Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Author: TheLadyDuckOfDoom Page 1 of 3

Skyward Inn Review

This month’s buddyread Skyward Inn by Aliya Whitely was read much faster by us than initially planned. The other two had it devoured in days and only me, the LadyDuckofDoom, lingered because I recently moved and had to pack a ton of books into a ton of boxes.

The book is supposed to be a retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, which I haven’t read, and probably never will. So I can not tell you anything about the connection between the two books.

What I can tell you about is how the book reminded me some of Ursula LeGuin’s works. Whitely’s work reads much faster than LeGuin’s, but in the end, I got a similiar feeling from Skyward Inn as I got from some books of the Hainish Circle.

The story focuses on one family in the Western Protectorate, a region that has turned its back on technology. The rest of the world seems to be obsessed with trading and slowly colonizing Qita, a planet with sentient life. The path to Qita was mysteriously opened by the so called Kissing Gate. The mother of the family, Jem, runs the Skyward Inn with the only other Quitan, Isley, in the Western Protectorate. Her son Fosse was raised by her brother while she was away, signed up many years to deliver peace messages all over Qita. Telling more would spoil the story.

The unfolding book is as much a family drama as a speculative mystery, the many layers of the story working very well together. Some of us sci-fi nerds can guess the defining key elements the story is working towards, but that does not prevent the enjoyment of it. At a bit over 300 pages, the book is not that long, either. I would recommend some time to think about the ending, though. It would make a lovely pick for a larger bookclub, too.

Tideline – by Elizabeth Bear, read by LeVar Burton

I’ve always enjoyed reading Elizabeth Bear, and recently, I’ve been slowly reading through her short fiction, compiled in The Best of Elizabeth Bear. Tideline, specifically, won the Hugo and the Theodore Sturgeon Award in 2008.

I don’t want to give too much away about the story of Tideline, I think it is best experienced without much information. But I will quote the introduction by C. L. Polk in The Best of Elizabeth Bear:

“Tideline” is a heartbreaking, beautiful story about family and remembrance that pairs up a warmachine and the boy who found her…

C. L. Polk, The Best of elizabeth bear

When reading short fiction, I always check LeVar Burtons Podcast for the story. And there it was, read in 2020. Hearing this story was one of the most intense audiobook experiences in my life. The story is not only read, through subtle sound effects and the different voices LeVar Burton gives the characters and the narration, it feels like so much more. And all that in 45 minutes. I cried at the end. And after that, a little bit more.

If you have some time, or want to give short fiction a try, I cannot recommend this enough.

An Alchemy of Masks and Mirrors – Review

An Alchemy of Masks and Mirrors is the start of The Risen Kingdom, a trilogy by Curtis Craddock, which has been on my TBR for AGES. I finally managed to hunt down a copy of the first book, and decided to start reading it pretty fast. And I was not disappointed. Let’s have a look at the blurb here:

In a world of soaring continents and bottomless skies, where a burgeoning new science lifts skyships into the cloud-strewn heights and ancient blood-borne sorceries cling to a fading glory, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs is about to be married to a man she has barely heard of, the second son of a dying king in an empire collapsing into civil war.

Blurb on Goodreads

If you aren’t intrigued by that, I fear things are hopeless for you. Isabelle is highly intelligent in a world that forbids women to think, has a deformed hand when physical perfection is required by the world’s religion, and has no allies except the musketeer that has been charged with her protection.

Isabelle and the mentioned musketeer Jean-Claude make a stunning duo of quick wits. Both have their unique strengths as they are cast into unknown situations with traitors, conspirators, and unlikely allies.

The author does not make every twist and turn plain for the reader to see, instead, he let’s them guess at the hidden intentions of the players, and he even has some real surprises in store for us. The world is planned out with thought, and has some really interesting aspects – I can’t wait to see more of it. An absolute recommendation.

March Buddyread Reveal

Our trusted booksellers at Otherland Berlin chose The Absolute Book by Elisabeth Knox as the March Buddyread.

While I have heard the name of the book, I knew next to nothing about it. After some googling, it seems to fall into the Mystery and Magical Realism genres, which the cover absolutely resembles.

