The Cage of Dark Hours by Marina J. Lostetter, published 14 February 2023.
A middle book that doesn’t suffer from Middle Book Syndrome is rare. The Cage of Dark Hours is such a book. Since most of the world-building happened in The Helm of Midnight, Lostetter now concentrates on a mystery/adventure about the secrets that made this world tick the way it’s ticking and hints at what might be resolved in the third book (Re: magical plague, hints at technological advancements).
The story is told from three different points of view. There’s Krona, who we met in Helm. She’s still grieving the loss of her sister, still trying to find the cause for the magical plague, and now has to prevent a murder in a city stuffed to the brim with delegations and foreign dignitaries. Then there is the noble Mandip, who, by sheer accident, is drawn into the whole plot only because he wanted to outsmart a relative. He soon finds out that the society he grew up in is not what he thinks it is. And, to show us what lies behind the curtain, we have Thalo Child. Thalo Child is one of the children groomed from infancy to serve the Thalo, to help harvest time among other things [I know this sounds very vague, but I just don’t want to accidentally spoil information]. Their account starts a few years before the actual events of the book with insights into how the Thalo system works and how the children within the system grow up. With each Thalo Child chapter the two timelines draw closer together, until they eventually converge.
The book is fast-paced and due to the dual timeline, its thriller-like plot, and twists and secrets not being too obvious, makes for a hard to put down read.
As mentioned above, I’m hoping the magical plague, although somehow explained in Cage, will come up again in the third book. This part of the plot seemed glazed over too easily and hopefully isn’t dismissed altogether. The hints at technological advancements throughout the book made me wonder whether they foreshadow a huge twist à la M. Night Shyamalan in book three. I guess I will have to wait and see.
If you are into snack-sized fantasy novellas, you will probably have heard of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. And if you are into that, let me tell you that her middle grade fantasy is just as lovely. I recently read the third one in the Up-and-Under series, so let’s have a look.
When we meet Avery and Zib, they also meet each other for the first time. Neatness meets wildness, a sense of duty meets a yearning for adventure. Due to a burst pipe, both have to take a different route to school and find themselves climbing over a wall into another world altogether – the Up-and-Under. It is a world filled with talking trees, drowned girls and ones who can burst into a murder of crows.
On their quest to find their way back home, they follow the improbable road through different smaller kingdoms named after the elements. The first book mainly takes place in the woods, representing Earth. The second book takes place on a pirate queen’s ship on the Saltwise Sea.
In the third book, their winding path home takes them to the land of Air and its cruel ruler, the Queen of Swords. To escape without being turned into her latest monsters, they have to rely on her son Jack Daw. Once again, the writing style is wonderfully whimsical. It is one of those books that are meant to be mainly read by children, but it is just as fun as an adult. Over time, Avery, Zib and their companions really take up a space in your heart.
The fourth and last book should be out later this year, and I’m sure it will be a great conclusion as Avery and Zib cross into the land of Fire.
If you are at least somewhat interested in current and upcoming SFF books, you for sure have heard of Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter campaign last year.
The first book to kick off the Year of Sanderson is Tress of the Emerald Sea. And let me tell you, it has been well worth the wait. First of all, it is probably the most gorgous book on my shelves. The print edition is a premium hardcover with foil inlays, coloured illustrations and chapter titles.
We read it as a buddyread on The StoryGraph – if you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s a really cool feature. All of us basically flew through the chapters.
The narrator is Hoid, a recurring character from Sanderson’s Cosmere universe, and his witty tone is just perfect. Little tidbits and references make you want to read everything Cosmere-related.
The story itself has all the usual YA elements – a whimsical girl setting out on a rescue mission, discovering her talents and growing throughout the whole journey. Talking animal sidekicks. Sorceresses and pirates. The cliches are there. Except…. well, except everything?
Tress is the character a younger me would have loved – and older me still does. She is not only the hero of her own story, but a sensible and pragmatic one. She does things your usual YA heroine just does not do, she – gasp – pauses to think! This book is written so well that your usual YA stock should go stand in a corner and be ashamed.
