The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty, published 02 March 2023.
From the cover of the US edition you might conclude this is a YA fantasy novel. The UK edition cover might make you revise that idea. Whatever idea you come to in the end, did you think of a tall, brown skinned, middle-aged female pirate who leaves her ten-year-old daughter behind to rescue the daughter of a former crew mate?
It’s a swashbuckling tale of Amina’s first adventure after having left her pirating ways when her daughter was born. You’ll encounter a woman torn between the love for her daughter and family as well as her first love her ship and the sea. There are mythical creatures, sea monsters, magic, fights with mythical sea creatures and, we’re among seafaring people, cussing and drinking.
If you liked Pirates of the Caribbean and are more than ready for another pirate adventure with a daring captain and her middle-aged crew in the Indian Ocean at medieval times, then get this book as soon as possible.
The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu, published 09 August 2022.
Before I even dare to share any of my thoughts about this book, let me tell you one important thing about myself: I don’t like epic books. I especially dislike epic fantasy books. I might have said this before.
The Art of Prophecy is the first part of an epic fantasy series and I really liked it. Liked it so much so that I put all the other books I have going on the back burner and concentrated on this alone. In other words, I devoured it.
Jian is a Chosen One. The Chosen One that has been prophesied to slay the Eternal Khan. His martial arts training has been overseen by different Masters since he was a small boy. Yet, what Master Taishi encounters when she evaluates him is a spoilt boy living in his lavish palace being waited on hand and foot.
Master Taishi is appalled at how unprepared the spoilt hero of the Enlightened States actually is. She takes it upon herself to train him and dismisses his former masters. Neither the masters nor the spoilt hero are happy about this turn of events. But this is only the first of many unexpected turns that will change the lives of Jian and Taishi.
Set in an alternate China. Martial Arts fights that far exceed what you’ve seen in the cinema. A slowly expanding cast of characters. A Chosen One, Coming of Age story like no other I’ve read in a long time.
And now I am ordering the Waterstones special edition for the re-read.
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™!
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.
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies by Heather Fawcett, published 10 January 2023.
It’s the autumn of 1919 and professor Emily Wilde of Cambridge has travelled to the far north to research faeries. She’s a curmudgeon and manages to aggravate the locals within days of her arrival. Not ideal, since she’s the definition of the well-off city girl not used to fending on her own. Pride and pure stubbornness outweigh comfort; she’d rather freeze than ask someone to show her how to chop firewood. Still, she makes a friend among the local smaller fae. Then her colleague and rival, the handsome Wendell Bambleby, arrives and pushes his way into her research. The both of them soon discover dark fae magic afoot and have to help the villagers rescue fair maidens and exchange a possible changeling. The research mission then turns into rescue missions; especially after Emily gets it into her head to help a trapped local high fae.
The novel reminded me of Brennan’s The Memoirs of Lady Trent series and Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series. Strong female academic at the helm of the story. Some kind of romantic entanglement with the male sidekick. Getting into scrapes and out of them with wits and female guile.
I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
How can January be nearly over already? Well, looking at how many books and short stories I’ve read in that time I can actually believe we’re closer to February than the ‘old year’. Time flies when you’re having fun!
As was expected I fell into the Dresden Files continuum and have managed to make my way through the first ten novels and most of the accompanying short stories. Do I have to say more? Despite being a bit old-fashioned in his regards towards women, I quite like Harry Dresden, resident wizard of Chicago. The merry band of secondary characters makes each story even more interesting, since you won’t know from the start of the book which character(s) might accompany him in his quest this time. Together they battle vampires, werewolves, evil wizards, demons, some of the fae and what else the magical world throws their way.
Apart from Harry Dresden’s exploits, I have read Juno Dawson’s Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. The first novel in an urban fantasy series about witches and warlocks in the British Isles. First published 31 May 2022.
Four childhood best friends have drifted apart since they grew up together on Spice Girls, 90s horror films and music. Now they have to work together to prevent the prophesied rise of an evil force which is going to destroy all witch kind.
The most outstanding feature about this novel is that it is a work of its time. It talks about tradition vs progress, transgender and POC witches, and the strife for power no matter the consequences. But this outstanding feature also makes the plot very predictable. It was clear to me, from the start, who the baddie was. Then I kept wondering whether the book would use the motive of self-fulfilling prophecy to its advantage. Alas that might be part of the sequel(s).
If I had to sum this up in one sentence: Derry Girls meets Charmed and The Craft in a 2022 British remake version.
