Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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Werewolves, Walkers, Shifters,…

TJ Klune, whom most might know from The House in the Cerulean Sea, wrote a werewolf series a few years back. The first book of the Green Creek series, Wolfsong, is being re-published in September 2022. It was first published in June 2016.

It is an M/M romance like THitCS or Under the Whispering Door and at the same time it is not. It is a slow build romance like in the other books, but it is much grittier, there is gore, there is very explicit sex and the story is definitely not as whimsical as the above mentioned two.

You need to have read or seen a few werewolf stories to truly appreciate this story, because otherwise you might be put off by the power dynamic between the two ‘lovebirds’ and the proprietary behaviour, not to mention the age gap between the two MCs.

Joe and Ox meet for the first time when Joe is nearly eleven years old and Ox just turned 16. Joe’s family moved into the house at the end of the lane and Ox becomes fast friends with the three boys. He is welcomed into the family from the start, which he finds odd at first. Though when Ox later finds out that the family is a family of werewolves and learns all about werewolf packs, pack wars, Alphas, Betas and Omegas, their behaviour starts to make sense.

When Ox is 22 and Joe 17 the romance really starts. But Joe has had his eyes on Ox for years and his proprietary behaviour towards Ox might not go down with every reader. It’s a werewolf thing, or should I say it’s a theme that comes up in werewolf stories? To give Klune and his characters credit, Joe’s family is completely okay with Joe and Ox getting together. Still, Ox insists that nothing physical should happen between the two of them until Joe is 18 years old.

A lot of things go on in this book besides the romance. For one there is this nasty Omega-wolf who is attacking the pack, because he wants to be Alpha. There is violence, there are fights, people come to harm, but also packs/found families are formed.

Probably not my favourite Klune book, but definitely one that I am glad I did not pass.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

A new Spin on Vampire Books

Frankly, I never thought it was impossible to give vampire stories a new spin, but I was reasonably sure it was unlikely to happen. Until I read Sunyi Dean’s The Book Eaters, published 02 August 2022.

Our protagonist, Devon, is a mother. She’s hiding to protect her son, Cai, whom she kidnapped and ran away with two years ago. Her son has special needs. He’s always hungry. He cannot eat regular food. He has a skin condition that needs treatment. Devon, a fierce lioness protecting her cub, knows what helps her five-year-old, she has to get him humans to feed on.

Devon is a Book Eater. She is not human, but looks human. She escaped with her son from the strange customs of the Book Eater society hiding from humans in the northern parts of Great Britain. She can read, but Book Eaters cannot write. She doesn’t have a bank account, nor an ID. She and her son live on the edges of human society, always fearing they’ll be found out by the human authorities or by the Book Eaters’ knights who are hunting them.

Devon wants to take Cai away from Britain, but in order to do that she needs help, because of the limitations her origins put on her. Also, she needs a certain drug to quench Cai’s hunger that she can only get from one of the Book Eater families.

What’s Devon supposed to do? What price is she willing to pay to protect her son?

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – June 2022

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, published 28 September 2021.

This was weird, but in a good way weird. A hopeful story about identity and finding your place in the world, or should I say universe? 

A deal with the devil leads former violin prodigy turned violin teacher, Shizuka, to seek her latest young music genius in San Francisco. Katrina is a runaway recently arrived in the city whose most priced possession is a cheap Chinese violin. Shizuka has a year to turn Katrina into a star violinist and so lift the curse on her soul. There is absolutely no time for anything else in her life, but then she meets Lan Tran. She's a mother of four, and her family of galactic refugees is selling donuts while secretly creating a stargate on the roof of their donut shop.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky, published 14 June 2021.

The near-future Sci-Fi novella follows four women on the day when the Universal Basic Income (UBI) is paid by the government to the citizens of the U.S. 

The author prefaces the novella that she won't go into how the UBI came about and/or how it is organised. 

