Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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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.

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.

My Jam and Not My Jam

A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers, published 03 March 2020.

I thought this book was about a diverse Found Family crew of space cops cruising the solar system, chasing smugglers, getting into scrapes and working as a team to solve a crime against humanity. That would have been “My Jam”.

It’s the year 2435. After being on the brink of extinction, humankind has managed to conquer the solar system. There’s space travel through wormholes and a serum that expands the human lifespan. Without this serum space exploration would not have been possible, nor the re-population of Earth. What was that extinction event that was prevented?

The patent to the serum is held by a corporation. In order to be eligible for the serum, you have to either work for the corporation or enter the military services for 40 years. Indentured servitude? 

Earth, by the way, has one governmental body and seems to have reached world peace. Why is there a need for military services? There is the Navy, which is highly skilled in combat but does space exploration. Then there is the NEOG, Near Earth Orbital Guard. Another group of highly trained people who are the space coast guard, rescuing stranded ships, apprehending smugglers (I nearly wrote pirates, but alas no space pirates). No idea what the Army and the Air Force do in 2435, maybe that’s part of the other two books. Also, I do understand that there is a need for the NEOG, but why are there military services if there is world peace/solar system peace/humankind peace and no aliens that might attack?

To show off the military’s prowess at war there are Boarding Games where the NEOG and the Navy send teams that fight against each other in different single combat and team combat disciplines. It’s televised all over the solar system and the event of the year. Panem et circes – just without the panem – the gladiator teams of the future. It’s interesting, but we never get to see why the individual protagonists want to win. We never find out why it is so important for the team to win. What motivates them, other than boasting rights until the next games?

All the training for the games and the actual games take up so many pages in the book that the real plot seems like the commercial break between the rather lacklustre fight scenes. The much more interesting plot line is that smugglers are bringing knock-off serum into the system. Knock-off lifespan enhancing serum that might actually drastically shorten the lifespan of its users.

I am sure lots of people will like this book/trilogy. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, but I also noted that this book is flawed. It praises combat and the military services (in a world with universal peace), it has a strange religious sub-plot, and I am not at all comfortable with the corporation’s way of dealing out the serum. All in all it was more “Not My Jam” and I am not going to continue reading the series.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

That didn’t work

The Quantum Curators and the Fabergé Egg by Eva St. John, published 24 May 2020.

A group of time travellers steals famous (about to be destroyed) artefacts before they are lost to their fate. This group of time travellers is from a different Earth than the one we inhabit. An Earth where the Great Library of Alexandria did not burn down, it’s still humankind’s largest depository of knowledge. That’s why their curators have to ‘step through’ to our Earth to get the otherwise destroyed items before they are lost.

Well, I wonder where I have heard elements of that story before? Off the top of my head I noticed parallels to the Invisible Library series, the Great Library series, and the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series. I might have missed a few others.

The band of curators was diverse, maybe more diverse than the groups in the aforementioned series, but all in all the characters were flat. The dual POV jumps from first person narrator to third person narrator and in some cases the some of the secondary characters seem to hijack the POV for a view paragraphs without any prior warning.

This (free with Audible subscription) audiobook was a hot mess for me and I didn’t stick it out to the end.

1/5 Harpy Eagles

When a hermit has to leave her elevator

Scotto Moore’s Wild Massive was published on 07 February 2023.

Scotto Moore’s Wild Massive is a glorious web of lies, secrets, and humor in a breakneck, nitrous-boosted saga of the small rejecting the will of the mighty.

Welcome to the Building, an infinitely tall skyscraper in the center of the multiverse, where any floor could contain a sprawling desert oasis, a cyanide rain forest, or an entire world.

Carissa loves her elevator. Up and down she goes, content with the sometimes chewy food her reality fabricator spits out, as long as it means she doesn’t have to speak to another living person.

