#WyrdAndWonder Day 27 – Celebrate a Portal Fantasy: Come Tumbling Down

So admittedly, I’m not really following the assignment here. For day twenty-seven of #WyrdAndWonder we’re supposed to be celebrating a Portal Fantasy.

I READ a Portal Fantasy.

But I can’t quite bring myself to celebrate it which has put me in a bit of a bind as far as prompts go. If you’re just coming into the Wayward Children Series please do not allow the review of this volume to sway you from picking it up. Also, start at the beginning with Every Heart a Doorway.

It’s genuinely a good series. I certainly enjoyed In an Absent Dream very much and every volume I’ve read before that although I missed reviewing them (maybe I’ll go back).

However, this novel just didn’t quite ring true for me. And I think there’s a couple reasons why . . .

— Careful. Spoilers abound —

Did We Need Another Trip to The Moors?

Probably not. I struggled to remember a bit just what happened in our last adventure to The Moors, but luckily it’s glossed pretty early on in the CTD (along with every other character’s backstory) so I was able to gather that at the end of Every Heart a Doorway, Jack ends up killing Jill and they return to The Moors and for these two — based on everything written about in Down Among the Sticks and Bones — this is a happy ending.

And in my humble opinion, a pretty complete ending. The next two books were about other characters, and complete (ish) in their own ways. I expected that in a similar manner we would meet new characters and then they’d get their own books, until McGuire had run out of axes to grind (I don’t actually mean this in a bad way. I love the representation and messaging in all of these books!)

But The Moors were done. They had served their purpose and quite well I think.

Only The Moors weren’t done with us apparently . . .

Ensemble Cast for a Solo Quest

Did Jack really NEED to go back to Eleanor’s School and assemble the squad? I might argue no. It’s never bad to have a group of friends help you through a tough task, but unless she’s an oracle and could see how each choice would go astray without them, or their was some sort of prescribed fate requiring that she go to them, I’m not sure why she bothered. She tries many times to get them to allow her to go on without them and they pretty much always respond with “we’ll help because that’s what heroes do“.

However, I’m not sure they really did help all that much (except maybe Christopher’s bone minions holding back The Master for a bit at the end; and Cora becoming a currency). Kade sacrifices himself but it’s immediately reneged, and Sumi seemed little more than a cheerful but heartless taskmaster. If she was hinting at (or beating a dead horse [with no skin] about) some deeper meta trope or theme (or satire) it was completely lost on me.

A Bit of a Talkie Adventure

All of the above (for me) led to a bit of a talkie time, with characters explaining the significance of situations or interjecting randomly just to have something to do in the scene. Maybe I was just having an off couple of days and this didn’t land right for me, but those were the general impressions I had.

Read?

I can’t really say no, because I have not read past this point yet so I’m not sure how important this is to the larger narrative of the series (which I do enjoy). However, if it’s immaterial to the progression of the other books (doubtful as after appearing in 3/5 books, Jack seems to be firmly in the Main Character category) then I’d say you could miss it.

But You’re Supposed to Recommend a Portal Fantasy!

Oh right. Well as I mentioned before, I’ve enjoyed the other books in this series, and In An Absent Dream gave me a lot to think about. Otherwise I’d say you couldn’t go wrong with Little Free Library by Naomi Kritzer.

Anyway, that’s all I have for this round. Has anyone read this one yet? What about the rest of the Wayward Children series? Other Seanan Mcguire? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Looking forward to chatting about this one!

#WyrdAndWonder Day 20 – Celebrate a Dark Fantasy: The Sword of Destiny

And we’re back with day TWENTY of #WyrdAndWonder (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, please checkout this year’s #WyrdAndWonder Kick off post).

Wow I feel like May is going by entirely too quickly. Anyway, today’s prompt is to celebrate a Dark Fantasy.

I’ll be honest I wasn’t really sure what made something a “Dark Fantasy” as opposed to Grimdark or any of the other more brutal fantasies I’ve read recently (I’m thinking of books like Shadow of the Gods, any of the Green Bone books, and even Ring Shout).

Good reads defined Dark Fantasy, as having a few core elements such as “pronounced horror elements” (often of a supernatural nature), and “often anti-heroic or morally ambiguous protagonists”.

I immediately was reminded of the Netflix’s The Witcher, which I feel embodies all of these criteria pretty much to the T. But what about the books? I decided to read one and find out.

Start here . . . Or maybe here?

I think I may have goofed this bit up. When I looked up where to start the Witcher Saga, it seemed there were many different reading orders. The one I chose was the publishing order from Tim Hawkin’s The Witcher Books in Order – Two Ways to Read Them. Which turns out to be the order they were published in the US, which maybe isn’t the order they were published in Poland, and definitely isn’t chronological within the universe. So . . . I’ll be reading The Last Wish next, which I think will satisfy either order, and then make my decision what to do from there.

Anyway, all of that to say, the one I chose to start with was The Sword of Destiny.

Was it Dark Fantasy?

