Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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Athos 2643

Dear Readers, this is the first review about a German book in German. I will not translate this review into English. I’m going to leave my short description of this book here instead: It’s a very philosophical sci-fi novel featuring an aging, sexually frustrated inquisitor and his AI assistant with a very misogynistic holo-Barbie appearance, as well as a handful of ascetic monks and their ethically compromised AI.

Athos 2643 – Nils Westerboer – erschienen am 19. Februar 2022 bei Hobbit Presse, Klett-Cotta.

Beschreibung des Verlags:

Auf Athos, einem kleinen Neptunmond, stirbt ein Mönch. Rüd Kartheiser, Inquisitor und Spezialist für lebenserhaltende künstliche Intelligenzen, ermittelt. An seiner Seite: Seine Assistentin Zack. Schön, intelligent und bedingungslos gehorsam. Ein Hologramm. Für Rüd die perfekte Frau. Doch das Kloster des Athos verbirgt ein altes, dunkles Geheimnis. Rüd erkennt: Um zu überleben, muss er Zack freischalten. Das Jahr 2643: Der Neptunmond Athos ist zum Schauplatz eines unerklärlichen Verbrechens geworden. Die lebenserhaltende KI des Klosters steht im Verdacht, gemordet zu haben. Inquisitor Rüd Kartheiser, ein Spezialist im Verhören künstlicher Intelligenzen, wird mit dem Fall beauftragt. Zusammen mit seiner attraktiven holografischen Assistentin Zack, die ihm durch eine Reihe von Sicherheitsbeschränkungen absolut ergeben ist, erreicht er den kleinen, zerklüfteten Mond. Doch die Ermittlungen der beiden treffen auf Widerstand. Während Zacks anziehende Erscheinung bei den Mönchen Anstoß erregt, entpuppt sich die KI des Klosters als gerissene Taktikerin, die ihr Handeln geschickt verschleiert. Als sich unter den Mönchen ein zweiter Todesfall ereignet, begreift Rüd, dass er mehr als je zuvor auf Zacks Hilfe angewiesen ist. Um ihr Potential auszuschöpfen, trifft er – hinsichtlich ihrer Sicherheitsbeschränkungen – eine folgenschwere Entscheidung.

Meine Erwartungen:

Die Menschheit hat aus irgendeinem Grund irgendwie das Sonnensystem bevölkert. Die Technik hat sich weiterentwickelt. Es gibt Klöster. Also hat die Menschheit weiterhin Religionen, vermutlich monotheistische patriarchale Religionen.

Ein Inquisitor muss in einem Kloster auf einem Neptunmond einen Mord aufklären. Na wenn das nicht nach „Der Name der Rose“ klingt. Wir sind also in der Zukunft, aber sozial doch eher im Mittelalter. Frauen sind an bestimmten Orten verboten und werden, mal wieder, auf ihr Äußeres und ihren bedingungslosen Gehorsam reduziert.

Wie kann man einen Klappentext so sexistisch darstellen? Alles nur Marketingmasche? Steckt hinter dem Buch gar ein feministischer Roman? Wird Zack sich befreien? Wurde der Mord mit ganz viel Finesse durchgezogen? Unter Nutzung der lokalen Begebenheiten und Widrigkeiten?

Mein Fazit – nachdem ich den Roman am Ende von Teil 1 (67%) abgebrochen habe:

Das Buch ist mehr philosophische spekulative Fiktion als ein Science-Fiction-Roman. Die Geschichte mag in der Zukunft spielen, auf einem Neptunmond, es gibt KIs, es gibt eine gruselige automatisierte Fleischzucht, künstliche Gravitation, etc pp. Es gibt ausschweifende, teils extrem langatmige Landschafts- und Planetenbeschreibungen. Es wird mit Sci-Fi Ausdrücken und Abkürzungen um sich geworfen, zu denen oft die (wissenschaftliche) Erklärung fehlt – und nein, ein Appendix, der mir diese Dinge erklären soll, reicht mir hier nicht. Das ist die faule Version eines Sci-Fi-Romans. Abgesehen davon scheinen einige Handlungselemente komplett von den bisherigen spärlichen Erklärungen abzuweichen. So werden, zum Beispiel, die Gravitationsspule und die damit verbundenen Injektionen semi-wissenschaftlich erklärt, und dann ist da dieses Insekt, das offensichtlich der Schwerkraft ausgesetzt ist, bei dem ich mir aber nur schwer vorstellen kann, dass ihm jemand regelmäßig die nötigen Partikel einspritzt.

