The Lost Dinosaurs Of Egypt (review)

Looks like there is still one more post in my influences series for Narmer and the God Beast.

That last influence being . . . The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt.

This book ended up being a really inspiring read although I’ll admit that I did put it down once, and did not finish it until long after I’d written both NATGB and my novel set in the same universe.

Essentially, The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt is more about people than it is about dinosaurs. It tells the story of two discoveries within the Bahariya Formation in Egypt. The first, is the original survey of the oasis during 1910 and 1911 by a German paleontologist named Ernst Stromer. Stromer is credited with the discovery of several dinosaurs from the region, namely: Aegyptosaurus (currently the name of my novel), Bahariasaurus, Carcharodontosaurus, and the incredibly weird and bad-ass Spinosaurus aegyptiacus.

We also get the story of the ‘Bahariya Dinosaur Project’ which consisted of many paleontologists and geologists (in no particular order): Joshua Smith,  Matthew C. LamannaKenneth J. LacovaraPeter Dodson, Jennifer R. Smith, Jason Charles Poole (called Chewie by the group), Robert Giegengack and Yousri Attia. It seems they found many different fossils during their trip in the 1999 and the winter of 2000, but will mostly be remembered for their discovery of a new Sauropod named Paralititan Stromeri (the God Beast in NATGB).

Sounds Awesome, Why Put it Down?

Correct it is awesome. I learned so much reading this book, but when I first picked it up, I was simply not uncovering the types of information I was looking for. I think I came to the book hoping that it would be more dinosaur centric. I had read the wikipedia pages for each of the dinosaurs referenced above and was completely fascinated by them. I wanted to go deeper into what they were like and how they really lived. What did they eat? How did they move? Or raise their young?

And to TLDOE’s credit, it does open with a pretty speculative section about the Paralititan which the Bahariya Dinosaur Project found, but it is only a page or so long and then we move on to the tragedy of how the dinosaur fossils were lost. This section is mainly about air force pilots, and military technology. World War I things.

It just wasn’t what I came to the book for . . .

But after trying again?

Picking up the book later though, after most of the writing was complete, I found it much more enjoyable. It was cool to see the parallels between Stromer’s work, and the Bahariya Dino Project’s (they even discovered some of Stromer and Markgraf’s old dig sites with plaster still in the ground from nearly 100 years ago!). I found the history of paleontology discussed within the book fascinating. And was proud to recognize a few names I learned in Why Dinosaurs Matter (indeed the author of that book, Kenneth Lacovara, was part of the ‘Barhariya Dinosaur Project’).

Generally getting to know the team members of ‘The Bahariya Dinosaur Project’ was fun as well. Apparently two members of the team are drummers (Lacovara, and Joshua Smith) and they recounted a bit about traditional Egyptian music and drumming which, as a drummer myself, I probably could have read a whole other book on (makes me wonder if there’s some deeper connection between liking drums and liking dinosaurs?).

There was also some really interesting information about traveling in Egypt, and what to watch out for, both in terms of people and wildlife (apparently Egypt is home to the most venomous scorpion in the world, foot long poisonous centipedes and camel spiders which apply an anesthetic to their prey before eating them . . . they’ll have half your face chewed off before you even wake up from sleeping . . . nope nope nope!)

But I think what I enjoyed the most which the book also explores, is some of the science behind Geology and Paleontology. I didn’t know much about how things are named or even what the different time periods of the earth’s history were. This book found a way to describe all of that without making it a boring lecture.

Finally, there were the fossils themselves. Not everything discovered at Bahariya was a dinosaur, and this book delved into those other finds a bit as well. I learned about prehistoric marine snakes (Simoliophis), some whales (Zeuglodon Osiris or Basilosaurus), and Paleomastadon. All creatures I’d like to add to future Egypt and dino adventures (one even has Osiris in the name . . . it writes itself really).

Then, towards the end of the book, what the Oasis must have looked like 95 million years ago. THIS!! This was what I had been wanting to read the whole time. I learned about prehistoric mangrove forests which Paralititan’s long neck would have helped it eat huge swaths of without having to move much (so the general conception of sauropods having long necks to reach high branches seems debunked in Bahariya at least where the long neck would have helped them reach outward not upward). And (at least part of) the answer to the mystery of how so many theropods (the clade of which all meat eating dinos are a part of) could have existed in the same area. They were feeding on the massive Paralititans!

So . . . it was good?

Yes! The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt was an incredible read. Packed full of information, and generally well written. The copy I’m using is from the library, but I will probably end up buying my own copy to serve as a reference going forward. Highly recommend to anyone looking for a good Dino read.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading all of this. Please let me know what your favorite dino is in the comments. From Bahariya? Or anywhere really. See you next time!


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt (review). As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb a few weeks ago, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ve been posting a bunch about my influences for this story all last month. The story’s official launch was on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and order it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Should ‘Raybearer’ win a Lodestar Award?

Phew. It feels good to be doing a Hugo related post after so many posts about Narmer and the God Beast. I’m sure there will be more of those to come, but let’s break for a little while and talk about Jordan Ifueko’s incredible debut, Raybearer.

This book is amazing. I hesitate to say a masterpiece because I don’t feel like I’m qualified to make such distinctions (although honestly who cares lol), but it was definitely one of the most exciting books I’ve read in recent memory.

To me, it’s strengths lie in its consistent pacing, unique setting and the sheer power of this book’s main character.