On top of that, this book is highly quotable. I could have written something down from almost every page. Probably my favourite one:
One might say worries are the only things you can make heavier simply by thinking about them.
Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson
I would have loved this book to get me through a lockdown. Stuck in a reading slump? Read it. Bad day at work? Read it. Need escapism? You know what to do. Just let me warn you that this will lead to a severe book hangover.
5/5… all the Magpies!
The Lady Duck Of Doom agrees wholeheartedly with everything the Marquess has written. This is the YA hero my 15 year old me would have loved. A girl who actually uses her brain, instead of being described as “thoughtful and intelligent” and then rushing into everything based on assumption and pure emotions.
Hoid, our narrator, delivers the story with so many unbearably good quotes about life, the universe and everything that I am considering buying an extra copy and re-reading it with a highlighter to get all the good ones. It will probably need more than one highlighter I think. The humour of our narrator reminds me a bit of Good Omens by Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and the afterword revealed it was indeed an inspiration.
I don’t know if it is possible for Brandon Sanderson to top this with the other three books lined up for this year. Next up is a non-Cosmere novel, and I can’t wait to get my hands on that. The book hangover should be over by then.
TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle doesn’t have a lot to add to what my fellow flock-mates already wrote. If you have ever wondered what might have happened had Goldman’s Buttercup gone looking for Westley, you should read this novel. Tress of the Emerald Sea is the one book that redeems the YA genre for me. It outclasses all other YA books I have ever read.
5/5 Harpy Eagles – actually, it should be 6/5 Harpy Eagles, because see above.
Voices of the Dead by Ambrose Parry, expected publication 15 June 2023.
Set in 1853, two years after the events of the last book, the fourth book in the Raven, Fisher and Simpson historical (medical) detectives series is centred on mesmerism and the power of mediums.
Body parts have been found around the city and the culprit is soon identified, but the case doesn’t seem to be as straightforward as it seems. Raven helps McLevy with the investigation. Sarah, obviously, helps Raven with the investigation, while trying to learn more about mesmerism. Furthermore, there is a medium that disturbs the routine at Queen Street during a séance that was supposed to clarify that mediums are a fraud. Raven seems at odds with all of it: the things the medium revealed at the séance, Sarah’s interest in mesmerism, the dapper gentleman who’s interested in Sarah, the new head surgeon at Surgeon’s Hall, his wife and his toddler son,…
I had some trouble getting into the story. I felt like I had missed some information at the end of book 3 of the series. So I went back and skim-read book 3 to be up to date, and suddenly the beginning of Voices of the Dead made sense to me. I had indeed forgotten some important details.
Once I got stuck in the book, though, it was hard to put down. Not because I wanted to know whether they would catch the murderer in the end and, more importantly, who the murderer had been – as with most mystery/detective novels, I had an idea how it all tied together before I got to the halfway point – my main interest was the main characters and how their lives and relationships would enfold.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons (2021) & Miss Percy’s Travel Guide to Welsh Moors and Feral Dragons (2022) by Quenby Olson.
Mildred Percy, spinster, inherits a trunk from an uncle. The inheritance and arrival of the trunk soon turns Miss Percy’s rather dull life into an exciting story as it turns out one of the items in the trunk is a dragon egg that soon hatches. Miss Percy is about to have an adventure that ladies of her age are not supposed to have.
After an attempt at abduction, Miss Percy comes to the conclusion that the dragon named “Fitz” needs to be brought to a certain area in Wales to make sure no fortune hunters of any kind try catching him a second time. Together with the local vicar and the vicar’s housekeeper, an old map of her uncle’s and Fitz tucked into a basket, Miss Percy sets off to the unknown land of Wales. A country and journey full of dangers.
The stories are of found family, middle-aged main characters, kindness, adventure and teamwork. The writing is easy to follow, if a bit verbose at times, fast-paced and with the right amount of humour to keep you entertained until the last page.
3.5/5 Harpy Eagles for each book
The Good, the Bad and the History by Jodi Taylor, expected publication 22 June 2023.