Sure. Of the criteria listed in the definition above, the anti-heroic behavior and the moral ambiguity of the protagonist seem to be the lynch pin of each of the stories in this collection. The question they each ask, is whether or not the protagonist — the famed Geralt of Rivia — is a hero or just another monster which everyone seems to believe Witchers to be.

Personally, from the stories I’ve seen in this collection, Geralt is almost at Eddard Stark levels on the morality scale. Good to a fault. But I think Sapkowski’s trick here, is that the world in which the Witcher takes place is filled with so many other morally ambiguous (and often morally bankrupt) characters that the book still reads like a Dark Fantasy. Of course Geralt always has some excuse for why his actions are neutral or self-centered, and so he believes himself to be just another monster, but I don’t think the reader ever really buys into that. Even the sad endings are kind of happy (opposite from the show in which even the happy endings leave you feeling sad).

I wouldn’t say horror is a huge focus of the book, except for the fact that when you come down to it, Witchers fight MONSTERS. Perhaps it’s the translation, but I never really felt afraid or scared in the ways I have reading pure horror books, but the text does give the monsters a sort of disgusting quality in many instances which I definitely would associate with horror so . . . perhaps it adds up there too.

Get your ink ready, we’ve managed to check off the two criteria. We’re stamping this one Dark Fantasy.

Read this one?

Oh I’d say so. There were quite a few things which caused me to roll my eyes, but it was never enough to make me put the book down, and I genuinely enjoyed most parts of it.

Probably the most distracting issues in the stories were Sapkowski’s overbearingly male gaze. In one story, we make it exactly one sentence before mentioning a mermaid’s uncovered and ample breasts. They do not stop getting mentioned in that story, and it seems like every other story has a buxom woman just waiting to heave her chest as a signal of almost any emotion.

Looking past that however, I was surprised to find quite a bit of humor within the stories, and twists on common fantasy tropes. One of my favorite images comes from Yennefer who, bound at the wrists, swings and kicks her legs to cast a spell. The magic seems to cause a good deal of havoc among her enemies, turning whole troops of people into frogs or something equally ludicrous.

I laughed quite hard at that one, but given the “dark” and serious nature of the rest of the events, I was unsure if that humor was intentional. These stories seem very aware of fantasy tropes, and make an effort to skewer them whenever possible. Could all those heaving bosoms also be satire?

I never really landed on a yes.

Despite all of this, there’s just something fun about a man who roams the kingdom slaying stuff (Geralt is very adamant that he is NOT a Knight Errant although he totally is. The very first story, Bounds of Reason, makes fun of the Knight Errant by showing them as absurd, and literally wrecking one . . . and yet).

I also really enjoyed — as has been my theme recently — the glimpses of slavic folklore and fairytales in general. One story, A Little Sacrifice, has very obvious associations with The Little Mermaid which was also interesting as I associate that story as a pretty western fairy tale. Perhaps some more research is needed.

Anyway, all of that to say, definitely give this book a read. I’m interested to see what you all pick up on that I missed.

And since we’re at the end of the post, please let me know what your thoughts and comments are. Has anyone read this book yet? The series? I’d love to hear from you!


Still here? Awesome. I’m glad you enjoyed my review of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Sword of Destiny. I was so inspired by this book, and others like it, as well as some Russian history, fairy tales and folk traditions, that I decided to write my own short story in a similar setting. It is called Farewell to Rusalka, and I released it to newsletter subscribers back in April. However, if you’re still interested in reading it, please sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll send you a copy as a thank you.

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

Top 5 Stories Featuring #WyrdAndWonder Mascots!

Welp, two days late, and probably more than a few pennies short, but I’ve (tried to) put together a list of books which feature each of the #WyrdAndWonder mascots. Here we go!

Here there be Dragons . . .

Admittedly, this should be the easiest one. Most classic fantasy is imbued with a dragon of some sort. I’ve even written about a few myself in my own fiction for #Smaugust (HYBRID probably has the most to actually do with a dragon, though RESCUE is probably my fav).

So when picking a favorite dragon story, I was honestly faced with too much choice, as opposed to not enough (the same thing that causes you to scroll through netflix for an hour but never actually pick anything even though everything looks pretty good).

But I couldn’t bring myself to recommend the classic (if wonderful) uses of the trope because anyone reading this has probably already read those works and doesn’t need my help to remember them or enjoy them (though shared reading history is kinda the point of this whole thing in some ways)

Anyway, if you haven’t already, please check out The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson. Essentially, this book takes all the myth and legend which surrounds these fabled creatures, and tries to sort the facts from the fiction. Only Dickinson doesn’t try to tear down our hopes of dragons ever being real, but instead tries to figure out how the could be real and what strange accidents of science and ecology would have to align in order for them to exist at all. It’s quite a bit of fun. Plus it has beautiful pictures!

Fiery Feathers . . .

Of course, next on our list, is the Phoenix! These fiery birds are most well known from Ancient Greek folklore and myth, although the Greek’s themselves seem to think the bird’s origin came from Ancient Egypt. Legend says that these birds live long and prosperous lives in paradise before eventually traveling to the mortal realm to perish. But do not weep at this majestic creature’s passing for it will be back with us shortly, resurrecting itself with fire and flame before returning home to paradise.