Tarisai is quite literally a sympathy magnet. From page one, it is impossible not to connect with this lonely girl who’s been completely isolated from people her own age and a traditional family. That conflict is built right into the most basic aspect of her identity, her Hollow (unique magical power), which allows her to see other’s memories. This should allow Tarisai to build even closer connections with those around her since she can literally share their experience. Instead, it means that she cannot even be held when she’s sad, for her servants believe that she might accidently steal their memories.

Every conflict in Raybearer seems to stack against Tarisai in this similar manner. At the beginning of the story, her only purpose is to fulfill the last wish of her absent mother (who calls Tarisai ‘Made of Me’ yuck) who wishes that she befriend the crown prince of Aritsar (so he’ll invite her into his council), and then kill him. A purpose for which she must truly love this prince before being able to act out her orders (which of course she doesn’t want to do).

Of course, heroes do hard things, it’s what makes them heroes, but as I was reading the story, I found myself admiring how inventive each new conflict became as the script was flipped again and again on poor Tarisai.

And she truly just keeps doing the damn thing.

I don’t mean to mean to imply that she simply skips through each new challenge (quite the opposite), but the way she is able to continue onward despite everything is truly inspirational. This, perhaps more than anything else is what makes the book such a compelling read.

However, the setting also played a huge roll in my enjoyment of this book. Ifueko creates a rich (sorry just watch this youtuber say how rich the book is real quick) world which seems to draw from many African cultures (though I believe the author mentioned it was mainly Yoruba) yet still presents as unique and immersive.

Some of the more unique aspects of the world for me (which I think could have been explored a little more perhaps) where the magical creatures. We meet sprites, and albagato (a kind of genie type figure), shape shifters and large mythical cats. An entire underworld of spirits which we only just hear a small portion of.

But this is a small gripe, easily overlooked when considering one of my favorite aspects of the world. Its music. Song and rhythm seem to underpin our very understanding of this culture’s history and legacy. Aritsar’s myths and legends (the main one about a story telling Pelican which is weird and fun just on it’s own) are mostly passed on through children’s songs. But one of the key instruments featured in the novel are various drums. Perhaps this is not surprising as drums are important to many African cultures, however, Ifueko took the time to describe their sound — literally write out the noises they made — and the meanings behind each beat.

As a drummer myself, I was simply loving these passages. They felt so true to how the instruments can sound and the passion they can have when played. I’m not sure if Ifueko has any percussion in her background, but she was certainly convincing enough for me (I would also like to note that I listened to this book on audio, and so the voice actor also did an amazing job with these portions and I think really heightened the experience in a way that reading on the page may not have been able to accomplish).

Finally, I think it’s important to note, that this book never seemed to drag. Because of my work schedule picking up, I didn’t have as much time to listen as I have in the past (due to Covid), and so I had to give this book up several times and then wait for it to return. Each time I was as excited as the last to get started again.

This is all the more impressive considering all of the elements packed into this story. Themes such as uniqueness and diversity over homogeny (in culture), colonialism too but it was interesting because it wasn’t like a foreign power coming in that the MC’s need to fight, but instead more like just one group that kept expanding. Perhaps less like the British Empire and more like the expansion of the Mongols.

Anyway, I can feel myself beginning to ramble so I think it’s time to ask that all important question which is the reason we’re here . . .

Lodestar Award?

Yes. It seems I keep having to add this caveat, but as of 10/6/2021, I’m feeling that the Lodestar award should go to Raybearer. This was a hard decision for me, as I’ve already enjoyed two previous Lodestar contenders (Cemetery Boys and A Deadly Education), which were both amazing reads. I really thought Cemetery Boys was going to be my ride or die, but I think the deciding factor ended up coming down Raybearer’s unique setting.

For each of the other reasons I’ve outlined above — great pacing, and an incredibly powerful main character — Raybearer is an excellently written piece of art, but the thing I’m most excited about for the sequel, is simply being able to explore this world a little longer. Cemetery Boys showed us a unique setting as well, and I loved learning more and more about the Brujx. It was fun to think that their world existed just beneath our own. But the sense of immersion you experience into Raybearer’s secondary world shined a bit brighter. I guess I’m just a sucker for Secondary World fantasy . . .

Anyway, what are your thoughts? Should Raybearer win the Lodestar? What were your favorite elements of the story? The world (the answer is the drums! Lol)? Let me know in the comments, I’m excited to see what you all think.

Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt (review)

Hi all. We’re just 13 days out from the release of my short story, Narmer and the God Beast, so I’m here with another Ancient Egypt themed post. I’ve been doing a series of posts about my influences for the story (to which this one will be added), so please check those out if you’re interested.

Now, what is Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt by T.G. Wilfong, and how has it influenced my writing so far?

Well, in some respects, the answer to that question is is somewhat misleading.

Artwork from the Age of Mythology Wiki

When writing Narmer and The God Beast, my knowledge of jackal-headed gods was quite limited. I had heard of the god Anubis before and was vaguely aware of him from movies like The Mummy Returns, or games like Age of Mythology. He seemed a fierce thing, more brutish warrior than anything else. Any contact he had with the living seemed a brutal punishment and a promise of suffering in the afterlife.

In my own story, Narmer must retrieve linen from the ‘House of Anubis’, and my research focused on the things he might find within an embalmer’s workshop. Things like natron salt, linen wrappings, ointments made from frankincense, myrrh and ox fat. I focused on the implements of mummification, such as chisels, knives, and spoons.

But eventually I found that there was so much more involved in the ritual and service provided for the dead, that my opinion of this god began to change. The embalmer’s workshop might also contain stone sarcophagi, faience ushabti (for a great story about shabti, I highly recommend Robert Sharp’s The Good Shabti), gilded silver masks with calcite, obsidian, and onyx eyes! I also read that the bones of the gods were made of silver and their flesh was made of gold . . .

