Book Review: Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade

Rating:  ★★★★★

I’m so excited to (FINALLY) be sharing this review.  I read this book almost immediately after I received it in the mail back in July/August, and am dying to gush about it with someone.  Kade takes a very common trope (the chosen one) and imagines what might happen if for whatever reason the chosen one were not available to save the world.

It’s one of my least favorite tropes because it never really made sense to me.  Like are we really saying all the rest of the characters in the world are so incompetent that even working together there’s only one person who could save them all?  Come on.

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By turning that trope on it’s head, we’re already we’re being set up for all kinds of fun surprises.  Like really, what does happen when the chosen one is out of the picture?  Is the world going to end?  I felt like I couldn’t immediately envision the ending.  I have no idea how the ending is going to go.  Could this be the first trilogy which really results in the end of the world?!  I mean I hope not, but I’m on the edge of my seat here.

Aside from a premise that feels completely fresh, I absolutely adored most of the characters.  Aaslo is endeared to the reader from the very beginning.  He is best friends with Mathias.  Mathias is the golden boy, handsome and smart and talented.  Aaslo is no slouch either, but he’s constantly overshadowed by Mathias (Aaslo doesn’t mind, he’s not a center-of-attention kind of guy).  He’s not outgoing, not particularly charismatic, he has no real filter on his mouth, and is not smooth with the women.  Despite all that, he is smart and he is capable with sword and axe.  And maybe he’s not a likely hero, but he has the capacity to become one.

But Aaslo is not the only character I cared about.  We have the rogue thieves, Peck and Mory, the kind Marquess of Ruriton, Teza the barmaid, Dolt the horse, Myropa the reaper… the list goes on.  There just wasn’t a character here I didn’t care about.  I loved them all.

I struggled at first, with how very derivative this all felt in the first fifty pages or so, almost cartoonish in its depiction of fantasy, but once Kade makes the division between all those stories that came before and her own, the result is immediately something familiar and yet entirely new.

AND THE BANTER.  Dear God, the banter had me laughing out loud in some places.  Whether it was Aaslo’s inner monologue, or him bantering with Mathias, or with Dolt.. I had a smile on my face almost the whole time I was reading.  Banter aside, the book in general is just so funny.  There was one scene in particular I remember that felt very slapstick, which isn’t my thing in movies, but always works for me in books.  It’s rare to find something this funny that never felt like it was trying to be funny.

The world building is really great.  I mentioned before that this story initially feels derivative but one of the things that helps it to stand out is the number of different elements from all fantasy sub-genres included.  We have witches and mages, monsters and zombies, gods and goddesses… the list goes on.  In our travels we see cities, forests, swamps, sprawling estates, wide open plains, the setting never gets boring or stale and gives an epic sense of adventure.

If I were to critique one thing, it would be that the prophecy is not very specific. It’s a huge part of the story so I wish I had received a little more information about it up front.  As it stands I’m still not sure what the prophecy even is beside: “The world is going to end. The one marked by the world is our only hope.”  Well how is the world going to end exactly?  Who are they going to war against?  What makes ‘the one’ the only one?  Some of this information does come out in Myropa’s story, which helps alleviate the problem, but still, I found myself wanting for specifics.

It’s a very small critique that I was easily able to overlook in lieu of everything else this book delivered.  I am dying to get my hands on book two and absolutely recommend this to anyone that reads.

Thank you to GoodReads and Tor for hosting the giveaway in which I won this.

Fate of the Fallen releases on November 5, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or pre-ordered on Amazon.

Book Review: Inland by Tea Obreht

Inland by Tea Obreht

Rating:  ★★★★★

“We were bound up, you and I…Though it break our hearts, we had as little choice then as we have now.”

This is one of those books that I’ve been dreading writing the review for because nothing I say can really convey what makes it so great.  I like literary fiction, but it’s rare that I will pick up anything that’s straight up literature.  This particular book interested me for two reasons: the historical, western context, and the promise of supernatural elements.

Inland doesn’t disappoint on either front.  The story follows two main characters, Lurie of the Mattie gang, and Nora Lark of a small town called Amargo, in the Arizona territory.  It isn’t until the very end that the reader comes to understand how and why these two stories are being told side by side.  That’s all I’m saying about that because it’s just better that you know nothing going in.

This is a character driven story, with Nora’s part of it happening over (I think) the course of one day, from morning to night.  She often reminisces on things that happened in the past, her relationship with her husband and people in the town, the birth and lives of her children, etc.  These parts can be very slow, but they all contribute to painting the picture of Nora’s life and the people in it.