My own history with these creatures seems even harder to pin down than the origins of this fascinating myth. Probably the representation I’m most familiar with comes from Harry Potter (although which book I’m not quite sure). I’ve seen some other posts, mentioning a Phoenix sighting in R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War. While the phoenix does have a pretty critical role in that story, it’s somehow the thing I remember least about the book.

Other than that? It’s just fiery birds which are often Phoenix-like, but never the genuine article. For instance, Russian fairy tales and folklore tell of жар-птица, or The Firebird, which was used to excellent effect in Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower, or the Persian Simorgh, which we see in S.A Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy.

Right now, I seem to be more interested in analogues of the Phoenix myth, but I’m sure I’ll swing around back to genuine phoenixes again soon (especially now that I know they possibly have Egyptian origin).

Fly like the wind Shadowfax . . .

Ugh. If only Gandalf’s horse had just sprouted wings right then and there . . .

Anyway, I am even less prepared to recommend books featuring Pegasus or any flying horses for that matter because, believe it or not, I don’t believe I’ve ever actually read a book with Pegasus, or a flying horse character (friend’s WIPs don’t count here until they’re published! Chop chop hahah).

I’m assuming these awesome creatures will play a big roll in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series? I have not read these yet but I seem to be finding more and more reasons to everyday. Sorry this category is kinda a bust.

(Side note, this doesn’t mean I’ve consumed zero media that’s contained a flying horse. Favs off the movie list are baby Pegasus from Disney’s Hercules, and Swift Wing from the Netflix reboot of She-Ra. Also I want to apologize for the absolute brutality wreaked on Pegasus during God of War 2. Griffins are real bastards)

From my books surcease of sorrow . . .

Crows be a dime a dozen these days in fantasy, and with their prevalence come a host of different meanings and interpretations, but Ravens . . . Ravens usually only mean one thing. Bad times ahead.

It’s no different in Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower only, this raven is so much more than an obnoxious birb squawk squawk squawking on heaven’s door (think I’m starting to mix up my references a bit). This raven is a literal god. I won’t spoil much more because I hope you’ll check this one out. I absolutely LOVED Leckie’s Ancillary Justice (and the other Ancillary books), and this foray into fantasy, while admittedly not on that level, is still one of my fav raven stories of all time. Please go check it out and lets talk in the comments. K thanks!

“We come, brother.”

Wolves are always such an interesting addition to fantasy stories because there’s so much that we take into our interpretations of them. They’re dangerous, intelligent, wild, but also seemingly tamable and loyal. Worthy of our respect. Man has had a history with wolves longer than any can remember and it seems a bond as well.

Perhaps my favorite depictions are those in which wolves are somehow partnered with humans, but not dominated by or viscous towards them. The Wolfbrothers from Wheel of Time (which I quoted above) are a great example of this.

Also, though it’s been years since I read it so my mind is a little fuzzy, I believe so are the wolves in the book An Apprentice to Elves by Elizabeth Bear. After all, looks like the first book in that series is called Companion to Wolves. I think I may have to go back and take another look at these!

We did it!

Thanks all for coming on this ride with me. What’d you think of this list? Please let me know in the comments!

Until next time!

#WyrdAndWonder Day 13 – Celebrate an Epic Fantasy: Shadow and Bone

Welcome to another glorious day in the month of May. Spring is in the air . . . #WyrdAndWonder is on the blogs . . .

And apparently I keep coming back to winter forests whenever I try to post anything. It’s only medium on purpose.

Anyway, today’s prompt is to celebrate an EPIC fantasy. I picked the first offering in Leigh Bardugo’s formidable Grishaverse, none other than Shadow and Bone!

Now, I did receive a little pushback from some of my friends regarding the “Epic-ness” of this book and whether or not I should go with something else. I believe the complaint was something about it’s close POV limiting its scope (too much to be considered epic), and that it is targeted towards a YA audience.

And I considered going with something from Brandon Sanderson, or maybe Robert Jordan. I recently read John Gwynne’s Shadow of the Gods which I believe probably fits this designation as well.

But I felt Shadow and Bone to be every bit as “epic” as these other stories, though perhaps it doesn’t quite seem to be at first.

So I made a little chart:

Epic FantasyShadow and Bone
Setting: A world other than ours.
But vaguely medieval Europe
Definitely not set on earth
— Not really medieval or Europe though (a feature not a bug!)
Magic: Fantastical elements play a major role in the story Yup! Tons of magic. Fire magic, healing magic, tailoring magic, Sun/Shadow Summoning. Just tons! Also, a whole subplot about how tech is becoming as powerful as magic
Scale: Power politics, wars death of nations, gods walking the earth The main thrust of the plot effects a few nations and kingdoms (Ravka, Fjerda, Shu Han etc).
Morality: Good guys are good bad guys are evil — The characters are not quite as black and white as most (early) epic fantasies I’ve read. There is some grey. (Another feature not a bug)
Great Evil: An enemy which is near enough Evil incarnate There’s a character called The Darkling. Again he’s not as black and white on the morality scale as some villains but . . . DARKLING!!
Methods: Victory is achieved through the efforts of a small number of characters acting against great odds In the end, despite all the kingdoms, ships, monsters, wars etc. It really comes down to Mal, Alina, and the Darkling.
[my addition] —> Length: Doorstopper page length or a ton of sequels, prequels and spin offs Shadow and Bone isn’t that long, but it’s just the first in a something-verse . . . of like 7 books. It def counts.
***(left side definitions are from High/Epic Fantasy on TV Tropes.)***

Targeted towards YA Audience?