There was much more here than I had ever imagined.

My search took me to Cynopolis next. A city from the Ptolemaic times dedicated to Anubis and his followers, the ‘cult of the dog’ (Cynopolis means ‘City of the Dog’). I go into further depth about this amazing city in my post Ancient Egyptian Doggos! (I even try to imagine what such a place would be like) but needless to say, I was awestruck a second time. Cynopolis ended up becoming one of the many locations my (unreleased) novel’s protagonists visit during their adventures.

But still, there was still more to learn: enter Death Dogs.

I genuinely feel, this book will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in ANY of the jackal-headed gods which Ancient Egyptians worshipped. Yes, MANY jackal-headed gods.

The book opens with the one we’ve already talked about, Anubis, but its understanding of this deity is much more nuanced than anything I’d yet come across.

It explains that sometimes Anubis is depicted as a man with a jackal’s head, but is more often shown as a sitting/laying jackal with jet-black fur and starkly pointed ears. He’s a mysterious figure, who’s name and visage invoke as many meanings as there are grains of sand in the Sahara. For some, he is a grim reaper like figure, coming to collect the dead and show them to the afterlife. For others, a protector of the dead, standing watch over their graves. Anubis alone knows the secrets of the embalmer’s hut and guards them with unbridled ferocity.

It was information read in Death Dogs which inspired a second (and more recent) short story which I wrote as a newsletter exclusive called Master of Secrets.

And of course there is still more!

For instance, who are the other jackal gods I mentioned earlier? What could their role be in this intricate and intriguing mythology. For instance, what role could the jackal-headed Wepwawet — The Opener of the Ways — play in the future adventures in this setting? Who was Duamutef? What does it mean to be the son of Horus the Elder . . . ?

Seems like that could be our Jackal headed friend standing next to St Christopher . . .

I’m pretty much brimming with ideas for stories I could tell after reading this book.

Finally, the book also talks about how the jackal headed gods of Ancient Egypt were perceived throughout the ages and in the modern day. We’re pretty familiar with the imagery I described above, but it was interesting to learn that, until the Anubis Shrine was found inside the Tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in November of 1922, there were not many images of Anubis which had survived.

The idea of Anubis, and various myths and stories of Ancient Egyptians had morphed and changed through incorporation into Greek (see Hermanubis) and then Roman ideologies, falling victim to millennia-long games of telephone.

I could continue writing this post for seemingly forever, but I think it’s probably better just to recommend you read the book. I’m anxious to research deeper into the topics discussed within, and maybe visit the Kelsey Museum someday to see if I might glean anything new from seeing the artifacts shown in this book in person.

Anyway, that is all for now. What’s your favorite fact about jackal-headed gods? Your first exposure to Anubis? Let me know in the comments.


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt (review). As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb a few weeks ago, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Dinotopia: A Remembrance and Review

For the next post in my series of “influences” posts for Narmer and the God Beast, I wanted to review (gush about) a veritable classic.

DINOTOPIA!!

There’s almost nothing to critique about this book. I mean, I’m sure there probably is, but reading it, I’m so dazzled by the grandeur and majesty of what’s happening in the images, that all I can think about is how beautiful they are. And how much THIS IS THE WORLD I WANT TO LIVE IN!

Ok. . . deep breaths . . .

I’m ok.

Anyway, in case you couldn’t tell, I really enjoy this book. I keep enjoy in the present tense, because I don’t know that I’ve ever really stopped reading it. Published in 1992, I was pretty young when this book came out, which I think only made it more relevant to me as I grew older.

I think the early 90’s were a good time for dinosaurs. In August of 1990, one of the most complete T-Rexes ever found was discovered by Sue Hendrickson. November of that same year saw the release of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park which would become a huge blockbuster film in 1993 (a sequel novel, The Lost World, was published in 1995). And many more discoveries continued to keep dinosaurs in people’s minds.

For me, I think I experienced a bit of an intense interest in dinosaurs between ages of 2 and 6, and while — considering all the dino craze I’ve just described — I can’t pinpoint exactly which discovery or fiction put me onto dinosaurs, I can say my interest in them never completely faded like in most children. Certainly Dinotopia never did.

Tell me these couldn’t be Hieroglyphs!

The island presented in Gurney’s book is so idyllic and serene, with intelligent dinosaurs that have language and a culture of their own . . .

So different than the terrifying raptors or the indominable T. Rex portrayed in Jurassic Park.

Despite my love of Crichton’s classic, Dinotopia always held a special place for me.

** Fun fact, the first story I ever tried to write (when I was still in elementary school) was called Eventutopia and was pretty much a mix of Star Wars and Dinotopia. Boy do I wish I had saved that word doc haha.

So when it came time to start writing my own dinosaur story, it was only natural that I read through this classic once again. It had been quite a while since my last read through, and I wondered if Dinotopia would still hold up, after all these years. My only clear remembrance from the story was of the iconic Skybax, soaring above the city, or under the archways of Dream Canyon. But I could not remember much of the plot at all. I was slightly nervous that perhaps I was wearing rose colored glasses after all, and that as an adult, I would not find the story nearly so enchanting.

I needn’t have worried. It was as wonderful as I remembered.

Dinotopia is very much in the travel-log vein of fantasy, in which the main characters simply explore an unknown land and experience its wonders (and there are so many wonders to behold!). I suppose that you could criticize the story somewhat, in that there is not really a particularly strong narrative drive. But I actually think this is a feature, not a bug. Each of the images shown seems to pick up a narrative thread that the actual text may leave behind, but because it’s just an image, the reader is able to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.

