Tragic Fools (Children of Ankh #5) by Kim Cormack

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Tragic Fools (Children of Ankh Series Book 5) by [Kim Cormack]

One reading peeve of mine is being dropped into the middle of a multi-book series without having read the previous books. I tend to read a lot of series, so I approach each one with a “will this stand on its own” approach. Sadly, most of the time the answer is a resounding no.

Ms. Cormack, however, has taken a very might swing at it with Tragic Fools.

I was drawn to this book by a quick blurb describing paranormal abilities, immortals, and colorful mishaps: all things I thoroughly enjoy. What I did not expect was almost slapstick irreverence and enough bawdy ribaldry to make a vicar blush.

Granted, I do not (yet) have a full understanding of what the various Clans in the Children of Ankh’s endgame is supposed to be, but damn I enjoyed the widely mixed variety of characters and situations. Throughout the constant death, emerging powers and nigh constant demon slaying, the reader can really get a feel for this totally misfit band of Ankh immortals and how they approach the tasks they are given. Do they do things right and/or efficiently? I would guess never. Are they entertaining and enticing as hell? Absolutely.

Quite honestly, I cannot wait to read the other books in the series. The childish humor and amazingly well thought out paranormal aspects of the various situations that Ankh gets themselves into have made me a fan. Plus, I’m not hooked in on seeing if the newbies can get through Testing.

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

First and foremost, this is a book you have to pay attention to. Yes, it’s a casual read, but the subtext is almost its own character in this one. No Gods, No Monsters is the kind of book that almost demands a re-read upon reaching the final page. It’s just that powerful.

Most blurbs and reviews say that this books opens with Laina discovering the news that her brother, Lincoln, has been shot and killed by Boston police, but that’s not really where the book starts. No Gods, No Monsters starts with the introduction of two characters: Calvin and Tanya. As the story progresses, we discover that one of them could possibly be very very important.

Next comes the beginning of Laina’s lament and the big reveal that monsters are real and some of them are ready to go public.

I don’t really want to say much more about the characters or the plot of the book because I think it would steal a piece of the magic from potential readers. What I will say is that No Gods, No Monsters really pushes the boundaries of the classification, or lack thereof, of inclusion and acceptance. Never would I have ever thought it possible to braid together a tale of life, love, the constant struggle and non-Newtonian physics. Yeah, you didn’t read that wrong.

Seeing each section unfold with the inter-meshing of characters and situations is what really sells this story. Mr. Turnbull leverages science fiction and fantasy to show the rawest of “human” emotions in an incredibly deft way, and it doesn’t take long to be fully sucked in.

My single complaint is that it’s now over: I reached the end and that’s it. I do hope Mr. Turnbull revisits these characters and situations because what is not said, and what is not resolved, presents an incredible craving for this reader.

No Gods, No Monsters hits shelves in September 2021, and I guarantee it is going to make some waves. It would not surprise me in the slightest to see it on any number of book of the year lists. Do not sleep on this one.

The Midnight Circus by Jane Yolen

This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review

To say that Jane Yolen is a legend is putting it lightly. Ms. Yolen has won just about every Science Fiction award available, and has such a prolific body of work that it is almost too daunting.

When I was given the opportunity to preview The Midnight Circus, I jumped at it. Made largely of previously published short stories along with the notes and poems that inspired each of the sixteen stories, The Midnight Circus is a collection of pure magic. The ease with which Ms. Yolen weaves such masterful tales and builds such amazing worlds is nigh sickening. Be it a twisted retelling of the Red Riding Hood tale, or stories of mermaids and wild princesses, Ms. Yolen transitions and build upon each short story in a way that captures the full attention of the reader and leaves them wanting just a bit more.

The most impressive thing to me, however, was he wide variety of cultures represented in this anthology. Everything from a retelling of the Exodus story to Scottish folklore to stories about Russian Jews is represented here. Each and every one with a unique character and character stance authentic to their settings.

Jane Yolen truly is a Queen of storytelling.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I’m not even sure where to start with this one. There are certain books that I have read that just resonate and sink in almost immediately. Piranesi is this type of book. What we learn in the beginning is that Piranesi lives in a house with infinite corridors and rooms, a lot with ornate marble statuary, and a trapped ocean with regular tides.

Piranesi spends his time exploring the rooms and corridors, keeping immaculate journals, and interacting with The Other: the only other living person in the house.

What unfolds is a highly intricate mystery about self-identity and semi-spirituality. As Piranesi begins to learn of his origins and the mystery of the house, The Other, and himself, more and more questions come up.

While a lot of the material is quite stressful and potentially triggering, I found the concept of Piranesi quite relaxing. Perhaps I find some resonance with the current “stay at home” experience that is going on in the world right now; or perhaps it’s just Piranesi’s blissful ignorance.

Either way, Ms. Clarke knocked it out of the park with this one. The simple world is both vast and tiny in factors that are very relatable and wonder inspiring. Piranesi is definitely a gem of 2020.

Star Wars: The High Republic Chapter Sampler by Justina Ireland & Claudia Gray

First off, thank you so much to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to peruse these first few chapters of Star Wars: The High Republic lit. It is a tad hard to describe my fandom with Star Wars other than omnivorish. Over the last few decades, I have consumed any and all Star Wars novels, junior adaptations, comic books, etc., and I have been very excited to see how Disney Books was going to be approaching the new “High Republic” timeline.