Also, it is a book about books, and who doesn’t like that?

Bone Shard Spoiler

We started this Buddyread of the The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart in late December. All of us were really hyped for this book, and all of us were really underwhelmed by what we actually got. The book is marketed as an adult epic fantasy, which is simply the wrong stamp to put on it. We picked it up based on a twitter recommendation by a much loved author of us, and somehow we expected something glorious in the veins of Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, or V.E. Schwab. Well, those expectations were disappointed for sure.

The magic system is incredibly mellow. So mellow, in fact, that it even breaks the few rules it sets itself. There are necromantic constructs defined by rules engraved into tiny boneshards that are contained within these constructs. The engraving idea is stolen straight out of Foundryside by the way. The constructs, the only barrier between the Island Empire and an ancient evil, can, of course, be outsmarted by anyone with half a brain. We nearly sprained our eyes while rolling them at that blunder.

The worldbuilding is full of holes, too. There are a ton of why’s, and they are not addressed at all. If you can swallow it all down, it might work for you. But what the fuck is Witstone? Not explained at all – personally, I figure it will be revealed in book II, but you get NO info whatsoever about this absolutely essential thing running the empire.

The above aside, it could all make an action-packed fantasy page-turner, except for two things: The multiple character PoV narration breaks up the action. Some of the characters feel forced, maybe they were added at a later editing point of the book. The thing that ruined my enjoyment though were the incredibly foreseeable plot twists. Seriously, not one “twist” was in any way something to gasp about. The biggest twist is literally spoiled in the title of the book. I always wonder if we read a different book from everyone else, because anyone who uses about 25% of their brain capacity would have seen everything that happened coming.

So… yeah. Disappointing. If you want a book where you don’t have to think, this could be for you, but for us it was the wrong decision. Can’t understand the hype at all.

To a bookish 2021

2020 really sucked. One of the only good things that happened was starting the Buddyread group and the resulting book blog. So let’s just leave the rest behind and have a look at all the great books waiting for us this year.

Our Buddyreads chosen by Otherland (the best bookshop here in Germany) will, of course, continue. They have been a delight last year and I would bet my favourite pair of socks (there are ducks on them) that they will continue to pick fantastic, thought-provoking books.

There are a ton of books I already look forward to. Let’s start with some new releases of 2021. Maybe we will open my ever-growing TBR shelf in a later post.

The first book I really look forward to is Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire, the 6th release of the Wayward Children Series. These novellas are so beautiful and will resonate with those who ever felt lost on this world. Publishing date is 12th January, so I won’t have to wait long.

Next up is The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers. I love the Wayfarers series, and even ordered a signed HC for me and the Marquess. I am still angry that there is no German audiobook, because I keep talking to my love how awesome these books are – and audiobooks are what works for him. The release is on 16th February. Maybe I can get a whole year filled with a new release each month in this article?

March will end with the release of Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo, second in the King of Scars Duology. If you have not read anything in the Grishaverse yet, maybe do it soon, the Netflix adaption is on the horizon.

Whatever else happens in April, it will be overshadowed by the release of the next Murderbot installment, Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells on 27th. Everyone loves Murderbot.

There will be a lot of releases in May, but I’m particularly intrigued by Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa, released on 11th. The blurb sounds fantastic, so I really can’t wait to get my hands on it.

My to-buy list of new books is already overflowing, and June will only pile more on top. The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, published on June 10th, is one of the books I will definitely get on release day. It is the start of a new fantasy trilogy inspired by the history and epics of India, and features morally grey characters.

July has another Becky Chambers coming up: A Psalm for the Wild-Built, released on July 13th. A new series of novellas, and I hope Becky Chambers will continue her unique hopepunk style in a new setting.

On August 24th The Thousand Eyes, book 2 in The Serpent Gates series by A.K. Larkwood, will be released. I haven’t read book 1 yet (it’s staring at me from my shelf), but I will. Soon.

September has the heavily anticipated release of Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff on the 7th. He seems to be really proud of this novel, and while I was not a total fan of his last books, I will pick this one up with an open mindset.