It was perfect for inspiring me in my own writing . . . and then sending me into a crisis . . .

I pretty much froze dead in my tracks when I saw this image. This was (more or less) my idea, already realized by a master with which I could never compete. I had not remembered this from my reading as a kid, but here it was.

Did I just copy Dinotopia? Had this been hiding in the back of my mind, influencing me without my knowledge (or permission).

The answer is, to a certain degree, probably yes, but what I’ve come to realize is that just because something influenced my writing, that does not necessarily mean that I’ve copied it. This is one image in a book of many, and my Egyptian Dinosaurs will invariably be different than whatever Gurney had in mind while painting this. I’ve actually kind of come to see this image as a reassurance, that my love of both Ancient Egypt, and Dinosaurs (and wanting to combine the two) is not so far-fetched. That maybe some others will enjoy it, just as they (and I) have enjoyed Dinotopia.

Have you read / enjoyed this classic? What’s your favorite image? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to talk some more about this book!


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Dinotopia: A Remembrance and Review. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb a few weeks ago, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered the Nile (Book Review)

So this is will be something of a hybrid post for me. On the one hand, I’m going to review Jackie French’s Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered the Nile, and give you my thoughts about the book, but on the other hand I thought it might be cool to consider how the book influenced an original piece of fiction I wrote, Narmer and the God Beast, which I revealed the cover for last week.

Here we go!

Review: I really enjoyed this book. French’s writing style is super accessible and easy to read, probably something that means success for this book in the juvenile fiction space, which I believe is the audience this book is written for (confirmed on Compulsive Reader in Interview with Jackie French). Typically, now that I’m an adult, I often find that reading YA or Juvenile fiction is difficult because it often seems ‘written down’ to its audience or super infused with things that the author believes are ‘hip’ or ‘what the kids like’ these days. I didn’t notice any of this in Pharaoh.

As for the story? I think it was definitely well researched, well imagined, and well realized if not quite what I was expecting.

I’ll start with well researched because it’s immediately clear to anyone reading this book that French put in work here. Not only is Narmer’s world immersive and rich with detail and vivid imagery, but you can then flip to the back of the book and see just where all detail came from. I think I almost enjoyed reading the research section as much as the actual novel as I learned a good deal about Ancient Egyptian culture, religion and history, and was inspired to pursue my own inquiries after finishing.

For instance, the land of Punt, which Narmer and The Trader travel towards in hopes of wealth and riches, was called Ta Netjer by the Ancient Egyptians meaning “The Land of God”. Ta Netjer does not play a roll in Narmer and the Godbeast’s story (yet), but it did become important to some other writing in this universe (ahem the novel — what?). Also, I have mild suspicions that it became the Ta Ntry of Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy as I think they are in about the same spot.

But I digress . . .

I say well imagined, because truth be told, there is not a ton of history (or literature) that covers this period of time. There are a few main artifacts associated with Narmer (his palette and his macehead) but otherwise, there is a lot that we still do not know. French had a pretty blank canvas to fill in (perhaps an advantage, but I know for me it would be a disadvantage) and I feel she did so beautifully.

Which brings me to well realized. Just read this passage:

It was like a dream, thought Narmer, as servant after servant brought in bales of panther skin, fragrant wood carved into delicate boxes, beads of lapis lazuli and turquoise, the bronze plates he now knew as mirrors, heaps of myrrh resin, slabs of ebony wood, piles of elephant tusk, small bowls filled with a strange, almost green-coloured gold, the rarest in the world, curls of cinnamon bark, khesyt wood, small coloured jars of incense, and eye cosmetics.

French, Jackie. Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered The Nile. 2007 pg 143. . . accessed on Compulsive Reader in A review of Pharaoh by Jackie French

I know while writing my own story, I definitely tried to re-create passages like this in order to immerse the reader in my version of Ancient Egypt (which has dinosaurs)

My last critique of this piece is unfortunately a bit of a negative one. I feel like when we see a title like “Pharaoh” and think of Ancient Egypt as the setting to a story, we have certain expectations. We want great pyramids, golden sands and golden jewelry adorning the living person of an ancient king, or the gilt sarcophagus of one long dead (mummies!).

I felt this book was a little slack on some of the imagery we often associate with ancient Egypt. I think this is because a good portion takes place away from Egypt, in search of Punt, and later, in Sumer (Mesopotamia). And the portions that are in ancient Egypt feel little like the Ancient Egypt we know. This Egypt is one of small river towns, long before any pyramids were ever built. This is accurate to the time period, but a little disappointing if you’re expecting “peak Egypt” (does that count as a pyramid joke?), or Ancient Egypt at the height of it’s glory and mystique.

So . . . Read it?

Oh yes, definitely give this one a read. The book is well researched, and French’s imagination despite little historical inspiration, is a triumph. Also, the book is just beautifully written and realized. After finishing, I immediately looked for a sequel but sadly, I could not find one.

Welp. That’s about it for the review. Have you read this one? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments. What were your favorite parts? Tell me everything . . .

See you next time!


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Pharaoh: Boy Who Conquered the Nile (a Review). As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb last week, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Jade City: A Rare Gem of a Novel

This could probably be a pretty short review. I’m half tempted to simply write ‘go read this book’ and call it a day. But I suppose I should work a little harder than that, and actually explain why I feel this way about the book. After all, it is clear while reading Jade City that it was a project of passion and painstaking craft; the end result deserves more than a sentence in review.

I think it makes sense to start with the premise. As described by the author, Fonda Lee, Jade City is essentially The Godfather with magic and kung fu” and honestly, that description hits the nail pretty well on the head (and for me basically sells the whole thing right from the start).

