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.
Falling Hard for the Royal Guard by Megan Clawson, published 27 April 2023.
This might seem like yet another rom-com about enemies to lovers, with a clumsy heroine and a handsome hero, though what makes this unique is the setting which by extension makes the MCs unique. The heroine of the story has certain parallels with the author, both grew up in one of London’s most iconic landmarks, The Tower of London, and as such have inside information like no one else. Debut author Megan Clawson’s father used to be in the armed forces and now works as a Beefeater at The Tower, and she drew her inspiration from her ‘neighbours’ and ‘neighbourhood’.
Understandably, the setting is extremely well-researched. I mean, anyone who has visited The Tower might know that the floorboards in the White Tower creak, but they certainly wouldn’t know which staff door leads to a small kitchen area for a sneaky cuppa, or where to walk if you want to avoid being seen by all the night watch men when coming home late from a date.
Despite all the insider information about The Tower and the military background of the people living and working there, it was a cute romantic story that might have had its OTT moments, but never felt like slapstick; although, the FMC was sometimes eye-rollingly clumsy and the MMC reminded me of Colin Firth’s grumpy Mr Darcy (either reincarnation). The secondary characters were wonderful and I am hoping to see more of them in Dawson’s next book(s).
The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly, published 01 September 2022.
Nell’s father wrote a book years before she was born. A book about golden bones that was part children’s story, part treasure map. A book that some people were so obsessed about, they drew strange conclusions and when Nell was a child they tried to cut her open, certain she was born with the last missing piece of the miniature golden skeleton hidden inside of her.
Now, the family meets up to celebrate the upcoming publication of the 50th anniversary edition and its new treasure hunt. With trepidation Nell arrives at her parents’ home which brings back all the memories she has tried to bury. All her family is there. As well as a camera team filming an exclusive documentary. Meanwhile, outside the house, the hard core fans are gathering.
A story of a woman who has hidden herself from the public because of the decisions of her parents. She’s trying to protect her foster daughter as much as herself from the events and the repercussions of the past.
A page-turner with an MC that has scars on her body and soul. Solving the decades old riddle, unearthing several family secrets on the way, is the only way for Nell to keep her foster daughter and make peace with the past.
The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff, published 03 January 2023.
This story of female friendship, sisterhood, found family, but also about the limitations women are still facing, would have deserved to advance to the Women’s Prize of Fiction Shortlist. Shame it didn’t.
Geeta’s village thinks she murdered her husband and fed his body to the dogs. Geeta knows it’s not true, but if the whole village wants to think she’s a murdering witch, she embraces the idea.
Since her drunkard of a husband left Geeta five years ago, she turned her luck and has never missed a payment for her small business loan. This success story attracts the attention of other women who would like to turn their fortune around by getting rid of their husbands too. So they ask Geeta to help them. Not all of them know how to ask nicely, though.
There is lots of dark humour in this story. Furthermore, behind that dark humour lie truths that need to be acknowledged and challenged. It’s a book that made me laugh out loud at the antics these women came up with, but also made me more aware of the culture and the situations they live in.
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.
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.
People have told me to read this book with words like:
it won the Hugo and the Nebula awards
it’s Time-Travel into the 14th century
you are a history nerd and love Sci-Fi/Time-Travel stories
I must say there is one thing Connie Willis got right, during an epidemic that’s fortunately being quarantined early on, there is a shortage of toilet paper and we are reminded of it at least once every chapter. Having lived through the great toilet paper crisis of 2020, I can say this was the most accurate prediction about the future the book had to offer.
For a book written in the late 1980s and first published in 1992 it lacks in extrapolation of existing technology and culture. It basically goes one step forwards and two steps back. Oxford, Great Britain, in 2055 is as backwards as the 1960s. The height of modern technology, ignoring the time travel device that is never really explained, are video telephone landlines which cannot take a message. My cultural highlight of 2055, a university student kisses a girl in the hallway and that leads to uproar about his amoral behaviour. Oy vey!
Okay, Willis might not have nailed the future, but surely the past she must have? Nope! The fourteenth century is dirty, everyone stinks, walks around in rags and it’s actually a wonder how humankind survived after all. Kivrin, the MC, is equipped with the latest information about the fourteenth century; you know, the century of the witch burnings (17th century onwards), the century where basically everyone is a cut-throat or a rapist, where people are exactly as filthy as cliché wants us to believe. Furthermore, her brain-enhancer-translator doesn’t work properly. She cannot understand Middle-English although she has spent three years learning the language. She understands Latin, though. And I’m still wondering why Kivrin had to learn German for this trip. It can’t have been 14th century German, otherwise the little genius and her translator might have worked out what the people are talking about.
Long story short – I’m no Connie Willis:
Past timeline: Kivrin is stranded in 1348 instead of 1320, where she was supposed to land. She falls ill with the plague. The dirty, smelly people, who aren’t all cut-throats even if they are dirty and smelly and scarred and in ragged clothing, help her. She’s bedridden for a long time, but needs to get to “the drop”, the site where she landed and will be picked up again.
Future timeline: It’s Christmas time. People have left the university in droves to spend the holidays with their families. The only available time travel technician in all of Oxford comes down with a virus infection shortly after Kivrin was sent into the past. That’s the catalyst for the lockdown of the city. The techie dangles important information before the senior staff, but falls into unconsciousness every time he might be able to help out with his information.
I see what Willis wanted to do with the book. There was supposed to be a certain allegory between both timelines. There was supposed to be some comic relief. But what I will remember: Not all people in the 14th century were cut-throats, especially the children were adorable. Toilet paper is going to be scarce during a lockdown.