Don’t let your hackles raise, “Epic” fantasy is NOT only written for adults. There are plenty of YA titles which fit that bill (Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia being the first of many to come to mind).

So . . . Read Shadow and Bone?

If that big list things Shadow and Bone contains within its pages wasn’t enough of a reason for you, then let my recommendation do the rest. Yes! Read Shadow and Bone. Again, awesome list up above aside, I really did fall in love with this book’s setting. I’ve mentioned in my reviews of The Bear in the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower how much I enjoy seeing elements of Russian history, religion and folklore represented in works of fiction.

It’s obvious that Bardugo searched through many historical sources (I think she includes a bibliography in the afterward) and used what she found to create a rich and intriguing world. Half the fun (for me) of reading this book was just mining it for little scraps of history and myth which I didn’t already know, or seeing the parts I recognized come to life.

Now I’ll admit, there appears to have been a bit of a controversy about when Bardugo chose to take liberties with Russian culture. So much so that Bardugo put out a statement explaining a lot of her choices. From her point of view, it seems pretty well thought out and purposeful, and from what I’ve read I don’t think many were hurt by the way she molded Ravka into its own place, reminiscent of Russia, but not the same. I’ll admit I was often confused during parts of the book when I was looking for connections and not finding them, but I don’t think it ever took away from my enjoyment of the story at all.

Just an interesting bit to know.

Anyway, has anyone read this book? This series? I’m only finished book one so no spoilers, but what did you think of Shadow and Bone! Would love to chat about this one so please leave your thoughts in the comments.

See you next time!!


Still here? Awesome. I’m glad you enjoyed my review of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. I was so inspired by this book, and others like it, as well as real Russian history, fairy tales and folk traditions, that I decided to write my own short story in a similar setting. It is called Farewell to Rusalka, and I released it to newsletter subscribers back in April. However, if you’re still interested in reading it, please sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll send you a copy as a thank you.

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

200th Post! And My Top 5 Forest Fantasy Recommendations #WyrdAndWonder

Wow. I can’t believe I’ve posted two hundred times already on this blog. While this feels like an important milestone, I am relatively unprepared for it. I didn’t plan anything special. No giveaways or special features. No discounts (lolz this blog is free anyway).

However, I have been participating in the month long celebration of all things Fantasy known as Wyrd and Wonder. For that, I’ve gathered a list of my Top 5 favorite Fantasy reads which are somehow related to the theme of FOREST. Anyway, here it is:

My Top 5 Forest Fantasy Books

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

This is probably the most recent thing I’ve read with a prominent forest in it (excluding Bear and the Nightingale, and The Girl in the Tower cause I’m trying not to make this whole month about those two books). I finished it for last year’s #WyrdAndWonder (2021), and wondered whether or not Emily Tesh should win the 2021 Astounding award (ultimately I said no). Even though I didn’t pick it for the award, I still thought it was an excellent read! I loved the language Tesh employed, and the mythical creatures revealed throughout the novella (primarily The Green Man, and Dryads).

Overall, I highly recommend.

The Runelords by David Farland

RIP David Wolverton (aka David Farland). I haven’t read much of Farland’s writing, but I recognized the name as an often acclaimed friend and mentor to Brandon Sanderson. I believe many in the writing community were upset to hear of his passing.

His most well known series, The Runelords, presents a pseudo-medieval world in which people can transfer attributes (like grace, or strength) through a process called endowments. Individuals with many endowments become super-human and are known as Runelords.

I only read book one of the series, but it was and interesting premise (and not hard to see the influence it had upon Sanderson) which quickly revealed itself to be quite profound. During the first book, which gives the series its name, the main character must find his way through a magical forest which is haunted by wights. I won’t give away too much about what happens, but suffice to say, this forest is the kind of forest we think of when we think about forests in a fantasy setting. Not quite the trope codifier (which I assume is Tolkien), but just a really great example of its use.

Highly recommend.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I’m sure this book will come up in a lot of posts this #WyrdAndWonder, so I won’t spend a ton of time talking about Naomi Novik’s great fairy tale inspired novel. What I enjoyed about the forest in this book was just how ALIVE it felt and how menacing.

Definitely a great read!

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor, admittedly has many different kinds of stories within its pages, and most of them (if I remember correctly) do not have much to do with a forest. However, a few stories do, and what I liked so much about their representation here, is that they are so much different than the typical wooded settings we’re used to in a western fantasy setting.

There are all kinds of forests (like say . . . a palm forest) all over the world, and we really get reminded of that throughout this book.

Plus Okorafor is just an amazing author. I really need to do a re-read of her works for the blog sometime. Anyway, definitely read this one!