I assumed the story was about how the UBI shapes and influences the four women's lives, but somehow this was only lightly touched on. In the end it was speculative fiction depicting one day in the lives of a divorced mother of two who's escaped an abusive relationship; a rich college girl bored at her privileged party in Aspen; a jaded reporter taking care of her transgender teenage sibling; a pregnant teenaged member of a polygamist cult.

Interesting, but I was hoping for more depth.

2/5 Harpy Eagles


Amongst our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch, published 12 April 2022.

I am a fan of the Rivers of London series and I re-read part of the series and caught up with the ones I hadn't read yet to enjoy this ninth instalment. Yet, somehow I am left a bit wanting. 

I wanted to see more Nightingale, more banter between Master and Apprentice. Nightingale is a great character and the more domestic Peter became during this book, the more Nightingale could have taken the limelight. 

Dear Mr Aaronovitch, please give Thomas more page space next time around. Also, let us know what happened to the rings. Thank you!  

3.5/5 Harpy Eagles


A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne, published 03 October 2017.

I am not a fan of epic fantasy. Mainly because I like to know where the journey is going and epic fantasy, to me, is more like taking the extra scenic route that doesn't end in the destination but at a way point from which you then carry on (in the next book). 

Hearne's first novel in the Seven Kennings series is no exception. There are many stories within the framing story. Following all those different characters to the end to find out how those different plot lines lined up was tough, for me (see above). 

I felt interested enough to see it through to the end of the book, but I won't read the other novels in the series. I am going to stick to Hearne's Urban Fantasy. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Ghosthunting in Edinburgh

T.L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, published 04 February 2021, is the first book in a new Urban Fantasy series set in a post-apocalyptic(?) Edinburgh.

Ropa is a 15 year old ‘ghostalker'[sic], which means she talks to ghosts and delivers their messages to friends and family within the city limits of Edinburgh. From time to time she dabbles in exorcism too. When a charity case ghost asks her to find her lost son, Ropa finds herself in the middle of a scheme that she can only solve with the help of old and new friends.

I liked most of the world-building, though I would have liked to know more about how Edinburgh, or Great Britain, or even the world, ended up being what it is right now. It’s hinted at only very vaguely. The titular Library of the Dead also only makes up a small part of the story and I would have liked to see much more of it. I hope it gets a bigger part in the sequel(s).

This is a fast paced story that’s taking you through the streets of Edinburgh, with a fun group of characters. Potential YA readers might be stumped by the 80s and 90s pop culture references throughout the book. I’m still curious to know how young Ropa – in a time sometime in the future(?) – came to know all those things.

3.5/5 Harpy Eagles; I’ll give it 3 Goodreads stars though, because I wanted more background knowledge to the world and wanted to see more of the library.

Black Water Sister

Our May Buddyread was Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, a contemporary fantasy novel set in Penang. Our main character Jessamyn probably has enough problems to struggle with when moving back to Malaysia. She has to find a job, and the distance is really taking a toll on the relationship with her girlfriend. Especially, since her parents know nothing about said girlfriend. On top of that, the voice in her head is not there due to stress, but because her dead grandmother has unfinished business.

Instead of taking time to sort out her life, Jessamyn is pulled into a conflict between a local gang boss and the deity her grandmother used to be a medium for – the titular Black Water Sister. The Sister is definitely not a quiet and benevolent one and quite a good match for the Malaysian gang members.

The first part of the book starts out quite slow, but once the first deity shows up things really get moving. Seeing a wider range of deities one may not be familiar with was really interesting. Jess’ grandmother is a really fun character, as she’s a snarky, ruthless old lady. You wouldn’t want her in your head, or to be on her bad side, yet her appearances were always very entertaining.

The resolution was slightly predictable, but still fitted the story’s development and made sense that way. The Malaysian setting was really refreshing and plays a very important part in the story. Overall, this was an entertaining and fast read.

4/5 Magpies

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.

Not so invisible

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab, published 06 October, 2020.

Addie LaRue was born in the late 17th century. On the day of her wedding, or better after dusk has fallen, she strikes a Faustian bargain with an ancient god. A bargain that will grant her immortal life, but she will not be able to be remembered by anyone. And then, after 300 years of being unremembered, Addie meets Henry, and Henry remembers her.