Life in Arizona isn’t easy and every day has been a struggle.  There are a few supernatural elements to her story as well.  Her niece-by-marriage, Josie, is a medium, conducting seances with the dead, and her son Toby has been seeing a strange beast roaming their land.  Nora believes both things are just figments of wild imaginations.

“And what did you ever learn from me–save to keep to yourself, and look over your shoulder?”

In contrast to Nora, we have Lurie.  He’s a Turkish immigrant that is orphaned as a child and eventually falls in with the Mattie gang.  He gets on the wrong side of the law early in the book and we follow his story as he runs from Marshall Berger and from his past.  Lurie also has a supernatural ability to see and speak to the dead.  If they touch him, he feels their last wants, and they consume him as his own needs.

The contrast in their stories is brilliant.  Between the two of these characters, it’s easy to assume Lurie would be the least likable, and that the reader would come to care deeply for Nora, the struggling, “innocent”, ranch-wife. But Obreht brilliantly turns this assumption on it’s head by making Nora the more unlikeable of the two.  She can sometimes be cruel to those around her, including her husband and children, but most of all her niece, and she holds some clear prejudices against the local native population.  Meanwhile, Lurie proves himself to be a man capable of caring deeply for others, and a man, maybe, searching for redemption.

“The longer I live…the more I have come to understand that extraordinary people are eroded by their worries while the useless are carried ever forward by their delusions.”

Despite it’s slow pacing, the book is so hard to put down.  Different little mysteries are introduced along the way, while other interesting little connections and reveals are being made (not between Nora and Lurie, but within the narrative of each of their separate lives).  Different story elements and characters in the story return at the most unexpected times, keeping the reader surprised throughout.  It’s a dramatic story that feels perfectly mundane, and I’m still in awe of it.

Lurie’s parts are written in second person, though I won’t tell you who he is addressing.  The writing itself is gorgeous.  It isn’t as impactful as say, The Mere Wife, but it’s emotional, and often left me feeling a little wistful.  By the end of it, I was in tears.

This review has probably rambled on for far too long already, and I haven’t remotely done the book justice.  Just know if any part of this story or review appeals to you at all, it’s well worth picking up and reading through to the end, where the reveals and realizations will surprise and haunt you for a long time to come.  Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for review.

Inland releases on August 13th and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

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.

END SPOILERS.

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.

Throwback Thursday: The Just City by Jo Walton

In honor of Jo Walton making my hidden gems list not once but twice, with two books from one of my favorite series, I thought it was time for me to post my review of The Just City.  The Thessaly series is a total genre bender- it has elements of mythology, fantasy, and science fiction.  It’s heavy on the philosophy and will leave the reader with lots of things to think about when it’s all over.

TJC_JW

Rating:  ★★★★★

The end of this book moved me to tears because it was so profound and so beautiful and at the end it sort of just smacks you in the face when you realize how very important and relevant it all is.

I picked up The Just City because GoodReads said: hey- you liked Too Like the Lightning, read this! Well- it both is and isn’t like Too Like the Lightning. There is a lot of philosophy involved but I don’t think the plot was even remotely as complex and the philosophy is sort of fed to you rather then engaging you. I don’t mean this as a fault in any way- I’m just saying, it’s different. (This might also have been a difference of reading solo vs reading as a group.)

It starts out sort of slow. By the halfway point I was thinking it was a solid 3 Star book. Then a 4 Star, and it took me all the way to the end to be able to say it’s a 5 Star read. It’s dense. Be patient with it. It’s worth sticking it out.

The premise is this (chapter one spoilers ahead): Apollo is chasing the nymph Daphne and then rather than be raped she prays to Artemis and asks to be turned into a tree. Apollo just can’t believe that anyone would rather be a tree than mate with him so he decides to become a human to find out why. His sister Athene says, well I’m working on a thought experiment, recreating Plato’s Republic. You could go be a human there and figure out why Daphne turned into a tree. So he agrees and the stage is set.

This is largely a character driven novel. All the characters brought something different to the table. Apollo had the knowledge of a god but didn’t understand human struggle. Simmea is a black child from Northern Africa (I know her grandmother is from Libya but the way she phrased it made it seem like she was not) coming to The Just City while she is too young to question the inequalities of the world. Maia is a woman from 19th century England, a world which does not value women who think. And then we have dear Sokrates, who never gets a POV chapter but was always delightful to read.

(I’m going to try and avoid spoilers here but for those of you that don’t want them, I don’t know if I can say what I want to say without revealing some aspects of the book/plot/etc. so read with caution.)