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson

I’m sure nobody is surprised to see Brandon Sanderson on this list. Despite the fact that his worlds span continents, oceans, and even outer space, not a lot of forest settings immediately jumped to my mind when considering his work. However, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is good enough to fill in any supposed lack of forestry within the Cosmere. This forest is insane.

Essentially, the forest is haunted by “cognitive shadows” (called Shades) or ghosts which will effectively kill anything they touch, therefore creating a new Shade. This forest is so dangerous to the world’s inhabitants that people living near it have developed a set of rules for traveling through them which might keep them alive. There are three:

  1. Do not kindle a flame
  2. Do not shed the blood of another
  3. Do not run during the night

I think you can probably guess what ends up happening during the story hahah. Anyway, I like this one because it’s a nice little glimpse into other parts of the Cosmere, and (IMHO) is generally not like any of the other stories we’ve read in that universe. Perhaps some might consider it a random one-off, but for me, it just makes things more interesting. If you’re a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere, I’d say this is a must read, and if not, probably still check it out anyway. It’s a lot of fun.

That’s it!

That’s the list. My top five favorite fantasy stories featuring forests in them. Also, if you haven’t already, please check out a little original piece of fiction I started for #Smaugust last year called Failmor Woods, which was written around a FOREST theme.

Now let’s see some comments. Have you read any of the stories I posted about? What were your thoughts. Any not on my list which should be? I’d love to here about them.

See you next time!

#WyrdAndWonder Day 6 – Mythic Fantasy: A Review of The Girl in the Tower

Welcome to Day Six of #WyrdAndWonder. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out my 2022 Kick-Off + Top 5 Fantasy Books Since Last Wyrd and Wonder post to get caught up on this wacky-wavy-inflatable celebration of the Fantasy genre.

Also check out my #WyrdAndWonder tag to see all the previous posts I’ve done during this event (and last year’s event too!)

Now, Day Six’s prompt is to celebrate an example of Mythic Fantasy. The example I chose to review is Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower, book two in the Winternight Trilogy.

As I mentioned in my post about Bear and the Nightingale I’ve been waiting for books like these forever. Arden has clearly done her homework, and manages to bring an already wonderous (if perhaps little known) mythology, and make it even more enchanting, mixing in real history with the stuff of pure fairy tale. That she is able to do so has been an incredible and fantastic ride.

But . . .

I think we may have moved back one step in The Girl in the Tower.

As any sequel should, TGitT reveals more depth in what’s familiar from the last book (Vasya, Morozko, the domovoi, Father Konstantin sorta, Sasha and The Church), and pushes further into the unknown/wonderous (other spirits and fairy tale characters, Moscovian intrigue, Tartars, new evils). But while the world of TGitT is much bigger, somehow the stakes feel smaller than they were in The Bear in the Nightingale.

I’m not quite sure how to explain this further without getting into spoiler territory, but suffice to say, despite all of the supernatural elements of this story, the central conflict seemed to be between people.

The other piece which I felt was a step back for this story was that through most of it, Vasya pretends to be a man (or a boy really).

Now, I wrote and deleted a lot of text trying to find a way to express this correctly and figure out why this well loved trope didn’t work for me in Girl in the Tower. We’ve seen this trope (called Sweet Polly Oliver) many times before, and there are many examples of it being done super well, and being incredibly powerful. Disney’s Mulan comes to mind . . . another Disney show from my youth, Motocrossed, is another excellent example . . . She’s the Man is also great (lol).

So why not Girl in the Tower?

Well, considering some of the stories I just mentioned, it seems that much of the power from this trope comes from the transformation of the main character. At the beginning of these stories, some circumstance places them in this new role, which society believes they should not occupy, and then they spend the rest of the story proving to that society that they’re doing just fine. But I believe a crucial part of the character’s transformation as they do this, is at the beginning, deep inside, they also don’t believe they can do it either. With each new trial, they prove to themselves, along with everyone else that they are just as ‘good as the boys’.

In many ways, Vasya already fought this fight in Bear in the Nightingale. She already had her confidence up, and knew her worth. When she leaves Lesnaya Zemlya and goes into the broader world it felt off for her to suddenly cover up all of that confidence by disguising herself as a boy. When she draws attention to herself by challenging men in power, or racing horses etc. we don’t really doubt that she’ll pull through because we know what a badass she is. I don’t think Vasya really doubts it either.

And so we have this woman, breaking all these gendered barriers in an extremely traditional society, but we lack most of the power behind such actions because we’ve already seen her do it once, and I never really felt that Vasya believed for a second that she would fail. Again, bigger setting, somehow lower stakes.

So . . . Recommend?

Certainly. Even though I felt we took a bit of a step backward in The Girl in the Tower, I just love this setting so much that I would probably read a hundred stories written there. I want to see every little spirit in the woods, and meet every figure from the myths.

I’m assuming that The Winter Witch is going to have Baba Yaga vibes, and so I’m definitely still excited to read the conclusion of this trilogy. I’m sure there will be a review to come.

Since this is the end of the post, let’s talk abt this one. Have you read it? Did you love it? Is there something I just completely missed? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Happy #WyrdAndWonder. See you next time!