For those of you who read this blog regularly, you'll remember that I fell in love with The Chronicles of St Mary's series during the pandemic. I have, since then, re-read the series several times and was in the middle of my "great TCoSM re-read" when Headline Publishing granted my wish and I got a NetGalley eARC of the 14th novel in the series. Naturally, I left book 8, And the Rest is History, unfinished and read the ARC first.
The Good, the Bad and the History is a different St Mary's novel, because, apart from the jumps depicted on the cover (a trip to yet another library on fire and Swan Court), most of the story happens in the future - you know, the desk job Max took up in book 13. Max has to go back to the future 'to close the circle'. Which, incidentally, is also what this novel does with the whole series, there are little remarks about previous jumps/stories here and there, and quotes from previous books, former members of St Mary's being mentioned, etc. Overall, I had the feeling this was to be the last St Mary's story ever. And then there were three seemingly small words right before the Acknowledgements that made me sigh in relief.
Now I can't wait for the signed paperback to arrive so I can re-read the story again while listening to the audiobook.
(For those dying to know: Yes, I finished the "great TCoSM re-read" and, of course, that included re-reading The Good, the Bad and the History.)
5/5 Harpy Eagles
This Time by Joan Szechtman, published 2009.
A Time Travel story about the English king Richard III being snatched from Bosworth Field seconds before his death and being transported to the future.
Sooner than one would think possible for a man having been raised in the rather strict 15th century, Richard acclimatises to the peculiarities of the 21st century. Bathroom facilities don’t faze him; neither does modern clothing or food. He gets the hang of how TV remote controls work as well as mobile phones. He, the king of England, doesn’t even mind being addressed like a commoner, with a nickname even. And although he is still pining after his beloved wife Anne, he soon falls into bed with the one female researcher who greeted him upon his arrival; before you ask, yes, he can wield a condom like he used to wield his sword. I gave up at the point where the previously escaped Richard, who disguised himself as a kitchen help in a restaurant, is about to be recaptured.
The story could have been a good one. The idea is great. Yet, the characters are all one dimensional and Richard takes to the 21st century too easily.
Antimatter Blues by Edward Ashton, published 14 March 2023.
Mickey 7 is back, or should I say he’s still alive? It’s two years after Mickey bartered for his “freedom” from being an Expendable by hiding a bomb with the Creepers. Spring has come to Niflheim and there are problems with the reactor core. To ensure everyone’s survival before the next winter comes, Mickey has to get the bomb back from the Creepers, but it’s gone. What follows is a road trip to recover the bomb from a different tribe of Creepers.
The novel has a plot, but it’s not important. Mickey will save the day, because he is the Chosen One.
1/5 Harpy Eagles
What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris, published 2005.
The first novel in a dark mystery series set in Britain in the early 19th century, right around the tumultuous time when the Regency was about to be declared. Sebastian St Cyr is implicated in the murder and, knowing himself to be innocent, takes it upon himself to find the murderer.
Truly liked to see a mystery set in the early times of the Regency. St Cyr is a likable hero and there are interesting secondary characters. The writing is engaging and the chapters are short, which made the novel a pageturner for me.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
Weyward by Emilia Hart, 02 February 2023.
The cover is gorgeous. The writing is excellent. The three storylines are well-interwoven. That should all make this a five star reading. Do. Not. Be. Fooled. By. The. Cover. This book is darker than you’d think. It’s full of domestic violence, sexual assault, male abuse and subjugation of women, furthermore stillbirth, abortion, miscarriage, mutilation, suicidal intentions.
Three timelines. Three women. Three, let’s call them, hedgewitches are fighting for their independence by using insects or birds to free themselves from their male oppressor/s and/or use the animals for their vengeance.
There is nothing new in these three stories. We’ve read it all before. Women being oppressed by the men in their lives, be it father, husband, family members, neighbours, clergy, men of law. Women being at fault just because they are women.
I appreciate what Hart did here, interweaving the three stories, but even at the end of the book we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. The end of the book is the circle closing, to make sure the three stories can interconnect.
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.