I initially gave this book 5/5 Harpy Eagles, right after finishing the cinematic last chapters. I’ll down-grade to 3/5 Harpy Eagles for the predictability, but will still be looking forward to the sequel.
Here’s the promised second part for December. Well, what can I say, I read a lot.
Pulling the Wings Off Angels by K. J. Parker, published 15 November 2022.
Look, another KJ Parker! That's how I approached this novella. I just like the writing style of Parker's first person POV novellas.
The story follows a young man who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, likes gambling and suddenly owes a loan shark quite a substantial sum of money. Without wanting to spoil too much, our miserable first person narrator finds himself in a pickle that he might not be able to get out of. Because fate and the sins of his forefathers, justice and mercy are all working against him; as well as that well-meaning brilliant professor of his, Saloninus.
As much as this is a metaphysical/religious/philosophical work and at times felt a bit 'preaching to the choir', I truly enjoyed it. Not least because of Saloninus, who is a self-professed genius.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
A Very Scalzi Christmas by John Scalzi, published 30 November 2019.
Scalzi put fifteen snippets of Christmas fun into this collection. There are interviews, short stories, informational articles and poems.
As much as I liked the short stories, I have to say that I liked the interviews the most. There's one with Santa's lawyer, for example. My favourite was the one with Santa's reindeer wrangler.
It's a selection that you can dip into and don't have to scarf down like a plate of the most delicious Christmas cookies. I said can! You can, of course, also just read them all in one sitting as I did.
5/5 Harpy Eagles
The Christmas Killer by Alex Pine, published 29 October 2020.
The review copy for this debut novel had been on my TBR for far too long. I have heard a lot of good about this series and am glad that I actually got to it.
The ARC was a rather tough read. There were grammar errors and the prose and dialogues sounded very clunky and stilted at times. I hope this has been edited out before the book went public.
What rankled me most, though, was how easy it was to sniff out who the murderer was and what their motive was. I was fairly certain early on that I had the right person and then only kept on skimming the text to find out whether I was right. I was.
As I said above, the series has a lot of fans and I hope the sequels improved in quality compared to the first book.
2/5 Harpy Eagles
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, series published since 2000.
Yes, I might be late to this Urban Fantasy series, but this just means I have lots of books to binge on.
A friend from Litsy sent me the first book in the series, Storm Front (2000), felt ages ago. I had another book to read to get my self-set goal of reading twenty physical copies off my shelves, so I chose this. Well, I was in for a treat.
Harry Dresden, the wizard protagonist of the series might be a little old-fashioned in his believes and in the way he works and lives (anything invented after the 1940s doesn't really work around him), but he soon grew on me. Even if he notices the erectness of the nipples of the woman in front of him before he notices the colour of her eyes. I have yet to see him mistreat a woman. In fact, he recognises that women are often far stronger than men and behaves fairly gentlemanly around women.
Chauvinism or no chauvinism aside, there are wizards, ghosts, demons, literal fairy godmothers, vampires, werewolves,... All the ingredients for a good Urban Fantasy. And it's set in Chicago, not New York, or London or a small town somewhere out in the back of beyond.
I'm three books in and I know I have to get to the next one sooner than later.
Also, the audiobooks are narrated by James Marsters, who does an excellent job. Even when I am reminded of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, especially when he, as Harry, is talking about vampire lore.
I have to admit, I knew nothing about this book, but I liked the cover and the blurb was interesting enough.
Raine can see--and more importantly, speak--to the dead. It's a wretched gift with a death sentence that has her doing many dubious things to save her skin. Seeking refuge with a deluded cult is her latest bad, survival-related decision. But her rare act of kindness--rescuing an injured woman in the snow--is even worse.
The author walks a fine line between YA and adult book, sometimes, Raine got a bit on my nerves, but not so much that I did not enjoy the story from start to finish. There is a sapphic love interest that’s not dominating the story, but interwoven in an engaging way. Raine herself is bisexual, which is a big plus for me, because I just don’t care about the heteronormative love stories anymore.
The story is a classic hero’s journey, but for an epic fantasy, its fairly short with just under 350 pages. The momentum the author builds from chapter one does not die down, and the story leaves you wanting to know more of the world. Many things are hinted at, and I’m looking forward to Book 2 next year.
K.J. Parker is one of the a-bit-under-the-radar authors we at Sceptical Reading have grown to like quite a bit. And in A Practical Guide to Conquering the World, his mix of humour and cleverness works its charm again.
It is the third and final instalment in Parker’s The Siege trilogy and follows Felix, a translator stuck in another country while his home is conquered.