I adored all these characters and their unique perspectives. I enjoyed reading their dialogues with Sokrates and felt Walton did an excellent job of giving them dialogue that would have come from people with their backgrounds. The workers (robots Athene brought from the future) were an excellent literary device to propose the questions Walton wanted us to be asking and truly proved for some thought-provoking reading. What is personhood? Who qualifies? How do you make everyone equal in practice?

Though I suppose the Just City (the city in the book not the book) succeeds in many aspects, it fails in many others. The practice of labeling people: iron, bronze, silver or gold for example is extremely indicative of inequality. Golds pursue art and philosophy and mathematics all day while Irons do all the work. So we have a system that is just based on ability I suppose but by making the city just we have also made it a city of inequalities. Do justice and equality contradict each other? Is it fair to divide people, not on the basis of skin color or sex or sexuality, but on systems of ability? Does the man who is poor at math deserve to be relegated to field work all day? Do the women who don’t succeed at art deserve the job of raising children all day? Is this what they want to do? And how do you reconcile a desire for personal happiness with justice and equality? (This speaks more to the aspects of the novel which touch on eugenics and divisions of labor.)

The more I think about it the deeper it all goes. I would like to add that as an added bonus, Jo Walton thanks Ada Palmer in the Acknowledgements section in regards to help she gave with Plato and philosophy so of course I was giddy with excitement to read that section.

I loved this book. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a read with more substance than action. I’m now off to go see if my library has Thessaly #2 available for download.

Throwback Thursday: The Moon and the Other by John Kessel

tmato_jk

Rating:  ★★★★★

Following my Top Ten Tuesday I was reminded of Mira & Carey from The Moon and the Other.  This was up there as one of my favorite reads last year.  It reminds me a lot of Too Like the Lightning.  It asks a lot of philosophical questions, which makes it a great book for discussion.  I hope you’ll check it out!

4.5 stars rounded up to 5. I’ve been dying to get my hands on this since I first heard about it. The size of it kept putting me off because I already felt so far behind on my reading. Though the chapters were long they were broken up by interesting little tidbits- media clips, news reports, interviews, poems, etc. So it’s six hundred pages, but they go by quick.

This is a political science fiction novel set on the moon.  It took until about chapter 5 for me to really become invested in the novel. I was enjoying one story line more than the other but after they fused together I found myself enjoying both equally.

This is ultimately about a single matriarchal colony in a sea of many patriarchal colonies struggling to persist. The patriarchies are calling for reform. Their own citizens are calling for reform. The Board of Matrons fear the reform will bring a return to the violence they once suffered on Earth as a result of male dominance (the book’s justifications- not mine).

There is an ongoing exploration of the differences between men and women, how they lead, how they feel, how they perceive, how they react to others, but also a recognition of differences between individuals regardless of sex. There is an examination of masculinity, what it means, how to define it, it’s effects on men, etc.. Kessel also explores oppression within society and it’s many different forms (and proposes some forms that perhaps you’ve not even thought of). I’m sure there are other themes that I’m missing entirely (some of the other reviews I saw definitely pulled more from it than I did) but these were the ones that struck a chord with me.

Beyond that, we also have a really beautiful and tragic story, perhaps almost Shakespearean or operatic in nature. The characters were flawed and very human feeling. None of them are really heroes and none of them are really villains- they’re just people. The relationships between them were full of ups and downs and highs and lows.

So even if you aren’t interested in the more philosophical questions posed by the book- it’s definitely worth reading for the story alone.

 

Throwback Thursday: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

I’m sorry  I’m giving you one of my old reviews when I haven’t given you a new one yet this week.  I do have some new ones coming though (and I’m super excited to share them with you!) I just have to finish reading the books first.

Last Throwback Thursday I reviewed Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade, and while nothing would please me more than to share the reviews of the other three books I think they start to get spoilery and include information from the first book.  If you’d like to read them, you can check out my GoodReads reviews here: (Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood, and Tyrant’s Throne).

This week, I’ve been in a grimdark sort of mood, so it seemed only fitting that I share my review of Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns.  I am planning on reading King of Thorns sometime this year so it makes sense.

PoT_ML

Rating:  ★★★★★

So on to the review. I’m giving it 4.5 stars rounded up to 5. This is not going to be a book for everyone. It just isn’t. The protagonist, is a murderous, traitorous, self serving, evil genius. Nothing is sacred to Jorg but vengeance and victory. Vengeance and victory can come at any cost, and Jorg is willing to pay that price. Loyalty and brotherhood are meaningless to him.

I am okay with this. As to what that says for my own mental state, well, let’s not look at that too closely. The thing is, a character like Jorg is just so damn rare. You’ll cringe every time he throws someone off a cliff. Or knifes a brother for looking at him the wrong way. He’s smug. He’s arrogant. He’s a bastard. If you’re like me, you’ll be rooting for him in the end.