As of right now the announced releases are looking scarce for the year’s later months, but I bet they will be filled with a whole ton of awesome books. Last year, I did not manage to keep up with the new releases at all, but maybe this year will be different?

Worst book I’ve read this year award…

… goes, unfortunately, to The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. For me. This is my opinion, and everyone else might have a different view on this. In this review, I will attempt to list the points that made the book such a bad read to me. [TheRightHonourableEagle has edited this post and added a few thoughts. These are not indicated individually, because they do not differ from TheLadyDuckOfDoom’s. They were added for shock-value. ;o)]

The book starts with an underdog character getting into a military school for the rich – nothing new here. The start was solid, but nothing special. Nothing wrong so far, just some tropes I got tired of: The rich bully making the life of the main character hell, the weird teacher, the tall and brooding hero a few years older.

The problems start with part 2 of the book. Rin, the main character, doesn’t really act according to her character. For the rest of this book, she acts like a petulant child, rather than the young, though trained, soldier she’s supposed to be. So, for the sake of the story, that can be annoying, but is manageable.

Still, the whole story feels forced. There is a sudden friendship/maybe romance between Rin and her former bully. That guy tried to kill her. Multiple times. For Rin, a person driven by emotions, this does not seem likely.

The whole part of the story, where Rin, her comrades, and the rest of the army are under siege feels rather unrealistic; and let’s not talk about the thing with the salt.

Then begins the story of torture and rape. Picturesque and gory to the bone, an ex-classmate of Rin, who also bullied her, is re-introduced for one scene only: Fallen far into a husk, she retells all the scenes of her and the other women’s rape, including how a baby was ripped out of a pregnant women with the bare hands of an officer. And, guess what, all this ex-classmate was good for was to tell about how she was raped. She was not a character at all, just a tool to show the cruelty of what the enemy soldiers did. In addition, the pages of torture and rape we are talking about are not just inspired by the Nanjing Massacre, no, the text reads almost the same as the Wikipedia article. Even if we are reading a work of fiction heavily inspired by history, this is a fantasy novel. I expect the author to at least try to write an individual version, citing resources in a reference at the end of the story, to tell people that this passage was inspired by an event that really happened. This feels like a copy of the article written just for shock value.

And now that your mouth hangs open, your tongue is dry in shock of what enemy forces can do to civilians, you turn the page and find Rin ogling the older brooding guy. It’s a scene mainly focusing on opium addiction, but, although Rin is reminded of something familiar by the smell in the room, what she immediately notices is that His Broodyness has no shirt on. At least the scene stays sombre, he is smoking opium and there is no sexual tension, but I/we really stumbled over the no-shirt thingy.

Opium brings me to the next point that is highly problematic for me. Drugs are somewhat lauded in this book, but I don’t know if the writer has knowledge about how addiction works. There is a former heroin addict who never gave up on drugs, just goes from heavy drug addict to smoking opium once a month. Heavily addicted people become a husk of themselves pretty soon, and heroin is a drug that causes bodily addiction, so going so long without a hit just does not work without repercussions. Furthermore, Rin herself, who has never been on drugs before, is administered shot of heroin to the vein in her neck and falls into a hallucinating trance right away. It’s highly unbelievable that you just get into a trance this way, communing with the gods. [We are not willing to test this theory, though!]

By the way, Rin is the child of a drug-dealing family and did deliveries for them. She has seen addiction in all stages, so I guess it is only natural to just start smoking opium heavily. What could possibly go wrong? It’s for educational purposes. Or was it for the sake of the whole nation? [sarcasm]

On top, in the history of this fictional world, the Empire made an entire people addicted to opium. AN ENTIRE PEOPLE! Because, of course, everyone there is the same, that’s how humans work right? Because if everyone of them is in constant pain and mentally imbalanced, everyone will turn to drugs. Which leads to the overall problems of the book.

The book is incredibly dehumanizing in some cases. Every enemy soldier a monster, and one can feel hate seeping through the pages. This goes so far that soldiers of the Empire wonder how these enemy forces might look like and whether they actually want to see the face of their enemies.

A whole people is addicted to a drug, a whole people does this, does that. Prejudice much? A tiny paragraph at the end that tells us “Yes, they are people, too” just is not enough for me.