Wie ich bereits angedeutet habe, der Roman ist sehr philosophisch. Was bei KIs als Hauptcharakteren natürlich nicht weiter verwunderlich ist. KIs in einem Roman fordern geradezu die Diskussion über die üblichen philosophischen, ethischen und religiösen Themen, die als „wer darf über Leben und Tod entscheiden?“ zusammengefasst werden können, heraus. Das macht letztlich auch den Hauptteil der Geschichte aus, das Philosophieren mit den KIs und über die KIs und deren Entscheidungsfreiraum.

Erzählt wird die Geschichte aus Sicht der Gynoid Zack, der KI mit Holoprojektion. Diese Holoprojektion ist fast perfekt nach Rüds Wünschen angefertigt worden, die Brüste sind zum Beispiel etwas zu klein geraten, aber sonst ist sie eine prima Holo-Barbie: gehorsam in allen Lebenslagen, gibt keine Widerworte und lässt sich prima zulabern, wenn Rüd mansplainen muss. Dass sie auch hervorragend seine sexuellen Phantasien erfüllt, erfährt man direkt in der Eingangsszene, einer soft-BDSM Situation. Durch ihre geringe Oberflächenspannung kann Zack nur sehr kurze, sehr dünne Kleidchen tragen. Und immer wenn es Rüd passt, stellt er sie bloß. Egal ob sie dabei gerade allein sind, oder unter Menschen (eigentlich müsste es „unter Männern“ heißen, denn Zack ist die einzige weibliche Figur im Roman). Zack weiß, als auktoriale Erzählerin der Geschichte, netterweise auch häufig was in den anderen Charakteren vor sich geht. Gut, dass sie Rüd einschätzen kann, verstehe ich, aber woher weiß sie so gut über die Gedanken der Mönche bescheid? Das kann nicht alles nur Beobachtung sein.

Die Mordermittlung an sich ist nebensächlich. Mir zumindest war recht früh klar wer es war und warum. Ja, ja, natürlich hab ich nicht zu Ende gelesen und dahinter steckt noch ein größeres Geheimnis, das in Teil 2 des Romans sicher geklärt wird. Aber am Ende des ersten Teils hatte ich definitiv kein Interesse mehr weiterzulesen. Zumal ich schon nach dem Klappentext nicht wirklich Lust auf den Roman hatte.  

Ein paar Gedanken, die mir während des Lesens kamen:

  • Gynoid? Ganz nah an Gynozid. Überhaupt nicht sexistisch im 21. Jahrhundert, oder? Abgesehen davon, warum Gynoid? Also quasi die weibliche Form von Android. Frau-Droid? Dabei ist die Holo-Barbie ja gar kein Gynoid/Android, sondern nur eine KI, die dank eines Emitters holographisch dargestellt wird.
  • Warum muss Zack aus ihren Wahrnehmungen (über den kugelförmigen Emitter), zum Beispiel in der Fleischfabrik, Schlussfolgerungen über die dort arbeitenden Drohnen anstellen? Als KI sollte sie die nötigen Informationen abrufen können.
  • Warum kann die KI alles im Raum wahrnehmen, auch wenn der Emitter in Rüds Tasche oder Faust eingeschlossen ist?
  • Wenn Zack im „mediterranen Raum“ eine holografische Burka tragen kann, warum kann Rüd ihre Kurven dann nicht auch auf Athos mit angemessener Kleidung bedecken?
  • Im 27. Jahrhundert gibt’s weiterhin klar abgegrenzte Länder. Der Shisha-Bar-Inhaber ist anatolischer Herkunft? Die Gründer der Minen auf dem Athos waren Schweden? Erklärung?
  • Apropos mediterraner Raum. Wieso wird die Gravitation auf der Raumstation über Neptun(?) wegen des Ramadans reduziert?
  • Apropos Raumstation – Wasserstoffmeere bedeuten flüssiger Wasserstoff. Wie hält eine Raumstation dem Druck und den Temperaturen stand? Und der dazugehörigen Gravitation des Planeten? Wasserstoff wird erst ab mehreren Giga-Pascal flüssig. Da hätte ich so gern eine Erklärung gehabt.  
  • Die Namen der Charaktere wirken extrem mittelalterlich. Einige der Mönche haben sogar alliterative Namen, ich dachte ernsthaft: ich hab’s kapiert, das hier ist eine Satire! Vor allem wenn man „Zack“ für die Holo-Barbie dazu nimmt; weil sie so auf Zack ist?
  • Gibt’s auch nur irgendeine sinnvolle Erklärung für die gruselige Fleischzucht? Betonung auf sinnvoll.
  • Skleroiden gibt’s auch. Wenn ich das jetzt mit Gynoid vergleiche, dann sind das Hart-Droiden. Geschlechtsneutrale Arbeits-Droiden, die wie ein Golem mittels eines Stück Papiers (hier eines Chips) in der Stirn kontrolliert werden.
  • Wo sind die Frauen? Es gibt nur Holo-Barbie Zack als agierenden weiblichen Charakter. Werden die Männer in Fabriken hergestellt? Diese Idee kam mir, nachdem die KI des Klosters ein Problem lösen sollte und erklärte, dass man auf eine Hebamme verzichten könne, man aber dringend einen Kreisler bräuchte, der mit Seilen umgehen kann.
  • Das bringt mich zu meiner letzten Frage, was ist ein Kreisler? Stand bestimmt im Appendix, oder? Denn ein Kornfruchthändler (veralteter österreichischer Begriff) wird es wohl kaum sein.

Abschließend kann ich nur sagen, Athos 2643 war definitiv nicht was ich anhand des Klappentexts erwartet hatte. Es war sogar noch schlechter. Ich hatte auf eine Mordermittlung im klassischen Holmes&Watson-Format gehofft; auf eine Holo-Barbie-Watson, die aus ihrem Gefängnis ausbricht; auf mehr Science, weniger Philosophie. Stattdessen hat der Roman das typisch deutsche Sci-Fi-Frauenbild bestätigt: Eine Nackte auf dem Umschlag und „Zacks anziehende Erscheinung“. Ich frage mich, ob ein Roman mit einer weiblichen Inquisitorin und ihrem Holo-Adonis als Assistenten es überhaupt in den Druck geschafft hätte. ABER, das war ja nicht die Botschaft des Buchs, das hab ich sicher alles komplett missverstanden. Ging eigentlich um “Wer darf Gott spielen”.

0/5 Harpy Eagles [bei NetGalley 1/5 Sternen, 0 Sterne mag deren KI nicht 😉 ]

Quick Reviews – January/February 2022

Near the Bone by Christina Henry

Well, this was a page turner, although or despite not being as bone chilling as I had expected.
Mattie lives in the woods, with her husband William. When checking the rabbit snares she finds strange bear-like tracks. There's a beast hiding on the mountain. 
William is much older than Mattie, very brutal and the reader soon understands that something is not right here. 
Mattie remembers impossible bits from her past. Three college students are in the woods tracking the creature. William bought bear traps and grenades to kill the beast. 
Any idea how this will end? 
The sinister part reminded me of Neville's The Ritual. I was rooting for Mattie, but there were moments when I despised her for being such a wuss, nevertheless I kept turning the pages because I wanted to know whether my prediction of the outcome was right. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Review based on an ARC provided by the publishers.

Pandora "Dora" Blake's parents were killed in an accident twelve years ago. Her uncle took charge of Dora and of the antiquarian shop Dora's parents built and has nearly run it to the ground. Dora knows her uncle is hiding something and eventually finds Greek antiquities in the cellar. She enlists the help of Edward Lawrence, a book binder and antiquarian scholar, to find out whether the items are genuine. Soon they discover that the large vase Dora found has more in store than helping Edward to achieve an academic future and Dora to restore her parents' shop to its former glory.

Pandora is a historical novel set in Georgian time. It's a mystery novel as much as a historical novel. The writing is good. The descriptions of London and the characters are vivid. The three POV give each of the three characters their own voice.

At times, though, the use of anachronistic words took me out of the story, but that might have been rectified before publishing.

