Book Review: Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear


Rating:  ★★

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Blurb (from GoodReads):

Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants.

She thinks she knows who she is.

She is wrong.

Admittedly- I left out a lot of that blurb (you can read the whole blurb in the link above).  I only put in what I felt was actually relevant to the book.

This was a DNF for me. I made it to 70% and I didn’t even have the desire to skip to the end and see how it played out. I’m putting the content warnings up here in case you don’t want to read my spoiler laden review: suicide bombings, death of partners, abduction, references to a hive mind/cult, murder of children.

This is not what I expected it to be. In the full blurb, I saw space salvage and space pirates and expected a thrilling action filled plot. Maybe a cat and mouse game, maybe some subterfuge. Some twists and turns.

There are twists and turns, but they are not the kind you’re thinking. This is not an action driven plot. This is the character study of a woman who was raised in a cult (called clade in the book). Turn back now if you don’t want spoilers because I can’t explain why I’m not finishing this without them.

It’s five hundred pages of mostly inner monologue: Haimey suffering anxiety from past trauma, second guessing herself every step of the way, and auto-tuning her brain chemicals as a form of medical treatment. I mean- it’s by no means my kind of book no matter how you look at that, and I was bored to tears, but even that was not why I quit reading.

(Again, major spoilers ahead.) I quit reading because at some point the person holding Haimey convinces her to let her unblock memories that were “reconned,” (buried/blocked/written over). When Haimey remembers what actually happened she finds out her clade was basically a terrorist cult (I mean all cults are terrorists of a kind, but I’m referring specifically to the suicide bomber sort.)

When the full truth of Haimey’s identity is realized, she remembers that when the clade is caught, instead of allowing themselves to be separated and reconned themselves, they kill each other, and all the children.

That’s a hard pass for me. I’m sorry. It’s a hard pass for me in tv, in movies. I just don’t want to deal with it or think about it for any period of time.

I do have a lot of respect for Bear as an author, I think she is incredibly talented and imaginative. I liked her book Carnival for the society and world building. There was some cool tech and some hints of societal structure here, but none of it was straightforward enough to really grasp and analyze which is what I was hoping for.

I don’t think it was all pointless. There is probably a very interesting discussion to be had about the implications of medicating or the possibility of overmedicating as a way to avoid confrontation and coping with life. (And I am not passing judgement on any of this- you’d have to read it to understand what I mean.)

So- I’m giving it two stars even though I didn’t finish. I think for someone that isn’t bothered by what I’ve stated above and goes into it expecting a character study will have a field day with this novel. It just isn’t for me.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Saga Press for providing me with an eARC to review.

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Like to Switch Places With



Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic was super tough for me.  Most of my favorite characters don’t really lead happy lives- or otherwise live in a world that I would not be likely to survive.  So I didn’t quite make it to ten this week.  I tried to cycle in some fresh ones to talk about too since I feel like I end up mentioning the same handful of books over and over again when dealing with favorite anything.

Elizabeth Bennet Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I mean – romance goals, am I right? Aside from that, she’s smart, she’s witty, she’s outspoken, basically everything I want to be when I grow up.

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

Gnomon, Gnomon by Nick Harkaway: He’s a shark god.  I think.  Life seems like it would be pretty good if you were a shark god.  At least if I switch places with Gnomon I don’t have to worry too much about dying a premature death.


Batman – Because flying and gadgets and mansions.

Trynne Kiskaddon, Kingfountain series by Jeff Wheeler: Trynne dual wields swords.  She’s fountain blessed.  She’s the leader of the Oath Maidens.  And she counts the Wizr Merlin among her friends.

Artemis Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara, Artemis by Andy Weir: I know Artemis was sort of divisive for fans of Weir’s other work, but I thought it was a fun, action packed read.  Mostly I’d switch places with Jazz because she lives on the moon.

Yennefer The Witcher 3

Yennefer, The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski:  Alright so I really don’t want to live in a world full of monsters like the ones found on The Continent (yes apparently that’s really its name).  But if I had to live there- I know I’d want all of Yenn’s cunning and sorcery skills to go with it.  Also, there’s something really, hopelessly romantic about Geralt’s last wish, and who doesn’t want to be the target of such affection?