But when a mysterious shapeshifter from an ambiguous world lands on top of her elevator, intent on stopping a plot to annihilate hundreds of floors, Carissa finds herself stepping out of her comfort zone. She is forced to flee into the Wild Massive network of theme parks in the Building, where technology, sorcery, and elaborate media tie-ins combine to form impossible ride experiences, where every guest is a VIP, the roller coasters are frequently safe, and if you don’t have a valid day pass, the automated defense lasers will escort you from being alive.

Wild Massive: The #1 destination for interdimensional war.
Rate us on VacationAdvisor™!

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250767745/wildmassive

Like Battle of the Linguist Mages this seemed to be the perfect book for me. I was looking forward to the audiobook ARC and when I got to it I basically listened to the whole book in one very long session. For one, the book is massive. Also, I was certain should I put it down, I wouldn’t pick it up again.

It was interesting and I kept waiting for the weird to unfold and make sense, but –here’s the rub- the ending unfolded the weird but left me unsatisfied. All that – slow info-dumps to get the world-building across and fast paced action scenes – for a rather lame ending. I wish there had been a tiny bit “more” here, though I am not sure how this more could have looked liked.

To sum this up: It’s a wild ride with Sci-Fi and Fantasy elements and I have the feeling that I didn’t truly understand what this genre-bender was about, or that I missed some critical information.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

A lockdown book like no other – Kaiju Preservation Society

John Scalzi’s Kaiju Preservation Society was written during the lockdown/Covid pandemic. Instead of writing a dark and gloomy book about everyone having to stay at home, Scalzi wrote a book that definitely makes you forget the current world situation and lets you dive into its fictional world.

Our main character Jamie Gray is stuck with a depressing job as a food delivery driver, when a chance meeting with an old acquaintance leads to a new job at “an animal rights organization“. The quotation marks are completely necessary, because in this case the animals are kaijus from a parallel world. Think Godzilla. And of course people are thinking about weaponizing them.

I liked how Scalzi uses the real world pandemic situation and how it affected a lot of us and turns it into a story of this one guy being at the right place at the right moment, so that he can save the world. It is a light-hearted story that has exactly the right amount of science not to overload the casual sci-fi reader. There’s also edge of your seat action, which is well-balanced with humour and some pop-culture references that should make you chuckle.

If you have abstained from reading any lockdown fiction, you might want to make this the exception for the sheer escapism the novel offers. Apparently that was also the reason Scalzi wrote the book, see his afterword/acknowledgements.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

The Lady Duck Of Doom listened to the audio version of this book – narrated by Wil Wheaton, one of my favorite narrators for nerdy stuff. Wil Wheaton delivers the book with so much passion and humor, its impossible to not love it and, at times, laugh with him, as you can clearly hear his amusement during some passages.

6/5 Duckies

Quick Reviews – August 2022

Husband Material by Alexis Hall, published 02 August 2022.

The sequel to Boyfriend Material is not just as good as the first book, it's better. Knowing the characters already, it's seeing them grow and struggle and overcome obstacles, which makes it so much better. There were lots of LOL moments for me, but just as many moments where I empathised with both main characters and their struggles. 

Hall clearly knows how to write stories and how to play to the strengths of the English language. 

Caveat: The structure of the book kind of made the ending obvious, but it's the best ending for Oliver and Luc.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, published 18 May 2021.

Yes, another Alexis Hall book. I read this first book in the Winner Bakes All series in preparation for the upcoming sequel, Paris Daillencourt is about to Crumble (publishing day 18 Oct 2022). 

Does Hall know how to play with tropes? Yes! This novel features a love triangle, which is extremely well-executed; compared to all those cringe-y YA love triangles. Furthermore there's a sesquipedalian eight year old, witty banter and lots of cake since the love interests meet at a national baking competition.

Eventually though this is a story about personal growth and standing up for yourself. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole, published/released 19 December 2019.

An A.I. hotty who has to figure out his humanity, a woman suffering from PTSD following an accident, and an interesting (though not entirely unexpected) twist towards the end of the story. 