Add in a sort of post World War II modern, vaguely Asian setting, and you pretty much have all the ingredients for the novel’s success listed and defined. Each of these ingredients serve as excellent hooks, and any one of them draw the reader in, but as with all good recipes, I think it’s how these things are mixed together, which really causes the book to shine.

The two main things that immediately stood out to me upon reading Jade City was just how tightly plotted the novel is, and how deep the world building goes. From the very first scene, we’re exposed to the undercurrents of political unrest which will shape the main intrigue plot, a systematic but not overly (faux) scientific magic system, and some pretty exciting and harrowing action from the point of view of a seemingly minor character (who just keeps happening bumble into more and more important plot points). This could have been an absolute disaster of a first chapter in its ambition, but remarkably gets everything across to the reader in a way that draws us in, sets up the basic information that we need to continue forward, and leaves us with enough (and the right) questions to encourage us to continue reading. It really sets the tone perfectly for the novel, as the scenes which follow may not be as action packed, but they rely on the building blocks laid out here to keep the tension building throughout in a way that (to me) never felt slow or dragging.

I mentioned the worldbuilding before, and I’d like to circle back to it as it was certainly a main component of the book which really stood out. In a lot of fantasy novels, I feel like “Worldbuilding” with a capital W is often actually myth building. The author builds the setting and explains current conflicts through legends and history of the world. In a lot of fantasy, these histories are ancient, and there is often a remove of hundreds or even thousands of years between the events of the myths/legends, and the plot we experience. They are related, but there is something of a remove.

I think in a lot of stories that feature this kind of worldbuilding, the remove is (more or less) necessary in order to establish the magnitude of the stakes being set up. The epics we know in the real world are set thousands of years in our past, and so that kind of remove in a fantasy story will naturally give a kind of epic quality to the events we see in the story.

By comparison, the events of Jade City feel very young. We get a few interludes which give three parts of an old myth, but most of the history makers in this world are still alive, aging badly, and worse, are failing to live up to the myth and legend which has come up around them. To me, this was a nice contrast from more traditional fantasy, and I think only served to bring the drama of the story closer to its main actors, the No Peak clan, and specifically the Kaul family.

The next thing that stood out to me about the worldbuilding, I said in a tweet so I’ll just post that here:

“I’m not sure what I was expecting but I’m pretty much digging it. For such a deep setting it’s pretty quickly paced and (at least to me) there doesn’t seem to be much filler. I also really think the setting would make a fun board game or RTS. There so many definitions of winning.”@jamesweber16

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I got about 75% of the way through this book and realized: “If so-and-so does this, that would be a satisfying ending to the story, but also if so-and-so does this, so would that.”

And of course, the ending was completely different from either of those things and still (to me) completely satisfying.

I attribute this to Lee’s story telling, but also must acknowledge that it was the depth of the world which provided the scaffolding for her to accomplish this. Each of the main characters seemed to have their own aspect of the world in which they were striving to create change, but all interlocked, and no one plot seemed to take the backseat to any other.

Finally, despite all that I’ve been going on about the worldbuilding and the setting, this story is primarily a family drama. The interpersonal relationships were what really drove so much of the tension in the story, but I was never frustrated by this. In a lot of family conflicts, issues that effect the character’s motivations can sometimes amount to very little more than shallow squabbles which any reasonable person would ‘suck it up’ and move forward from, especially when faced with world defining problems, and it can be very frustrating to see them fail to make these changes.

This was not the case in Jade City. The family conflicts seem deeply rooted in past history, and given the lives these characters have had to lead, seems completely reasonable. But Lee takes it one step further and also shows how they are still a family, and despite everything, seem to have a real familial love (or at least respect) for each other. I pretty much ate these scenes up (as well as all the others if I’m honest) and they were some of the scenes that stuck out to me the most.

TLDR

Anyway, please give this one a shot. There is so much more I could have written about but honestly, it would probably take more words than the book has in it already, so I think any readers still here should just go forth and read it. I’m really looking forward to the sequel, Jade War, and can’t wait to gush more about that here later.

If you’ve read Jade City, please let me know your thoughts in the comments. What did you love? Was there anything you hated? I’m excited to talk about this one.

Thanks again for reading! See you next time.

South on Highland (a trunk review)

Small confession. This is a resurrected “trunk” review. Most authors have novels they lock away in a drawer, or hide in the back of their closet . . . assumedly in a trunk . . . which they wrote years ago, but haven’t looked at in a dozen or more years. Perhaps they didn’t think their skill as a writer was good enough, or some plot line just wouldn’t line up in their mind. Maybe the world just wasn’t ready for the type of story they had written. Perhaps they just managed to get distracted at the exact moment they were going to hit publish.

Apparently, I have trunk reviews. This one hasn’t been maturing in my cellar for the previously mentioned dozen years (try sixish). There’s not a special occasion for which I’m revealing it (honestly I only started digging around in old drafts because I ran out of time to write a review of a different book). What I assume happened is that I probably wanted to make some clever point which I wasn’t nearly clever enough to come up with and so I decided to let it marinate for a while to see what else came of it.

Turns out nothing did.

But after six years, a quick read through to discover it was mostly a complete review, and not remembering in the slightest what half formed idea I wanted to let congeal, I decided to go ahead and publish it anyway. Please enjoy this look back at 25 year old me . . .


