January reads! and other musings

Not much of a recap to do, as I’ve reviewed pretty much all I read this month already.

I’ve received loads of books (thanks to belated Christmas presents and the slow postal system, I’ve had a trickle of surprises this month) and I look forward to reading them all but in practice I’ve not read as much as I wanted this month.

January started right up with exams and a 3k lit review to write (and me regretting having gone back to study while also working full time) so it wasn’t exactly conducive to spending time reading. Then friends got me back into playing Stardew Valley, so it’s been a gaming month more than a reading month, but I’ve started keeping track in my bullet journal and it’s actually a lot better than I thought!

I actually ended up reading more ebooks than I normally do!

I’ve also started playing Merchant of the Skies and it’s loads of fun. It’s low stakes, kinda stardew valley-like (and not just for the visual style), but with the concept and some mechanics reminiscent of Sunless Skies – you go around and trade and fill out quests and discover more of this universe as you go. It’s simple but really engrossing!

As for books, I think if I had to pick ONE this month that really stuck with me, it’d be Upright Women Wanted. Absolutely blew my mind and I keep thinking back to it, I really hope there is more to come in this particular universe! Belle Revolte and Desdemona and the Deep would be close seconds.

I’ve also started a lot of books that I’ve yet to finish, mostly because I don’t have time or can’t focus, and through no fault of their own, so I’m really hoping I can write more about that in the next month! I’ve got some plans to do F/F February but eeeeh it’ll depend how much time I’ve got to read. Realistically 90% of my TBR is F/F so it would not be very hard!

Louxor trying to help me sort my TBR

Review of A Throne of Swans

Been hearing about this book for a while and it’d been on my TBR for months at least, so I jumped on the opportunity to read it when I saw it on the library app. The audiobook was good from a narrator perspective but I’m not sure how I feel about the story really.

The Story

In a world where the flightless are ruled by those who can fly…

When her father dies just before her birthday, seventeen-year-old Aderyn inherits the role of Protector of Atratys, a dominion in a kingdom where nobles are able to transform at will into the bird that represents their family bloodline. Aderyn’s ancestral bird is a swan. But she has not transformed for years, not since witnessing the death of her mother – ripped apart by hawks that have supposedly been extinct since the long-ago War of the Raptors. 

With the benevolent shelter of her mother and her father now lost, Aderyn is at the mercy of her brutal uncle, the King, and his royal court. Driven by revenge and love, she must venture into the malevolent heart of the Citadel in order to seek the truth about the attack that so nearly destroyed her, to fight for the only home she has ever known and for the land she has vowed to protect.

The Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

As always I’m suffering from the fantasy audiobook symptom of not knowing how to write the names… bear with me!

I had quite a bit of trouble getting into it, it felt a bit cliché run-of-the-mill YA, even though the idea that the characters can transform into various animals really got me. What bothered me in the beginning was the idea that in this world, the nobility is justified by physical power (only the flying can be nobles) and that wasn’t really questioned. But it gets better? As in the injustices are wrapped into the story and supposedly the main characters are working on making things better, or at least not worse.

The plot itself is fairly standard, though I did like the concept of people being able to transform and fly, and I was a bit confused why that linked to them hurting other creatures with a touch. Feels like a curse of sorts… I really enjoyed the politics side of it, but I did not really enjoy the romance plot. I mean, the love interests treats Aderyn like shit and we’re supposed to be happy with his excuse. Girl can do better!

I did really enjoy Aron’s character, the perspective he brought as a disabled character in a highly ableist society (can’t fly? you’re nothing! even if you’re literally the prince) and I think there was potential there for Aderyn and him to truly relate to each other, but it wasn’t exploited since she did not trust him til the last hour or so… I appreciated the way the story wrapped up though. It’s also very soft queer, as in it’s mentioned in passing that Aron is bi but it has no bearing on the plot, there’s a few mentions that queer people are a Thing but anyway those in powers need heirs, etc. so your feelings are irrelevant. Wish it’d been a bit queerer.

Loved to hate the villain of the story as well, it was a nice touch the way he started as an ally. And the way the novel did not take a black and white approach to good – the heroine’s father was plotting against the king, but the king may or may not have killed her mother… and he (the king) is a despicable monster too. It would have been really easy for the authors (and Aderyn) to take a side there, and they did not. As for Siegfried, as I said I loved to hate him, and I appreciated his sneakiness and how his abusive nature is portrayed, but I was also pretty confused by the Game of Thrones-esque idea that he was sexually involved with his sister. You really didn’t need that to convey that he’s a monster and an asshole, it felt added for shock value only.

So overall I’d say I enjoyed the story, perhaps more than I originally thought, but I’m also not wholly convinced, especially because it dropped the ball on the idea of social justice and possible people’s uprising that was teased at the beginning, in favour of machinations between the powerful (as much as I enjoyed those).

Review: Cursed, an Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales

I said this before, but I’m not really a fan of short stories. But the concept really appealed to me and I figured why not. The cover also looked nice, not gonna lie. And while I got bored by a few, there were also some great highlights I want to talk about!

The Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

First off, I want to say Kudos to the narrators. The audiobook itself was brilliant, and giving it to multiple people to read different stories really helped with the contrast. Also, amazing voices. Well, there was one that gave a Northern English accent (?) to a “latin” character (whatever that means, I think they said Mexican and also South American at different points in the same story…) so that was offputting, but everything else sounded great and really helped pull me into the stories.

Now, bear with me as I try to remember the titles, there’s no clear title page (because audiobook) and I have the worst memory for names.

I absolutely loved As red as blood, as white as snow which is essentially Snow White meets Bluebeard. It really does what most fairy tale retellings struggle with, which is redeeming the stepmother (or at least yknow, acknowledging the sexism of that trope. Without putting in more sexism [don’t get me started on Gaiman’s Snow Glass Apples, which isn’t in this thankfully]). The two tales worked surprisingly well together and gives the princess some good old agency, which I can never complain about.

On the less dark side, or dark-but-funny side perhaps, I really enjoyed both Fairy Werewolf Vs. Vampire Zombie and Henry and the Snakewood Box. The first’s about some good old paranormal love triangle, with a twist. A few twists, in fact. The second involves a demon who’s giving away wishes to a boy named Henry on the principle that for each positive wish, he (the devil) gets to do a butterfly-creates-hurricane level of evil with the power unleashed. It does not turn out how he planned… The tone of these two were really what I loved. The fairy pub owner in the first, with her Southern drawl and I’ve seen everything attitude, and the extra conceited demon in the second, who was so proud of himself for having found a human easy enough to abuse… these were definitely made even better by the narrator.

Other highlights I think were the ones going with Old World vibes, like Listen, a twist on the pied piper, cursed by an old god(?) to bring back shadows of the dead with her music so they tell their truths. The Merrie Dancers also had that similar eerie vibe about the fae.

Then there was the fascinating ones I don’t know what to think about. Haza and Ghani was fascinating, if perhaps a bit long. I had the impression of a much older narrator, though by the end I was not sure. This little girl who follows her brother to the temple and becomes a kitchen help to stick around and help, and her jaded older self telling us about it, it was really fascinating, but I did also find that I was losing focus in the middle. A bit of a “get to the point” feeling about it!
Then there’s Look Inside and I loved the concept and again the ties to the old world but I’m reaaaally uneasy about the ending.
Skin was horrible and terrifying in a kind of satisfying way (very gory, mind you) but the whole idea that this woman (accidentally) put a curse on this horrible man who essentially got mad at her for her skin condition, and she has to soothe his feelings, and cajole him, and essentially agree that she is bad for having cursed him? I’m not comfortable with that. It feels like it lacks some awareness of the real world, let’s say. Which is ironic for fairy tales but it did not hit the mark for me. [deleted rant about fairy tale morality and what it’s supposed to teach and how to subvert them]
New Wine was fascinating also, and I really liked it actually, but it’s also… like it’s got that feeling of “oh no this is too much like the real world” that makes me shudder inside and not know what to think about it. In a good way, I think?

Some were unmemorable, or the ending was just a bit flat for me. I did not particularly like Troll Bridge by Gaiman, I mean it was ok but there were stronger stories. Wendy Darling was an interesting twist but it did not pack the punch I think it was supposed to. Others were just… eh, like Black Fairy’s Curse, I really didn’t see the point, or Little Red (major self-harm trigger warnings here) because I guess we all love stories in asylums (not), or Faith and Fred which again… not convinced.

One thing I’d say overall is that except for the Fairy Werewolf/Vampire Zombie and for Haza and Ghani, this was very English. British if I’m being generous. It was fun in some ways, as in I know those places, and it makes for more Old World kinds of stories but I’d have loved more diversity that’s not “this guy from the Southern hemisphere in a London tenement flat does voodoo maybe” (Hated), you know?

So overall some of the stories were brilliant, and I’d give them 4-5 stars, and most of them were ok-to-good, and a few were just uuuurgh. Which is par for the course for an anthology, I suppose. But as anthologies go, I think I quite liked this one on average.

Review of Belle Revolte

No cat pictures today 🙁 I read this as an ebook… on my phone… And it took me the best part of forever, but I’m blaming the format rather than the book itself, which I did quite enjoy!

The Story

Emilie des Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work.

Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts.

Emilie and Annette swap lives—Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician’s assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives.

But when their nation instigates a terrible war, Emilie and Annette come together to help the rebellion unearth the truth before it’s too late.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I feel like the summary is a bit too mild for the novel. It’s not just that the two girls switch lives. Throughout, they both want to change the way the world works, to go against prejudice whether that’s sexism or the abuse of the poor, and really they’re tied hand in hand.

I enjoyed the way the author creates a whole system that magic works in her universe (or rather, that magic is taught) and how that informs its own kinds of bigotry for our heroines to fight again. I enjoyed even more how these dynamics played out, and she did not hesitate to interrogate the motivations of her characters, with Emily especially taking into account her privilege as a rich girl, and the fact that her dreams of becoming a physician and showing the men in power what a woman can do was… actually pretty narrow-minded and self centered compared to everything else.

