Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Month: October 2023

The Last Last Binding Book

A Power Unbound by Freya Marske, expected publication 07 November, 2023.

The third book in The Last Binding trilogy brings the conclusion to the trilogy that all the fans have hoped for. I was crestfallen when I did not get approved for an eARC, but did a very happy happy dance when I was approved for the audiobook ARC last week. (Ask Hatchling#2, she watched the embarrassing drama unfold in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section of a bookshop.)

I admit, I was sceptical about this third book in the series. Would all the unanswered questions from the previous books be answered? Would Jack find his HEA that was slightly hinted at in the second book? Would the last pieces of the Last Contract be found? Well, I am not going to spoil the story, I am going to smile like the Cheshire Cat and say: Ms Marske, you’ve done an excellent job!

The audiobook was so well-narrated, I could immerse myself in the story and find out the answers to the above questions without once correcting the narrator’s pronunciation. Not that I am an expert, but some words tend to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when mispronounced. So, kudos to Josh Dylan and the recording team for making this the first audiobook in a very long time that I enjoyed from the first sentence to the last.

I am curious to see what Freya Marske is writing next. Meanwhile I am going to find out which other books Josh Dylan has narrated, because I might have found a new favourite voice to listen to.

5/5 Harpy Eagles; will definitely continue to recommend this series and can’t wait for my pre-ordered “shelf-trophy” to arrive in November.

Stale Fantasy Office Romance

Assistant to the Villain by Hannah Nicole Maehrer, published 29 August 2023.

BookTok has a lot to answer for. This was so subpar for a supposedly hilarious sunshine-grump-fantasy/romance. It reads like late-middle-grade/YA, but is an adult book. It is full of banter between Mr Villain and Ms Assistant, but hilarious? It has a few quirky secondary characters, including a sentient frog with cue cards, but overall I wish I had spent my time with a different book.

There is no world-building. This might suit the people who followed the original TikTok series, because they know what they are in for, but I expected more information. This could have worked as an Urban Fantasy, yet that would require an explanation of the magic system, too. Or just leave out the magic and sentient animal sidekick and interchange castle with skyscraper, villain with billionaire, king with business rival and this could have been a grumpy-billionaire and ditzy-assistant office romance.

Ms Assistant is the YA heroine archetype: nothing much to look at (wait till she puts on a ‘gown’ and takes out the scrunchie though), only breadwinner in the family, has only one female friend (whose name we learn), has a gorgeous bully as arch-nemesis. Mr Villain is a handsome hunk of evil villain. Why is he an evil villain? Because the story says so, also there are severed heads hanging from the ceiling (bulk order from Villains’R’Us to create some ambience?). The backstory that explains, in part, why Mr Villain is villainous comes too late in the story; a few pages before the cliffhanger ending.

My initial 2/5 Harpy Eagles were too generous. I’m going to change the rating to 1/5 Harpy Eagles.

Ghostbusting in San Francisco

Ebony Gate by Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle, published 11 July 2023.

Julia Vee and Ken Bebelle's Ebony Gate is a female John Wick story with dragon magic set in contemporary San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Emiko Soong belongs to one of the eight premier magical families of the world. But Emiko never needed any magic. Because she is the Blade of the Soong Clan. Or was. Until she’s drenched in blood in the middle of a market in China, surrounded by bodies and the scent of blood and human waste as a lethal perfume.

The Butcher of Beijing now lives a quiet life in San Francisco, importing antiques. But when a shinigami, a god of death itself, calls in a family blood debt, Emiko must recover the Ebony Gate that holds back the hungry ghosts of the Yomi underworld. Or forfeit her soul as the anchor.

What's a retired assassin to do but save the City by the Bay from an army of the dead?

This book was advertised to me as John Wick meets Ghostbusters with Asian Mythology. My mind conjured a female badass assassin in a grey jumpsuit fighting marshmallow-shaped ghosts with energy-boosted Samurai swords. This is definitely not what the book is like, but somehow it also is.

Emiko is a badass female MC, who definitely knows how to wield a sword and catch ghosts. Pressed for time she and a motley crew of sidekicks, ranging from cute but lethal foo-pet to martial arts fighters disguised as art collectors, she sets out to recover the Ebony Gate before all hell literally breaks loose.

Since this is the first book in a series, we get world-building that sometimes drags down the story. The action scenes make up for this, in my opinion. Some reviewers remarked that the writing style is repetitive and that it’s obvious the book was written by two authors. Fortunately, I listened to the audiobook and the narrator, Natalie Naudus, did an excellent job. That’s why the repetitive nature of the writing and the slower parts didn’t influence my enjoyment of the story as much as they would have had I read a physical copy of the book.

4/5 Harpy Eagles – 3 for the story and writing, plus 1 for the audiobook narration.

Octopuses and Pandemics

The Memory of Animals by Claire Fuller, published 20 April 2023.

There is a terrible pandemic. It might be the zombie apocalypse. Neffy has volunteered to take part in a drug trial to find a vaccine against this weird form of dropsy. Told from her perspective the story follows the first days in the trial’s weird hospital ward, interspersed with letters to “H” that include a lot of octopus factoids. Soon the drug trial starts.

What follows is more 28 Days Later than I Am Legend, plus Lord of the Flies/Big Brother style group dynamics.

There is also a weird, and totally unexplained and absolutely unnecessary, memory device that Neffy uses to relive her memories; why, Claire Fuller, why? Flashbacks or drug (trial) related dreams weren’t an option?

The story ends much later than it made sense to me. This ending was probably supposed to be the optimistic outlook of the rather pessimistic novel, but it felt off to me.

2.5/5 Harpy Eagles

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