This was a really intense read. The beginning of this book has a certain vacation like charm. Leila is pretty “cool”. She’s smart, witty, successful and most importantly she’s adventurous in a way that seems easy but certainly is not. We get to live an insane life style vicariously through her binges and we don’t really feel any of the side effects of what is going on. The highs are much clearer and expressive than the lows and so we feel, perhaps as Leila herself feels, that there are no consequences to these actions. And it’s wonderful.

But of course, it can’t last and with the flip of a switch we’re back on our asses wondering what the hell is going on. I had to put this book down several times because it got so “heavy”. It’s a tribute to Maeby’s writing though that I kept picking it back up. I finished the book pretty quickly as I kept putting off obligations and cancelling plans to read. Had to get my fix I guess 😉

I found the portrayal of Los Angeles (or I suppose I mean Hollywood really) extremely interesting as well. So much beauty and wealth and excess and not a single strand to keep it grounded. So many people in search of intense feeling and not a single thing getting felt. Shallow and deep at the same time.

Of course I also enjoyed the point of view. Leila is 23. I will be turning 25 in a week or two so I felt like we were pretty close in age if not actual experience. The larger subtext of the way she feels is one I think most of my generation can feel even if we weren’t doing Adderall in high school. One of the later characters is incredibly nostalgic about the movie Rent which had a special place in my own coming of age. The whole book is pocked with little details like that which place it in time. Place it in my time. I haven’t felt that in anything I’ve read . . . maybe ever.

Definitely give this one a read, especially if you’re a college student or young professional. Just do it.


Thank you 24-going-on-25-year-old-me (this is 30-going-on-31-year-old-you speaking) . . . How insightful. Ahh youth.

I’m having vague flashbacks to this book being called Less than Zero for millennials. I think past me wanted to write something smart about that but never did figure out what to say other than yea . . . it’s got a similar vibe and takes place (I think) in the 80’s. But that was as far as I got. Sadly older wiser me is not closer to that brilliant connection. Sometimes it be like that.

It seems like young me thought this book felt generation defining at the time I read it. I’m curious what’s being written now for 25-year-olds that their feeling seen by. I wonder if I’d feel old an curmudgeonly reading those books now

Anyway, for any readers that have actually managed to read this post, let me know if you’ve given this one a read. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts.

Also, what are the “generation defining” books of today? Leave em in the comments.

In an Absent Dream: A Parable of Wanting to Keep Your Pie and Eat it Too

I’m still making my way through the list of 2021 Hugo contenders (I’ve reviewed these Hugo contenders already), but this week I’m reviewing a novella which isn’t on that list, but is part of the same series as an entry for Best Novella, so I guess I’m kinda making progress towards getting a another title crossed off the list (which is soooo long).

Unfortunately, I read the previous three Wayward Children books long before I decided to start blogging again, so at this point there are no reviews for them, but if I ever do a reread, I’ll make sure to drop the links here.

Anywho, In an Absent Dream (IAAD) is the fourth book in the aforementioned Wayward Children series, which in general terms, seeks to answer the question: “What happens to (portal fantasy) children, when they come back from their quest?”

As we have seen in each of the previous installments, there is still plenty of story left to tell.

For the main character of IAAD, Kathrine Lundy (though she decidedly prefers just Lundy) that even means (many) returns through the series’ pivotal “doors”. If I’m remembering correctly, we actually spend a lot more time in the portal world, called The Goblin Market, than we have in other Wayward Children books which is interesting, but of course, as with each book in this series, it is still time spent after whatever quest a more stereotypical fantasy would have been written about. In this case, the usurping of an evil wasp queen, and a tragic run-in with some baddies called The Bone Wraiths.

I understand that these details are absolutely NOT what these books are about, but I can’t help but still sometimes wish that I could read about these events somewhere, even if it is just a “boring ol fantasy story”. I like those too.

Anyway, if you have read the first book in this series, Every Heart a Doorway, you’ll recognize Lundy (or recognize that you should recognize Lundy) and so while this title is a standalone, it ties in with the other books, and gives more backstory to their history which is always fun. I’ll admit that I hope we’ll get to see an adventure from Lundy’s father as it’s mentioned many times that he also did a tour in the Goblin Market.

In terms of prose and language, IAAD is extremely well crafted, as are most books I’ve read by Seanan McGuire. She always manages to turn at least one well-worn phrase subtly on its head so that it evokes some new meaning to suit the story.

OK. Ok. Skip to the part about the pies . . .

Yes! The pies! Specifically, wanting to both keep and eat them simultaneously. This is essentially the main theme of the story (at least for me). Some things you just can’t have both ways. What I found interesting about this novella was the way McGuire uses the setting to express this theme, and what she uses it to say, or at the very least question.

Now, in IAAD, The Goblin Market is really quite an awe-inspiring place, filled with magic, adventure (sadly offscreen), fun and glory, but each of these thrills has a cost which cannot be deferred or delayed. It is expected of the Market’s denizens to each pay “fair value” for any goods or services they require, but things like friendship or love, also seem to have their costs as well.

It’s a strange place which seems to be both better and worse than the real world we live in. In the Market people can work hard and avoid debt, but nobody can really “get ahead”. What’s strangest about the whole thing, is that people can’t really offer charity either for doing so just puts another person in debt to the would-be philanthropist.

In the course of trying to understand “what debt is”, Lundy discusses all kinds of things like prices which are based off the proportion one makes (although perhaps difficult to figure out in the Market’s bartering society), and how a system like this could still provide for the sick and elderly. The implications of such a system seem to be infinite.

So what’s the pie we can’t both eat and keep?

Honestly, I’m not quite sure. For Lundy, it is living in two worlds, wanting to both be a part of her life with her family, and also with her friends in The Goblin Market. For us, it seems to be something to do with late-stage capitalism.