But what would a Siege book be, without an outsider / unlikely hero saving not only his own, but everyone‘s bacon? And that‘s exactly what happens. Again. But let me tell you, the formula does not get old. This time, the whole world is the playing field. It really makes you appreciate the power translators may wield.
Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang, published 23 August 2022. Yes, the title is a mouthful, but in keeping with the story and definitely one of the reasons I wanted to read this dark academia alternate history/historical fantasy.
The tower of Babel, the heart and centre of the Royal Institute of Translations, is also at the heart of this fictional early Victorian era story. Like the TARDIS it is bigger on the inside, housing more than eight floors of libraries, laboratories and lecture rooms. It is the centre of silver-working, engraving translations into bars of silver to cover all aspects of a certain word or topic, so that nothing gets lost in translation, for magical effect.
The story is told from the POV of Robin Swift, who is a half-Chinese orphan brought to Britain by Professor Lovell, a member of Babel, when he was about ten years old. He’s been learning languages since to prepare him for enrolling at Oxford University.
At Babel, Robin learns that silver-working is Britain’s main tool for its industrial revolution and imperial expansion. Which is why the secret society Hermes is trying to tear down Babel, because it enables the British Empire to keep colonising and exploiting other countries. That Hermes is doing so at all costs, resolving to violence, is what makes Robin waver about whether he’s doing the right thing over and over. What is Robin willing to sacrifice for the greater good? Will he resort to violence or find a different way to stop Babel?
What I liked about the book is that despite it being a dense read, it is a page-turner. It was easy for me to get immersed in the story and sympathise with the characters. The writing is easy to follow and I enjoyed reading every footnote and agreed with Kuang’s assertions about translations and the hard work of linguists.
Yet, the main message of the book, colonisation is bad, made for a tough read from about the half-way point of the book. It is being ham-fistedly hammered home at every opportunity and I found myself rolling my eyes more and more often.
Furthermore, and this is already hinted at in the subtitle, Hermes doesn’t shrink back from the use of violence. Violence that would be seen as terrorism these days. I’m not a big fan of ‘the ends justify the means,’ which is why it took me nearly two weeks to actually finish the last part of the book. This is not due to the writing suddenly lacking, it is just because the questions Robin faces and the decisions he faced made me uncomfortable. However, that was supposed to be the book’s purpose, to make you think while enjoying a good story.
If This Book Exists, You’re In The Wrong Universe, by Jason Pargin.
This is the fourth book in the John Dies at the End series. All the other books in the series were written under Pargin's pen name David Wong, who is also the main character of the stories.
Like the three other books in this series, this book can be read as a standalone. Reading the other books in the series, in order or not, won’t help with that feeling of “what the … am I reading here?” It's a bonkers wild ride with aliens and magical soy sauce and parasites and a magical egg that demands human sacrifices and ...
In other words, a novel where you have to trust that the author knows what they were doing and go with the flow.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
The Conductors (Murder and Magic book 1) by Nicole Glover, published 02 March 2021.
I liked the idea of the story, Underground Railroad conductors turned detectives, and there is magic involved. Sadly, I didn’t like the way the story was told.
Too many characters are introduced at the beginning of the story and they all lacked backstory, so keeping up with who was who was difficult.
The magic system is not well explained. It’s not clear what makes a magic holder and how exactly the magic works. All I understood was that constellations are used as sigils and those make up a spell.
The mystery is interesting, but since there was too much telling, via dialogue between the two main characters Hetty and Benjy, it was not very engaging.
This speculative fiction woven into a historical fiction story was not for me. Still, I am hoping the next books in the series are better.
3/5 Harpy Eagles
The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt, published 11 October 2022.
This is the story of that quirky side-character who seems to always stumble into situations without ever having had the ambition to be a hero. Alas, he's about to become the hero he never wanted to be and here is his story.
There is a thousand year old space ship about to be sucked into a supernova. Sean Wren, refugee, criminal, linguist, and FTL pilot, and two other felons are offered a pardon when they rescue important data about the Philosopher's Stone from the space ship before it goes up in flames. What's supposed to be a quick job soon turns into alien encounters, sociopolitical debates and a rather predictable outcome.
I liked the short chapters and the chapter titles. I did not enjoy the 600+ pages of the book. The story could have been told in half the page-count.
3/5 Harpy Eagles
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, first published 22 February 2022, US publication 10 November 2022.
TheMarquessMagpie wrote a wonderful review about this book earlier this year. You can find it here. I agree wholeheartedly.
This book is like a hot mug of coffee and a warm cinnamon roll on a blustery autumn day. Simply delicious, heart-warming soul-food.