I’m going to be honest here. I wanted to read the book so very much. Schwab herself said, she’d been working on the story for about ten years. So, as soon as the first ARCs were made available, I requested one. I was actually very sad when I first didn’t get an ARC and then didn’t even get a pre-ordered signed copy, because somehow the book-gods effed up.

Now, I have to say, I am no longer so sorry that I didn’t get a signed copy. The story was okay. But after all the raving I had read about it, after all the anticipation that Schwab herself built up with her posts about how much she loved the characters and the story, I was quite underwhelmed.

Throughout the book, Addie points out over and over that people meeting her have a sense of Déjà-vu. Just like these minor characters in the book, the whole story reminded me of so many other books I had recently read, but also of books/stories I hadn’t thought about for a very long time. It’s a story of possibilities, not unlike The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, or Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Addie’s musings about the advantages of men’s clothes and her wearing a tricorn hat that she pulls low over her face reminded me of Lilah Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic; only to realise a second later that this novel was also by VE Schwab. I gave myself a face palm and a huge eye-roll while chuckling. Furthermore and moreover, Addie and the Darkness and even Henry reminded me of Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

It will not come as a big surprise when I say that I anticipated the big plot twist and the ending of the book long before I got there. It was as predictable as Addie’s memories of her life throughout the 323 years of her existence. The reader is constantly reminded that she had encounters with people who forget her soon after meeting her.

Although the writing of the book is good, and clearly shows how much affection the author has for her main character, a blatantly obvious historical inaccuracy kept throwing me out of the story. No, I don’t mean the anachronistic white wedding dress. I can forgive this blunder since it might have been white for a thousand reasons other than wedding dresses today being white. My peeve are the chapters set in Paris in the 18th century.

Soon after becoming immortal, in 1714, Addie goes to Paris. There Addie at first lives a life on the margins of society. All of this is depicted relatively historically accurate, but Addie mentions Paris’s Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre. In one scene she even sits on the steps of the church. A church that wasn’t built until the late 19th century though. It kept hurting my brain every time it was mentioned. I understand that rewriting those scenes would have thrown the whole story, but it was an avoidable mistake from the start. Or should have been worth a mention of the author taking artistic license.

School of Monsters

Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, published 29 September 2020, had been on my radar for quite a while. After reading a few reviews, though, I was and wasn’t certain that I wanted to read the book.

What?! You don’t make sense, you might think right now. Well, I sometimes don’t. I’ll try to do my best to explain.

First off, as seems to be my general disclaimer these days, I haven’t read any previous work by Novik. Her book Uprooted was in my big box of surprises from Otherland, but I haven’t made time for it yet. Also, I’m very likely to reveal a few things about the story of Deadly Education – aka SPOILERS AHEAD!

Before diving into a book, I often read some reviews. (Bad habit? Spoils the fun?) I read a few of the glowing ones, which all gush about how clever the world-building is, how they love the main character, how ingenious the magic system and the Scholomance are, and how the readers can’t wait for the sequel. Things that normally put me off. Would have here too, if it wasn’t for the criticism.

After the rave comes the criticism; I move on to the reviews that are often long, detailed, and make me want to read the book to find out whether all the criticism is deserved, or make me not want to read the book at all.

In this case, it was one particular review that had an issue with Novik’s use of different languages and the portrayal of the speakers of these languages that made me want to read the book.

Was that particular reviewer correct? Yes, in part they were correct. Novik’s MC El often refers to other students by the language they speak or the enclave they come from. We have Arabic speaking kids, “the only Mandarin speaker”, kids from the Dubai enclave, kids from the New York enclave etc. Contrary to the reviewer who saw this as a flaw in Novik’s writing, I think this is part of El’s personality. She’s snarky. She’s been hurt before. She keeps a large moat and thick castle walls around herself for her own protection. Yes, she knows she should form alliances with other students, as this would ensure her survival. But it’s hard for her to overcome her inhibitions and open herself to others. Also, due to her magical affinity, which tends towards the ‘kill as many lifeforms as possible’, she cannot show off her magic without risking the lives of the people around her. Hence everyone thinks her either a maleficer or magically inept. That she has survived nearly three years of the Scholomance, a school that you either graduate from or literally die trying should tell her classmates enough about her abilities, but they don’t care.