We know from experience IRL that what we have now doesn’t seem to be working to everyone’s benefit, and so The Market presented in IAAD calls to us as an ideal of something we could strive for. With enough rules and moderation in place, perhaps we could build something which would be fair to everyone.

Although, as Ruthanna Emrys notes for Tor.com, The Market has:

. . . gone so far into capitalism that it’s come out the other side into “to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability.”

https://www.tor.com/2019/01/10/fairness-and-feathers-reading-seanan-mcguires-in-an-absent-dream/

Essentially The Market has become communism (I had to look up Emrys’ quote). And as we see in the novella, fair isn’t fair either. So perhaps — and this is rather a downer — the novella shows us that we can’t have a form of capitalism that is moderated enough to actually benefit everyone without it being the communism we all loathe and fear.

We can’t have capitalism without all the stuff we don’t like about it, because then there’s nothing left. The good things we like about it are also the bad things we hate about it and so to get rid of those things means it wouldn’t be capitalism anymore?

If we get rid of the pie (yummm) then we no longer have pie . . .

Let me know your thoughts in the comments! For only like 180 pages, I think this story still gave a LOT to chew on.

See you next time!

Should Harrow the Ninth Win the Hugo?

THIS book. What a ride. Gonna go ahead and announce now that pretty much this entire review is going to be a SPOILER because I’m not sure how to talk about it without doing so. If you’re looking for a quick (spoilerless) opinion on whether or not you should read it, I would say:

Yes. Read it, but don’t drop anything you’re super excited about to do so. There is a lot to appreciate in Harrow the Ninth, but personally, it was a bit of a slog. If you’re expecting to enjoy it for any of the reasons you liked Gideon the Ninth, you will probably be disappointed. Harrow, it seems, goes decidedly her own way (we should expect nothing less).

All of that said, I feel it was worthy of the accolades it’s received, but it probably won’t be my pick for the Best Novel Hugo Award. To explain why, we’ll have to get spoilery . . .

— Entering Spoilerland —

— Look out! —

Ok. Now that I’m done having fun, what’s the deal with this book and how can I think it a slog, but a good enough slog to win an award?

Essentially, Harrow the Ninth is a (mostly) well written book that expects a lot from its readers, and pushes a lot of boundaries all at once. Personally, I feel as if this should have been right up my alley, as I pretty much go all in for things any time they get weird or unexpected. This book did all of that in droves, but I believe it suffered mainly from expectations set up by the first book, Gideon the Ninth.

Gideon the Ninth was a gem which seemingly we all could admire. My review described it as both fun and provoking. Down to its simplest elements, it was a mystery, and an adventure. Start accounting for some of its complexity, and it was a prompt on the nature of abusive relationships and what kinds of things we’re ‘allowed’ to show in our fiction . . .

Harrow, in many ways, left all of that behind for a rumination on grief, loss, and mental health. It traded in a somewhat (enthusiastically) crass but ultimately consistent narration for shifting types of POV (mostly 2nd person, and 3rd person, but some 1st person too) along a non-linear narrative and alternative reality dream sequences. It shattered any trust we had in ourselves as readers to a) remember past events in the story (aka book 1) and b) understand at any given moment what the hell is actually going on.

Too put it simply, reading Harrow the Ninth felt like being gaslit for 400 pages.

This in fact, makes perfect sense for the novel since we’re reading AS a main character who is trying so hard to repress any feelings of grief or loss, that she literally gives herself a lobotomy (I suppose Ianthe helps) to wipe out all memory of what she fears to lose.

That Muir is able to manage this weird sort of readers-are-so-deep-into-the-character-we’re-essentially-method-acting is, from a technical standpoint, quite incredible. And as a writer, I’m in awe and hope that I will someday be able to pull off something half so complicated.

Being gaslit, however, isn’t exactly pleasant, and I found that I was somewhat eager to distract myself from this book, and often reluctant to pick it back up.

So why do so many consider this book so good?

Obviously, it’s impossible to say for sure, but I would point to the following:

Humor:

Considering how serious everything in the Locked Tomb series seems to be, there is a surprising amount of humor within the series. In Harrow the Ninth, it’s often Ianthe’s frank wit (and unapologetically misplaced morals) or Harrow’s general hatred and reluctance for everything that do most of the heavy lifting. We aren’t given any Gideon lines until the last quarter of the book.

Personally, I was most often chuckling at the seemingly normal (and quite frankly bureaucratic) nature of The Necrolord Prime, aka God, aka John.

And of course, the almost nonsensical naming conventions (reminiscent of Ian M. Banks’ Culture Series), which apparently can and do include Eminem lyrics.

For some complexity is beautiful

Reread everything I wrote a little bit ago about the shifting (and unreliable) POV, non-linear narrative, and alternate realities. From a technical standpoint this is amazing to see unfold.

Women Being Badasses

I feel like this is where the rubber meets the road for most people, and is one of the main draws to the series. Harrow the Ninth, as with Gideon the Ninth, is still a story about women who defy expectations. Who want more than whatever bullshit they’ve been given, and are ready to rain hellfire upon the world until they get it.

I think this quote from a Vox interview with Tamsyn Muir really put it in perspective for me (emphasis my own):

“As anybody else who was born in and around 1985 will know, a lot of the stories we got fed, even in a time where women were out in the battlefield more, was that at the end of the day, being angry and fighting actually wasn’t great. And so what the real takeaway at the end of the day was, the love of your friends and hugs is the greatest thing that a woman can have. So being able to repudiate that and give a middle finger to the “a woman’s place is actually the peacemaker and the heart of the group” has undeniably set the tone of the books.”

https://www.vox.com/culture/22266652/tamsyn-muir-interview-locked-tomb-gideon-the-ninth-harrow-the-ninth-vox-book-club

There still isn’t enough of this in fiction, even in this, the year of our lord (necrolord? John?), 2021. We’re still fighting old ways of thinking, and despite all of the confusion of this story’s structure, these characters (Harrow, Gideon, Ianthe) are powerful.

