her trauma. Our heroine is clearly struggling with who she is as someone who’s only ever been treated as a tool, and not a person, and struggling with the fact that her mother is cruel and abusive while also in other ways protecting her. This was all too relatable.
Overall the writing really hit home, the worldbuilding was really dreamy and I was very much rooting for the main cast. One thing I would say is that sometimes it was not always clear what was going on, in ways that perhaps could’ve been written more clearly without losing the atmosphere. 
Overall however, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I will be looking forward to the second volume!

Get the book

Publisher website | Waterstones | B&N