Another reviewer commented that El’s being dirty would show how stereotypical Novik saw people of Indian heritage.

Well, El is of mixed heritage. Her mother is described as “an English rose” and her father was Indian. Her parents met at the Scholomance and her mother graduated three months pregnant, her father died trying to protect his beloved and their unborn child. Somewhere in the early chapters El remembers her childhood and another child comparing her skin colour to “weak tea”. There were a few more examples of people being racist towards El in the book. Still, the issue was, that El describes herself as dirty. Which is by no means a reflection of people with Desi background. It’s an honest observation based on El’s circumstances. If you don’t have any friends, or any alliances at the school, you can’t go and take a shower whenever you feel like it. You need someone to watch your back while you are in the shower. Otherwise the mals (short for maleficaria: the monsters) will creep up on you while you are at your most vulnerable. [They want to eat teenagers with magic to get the mana that lives in those teenagers. Teenagers are the more yummy snack, compared to aged magicians. Teenagers have more mana.]

Yet another reviewer had an issue with the “lockleeches”.

El explains that long hair is impractical. As a non-enclave student without friends or allies at the Scholomance you can’t shower regularly. You might not have brought a brush or a comb with you on your induction – the process of getting into school, which has very strict weight restrictions for luggage [worse than on-board luggage regulations for flights these days]. Without any grooming tools, your hair might mat together. This makes it easier for a certain type of leech to lay eggs in those “clumps of hair”. The hatched leeches then somehow end up in your brain and … don’t ask. Unfortunately, all that info-dump about the lockleeches came after El’s stream of consciousness narration mentioned that dreadlocks are the worst idea of hairstyle for a student at the Scholomance. Which, as you might guess, some people read as ‘people with dreadlocks have vermin infestations’. I did not understand it this way, but understand how this might have been misunderstood. Naomi Novik wrote an apology about this particular scene.

You’ve made to this part. Thank you! I feel honoured.

Here are my issues with the book.

  • To me El is a very unlikable character. She’s snarky, sarcastic, grouchy, and boasting about her abilities. Albeit, the latter only in her head. The former are all due to her life’s experiences. [I get a tick on my fictional Trope-Bingo chart.] Still, she knows she has to form alliances; better yet, friendships. On the pro side, El is insightful, intelligent and reflective. BUT, why then is she in no way curious about the prophecy her father’s grandmother made about her, or where her affinities for dark magic come from. The prophecy names El as the destroyer of all enclaves. Which caused her pacifistic paternal family to consider killing 5 year old El only hours after they first met her. Her dark powers have attracted mana-hungry mals even before El hit puberty. Is this unusual? Does El want to know?
  • To be able to form alliances, El must show her cards. When the perfect moment of showing off her power comes, she’s saved by the White Knight of the Scholomance, Orion Lake; son of a high-ranking official of the New York enclave (I still don’t have any idea what an enclave is, I’ll get to that in a bit). Villain? Love-Interest? Both? [Tick for handsome, privileged, white guy, who saves the damsel-not-in-distress and who seems to be the villain of the story.]
  • El, by the way, thinks of herself as the ugly duckling. And, as mentioned above, she’s often dirty and probably giving off a bit of BO. [Tick for ugly duckling.]
  • Although El thinks everyone has prejudices against her, she herself is not without that kind of flaw. She sorts people into nice little cliques, just like at highschool, only that here it’s sorting people by the languages they speak. It grated by halfway point. I’m repeating myself, she has to form an alliance and doesn’t even make an effort of getting to know her classmates. Only when she needs something form the other students does she start associating with them.
  • One more about El. Of course, at about the half-point of the story, El decides to save the younger students in the school by killing an unkillable mal all on her own, without any witnesses; and without killing any living being around. Quite the feat! And so predictable from the start.
  • Okay, world-building. The Scholomance is somewhere on Earth, but in a nook that is very close to the void. That’s where the monsters, excuse me mals, come from. That’s where enclave kids can draw dark mana from for spells, too? It is not quite clear. We are being told what the school looks like. But although the information dump is lightened by El’s snarky voice, it’s still information dump and with lots and lots of blanks to fill in yourself to boot. For example, I have absolutely no idea how the rooms look like, but I know that the school is a tiered structure with levels built on top of each other. In my mind it looks like a very depresssing concrete structure – actually, a bit like US prisons are depicted in films and series. (Apparently there is a map in the printed edition, but I listened to the audiobook, so no map.) I wish there had been a bit more fleshing out of the schools interior.
  • The magic system is equally explained and not explained. I’m not quite sure where the affinity for magic comes from, what enclaves are, and honestly tuned out of the explanations several times.
  • The Scholomance was built by powerful enclaves to protect their children from mals. Mals want mana and teenaged kids have the best to offer. Why do the mals want the mana? What do they do with it? Is mana like calories for humans?
  • By the way, I think having a different mal for each chapter is supposed to be a feature, not a bug. But it gives the story a bit of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe.
  • And why are there no adults at the Scholomance? Can we please get an explanation for that?