So . . . Should it get the Hugo?

It is certainly worthy of one, but it won’t be my choice. While I can appreciate everything that his book was able to accomplish, I just can’t shake the fact that while reading it, I had almost no desire to complete it. Harrow the Ninth is in many ways a masterpiece, but it wasn’t the one I was led to believe I’d be reading, and the entire time I read it, I was just waiting for it to be different. By the time it started to become the book I wanted (aka when we finally get Gideon back), it felt like my order got lost at a restaurant. The food was cold, and I was already too upset at the wait to enjoy it anyway . . .

Oof, I hate writing negative reviews. If you think I’m wrong about this one (or even if you think I’m right), let me know in the comments section. Also, some things I learned about while writing this review which I couldn’t figure out how to squeeze into the review, but that Muir squeezed into the book:

Coffee Shop / Barista AU
The Denial of Peter
Draco in leather pants
Evil Vizier

Anywho, see you next time. Thanks for reading!

Review of ‘Remote Control’ by Nnedi Okorafor

This was supposed to be my beach read last week. Something short which wouldn’t take too much investment as I knew I’d be spending a lot of time with family, and it would be hard to squeeze in time for reading.

Wow did that plan fail.

I finished up another library book just before my trip, and was still waiting for my next hold to come in so I figured I could read a little of this, and then finish it while at the beach.

Two days later, I was posting four stars to goodreads and wondering what the heck I was going to read now. I finished this that quickly. I suppose I should have known . . .

Ever since I read Binti, back in 2017, Okorafor has been like pizza for me. I tell myself just one more slice (chapter), ok maybe two more but then that’s it! Only to realize later that I’ve crushed the whole thing in a sitting (send help about the pizza . . . the problem is getting out of control!).

I’m still getting caught up on everything she’s written (Broken Spaces & Outer Spaces, and Who Fears Death currently next in line), but I’ve managed to get a couple of her stories read, and have loved every one of them.

Anyway, this story was not different. Right from page one, I was already smiling as the book opens with a quote from Omar Little . . .

Yes, Omar Little from The Wire.

And it set the scene perfectly. As members of the town flee the presence of Sankofa, the “adopted Granddaughter of Death”, I could just hear them saying her name as they ran, much to the cadence of “Omar is coming!”

Another of Okorafor’s strong suits is worldbuilding.

It’s no surprise then that the world of Remote Control simply shines. Those who have read Okorafor before, will see a lot of new elements, but also recognize things from her previous stories.

For instance spiders seem to be a common occurrence, and in past books have always felt like some kind of unknowable architect, moving through the world with their own agenda, weaving a web of fate in which humankind is merely an unsuspecting fly.

After a quick google, I thought that perhaps this constant occurrence was meant to be Anansi, a popular figure in Akan folklore. A second google revealed:

Okorafor has spoken on Udide — and generally seems to have cornered the SEO on the term — during her TED Talk about Afrofuturism and how it is different and unique from Western, mostly white and male, Science Fiction.

In her novel, Lagoon, Udide the spider artist, is a vast spider who lives underneath the city of Lagos and is responsible for weaving the past, present, and future into the lives of the city. For Okorafor, Udide seems to be a metaphor for Science Fiction itself, and the socio-political power of stories. Science Fiction is a will-to-power. The question: What if?

Assuming her tweet holds true for the Remote Control as well, then it would seem Udide (or some aspect of Udide) is the large black spider Sankofa encounters in the very first chapter as she enters town:

“Good evening,” Sankofa said in Mampruli as she stepped up to the gate’s door. The spider paused, seeming to acknowledge and greet her back. Then it continued on its way up, into the forest of broken glass on top of the gate. Sankofa smiled. Spiders always had better things to do. She wondered what story it would weave about her and how far the story would carry.

Okorafor, Nnedi, Remote Control, pg. 10

We aren’t told its purpose, nor are we sure what business it has in the town, but it seems to give the weight of this moment some emphasis. Fate is at work here, or was, and is now scurrying onward toward whatever’s next.

In that same scene, we also see a grasshopper (prominent in Akata Witch and Akata Warrior), though I haven’t taken the time yet to familiarize myself with any symbolism related to it and what its appearance could mean.

A later scene shows us a wall filled with masks, which seems meant to invoke the Night Masquerade of Binti, or something similar in the Akata Witch/Warrior books.

In this way, all of Okorafor’s stories seem to take place in a kind of mythic African universe, but I don’t believe that they are the ‘same universe’ as we would say about the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere . . .

To me, this is incredibly refreshing, as I don’t feel the need to read every one of Okorafor’s novels, afraid I may miss something, but it does add a bit of added enjoyment to the stories I have read.

But considering I compared my compulsion to read her stories as equal to that of stuffing my face full of pizza . . . I will probably end up reading them all anyway.

Conclusion?

Go read this one. Probably read it twice. I’ve only begun to unpack everything that is packed into this relatively short novella, and I’m sure that upon second and third reads I will think about and discover even more. That seems to be the nature of things when reading Nnedi . . .

Anyway, that’s all for now. If you’ve got thoughts and opinions, please leave em in the comment section. I hope to hear from you there! See you next time!