Still here? Awesome. I’m glad you enjoyed my review of Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower. I was so inspired by this book, and others like it, as well as real Russian history, fairy tales and folk traditions, that I decided to write my own short story in a similar setting. It is called Farewell to Rusalka, and I released it to newsletter subscribers back in April. However, if you’re still interested in reading it, please sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll send you a copy as thank you.

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

Green Bone Withdrawal? ‘Jade Setter of Janloon’ is the Perfect Fix

Ahh. It feels good to be back in Janloon. It’s been a little over 3 months since my last excursion to Kekon (in Jade Legacy) and I guess you could say I was having some jade withdrawal.

Turns out, Jade Setter of Janloon was my perfect fix.

The first thing it has going for it, is that it’s pretty short, and quickly paced for a Green Bone book (not that any of the other Green Bone books drag necessarily). Second, it’s very much it’s own kind of story. For all that it takes place in the Green Bone universe, it still has a distinct feel. More Noir, and less Urban Fantasy. In some ways it’s perhaps even more grim even than the previous offerings, but Lee does not linger too long on any of those moments. After all, there’s a mystery to solve.

Readers of Jade City, and Jade War (and of course Jade Legacy but I already linked it above lol) will thrill to see some familiar faces but personally, I delighted at the experience of a great cast of new characters.

Pulo is at once, an enterprising young upstart, and a dutiful assistant. His master, Isin, is reserved and conservative in his work, but brash and daring when it seems no one is watching. Their shop is both renowned, yet overlooked; an essential part of all clans but separate from any one group’s control.

Or so they think . . .

Of course, it’s the tilted power structures in Janloon that are the catalyst for most of the story, but the dynamics between characters were my favorite part of this book. For instance, Pulo quickly forms opinions without considering all the facts, which inevitably leads him into situations he isn’t even close to prepared for. It may not make for great detection, but it certainly makes for a compelling narrative.

I’m lucky enough to already be well versed in the world of this story, but even if I had never read a Green Bone book before, I think I would still have rated this book just as highly (and for those who have read other ‘Jade’ books, this one sheds new light on certain places). Each member of the cast has a complicated relationship to each other and the world around them, and it was amazing to see how this seemingly ho-hum group just gets more and more interesting with every chapter.

I’ll admit though, if you’re going into this book expecting the same kind hard hitting (let’s face it, tear jerking) story as the other ‘Jade’ books, you’ll be disappointed. As I mentioned above, this book is its own thing, and I don’t think it tries to encompass the same range of emotions as previous entries. That is not to say there aren’t sad moments, or happy moments too, but we just don’t have the time needed for these characters to get their hooks into us.

After three wonderful but harrowing novels already set in Janloon, I felt this more even keeled approach to be a feature, not a bug.

Read?

Emphatically yes! Even if you’ve never picked up the other Green Bone books before, this one will be a fun and enjoyable read. I think I also read that it would be eligible for a Hugo for the Novella in 2023? That’s a long way off, and I’m not sure it’s quite that caliber, but it’s definitely on my radar as a contender.

Has anyone read this book yet? What was your favorite part (who was your favorite cameo)? Please let me know in the comments. I’m looking forward to talking about this one!

See you next time!

How did I miss this? A Dead Djinn in Cairo (Review)

I don’t think it’s too hard to guess why this one piqued my interest, it does after all, take place in Egypt, and I’m obsessed. I’ve always heard great things about this author, and (semi) recently I enjoyed P. Djeli Clark’s Ring Shout, so this was pretty much a no brainer.

Of course, the next question of “why now?” should also make a good bit of sense considering a novel set in this universe (known fittingly as the A Dead Djinn Universe), A Master of Djinn, is a finalist for the Hugo Award. I figured I should probably read up on the previous installments so I won’t miss any context when reading the novel.

Why I hadn’t jumped into this world before however, is a question I am completely baffled at, as it proved to be completely the thing I like and am always trying to search out and find new instances of. That it’s been out since 2016(!!) and I hadn’t read it and blogged about it is more than a little frustrating, but here we are. Doing it now.

I’m actually wondering if I did pick this up earlier, but bounced off of it because the setting wasn’t ‘ancient’ enough, meaning it wasn’t Assassin’s Creed Origins (although wikipedia tells me that game didn’t exist yet). When this came out, I probably wasn’t really into anything that felt like ‘steampunk’ either, though I hope I have since rid myself of such snobbery. Anyway, I probably read a few pages, saw no references to Ancient Egyptian Gods, and having no background in Islamic Mythology, did not care much about Djinn or Marid, and went on to something else.

Long story short, I should have read a few more pages. I should have read THE WHOLE THING!!

A Dead Djinn in Cairo DOES eventually reveal some cults to Ancient Egyptian gods, the goddess Hathor being of particular note, as I don’t feel like she’s often showcased in fiction (episodes of Disney’s Moon Knight aside). And thanks to my adventures in Daevabad, I do have a bit more context when it comes to Islamic Djinn, Ifrit, and Marid. Also, there are Angels.