This audiobook-only sci-fi romance story was more interesting than I had expected. I thought this would be far more sizzling romance than sci-fi, but the SF parts of the story were well thought through. 

The dual point of view narration by Regina Hall and Feodor Chin is enhanced by the addition of a whole cast of narrators. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


Grand Theft Astro by Scott Meyer, published 29 July 2021.

The Audible Originals audiobook-only story is about Baird, a thief, who, on her latest heist, had been infected with a virus that has no cure yet. She has seven days to live. Her 'handler' tells her that in order to ensure a proper medical treatment Baird not only has to steal certain components of the cure, she also has to remain in stasis while she's not actively stealing. While in stasis she's being transported to her next place of 'work', which often takes several years. 

So far I was on board, if a bit sceptical about how gullible the protagonist is; accepting and relying on all information necessary provided by the handler only. 

Then the book seemed to turn to middle-grade level without being for that audience. While scoping out the places Baird has to rob, she's told everything about how the security systems work by the security people themselves. The way she then executes her heists is supposed to be funny/comical; I thought not. But that might be me. 

I gave up after the second heist. It read too much like an underdeveloped middle-grade book with way too much tell and very little show. 

1/5 Harpy Eagles


Belladonna by Adalyn Grace, published 30 August 2022.

The audiobook of this YA gothic/paranormal fantasy novel was good. The narrator, Kristin Atherton, did a good job giving each character a distinct voice. Especially Death's voice was rather sultry.  

To be honest, I might have bailed on the book had it not been for the audiobook. Why would I have bailed? It was a bit too long-winded for my taste. There was too much woe-be-me by the main character, Signa. And the mysteries were, given I had paid attention from the start, obvious to me. Add jarring anachronisms and I'm normally out. So kudos to the narrator.

If you liked Kingdom of the Wicked, you will certainly like this book. After all, it's a story of romance between a not-so-mere mortal and Death. 

2.75/5 Harpy Eagles

Astronettes? Lady Astronauts? Astronauts!

Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut Universe series is the latest rabbit hole I fell down. Or should I say a black hole that drew me in? Three main works have been published so far, as well as two novellas. Book four will hopefully hit the shelves next year.

I’d wanted to read The Calculating Stars for some time but the audiobook kept gathering dust on my TBR. After listening to The Original, co-authored by MRK, I decided to not ignore it any longer.

In this alternate history the fate of humanity is threatened shortly after the end of World War II. This time not by war, but by a meteorite, which hits the east coast of the United States of America. The impact is similar to the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and doesn’t bode well for humanity. Colonising space might be the only option for humanity’s survival.

Elma York, a child prodigy with two doctorates and former pilot in WWII, is at the heart of this series. She’s working as a computer for the International Aerospace Coalition to help bring the first man to space. But with her skills as a pilot she soon wonders, why she can’t become an astronaut, too. Women will be needed in space colonisation sooner rather than later. Which leads her to notice that not only women are left out of the space programme.

This character driven story uses the sexism and racism of the 1950s and 1960s, sprinkles a good portion of humour, lots of ambition, some grief and heart break, and character flaws on it and out comes a story with characters to root for.

Without wanting to give away too much about the content of the sequel novel, The Fated Sky, let me just tell you, I bought book two and three (The Relentless Moon) right after finishing The Calculating Stars.

The Fated Sky reminded me, in part, of Weir’s Martian and Artemisin part! Yet, it is it’s own unique story about the possible colonisation of Moon and Mars, including months of space travel with all its obvious dangers, but far more interesting and gross are the not so obvious dangers, like regurgitating vacuum toilets. I’m looking forward to the third book in the series, but I am pacing myself a bit, because the fourth book, The Martian Contingency, won’t be published before 2022.

The audiobooks are narrated by the author herself. Something that I enjoy very much in general and enjoyed with this series in particular. MRK does an excellent job giving Elma and her friends and foes a unique voice.