Whoops! That got longer than I had planned. And I could add.

To cut this very long story short: The book ends with that trope-y scene where all the kids who were most unlikely to form an alliance, or friendships even, are hanging out together when a dire warning makes its way to the main character, leaving the audience begging for the sequel.

Well, I’m not begging. The story seemed to be missing a lot of things. It might be, because we look at the Scholomance through El’s eyes, who has been disenchanted since before she left her mother’s yurt in Wales. I wasn’t enamoured by the lauded writing either. There were passages that I had to go over a few times to really understand them, and that’s definitely not because English is not my mother tongue.

I will probably read the sequel, just to see what Novik created out of all the criticism and in which direction this story is going; but the sequel will not end up on top of my TBR.

Final words on the narration: the narrator, Anisha Dadia, does an excellent job. She makes El’s snark come to live nicely.

Hell’s Librarian is a badass!

I managed to squeeze both of A.J. Hackwith’s Hell’s Libary books into this week. I listened to them, I confess.

Book 1: The Library of the Unwritten, published 01 Oct 2019.

The Library of the Unwritten had been on my radar for a while, but I wanted to wait until the second book was out before I started. It was well worth waiting a year before reading it.

This Urban Fantasy is mostly set in Hell, but also in Seattle, and some other realms of the dead. Hell has a huge library, where librarians serve as punishment for their sins in life. When an unwritten book escapes to Earth to haunt its author, the librarian, her apprentice and a newly arrived demon have to travel to Earth to bring the book back. At the same time, a scrap of the Bible of Hell arrives at the Pearly Gates, which prompts two angels to be dispatched to find the whole book and bring it to Heaven. Of course, all hell breaks loose when their paths, inevitably, cross.

The world-building is fabulous. Just the idea of a library in Hell, where all the unwritten books stay, need to be repaired over time, become restless, their characters becoming corporeal and wandering the aisles of shelves. Perfect. Add the different realms, based on different religions/pantheons.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s POV. This is well-balanced and allows the reader to get more familiar with the whole cast. May I say, I loved Claire the Head Librarian, and Hero, and Leto, but I might have just lost my heart to Walter. Must be a Pratchett thing. You’ll know when you read the book.

Book 2: The Archive of the Forgotten, published 06 Oct 2020.

The Archive of the Forgotten picks up a few months after the end of The Library of the Unwritten. Since anything I might write now could end up being a huge spoiler for the first book, I’m going to just say this. It’s just as good as the first book, it has new plot twists ready for you, it shows the characters growing, evolving and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling at the end. Not to mention, lots of ideas to possibly explore, because Hackwith has added a few more wings to the library.

The audiobook narration was good – it’s just, I hate it when a “library” turns into a “liberry”, but this might be due to listening to the audiobook on 1.75 times the normal speed.

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