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.

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.

Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, published 01 September 2015. The first book in the Sorcerer Royal series.

Set at the times of the Napoleonic Wars/Regency Period in England, magic is slowly disappearing and the Unnatural Philosophers (magicians/old white men) blame their new Sorcerer Royal. Zacharias, the Sorcerer to the Crown, is the son of Caribbean slaves who was adopted by the Wythes and followed in his adopted father’s footsteps when he became the first black Sorcerer Royal. Since anyone who is not a white male is inferior and can’t do magic properly it is because of Zacharias that Fairyland has cut Britain off the magic.

When we get to meet the female main character, Prunella, an orphan living in a school for witches, we see more sexism and racism. Women are inferior and hence high born magical girls have to attend schools for witches to get rid of their magic; servants, by the way, may do magic, since it’s handy around the house. Though Prunella, as the daughter of an Indian woman and an English gentleman, should never even attempt to use magic, she’s inferior not only by her sex, but also her race. You can guess where this is going.

Due to her heritage Prunella has magical abilities in abundance, she only needs to unlock her abilities and learn to control them. With the help of Zacharias and his adoptive mother, Prunella wants to learn magic properly and find a husband in London’s society. Not easy since everyone and their grandmother judge her by her sex and the colour of her skin.

The racism/sexism morale of the story was dealt ham-fistedly, it could have been woven into the story in a subtler way. The world-building had holes, in my opinion. I was looking for explanations as to why women shouldn’t do magic, other than they are the weaker sex; which is why I liked that Prunella stayed strong and insisted on learning. Lastly, the story dragged. This might be due to the writing style which emulates the style of the Regency era, but can’t quite pull it off.

2.5/5 Harpy Eagles

Master of FanFic?

The Masters of Death by Olivie Blake, first published 30 January 2018.

Do not trust the blurb. This book is about a game the gods play when they are bored – not an ineffable game, but an inexplicable game that is so hyped up that when you actually get to the game, you might just be staring at the page and go “huh?!” It’s also about a vampire cat estate agent who is trying to sell a haunted house. There is the ghost of Tom Parker IV, who doesn’t know how and why he was killed. And there is the godson of Death, Fox D’Mora (yes, a very un-German name for a young man having grown up just outside Frankfurt in Germany about two hundred years ago – doesn’t matter which of the two Frankfurts either) and his “the one” a Norse demi-god. There are also a bunch of other immortal beings and their botched up love affairs, including but not restricted to a demon, a reaper, an angel, archangels, and a werewolf.

If you want to read a fanfic that reads like Good Omens, Discworld’s Death series, The Sandman, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, How to Stop Time, and The Library of the Unwritten (and probably a few more) had an ugly baby, go ahead. Maybe you like the angsty characters. Maybe you like endless dialogue where you aren’t certain who is talking. Maybe you like the relationship between Fox and Brandt that is rehashed and examined every time it comes up. Maybe you like being pulled out of a storyline again and again to be confronted with a different POV and another character’s backstory.

2/5 Harpy Eagles – there were a few funny moments

Mesoamerican Zorro retelling

Sun of Blood and Ruin by Mariely Lares, expected publication 28 September 2023.

The cover is stunning, was one of the first thoughts I had about this book. The blurb was promising. The final product wasn’t at all what I had hoped it would be.

The first half of the book was hard to get through and made me put it off several times. The story starts right away, no initial explanations and hence hard to follow for someone who has only had limited contact with indigenous cultures of Mexico (quite frankly, all of the Americas). Yet, some explanations were inserted later on, and here I want to point out the word inserted; the info-dumps felt like they were copied from an encyclopaedia and didn’t gel with the general style of writing.

Throughout the book the more two dimensional characters were difficult to distinguish from each other, which was especially vexing when reading pages of stilted dialogue. It got a little better in the second half of the book, though.

Sun of Blood and Ruin is a gender reversal Zorro retelling with a lot of fantasy elements that will certainly gain fans. Unfortunately, I had the impression the core story was actually the latter part of the second half of the book and the first half was later added to create a novel out of a novella.  

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Murderbot is back

System Collapse by Martha Wells, expected publication 14 November 2023.

The seventh book in the Murderbot Diaries. This is a spoiler free review.

Murderbot doesn’t like planets. It especially doesn’t like planets when some of its squishy humans are on a planet. Especially especially when there’s an alien contagion infecting people and bots. And, especially especially especially because of [redacted] Murderbot is not 100% itself, but it has to protect it’s squishy humans and the local colonists. And Barish-Estranza just sent in an armed shuttle.

Sigh! All Murderbot wants to do is watch media with ART.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Fantasy Library and Alternate Worlds

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman, published from 2015 on.

Having read Scarlet by Genevieve Cogman, I remembered that years ago I started The Invisible Library series and decided to pick it up again.

Irene is a spy for a library that retrieves literary works from different/alternate worlds. Having been tasked with the retrieval of a dangerous book, Irene and her assistant Kai are posted in an alternate London. A London that looks Victorian, but has different features from “our” Victorian London. As if book retrieval alone wasn’t tricky enough, the alternate London is chaos-infested and poses a threat to all reality. Irene and Kai have to work with and against some of the supernatural forces and strange magic systems in this alternate London to find the book and save the worlds from falling into chaos.