3,5/5 Harpy Eagles


Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, translated by Jeremy Tiang

In Yo'ang humans and "strange beasts", human-like mythical creatures, live together. Each of the nine interconnecting chapters of the book is dedicated to a different species of "strange beasts". The nameless narrator tells us about the origins, appearances and habits of the different beasts. It was interesting, but the repetitive nature of the stories soon got boring. 
It's surrealism, or magical realism. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


Fortune Favours the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

It's the late 1940s. Willowjean Parker ran away with the circus years ago. In New York she comes across the famous detective Lilian Pentecost, who hires her as an assistant. 
Fast forward to three years later, Mrs P and Parker are hired to solve a locked room mystery. The widow of a rich industrial magnate was killed after a seance at the family's Halloween party.
The murder could be anyone from the husband's business partner, to the children, the medium present at the seance, to the ghosts of the past. 
I liked how Pentecost and Parker faced the usual trials and prejudices of women in that time. It was done well, I never had the impression that the women behaved anachronistically. Pentecost further has to deal with a chronic illness that makes her job very hard at times; from personal experience, I can say that the author depicted Mrs P's problems very accurately. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles

19th century Edinburgh in two novels

Books are perfect to travel to different places and different times; I don’t need to tell you this, I know. My recent reading took me to Edinburgh in the 19th century. Both books not only had the setting in common, both books also dealt with the study of the human body and the supernatural. Now that I think of it, both even offered a spot of romance.

The first novel was Anatomy by Dana Schwartz. The cover hooked me, the blurb got me:

Edinburgh, 1817.

Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

Well, this should have been my jam – apart from it being a YA novel: Gothic tale, a mystery, a romance. It wasn’t. But it sure has a great cover.

It’s the autumn of 1817, our teenage heroine, Hazel, is a smart red-head who lives in a castle. She’s read every medical book in her father’s library and knows how to distinguish the humerus from the femur, but doesn’t know that becoming a female physician – that is a woman who’s a medical professional – is not in her future. And no, before you think something along the lines of, but this girl will use her strong will to show the patriarchy what’s what, forget it. She’s the kind of girl who’s flabbergasted when she find out that her future husband will determine whether she might practice medicine, given that she first has to be allowed to study and pass the exam. Basically, we have a 21st century girl in a 19th century setting.

Jack is a dull character. He snatches bodies out of graves and sells them to anatomists. He has a crush on an actress. He snatches bodies out of graves… Oh, I said that already. Well, you get the picture.

The pacing of the novel is off. The blurb is a summary of the first 40% of the book. The mystery was a no show until about 75%. Then we get the story going, wrapped up, and a potential sequel hinted at in the remaining quarter.

While I was waiting for the (not really baffling) mystery, I realised a lot of inconsistencies with the time and place of the story: Word of mouth goes round about a teenager performing medical procedures alone in her house – but no authority cares. A pregnant woman in labour is walking for hours to get to Hazel instead of finding a midwife near her. A policeman treating Hazel like he has no care in the world about her socially higher standing. Anachronistic language and no distinction in speech between the different social classes. I could continue. There was so much more. Just thinking Edinburgh, late September, sunrise and sunset times, and my hackles rise again. Dear author, how much research did you really put into this book?

One more thing about the romance: Hazel and Jack hiding in the grave of a mutilated body and kissing and falling asleep with said body only feet away – so romantic.

1/5 Harpy Eagles


The second novel that brought me to Edinburgh was set at the other end of the century. It’s Craig Russell’s Hyde, a retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson story.

Edward Hyde has a strange gift-or a curse-he keeps secret from all but his physician. He experiences two realities, one real, the other a dreamworld state brought on by a neurological condition.

When murders in Victorian Edinburgh echo the ancient Celtic threefold death ritual, Captain Edward Hyde hunts for those responsible. In the process he becomes entangled in a web of Celticist occultism and dark scheming by powerful figures. The answers are there to be found, not just in the real world but in the sinister symbolism of Edward Hyde’s otherworld.

He must find the killer, or lose his mind.

A dark tale. One that inspires Hyde’s friend . . . Robert Louis Stevenson.

It is always a problem for me to write a long review about a book that I enjoyed.