Because his father, the real villain of the story, is somehow worse. I think. Minor spoiler: I don’t know if Jorg would ever stab his own son. Maybe he would. Maybe they are equally evil. For now, the father is worse.

The writing was excellent. This is a story about murder and the destruction of kingdoms and a rise to power and Lawrence makes it poetic somehow. Jorg’s inner monologue is fascinating. He’s evil and he knows it, but he still questions it on occasion. Sometimes he questions if he’s evil enough. Sometimes he mourns the loss of his childhood. Sometimes he seems perfectly happy to be rid of his innocence.

The plot is very action driven, with plenty of blood, gore and battle to go around. The action is also extremely well written, never a dull moment. Jorg always has an ace up his sleeve or a pawn to sacrifice.

There are some plot holes that I’m not sure how to fill. I’m hoping they are explained in later series. Namely, why this marauding band of brothers follows around a fourteen year old boy. It has nothing to do with his Princedom (excepting Makin- maybe). Of what I’ve seen of Jorg in this book I just didn’t get it. I understood a little why the one called the Nuban followed Jorg. And maybe it’s as simple as the brothers were sheep who needed a wolf to lead them. I don’t know. Little Rikey’s situation certainly isn’t explainable.

All in all it was great. I am SO excited to read the next in the series and check out some of Lawrence’s other series as well. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes dark fantasy and doesn’t mind a less than respectable protagonist.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe_MM

Rating:  ★★★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus….To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

 

This may very well be the last book I have time to finish this year, and I am not sad for it. This book deserves all the praise that has been heaped on it, and I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical.

There aren’t any words I could say to do it justice. The blurb doesn’t do it any justice at all because it was the blurb that put me off it for so long. Truthfully- it just seemed boring.

It’s not. This isn’t so much a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, (though in some ways it is) but a saga of Circe, the least loved of all the gods, the least powerful, the least pretty, the least wanted. Time and time again she is thrown low and overcomes it. That is not to say she is without faults- she is far from perfect. But by the end of it, regardless of what she may have done, you can’t help but cheer for her.

The writing is lush and beautiful.  It is everything I would have wanted from a Greek retelling.  It has a sweep-you-away quality that just makes you feel like you’re sitting by a roaring fire on a cold winter night listen to your grandmother tell stories of her childhood.

The characters were also fantastic.  Circe was my favorite and a lot of that is due to the time we spend with her.  Other characters flit in and out of Circe’s life, and they all have their own voices and characterizations, but it is harder to connect with them since they might have only a few chapters they were involved in.

Aside from Circe, there is plenty of other greek mythology to go around. There is the birth of the minotaur, Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, Jason and the Argonauts and the golden fleece and his wife, the witch, Medea. There is story upon story upon story, all beautifully and carefully told. Many of them were easily recognizable and they all brought a smile to my face.

I have been hesitant to try Miller’s The Song of Achilles because I enjoyed The Silence of the Girls so much, but now it’s become a must-read.  If you have ever enjoyed any Greek tale at all- pick this up. You will not be disappointed.

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

TBGD

Rating: ★★★★★

Creeper is a New Orleans teen surviving on the streets circa 1871, but Creeper longs to see the wider world.  When she hears rumors that a Haitian scientist is hiding in New Orleans with a powerful object known as The Black God’s Drums, she sets to work trying to trade that information for a ride out.

I read this in one sitting. It’s only a hundred pages or so, but they are an excellent hundred pages and I am sincerely looking forward to a full length novel with Creeper and Ann-Marie (and the nuns… and Feral… damn it can we just bring the whole gang along?!). Also- please tell me there is a full length novel in the works!

So world building: it’s a like a steampunk alternate history New Orleans- where New Orleans has become its own free territory in the midst of confederate states where slavery still happens. We glimpse a bit of Mardi Gras, a little Cajun and a little creole, a brothel and beignets. I ate the setting up and sincerely wish I had seen more of it.

The characters, though we don’t have much time to get to know them- felt fully fleshed out, with their own voices and insecurities. I loved the little bits of humor peppered through out. The captain is my favorite. But Creeper is a keeper too.

The Orisha gods and magic are outstanding. Reflecting, it’s truly amazing how much Clark crammed into this novella without ever losing sight of what mattered- the story. I loved the description of Oya and her relationship to the other gods.

The story is quick and straightforward- not too many twists and turns but I think it worked here, one because of the length, and two, because he gives us so many other wonderful things to think about.

Now excuse me while I go figure out how much of Clark’s other work I can get my hands on.