Lastly, I’d like to point out that I truly appreciate all the research that MRK put into the series to represent science and history as accurately as possible. I especially enjoyed the lengthy acknowledgements and lists of bibliography at the end of the books, which probably only represents a fraction of what the author actually learned and looked up.

5/5 Harpy Eagles for The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky

Quest to steal a stone

The Thief the first book in The Queen’s Thief series by Meghan Whalen Turner, published 27 December 2005. TheLadyDuckOfDoom and myself had this book on our #SeptreSummer reading lists and we accidentally on purpose read it at the same time; or rather we listened to it (see below).

Gen is a thief, currently in prison for stealing from the royal court and then unwisely boasting about it in a tavern.

The king’s magus needs something found, a trinket from the gods, and he needs a master thief to help him find it. So he dregs Gen out of prison and onto a horse and the quest begins.

Like all good quests to find hidden treasure this is a journey through enemy territory, dangerous terrain and with travelling companions who can’t stand each other. It could be very boring, if it wasn’t for the stories of the old gods and goddesses they tell each other to while away the time on the road.

Although the stories might be inspired by the myths, stories and the countryside around the Mediterranean, this series is not a retelling of any myths, it is set in its own fantasy world and has its own unique voice and plot.

Some reviewers classify this novel and series as Young Adult. I’m not so sure about this. The protagonist might be on the younger side and is often described as a boy and not a grown man yet, though the story reads far more mature than your average YA fantasy. Probably because the usual tropes, like chosen one, love triangle, etc, are missing.

The narration by Steve West is excellent and was the main reason for me to pick this book up as an audiobook. In fact, it was so good that I hopped from book 1, to book 2 The Queen of Attolia, book 3 The Kind of Attolia, and books 4 and 5, A Conspiracy of Kings and Thick as Thieves.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

4/5 Duckies

Let’s eat Grandma!

Star Eater by Kerstin Hall, published 22 June 2021.

This dystopian-esque fantasy novel has an MC fit for a YA novel, hereditary magic based on cannibalism, a Sisterhood of nuns running the government, a resistance movement, zombies, food shortage, and big cats.

This review is based on an ARC of the Recorded Books audiobook.

Where do I even start?

I’d have liked some pointers as to where we are, what kind of period of human history this might be similar too. The only information I get on that is there are horses drawing carts and cabs. Also gas lamps are mentioned once. So, probably somewhere similar to the late Middle Ages with gas lamps?

The main character El/Elfreda is a 22-year-old acolyte of the sacred order of sisters that is ruling Aytrium. She became an acolyte about a year ago when her mother went into her martyrdom. She is, [let’s say it together:], no one special and yet the chosen one to save the world. Add a love triangle or two to the mix,… Yet, the book is hailed as not YA.

The magic system: Magic is called Lace. It is used for protection and defence against Haunts (zombie men created through the Renewal ceremonies performed by acolytes, see below) mainly, but can also be used for compulsion of others. Furthermore, it is used to keep Aytrium afloat. [It’s not quite clear to me whether Aytrium is a country or a city with a few villages surrounding it. Also, it wasn’t clear to me that Aytrium was a floating landmass and has been floating for more than 500 years. It was first explicitly mentioned at about 60% of the audiobook; let’s hope the print edition will have a map that shows this.]  

The following paragraphs will contain spoilers. Frankly, I didn’t very much like this book. It is a non-YA YA novel with YA characters, having YA relationships, YA dialogues and affects, and the adults have betrayed them.

[Spoiler alert!]

Only the members of the Sisterhood have Lace. It’s hereditary magic, which means, it is passed on from mother to daughter after the mother starts her martyrdom. The martyrdom means, the mother falls in some form of coma after her own mother dies and her daughter now has to make weekly visits to her mother in the facility where martyrs are stored. This is a kind of morgue where the still breathing corpses are stored so that daughters can eat some of their mother’s flesh to replenish their Lace. In the flesh and organs, the magic is stored, hence the extremities are eaten first, the organs, especially the heart, last.