All of the elements I’ve mentioned above are mixed together in a veritable soup of religions and alternate history which Clark never allows to become overwhelming. A lot of the Arabic words (like janbiya) and customs were new to me, but it was wonderful to read a story set so firmly within this point of view. The story never seems to fall prey to the type of exoticism we’ve seen in the past (the story even nods to this with the main character’s English suits which she wears because it’s exotic).

Finally, the main character, Fatma, is fun and provocative (within the context of the story). Clark weaves a tight, fast-paced, tale which never allows us to simply marinate in this crazy magical steampunk alternate Cairo, as much as we might like to. There’s murders to solve, and patriarchies to shoot holes in.

So . . . Read?

Yup! I really enjoyed this one, and am greatly looking forward to the next installment, The Haunting of Tram 015, and then A master of Djinn when I get there. Probably the parts that resonated with me the most, were the complexity of world building and grounding of the reader in that POV. I also enjoy a good mystery as much as anyone, especially when it involves magic, the supernatural, and mechanical beings. What’s not to love?

Well that’s the end of the review. Has anyone read this story yet? What did y’all think? What are you most excited about for the next installment. More Djinn? Marid? These mysterious Angels?

Please let me know in the comments. See you next time!

Fair-Fame But Not Legendary: John Gwynne’s Shadow of the Gods

I’m not quite sure how this book came onto my radar (apparently I shelved it as ‘Want to Read’ on GoodReads a day before it came out), but if memory serves, I was pretty pumped to read it about a year ago. I mean just LOOK at that dragon. I must have been hearing some pretty good reviews as well because I feel like I was pretty hype.

But I rarely pull the trigger on a new (to me) author right away, and it seems like one thing led to another (pretty sure I was in the middle of Song of Achilles and #WyrdAndWonder), and this Norse inspired epic sadly got pushed to the side and forgotten about.

Then, around the beginning of March (2022) I saw an epic wolf on the cover of a book and realized the two were connected. Once Netgalley approved me for an early review of Hunger of the Gods (oops that drakkar has sailed) it was time to get serious about reading Shadow again.

And What Did I think?

Well, I thought a lot. I’ll try not to go on to long, but like most books there were some things I liked, and some things I didn’t. I’ll write a bit about both before giving a final recommendation.

— (plz note, spoilers ahead) —

What Worked For Me:

The World Building – Gwynne did his homework for building out this world . . . and then probably some extra credit, and then maybe a PhD. I’m being a little flippant, but in reality, I have a ton of respect for the setting Gwynne created. Each detail from the clothing of the townsfolk, to the world altering battle between gods felt vivid and full. It was obvious that many of these details were taken from actual history, but assuredly quite a few were invented for the story, and I never knew the difference. I don’t have a ton of knowledge of Norse history or mythology, but I didn’t need to. Gwynne’s setting is revealed in stages and (for the most part) I was never confused by any of the funny spellings, or unfamiliar terms. For any Fantasy novel, this is a hard feat, but given the density with which these details availed themselves in SotG, I was doubly impressed.

Action Sequences – This author likes a good fight. And with a bunch of Vikings sailing around in search fame, fortune, demons, and missing children, there were plenty of good fights to be had. Again, attention to detail is what really made these scenes work. I’m not sure I’ve ever though much about choreography in a book before, but each move in SotG felt well thought out, real and easy to visualize (not to mention totally badass).

What Didn’t Work For Me

Too Similar CharactersSotG has three main characters, who despite different back stories and circumstances, kinda felt like the same character (to me). Varg was probably my favorite by the end. He’s a fugitive thrall who has escaped enslavement and needs to perform a ritual in order to find some information critical to his sister Froya’s death, and then enact his revenge. A lot happens in his attempt to achieve this goal, but ultimately his solution is to become a Viking and sail around fighting stuff.

Orka — who was my favorite at the start — has an awesome setup, with a son and husband living quietly out in the woods, hunting and investigating strange animal sightings. I was overjoyed to see this group emerge as I thought we might actually see a family go on an adventure together. Without spoiling too much, Orka ends up on her own, and must try to save her son. Her solution is essentially (again) to become a Viking and sail around fighting stuff.

Finally, Elvar deviates from the pattern in that, at the start of this book, she is already a Viking who sails around fighting stuff. She wants fame, glory, and a kind of immortality she believes those things will give her (I already mentioned Song of Achilles right?). Above all she wants freedom. She pursues this by continuing to be a Viking, sailing around fighting stuff.

Varg ended up being my favorite because I felt becoming a Viking and sailing around fighting stuff actually made the most sense for him to achieve what he wants (and also what he needs which is Viking bros!). For the other two characters? I think I wanted different stories . . . O well.

Voice – Different people have wildly different opinions on the actual prose authors use to get across their story. Some may prefer more modern language, while others feel this takes them out of the story. There is also this idea that authors should stick to the [perceived] constrains of their world, one of which being language. If a culture has not yet invented gun powder, then even an explosion fueled by magic cannot “go off like a bomb”.