Fantasy and science fiction are, in my opinion, genres to explore beyond borders, borders of countries, peoples, stars and also beyond the borders of hate. I could not find this in this book. I really tried, and this book utterly failed in this regard.

We, the Sceptres, have been wondering whether we read a different book from every other reader who raved about this book. The story went from 3-star trope-y Young Adult downhill to a 0.5-star drug glorifying gore-fest. We won’t bother reading the other two books in the trilogy.

Hench – Buddyread Review

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots is a new take on the superhero genre. It does not focus on the heroes or the villains, but on Anna, a henchwoman. She starts out temping as a data analyst for villains. She quickly finds patterns in data and is an excellent planner – but not necessarily cut out for fieldwork. Things start there and get interesting really fast.

Hench is not an action movie made novel, like other, more typical superhero books you might have read. There is a lot of data analysis going on, but it is all done in the background. It is far from boring, though, and raises some fair points about superhero work. The suspense of the story gradually builds up as the stakes get higher. We all finished the Buddyread a week ahead of time.

The author takes her time to paint the superhero – supervillain world in wonderful shades of grey, giving them all a personality. The other henches working with Anna have their personal histories and motivations, and some of them can be quite surprising. Why would anyone work for a villain at all? They must be evil, right? Well, maybe the henches are just normal humans trying to get by.

Hench is a wonderful deconstruction of the superhero genre and a fantastic read. There are even some open questions that hint at a sequel. I wouldn’t mind that, but the book stands equally fine on its own.

This is How You Loose the Time War

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is an unusual book which was suggested by Wolf when I visited Otherland a couple of weeks ago.

It is at the same time lyrical, poetic, and easy to read, straightforward and confusing, a sci-fi time travelling novelette and a romance novel as well. I think hardcore sci-fi fans might find this irritating, but I am always here to try out unique, genre defying books. I read almost everything in one sitting, and I think I only needed a day to finish the whole book (I was on vacation, so I had the time).

I read the book at just the right moment, it was the exact thing I needed. A solid 5/5 stars rating!

Visiting the best bookstore

I had the fantastic idea to start my vacation by visiting my favorite bookstore, Otherland! I hopped on the train from Hamburg to Berlin, and at about 11:30 AM, I stood in front of the Doors of Doom….. ahem, the Way to Wonderland… no, The Gate-to-an-insane-amount-of-bookshopping… ummm, almost! At 11:30 AM, I arrived at Otherland!

I was greeted by Wolf with a big smile you could see despite the mask and a cup of warm, black tea from the bakery across the street.

Shopping books in Otherland is like a dream come true for a German bookshopper who likes English science fiction and fantasy. Hamburg is no small town, but it is almost impossible to browse some well-sorted English bookshelves. There is one store 45min away with an o.k. selection that I exhausted years ago, and the amount of SFF-books has been continuously shrinking since then. But Otherland has it all: new books, old books, antique books, short stories, doorstoppers, comics, pen&paper books, and even nonfiction science books can be found in this Mary Poppins’ bag of a book store.

A selfie later, the quest for a good selection of books to bring home started. I had a little list of books that I ABSOLUTELY wanted to read, including Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden, Litlith’s Brood by Octavia Butler and This is How You Loose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Naturally, the stack of books grew and grew until I decided to take a break and grab something to eat.

The height of the stack of books was so ridiculous, there were actually 2 and a half stacks, and I decided to spend the next hours reading the first chapter of every selected book to be sure I really wanted to read it. Unfortunately, almost every book had a first chapter that was engaging, suspenseful, funny, or interesting in any other way. One book was brought back to its shelf space, but of course I picked up two others on my way there. Such is the life of a bookworm that is allowed to go into a bookstore without supervision. They should have known better. When I left, I left with this:

No, I have no regrets. I love my ever-growing shelf of shame back home. I don’t feel overwhelmed by the many, many books I want to read. Instead, I am happily looking at an IKEA Billy overflowing with books. I love it. My personal library. Whatever might happen to me, if I get sick, loose my employment or the apocalypse starts, I will have something to read, to escape, to calm my mind.

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