So far I have re-read The Invisible Library (2015) and read The Masked City (2015) which leads Irene and Kai to a city that is similar to Venice during Carnival, where Irene needs to rescue Kai.

Yes, some of you, who have read this series, might say Irene behaves like a YA Strong Heroine (the books are not YA). I agree, Irene runs into danger without thinking about what and how she’s going to rescue Kai. There is also a slow burn love triangle brewing in the background. Yet, I still like the story. Probably because it’s rather fast-paced compared to most YA fantasy stories. So despite some shortcomings, I like the characters and the plot so far. And the ending of book two made me want to grab the next book in the series right away. I am trying to pace myself though.

4/5 Harpy Eagles for each of the books

How To Avoid the Guillotine

From the cover it might be clear that this book is set at the time of the French Revolution. Cogman retells the story of Orcyz’s “The Scarlet Pimpernel” by adding vampires and magic. The French nobles are vampires which is why they need to be killed with the guillotine. The Scarlet Pimpernel, a British nobleman who uses disguises and, together with a group of equally daring people, rescues people from the Reign of Terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

The main character of the story is Eleanor a young English maid who works for one of the acknowledged noble vampires. This lady notices the resemblance between Eleanor and Queen Marie Antoinette and basically volunteers Eleanor to the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Eleanor must now learn how to behave like a noble and a spy in order to help free the Queen and her children from the Bastille. A daring undertaking in and off itself, especially once Eleanor has to go undercover in enemy territory.

A fast paced fantasy story that has a new twist on vampires and offers an interesting reason for why the French Revolution happened.

Truly enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick ARC Reviews – June 2023

One Litsy.com member started #JuneOfARC and I tried to read as many ARCs as possible. I managed more than three, but haven’t written up reviews for the other ones yet.

Molly Molloy and the Angel of Death by Maria Vale, published 04 April 2023.

Death accidentally picks the wrong soul and Molly Molloy lives. From now on Molly can see Death and interact with him. Death is depicted as going with the time on Earth but with the comic relief of no education and no clue about the world he wants to live in whatsoever, i.e. he writes everything phonetically, doesn’t know how modern amenities work. A love story between the two of them ensues, including a very fast-forward to several years on.

I'm certain my love for the funny stories about Death by either Pratchett or Christopher Moore had an influence on my perception of this rather lukewarm rom-com.  

1/5 Harpy Eagles

The Curious Kidnapping of Nora W by Cate Green, expected publication 01 August 2023.

Nora is about to become the oldest person on the planet. Her great-granddaughter is planning her Guinness World Record party, but Nora doesn’t want a party. Nora wants to leave the care home she lives in. She might be frail, but manages to get a family member to sign off on her paperwork and Nora goes to live with her carer Arifa, another woman who has survived a war.

A story about survival, about family and friendship. I enjoyed this slow story, but it took me some time to get used to the writing style and the POVs of the three women.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Perilous Times by Thomas D Lee, published 25 May 2023.

The author clearly knows a lot about the Arthurian Legend. I liked the idea of the book, the knights of the Round Table being resurrected whenever the realm is in peril, which this time means a dystopian Britain suffering from climate change.

I had the feeling that the plot suffered from all the commentary on climate change, gender identity, sexual orientation and racism. It bogged the story down and made sticking to the book very hard for me. It was very easy to put the ARC away and similarly very hard to pick it up again. 

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Nive Cover, But…

Shanghai Immortal by A.Y. Chao, published 01 June 2023.

As a contestant for the most stunning cover 2023 this novel is in the lead. I applied for the ARC especially because the cover caught my attention. Yet, the story behind the cover and the interesting blurb didn’t deliver.

Shanghai Immortal seems to defy all genres that I would have assigned to it, is it an adult (urban) fantasy with Chinese mythology elements or a paranormal mystery/paranormal romance?

I’m not sure what this book’s genre actually is, but it read too modern for a story set in the Jazz Age. The MC, Lady Jing, acted like a spoiled teenager rather than a nearly 100-year-old immortal princess/half-vampire-half-fox-spirit with ties to two high courts of the mythical realm. Lady Jing is acting up just for the sake of annoying everyone around her, which shows how the author is using Jing’s childhood trauma as a plot device, it’s the only reason given for Jing’s behaviour. Furthermore, Jing doesn’t listen to the advice from the people around her, which the author tries to hide under the cloak of the “miscommunication trope”.

Where Lady Jing is presented as the anti-hero hero who wants to prevent the theft of a certain dragon pearl from the King of Hell, the secondary characters are depicted as typical paste-board romance novel characters. There’s the uber-beautiful bestie and her love-interest. There is the overly protective, yet obnoxiously annoying father-figure and his cronies, the “turd for brain bitches” who have been bullying Jing all her life, there is an avuncular figure who we get to see two three times but they have to make the deus-ex-machina work, and there is the handsome, clueless and hard to crack mortal love-interest.

Ugh! I thought I’d get an Urban Fantasy with Chinese Mythology woven into it not a hot mess of a story that I’d rank as a bland romance story that has the maturity level somewhere between middle-grade and YA. It definitely isn’t an adult paranormal/mythological urban fantasy mystery.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

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