Hyde is a dark-ish character. He’s not the monster Stevenson painted, but works for the Edinburgh police force. He’s been hiding his episodes since his childhood, recently they have become more severe. So severe, that Hyde fears he might be the brutal killer himself. Coming out of his “spells,” he finds himself close to the murder victims too often for it to be coincidence.

The occult dark part was a tiny bit predictable for me. I have read similar stories and knew who the puppet master pulling the strings was early on. This did not diminish my enjoyment of the story, though.

Russell played with the original duality of Stevenson’s story, but gave it a different twist. Setting, characters and plot development made sense. Add a few cameos and they made me overlook the few inconsistencies.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – January ’22

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (GER edition) by Laini Taylor, 2011.

The first book of a YA fantasy romance trilogy featuring angels and demons and a blue haired girl with lots of tattoos. The human girl Karou grew up among chimera. She's an arts student in Prague, but she's also dealing in teeth for her 'adoptive' father, the chimera Brimstone. 
When, on one of her errands for Brimstone, an angel attacks her, and subsequently all the doors to Brimstone's workshop are magically burnt shut, Karou has to face the angel Akiva to find answers about her life and a way back to the shop. 
I've read Karou's and Akiva's story several times. This time I read it in German with my daughter. 
The story is still as good, the translation leaves room for improvement though. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles – because we enjoyed the mistranslations very much


The Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari, expected publication 7 June 2022. (ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley)

A murder mystery set in London in the 1930s with a strong female heroine. 
Saffron Everleigh is working on her PhD in botany. As a woman in academia, in the 1930s, she has to fight a lot of uphill battles already. When the wife of one of the professors of the department is poisoned at a party, Saffron is determined to proof the innocence of her mentor. 
There are some really villainous villains and a lot of very dumb detectives; and there's chemistry between Saffron and her sidekick. 
Brimming with botanical information that isn't at all dull, and, most importantly for me, not too obvious plot twists.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


Evershore. A Skyward Flight novella by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson, published 28 December 2021.

This is Jorgen's story and it's taking place at the same time as the third Skyward Flight novel Cytonic. 
Jorgen is trying to master his cytonic abilities. He's training with the alien Alanik. This is how they pick up a transmission from Evershore, the Kitsen home planet. Jorgen and part of Skyward flight travel to Evershore, where they meet Kitsen, see clouds, the sea and beaches for the first time; and find out - among a lot of other things - that sand truly gets everywhere. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove, published 2017.

Lovegrove knows how to spin a yarn, just as well as Dr Watson. 
Three manuscripts, by Dr Watson, were found. Those manuscripts are the true accounts of what Holmes and Watson faced. 
In 1880, logical Sherlock Holmes comes up against the occult for the first time. Lovecraft's Elder gods are roaming Victorian London. Can Sherlock Holmes' rational reasoning handle the inexplicable? Magic? 

Has this been done before? Sure. 
Did it entertain me? Couldn't put it down. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


Cackle by Rachel Harrison, published 5 October 2021.

Annie, after being dumped by her BF of ten years, moves from Manhattan to a small town in a rural area. The quaint town offers her a new start. Alas, Annie is a doormat and hence gravitates towards the self-confident and charismatic Sophie, who surprisingly wants to be Annie's friend. She wants Annie to recognise her true self. Annie wants her ex back, wants a man in her life, wants to drink her body's volume in alcohol. Honestly, this woman drinks a lot.
Tension? Horror? Not really. 
Female empowerment? If that means you should be obnoxious and rude, then no. 
Best character, even though he was more like a children's book character, the pet-spider Ralph. 

1/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – September ’21

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis, published 21 July 2020.

I had been interested in this book since before it's publication; it has aliens and linguistics. Alas, I could not get over the redundant writing and gave up soon after the aliens were introduced, or when part 2 of the book started. The story might be intriguing, but the novel could have done with a lot more editing. Especially since it is written from the POV of a former linguistics major, who should know how to write concise sentences. 

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Barker, published 6 October 2020.

The name Deborah Barker is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire, author of the Wayward Children series; or rather this retelling of The Wizard of Oz is a book within a book. It's been referred to in Middlegame several times. The story is supposed to be targeted at middle-grade students, yet I thought that there was a lot of between the lines commentary directed at more mature readers. The sequel Across the Saltwise Sea is on my review copy TBR. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, published 4 May 2021.