I knew it was queer but I expected, as always when there’s two main leads, that it would be between them. It’s not. They each have their love interests, and there’s loads of representation besides. I really enjoyed the ace rep especially, it’s way too rare to see it in books and it was done very well – but also the trans and nonbinary rep. The leads don’t have any issues with it but it’s clear that not all society agrees, and it’s one of the things our rebel friends fight for. And both main relationships were wildly different but equally satisfying. As were the friendship and loyalty between Emily and Annette, and all “good” characters’ relationships if I’m being honest. The relationships (in the wider sense, not just romantic) are really what made the book for me.

Without spoiling, the “twist” at the end with regards to the leaders of the revolution made a lot of sense, though it was maybe not bold enough. Another thing that really threw me off was the French. I mean it’s in the title, but the whole universe is French-inspired, and it’s off-putting (as a French speaker, for those who don’t know me 🙂 ) to see French words for titles, as well as first names, in the middle of sentences. Especially when there’s perfectly good English words for the same. Also, it’s Pierre, not Pièrre. It’s tiny but it really threw me every single time I read it… But I mean, this is my main criticism and it’s mainly down to me being prissy.

I did have a hard time getting into it but that’s also mostly because ebooks and I aren’t great friends. Then the pace picked up and I really couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. Now I gotta get over the fact that it’s a standalone, but I’m also really satisfied with the way it wrapped up.

Review of Upright Women Wanted

I got this book for Christmas after pining over it ever since it came out and I gotta say… I was surprised it was so thin? I’d expected a chonker when I read about it. The hardback is a gorgeous piece of work in and of itself though, I gotta say/ The dust jacket’s really cool and the book under is also very nice with gilded lettering on the spine and a little embossed Tor spaceship!

The Story

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her—a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda. The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Think of this as… I suppose, Handmaid’s Tale meets Godless, I guess? Except I did not get through more than 2 episodes of Godless and I could read 10 books like this one. For its small size, it certainly packs a punch!

I read it in an afternoon, and all I can think of is “give me more”. It’s all sorts of queer, in a future that’s pretty much like a Western movie (only the military has cars and diesel so everyone’s back to carts and horses) and even if it’s very much set in the future, it has that historical tone as well. The fascism is truly there, and it comes across through the bigotry and homophobia/transphobia the characters have experienced. But the book is ultimately dripping with sarcasm and humour, and full of hope. And like I said, I could read a whole series about these characters!

I loved all the characters, both the older couple who begrudgingly take Esther under their wings, the nonbinary Assistant Librarian who definitely did not want to get saddled with her, and even Amity, the… antagonist I guess? that’s not quite right. I enjoyed how Esther was grappling with who she was in a world that always told her there was no place for her, and how that translates into action. This is definitely a book that speaks to me in 2021, and that’s how I like my speculative fiction!

Review of Desdemona and the Deep

For those who don’t know me, I’m a Shakespeare nerd. I will go and get books that have the slightest hint of being a Shakespeare adaptation, because that’s just my Thing, and when it’s done well I love it. I had no clue about how this book would BE a Shakespeare adaptation, but surely with a title like that, it had to be, right? Wrong. But it was still absolutely amazing!

My cats posing with my copy of the book. I’ve decided that’s how I’m gonna present them from now on 🙂

The Story

In Desdemona and the Deep, the spoiled daughter of a rich mining family must retrieve the tithe of men her father promised to the world below. On the surface, her world is rife with industrial pollution that ruins the health of poor factory workers while the idle rich indulge themselves in unheard-of luxury. Below are goblins, mysterious kingdoms, and an entirely different hierarchy.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’m used to fairies and goblins being much darker and more cunning than that, and I like it – but it’s also really nice to have something different for a change. It was good to have a different take on faerie, one that is perhaps kinder, or simply different.

I really disliked Desdemona at first. I mean, she’s 28 or something and has the concerns of a 16 year old (no diss on 16 year olds, you’re just supposed to have more responsibilities at 28). But there is amazing character growth throughout the novella, as Desdemona realises all she’s been oblivious to, and what her privileges really mean: her father’s fortune literally comes from blood money. But she goes about fixing that. I was a bit miffed that she went and used the same goblin contract her father exploited, to get back the men who got taken in the process: it’s very clear the goblin ruler is as much a prisoner of that bargain as the men he took. But the way things unfolded ended up being very satisfying.

Ultimately I love a good book about hard moral choices, and social justice, and taking responsibility for doing the right thing where you can. I grew to like the heroine, I absolutely loved how queer the whole story was – and the fact that Desdemona realises halfway through (despite being queer herself) that she’s never truly seen her best friend for who she really is – and immediately changes pronouns to think of her. I really enjoyed all secondary characters too, there’s a lot of liveliness and fun there. It’s both a serious story and a very funny one, and maybe that’s what’s Shakespearean about it after all 🙂

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!

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