In order to keep the Lace within the Order, the members of the Sisterhood cannot have heterosexual relationships. How do they procreate then? The acolytes must perform monthly Renewal ceremonies where they have to have sex with a convicted murderer or rapist. If they get pregnant and the child turns out a boy, the child is given away, and the acolyte has to continue the renewal ceremonies. If the child is a girl, the acolyte keeps the child, raises it, and is henceforth released from renewal duty; grandmothers go into martyrdom and mothers and daughters now have the clock ticking for when they will ‘level up’ within the Sisterhood.

These renewal ceremonies create zombie-like creatures. The men the nuns have sex with catch some form of STD that turns them into Haunts that will, if they aren’t “sent over the edge” (can’t be killed, can’t stay in Aytrium either), haunt the Sisters in order to kill and eat them. Sometimes, men catch this zombie disease without having to have had sex with a member of the order, this means they are used in the renewal ceremonies until the disease is so far advanced that they have to be “sent over the edge.” [The term is mentioned early on in the book, but it doesn’t mean that the listener/reader automatically knows that Aytrium is a floating landmass. Could refer to a cliff-face over, say, an ocean, too.]

As it happens, the Haunts are exactly how the Chosen One story-line gets going. El, our doormat of an MC, hates having to eat the flesh of her mother, hates the Renewal – for obvious reasons – so when a cabal approaches her with the promise to get her out of renewal ceremonies, she agrees to spy for them. Like in every dystopian YA story, she learns about how the ruling class is cheating and suppressing critical information, she wants to support the resistance without actually betraying her vows to the order, her best friends are in the midst of it. And of course, her best friend, from when they were kids and who El has a crush on, caught the zombie disease from one kiss they shared. And of course, the sister of this guy, also El’s best friend, is someone who not only El has a crush on, but who secretly has a crush on El too – hello love-triangle. Luckily this is kept at a minimum. When El and some other members of the Order find themselves in a trap (one with a capital T, predictable from a mile ahead), El finds out that she is the one child born every 70 years that could make or break the Order. Either the Order will gorge themselves on El, because she has lots of Lace. Or El has to bring the Order down by sacrificing herself and her magic. Sacrificing herself will somehow bring her boy back from zombie-dom, so… the last 20% of the book are about how she gets to sacrifice herself.

Just FYI: The resistance see the Sisterhood as a tyrannical order of outsiders and want to get rid of them. The Sisterhood was able to crush all attempts so far, but the resistance is gaining ground, not least because some members of the Order are secretly working with them?

The food shortage seems to be a regularly occurring problem the Aytrium is facing, based on draught years and rain seasons. El works for the department that is responsible to find alternative food supplies. But, once the Chosen One plot gets under way the food shortage is no longer mentioned. I assume it is all resolved due to the way the story ends. Still, this subplot took up a lot of pages, just to be ignored in the end.

Also, there were big cats that were used for long distance travel. They were kept in stables and were probably only for the use of members of the Sisterhood. They can cover ground fast and they are warm in a chilly night.

The titular Star Eater is someone who might have eaten an actual star or someone who was considered the star, or ruler, of the people. Anyway, this eating of the star made the Star Eater so powerful with Lace she managed the ascension of Aytrium all on her own. How? Why?

To be honest, this book left me with a lot of questions about heredity, about the magic system, about the Haunts, about the original Star Eater and how and why Aytrium became a floating land, about what the rest of the world looked like, about why there is a resistance to the Sisterhood when we never get to see what’s so bad about it and know nothing about whether the general public is actually observing the Sisters’ religion, the (forced) bi-sexualism, and so much more.

1/5 Harpy Eagles – lots of unused potential, lots of predictable twists, reads YA although it is not supposed to be.

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