The White Queen Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth Woodville, The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory:  I don’t want to live all of Elizabeth Woodville’s life (because it’s so utterly tragic), but most of what comes before the death of King Edward seems like it would be pretty great.  They were called “The Enchanted Court”.  Who doesn’t want to be Queen of an enchanted court?

Lagertha in Vikings

Lagertha in Vikings: Switching places with Lagertha seems most likely to kill me, but talk about strong female protagonist.  She pretty much sets the bar.

What about you?  Who would you switch places with?  Leave me a link in the comments!

Book Review: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Rating:  ★★★★★

Friends!  I am SO EXCITED to share this review with you today.  This is the book I feel like I have been waiting for since this terrible reading slump hit back in October. I really just needed something to sweep me away- to make me care, to give me a reason to stay curled up on the couch all day and read. It has been a really long time since I read a 500+ page book in a 24 hour period. It was impossible to put down.

This is the story of Omat, an Inuit two-spirit shaman living around 1000 AD, and what happens when his world collides with the world of gods and vikings. It was part survival story, part romance, and part spiritual journey. Extremely rich in mythology and folklore and heavy on the magical realism.

I’m not sure what pronoun is quite correct to use for Omat- so I’m going to stick with ‘he’ because I believe that would be the preferred pronoun. We start with Omat’s miraculous birth, and within the first 20 pages Brodsky had brought me to tears twice. Omat’s tribe is very, very small, and at the time of his birth, the tribe had just lost most of their hunters to the ice. From page one- the stakes already felt extremely high, and continued to remain so throughout the book.

Omat’s grandfather is the tribe’s angakkuq (shaman), and he recognizes when Omat is born that his powers are already greater than his own, so Omat begins training to take his place. This allowed for a lot of the mythology and the folklore to unfold in what I felt were natural ways. Nothing ever felt like an out of place info-dump, or that it was being explained to me for the sake of knowledge alone.

Aside from the mythology and folklore the history itself felt very rich. The reader is given a lot of insight into tools and hunting practices they might have used, the way igloos are built and how they traveled across the land, various social customs, etc.. Again- it was never something that felt dry or unnecessary, and though I myself am no expert in Inuit history, I would wager that Brodsky’s research was very thorough.

The romance was my absolute favorite part of this book. (Spoilers ahead.) Omat being two-spirited brought an added barrier to their relationship. His attraction to Brandr is obvious to the reader from the first moment they meet, but Omat, struggling with the female part of his identity, does not want Brandr to think he is anything but a man. Brandr on the other hand, is struggling with a lot of his own demons, and feelings of general unworthiness. I loved everything about this pair from the moment they met. I loved the obstacles they had to overcome to get from unlikely allies to friends and eventually lovers. I loved that they both had their own identities to grapple with before they could ever find acceptance in the other person. This romance is epic on the scale of Outlander.

I do want to comment about the content. This is a survival story. And more than that it is a survival story in the Artic where food is scarce and hunger is common. There is a lot of hunting and killing of animals and it’s animals that I think we generally frown upon killing today like seals and whales. It’s always done respectfully but it can be hard to read if you’re sensitive to that. Other content warnings: Rape, a really brutal scene of violence against women and children, slavery, loss of parents, loss of siblings, and partners.

The writing was wonderful and an excellent complement to the setting itself. You could feel the biting wind and the frost in your face, the pangs of hunger from subsisting on meager meals, the feeling of fullness from that first real meal eaten in days. I was reminded a lot of the atmospheric writing in The Bear and the Nightingale, though the books themselves have little in common.

If I had to criticize one thing- it would be the climax of the story. ***END BOOK SPOILERS: I wasn’t entirely sure the tone of that final showdown between the Aesir and the Jotunn really fit the rest of the book. The prior spiritual journeys and memory sharing I would have classified as magical realism, while the final battle felt like pure fantasy. By that time, I was already so invested in the book I was willing to shrug it off.


I loved this book enough that I will probably buy a hard copy to keep forever. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in Inuit and Norse history and mythology.