Shortlisted for the Booker Price 2021. This book has two story-lines, one follows Marian Graves, who wants to be a pilot and circumnavigate the Earth from pole to pole. The other story-line follows the actress Hadley Baxter, who's playing Marian in the film based on the latter's logbook found in the Antarctic ice years after her plane was lost on its last leg of the journey. 
I truly enjoyed the Marian part of the story, and although it was interesting to read about Hadley's story, this Hollywood-starlet story-line never really gripped my attention. The last 100 pages of the book, mostly focusing on Marian's circumnavigation, were the best part of the story. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Phosphate Rocks. A Death in Ten Objects by Fiona Erskine, published 17 June 2021.

"The demolition crew found the body."

This is how Erskine's novel starts. A body was found in the ruins of what used to be the fertiliser plant in Leith. A body that was encased in phosphate rocks. Ten items are arranged on the desk in front of the body. And those ten items eventually help the former foreman John Gibson and the police to narrow down the time of death and the identity of the person. 

I really enjoyed this mystery. It was full of lighthearted "nerdy-ness": some of the chemicals used in the process of making fertilisers are explained in an entertaining and not too scientific way. Erskine further has first hand experience having worked at the fertiliser plant herself, which gave her lots of material for the story's characters and their anecdotes.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Two Rivers series by Ann Cleeves.

At last a series of whodunits/mysteries that I couldn't solve right at the start of the books. I really enjoyed the first book of this new series by bestseller author Cleeves. The Long Call (2019) introduces the investigative team surrounding inspector Venn. He and his husband live in North Devon in a small community. When a body washes up on the shore, Venn's investigation brings back memories of his past in an evangelical community. 

Book two, The Heron's Cry (2021), is set only months after the first book. We get to see character development of the investigative team, as well as some secondary characters of the first book make an appearance. A clever mystery that even I had not fully unveiled before the big reveal. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles, for each

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, published 02 February 2021.

This book is hard to review. I want to say it's a Sci-Fi book with an arranged M/M marriage romance on the side, but it's the other way round. This is a romance novel about a M/M arranged marriage set in a Sci-Fi world. In order to uphold the treaty between the Iskat Empire and its vassal planet Thea, the two MCs, Jinan and Kiem, have to get married right after Jinan's period of mourning his late husband is over.
  
Rake Kiem has to be reformed. Uptight Jinan has to loosen up. They both have misgivings about the marriage at the beginning. When they find out about a plan to overthrow the treaty, they have to work together. Which leads to them getting to know each other much better and trusting each other. Cue traps, damsels -well, spouses- in distress, and a happily ever after. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Dead Detective and Purgatorial Politics

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox, publishing day 22 July 2021.

Joe Lazarus is on a stake-out. It’s raining. He’s hunkered down in a ditch, his expensive coat splattered with mud. Can it get any worse? Sure! He’s only minutes away from stumbling over his own corpse. Supernatural detective story where the dead DI has to find his own murderer? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. The detective story is intertwined with a story-line about politics in purgatory, and both are overshadowed by a dark entity that waits for your dead soul, which is in purgatory already, to cross a certain line of interference just to drag you off into the deepest pits of hell.

The detective part of the story and the interactions between Lazarus and his ‘dead soul’s guide to the afterlife’ Daisy-May kept me turning the pages until I reached about 50% -although it was pretty bog-standard and obvious to me who-dunnit. Obviously the mystery behind Lazarus’s death is just part of a bigger picture. But, because the underworld/afterlife part of the world-building wasn’t fully realised, it bogged down the whole story and left me with many questions that weren’t answered.

2.5 – so 3/5 Harpies

Djinn Steampunk

P. Djèlí Clark has come up with an alternate history, urban fantasy, steampunk Cairo that is a place I want to read more of.

After reading the two short stories, A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 several weeks back, I was truly happy to have been approved for an ARC of Clark’s full sized novel A Master of Djinn set in this steampunk Cairo, publishing day 11 May 2021.

Together with Agent Fatma, who had to fight a rogue clockwork angel in A Dead Djinn in Cairo, we are trying to solve the mystery behind the death of the members of a secret brotherhood. The possible culprit is no other than al-Jahiz, the very person who brought the djinn back into the human world about fifty years ago and then vanished.