Gwynne makes some interesting choices in the lexicon to create immersion in the world and give it a kind of ancient and brutal feel. One (at first) fun example is ‘thought-cage’ instead of mind. However some of these choices only served to hang up the reader during otherwise flowing prose. For instance, nobody in Vigrid or Iskidan seems to hold anything in their hands, only with their fists. A pretty brutal and fear inspiring description when grasping a weapon, but difficult to understand when holding something benign like a cup (not actually in the text but if committed to fully, you might expect to find fists used to describe the caress of a lover, yikes haha). I’m sure there are more examples of this kind of thing but these are just what came to me while writing this.

Fair-fame?

Ultimately yes. There is a lot to love in Shadow of the Gods, but also plenty which made it a struggle to finish. I enjoyed the setting and action sequences, but felt the character work could have used some more variety, and the prose sometimes made the story more difficult to understand, making me lose immersion rather than gaining it. In the end, was not an epic of which we will sing about in our blogging sagas (blogas?). It was just so-so.

I already have the sequel, Hunger of the Gods which I’ll probably read soon, but I won’t rush.

Alrighty, how wrong was I? Anyone read this book yet? Love it? Hate it? What was the most interesting part for you? Let me know in the comments.

See you next time!

Kushiel’s Dart Review

I’ll admit, I had such conflicting information when I picked up this book that I was at a complete loss as to what to expect once I finally got around to reading it (for a book club).

It’s dark (some said). It’s complete smut (said others). But like fucked up smut (said still others). It’s a GREAT FANTASY!! (shouted another who ironically was not the person who picked it).

The amazon page for Kushiel’s Dart compares it to Dune, and apparently it won a Locus Award in 2001 (also just looking at the list of other authors up for the award that year is kinda surreal).

So, after considering this vast and honestly confusing deluge of input, I did what I probably should have done in the first place, and stopped caring about any of that and just decided to open up the cover and . . .

Mostly, enjoy myself.

Carey’s prose FEEL like a fantasy story to me. Perhaps not reminiscent of Tolkien, but definitely of the type of story I would have been reading when I read Tolkien (which was when I was 11 . . . in 2001 when this book came out woah). Her style uses lots of archaic language (I now know the word “bekirtled”), and names involving apostrophes. Someone with a better knowledge of history than me, could probably spend hours pouring through the world of this book and teasing out all the little references to mythology (Christian, Jewish, Norse, and so many more I didn’t catch that it may have given WoT a run for it’s money).

There was some argument in our group about whether or not Phedre was a compelling character, with some saying she was a Mary Sue. I personally never felt taken out of the story by her abundance of competence. Sometimes it’s fun to watch people be really good at things (perhaps especially if that thing they’re best at is taboo sex).

Speaking of sex, it exists in this book. Seemingly in abundance but also in scarcity. When the main character is constantly in some state between sex worker, and sex slave, there was definitely potential for this book to become too graphic, one-note, or accidently parody the thing it sets out to express but I never felt we crossed any of those thresholds throughout the book. Given the comments I’d heard (described up above), I was kind of surprised by how much sex happened ‘off screen’, and how much other stuff that wasn’t sex (like large battles, sailing, and sword fighting) was present throughout the whole.

But sex IS a focal point of the book, and Carey uses it to interrogate a myriad of themes such as consent, love, sexuality (Phedre seems to swing all ways) and freedom.

And she does it all with a relatively deft and delicate nuance.

However, all of this takes a looonnngg time. My edition was somewhere around 650 pages, and I’m pretty sure the one everyone else read is 900 plus. I’m no stranger to thicc books (see my Rhythm of War review), but I sincerely wished this one ended about a hundred pages before it did. I attribute this mostly to two things:

  1. The sheer amount of characters, countries, religions, and other unfamiliar names we have to keep track of (there are over 4 pages of single spaced text in the dramatis personae and I generally cringe any time I see a dramatis personae). These worldbuilding bits are dropped in constantly and ad nauseum until it’s impossible to decide which bits to remember and which to forget (pro tip they’re ALL important which is too much)
  2. A structural failure, in which it felt like the most important story threads were resolved before each successively less important thread, so that the reader is no longer pulled by the main hook and left to wonder why they are still reading.

This may sound a bit harsh, and indeed it probably is, but by the end of this book, it was very difficult for me to remember all of the wonderful things it did along the way because I was mostly waiting for it to end (also, it had perhaps one of the most lack-luster motivations for a villain I’ve read in a while, but that’s another post altogether).

So . . . Recommendation?

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this one.

On the one hand, Kushiel’s Dart was almost nothing like what I had been lead to believe it might be, instead proving to be a complex, intricate, and beautifully written piece of Fantasy which was at first a shock and a delight to read. Details like the double entendre in the book’s catch phrase, ‘love as thou wilt’, showed such potential for a captivating and satisfying experience.

However, as the story continued on (and on), it became impossible to keep track of so many little details, and eventually it became clear that the structure on which this beautifully wrought story rested, could not support so much telling.

I hate giving negative reviews because the very thing that I didn’t mesh with in the story, could be the very thing that someone else loves and I don’t want to turn them away from that. So tell me, who loved this story? What did you love about it? What might I have gotten wrong?

Please leave your answers in the comments.

See you next time!