Fatma, her lover Siti and her new, and definitely unwanted, rookie partner Hadia are trying to find out who the black man with the golden mask truly is. An endeavor that lets them not only team up with some of the characters we’ve already met in the prequel short stories, but also with new-to-the-reader djinn, gods, and other members of the Cairene underworld.

The mystery itself I had figured out long before the agents and police. But, and that’s what sets a good mystery apart from a mediocre one, at least for me, I stayed for the characters and their banter, for the carefully thought through world that Clark painted, for the clockwork angels, and djinn.

There is a third prequel short story The Angel of Khan el-Khalili, set between Dead Djinn and Tram Car, which I fully intend to read as soon as I have finished writing this review.

Quick reviews

Even and Odd by Sarah Beth Durst, a middle-grade fantasy adventure, publishing date 15 June 2021. The two sisters, Even and Odd, share their magic. Even loves magic, practices every chance she gets, Odd seems to have come to dislike magic and is wondering where she fits in. They encounter a young unicorn named Jeremy, who thinks he messes up everything. Together the three of them want to find out why the gate between the magical world and the non-magical world doesn’t work anymore. Which will, inevitably, lead them to confront their current problems and overcome them. Solid middle-grade story with humour which will keep young readers entertained.

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford, publishing day 22 April 2021. This is the second book in the Arthur Skelton series set in UK in the late 1920s. Barrister Arthur Skelton has an instinct when it comes to people being wrongfully accused of a crime. In this case, he tries to safe the neck of a doctor who it seems has murdered his wife and disposed of the body in a suitcase. All the evidence points to the husband, of course. Skelton thinks otherwise and sets out to proof his theory. The novel can be read as a standalone, I’m curious though and will certainly read the first book soon.

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo, publishing day 30 March 2021. The second book in the King of Scars duology; or the seventh book in the Grishaverse. We’re back in Ravka and Fjerda, and we even get to go back to Ketterdam for a short stint. It was a fitting end to Nicolai’s storyline. I liked this duology, and the Crows, more than the original Grisha trilogy. Bardugo is really good at more mature characters; and I’m counting the Crows here too, because, to me, they all feel older than their apparent late teens. There is a hint at a possible future adventure involving the Grisha and the Crows. Yes, please!

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, published 2 August 2011. This book had been on my TBR for an eternity. I’m glad I’ve finally read it. I struggled with the pacing, it’s rather slow. The story of a quiet village blaming a newly arrived stranger for their ill luck is bumbling along. The heroine of the story is probably the only character in the book that is actually fleshed out in parts. The other characters fall a bit flat. It’s an okay read, but if it had been by first Schwab, I’d have stopped reading her books.

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston, publishing day 8 September 2020. Unfortunately, this wasn’t for me. The poetic style and the epic story just couldn’t draw me in. It’s probably me, not the book. I struggle with those two descriptors: epic & poetic.

News from the Belvedere

Or, the sixth book about the sleuthing adventures of Veronica Speedwell and Revelstoke Templeton-Vane. At the beginning of An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn, published 02 March 2021, Veronica and Stoker are helping setting up an exhibition in honour of a female mountaineer who died in an accident climbing the legendary ‘Teufelstreppe’ [fictitious mountain in a fictitious Alpine country].

As can be expected, they find evidence for the mountaineer’s death having been murder. Trying to investigate this, at Stoker’s loud refusal, leads the two of them down a very interesting path indeed; Veronica has to impersonate a head of state, while Stoker has to try and keep her alive as death threats arrive.

If you’ve read the previous five books, you know what happened at the end of book five, A Murderous Relation. If you further think that those events, which I am not going to spoil here, might influence the dynamic between the duo, you are wrong. The two of them still banter, the air between them still crackles, and it’s still great fun to read.

Okay, I’m going to say it, I love Veronica and Stoker. But I didn’t love this story as much as the ones before. For the main part, the twists were very predictable. When the previous books mentioned to surprise me here and there and I couldn’t put them away until I had read the story, this instalment I kept putting away for other books.

Anyway, the last lines hint at another story for Veronica and Stoker, and I will gladly come back to Victorian London to investigate whatever Deanna Raybourn has thought up for them.

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?

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