First up was a few chapters from Justina Ireland’s A Test of Courage. This junior-aimed novel, set a couple of centuries before the events of The Phantom Menace, follows the young Mirialan Jedi Vernestra Rwoh (don’t call her Vern) as she escorts Senatorial daughter Avon Starros (a precocious inventor) to the unveiling of a new space station: the Starlight Beacon.

Being a junior novel, the fare is pretty lighthearted, but quite engaging just from the small sample that I was able to read. You definitely get a grasp of the primary characters’ personalities quite quickly, and I’m quite excited for the full release.

Next in the sampler was Into the Dark by Claudia Gray. Ms. Gray is no stranger to the Star Wars Universe having written such great story bridges as Bloodline, Lost Stars, and Master & Apprentice.

The start of Into the Dark is no different. The Reader definitely gets a feel for the tone right off the bat with the introduction of the primary character: Padawan Learner Reath Silas.

Reath is being sent off to the Starlight Beacon a part of a Jedi delegation for the unveiling of the space station. Tagging along are Jedi Orla Jareni and Jedi Cohmac Vitus who have previous experience in the area where Starlight Beacon is being built. At least a portion of the sample provided jumps into a flashback of them on a mission there twenty-five years before the current adventure takes place.

By far my favorite characters introduced in this short excerpt are the transport pilot, Leox Gyasi, and his apprentice/copilot Affie Hollow: both from the Outer Rim-situated Byrne Guild. Both of these characters, along with their navigator Geode, bring some fantastic levity and opportunity for some real mirth.

I think the true underlying “star” of the entire run of The High Republic releases is going to be the mysterious “Great Disaster.” There is some hinting to it in what we had to read from Into the Dark, but, like a good sampler, the reader is just left wanting more.

I, for one, cannot wait.

The Doomsday Book of Fairy Tales by Emily Brewes

This book was provided to me by NetGalley in return for a fair review

The Doomsday Book of Fairy Tales is the story of a boy and his talking dog in a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by the effects of humanity on the climate.

Sounds quaint, right?

The bigger aspect of the well-woven story is that our protagonist, Jesse Vanderchuck, is a very flawed individual and has let his life be swept by routine and happenstance until he does not.

At his breaking point, Jesse sets out to find the sister who ran away from him and his mother years ago as a way to possibly regain some sense of normalcy and stability in his life. With him, of course, is his talking dog, Doggo, who pretty much kick-starts Jesse into realizing that he has just been wasting away in the Underground waiting to age and die.

Along their voyage, Jesse spends some time crafting a series of fairy tales which he tells Doggo. These tales, typical in the standard format of child in distress or magical intervention, really were the highlight of this book for me. Some are very light while some are very not. As the book progresses, the reader begins to see how all the pieces fit together as reality and fable-dom become not too dissimilar.

I very much enjoyed the journey this book took me on. Yes, it’s definitely not a “rainbows and sunshine” story, but the aspects of true joy found throughout really do accentuate their intention.

In this tale, Ms. Brewes punctuates that there is no standard by which to live one’s life, and that obstacles are ever-present. Ultimately, it is how we choose to address and deal with said obstacles that defines who we are.

A Slow Parade in Penderyn: Book One of the Dryad’s Crown by David Hopkins

A Slow Parade in Penderyn: Book One of the Dryad's Crown by [David Hopkins, Daniel Decena, Francesca Baerald]

I read a lot of fantasy books (hell, I just read a lot), and there is one key element that really drags me in and makes me seriously invested in a novel: worldbuilding.

In sixty painfully short pages, Mr. Hopkins has built such a robust world that it seems like all that is left for the remaining books of the Dryad’s Crown saga is to just play the characters across the landscape of Amon (and probably beyond). Part one of this story kicks off with the introduction of Silbrey, née Piper, née Ald’yovlet, a headstrong and remarkably astute foundling in the port city of Penderyn. Without giving too much away, Silbrey is sort of a mix of Jen Williams’ Copper Cat along with some John Wick, and a touch of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd.

Silbrey is trained to do unspeakable things by her “mother” the guildmaster Dahlia Tulun, but then finds love and settles down with her husband to raise a family on a farm.

That’s it, that’s all I’m giving you.

As I said previously, the worldbuilding that Mr. Hopkins has melded together is one of wonder. To make things even more amazing, this tale occurs in a world of his design, Efre Ousel, which he has amazingly created as “open content” in the hopes of fostering a collaborative community of storytellers with the goal of building on each others’ work. The potential gives me shivers.

There is already a wiki and a D&D 5e compatible campaign setting. I just can’t wait to see what the community comes up with.

Book Two of the Dryad’s Crown cannot come fast enough.

Ready Player Two (Ready Player One #2) by Ernest Cline

I have to preface this review by saying that I really really really enjoyed the intrigue, high tension, pop culture nerdery and all the oodles of easter eggs that Mr. Cline dropped into the first book. That was some prime world and character building.

This effort, however, just doesn’t get out of the gate, and I think the editorial team is who is ultimately to blame.

Ready Player Two opens with the High Five having taken over GSS and setting everything in motion to advance technology and provide a more realistic experience in the OASIS thanks to another discovery of some tech that Halliday created before his death.

Where everything starts to tumble is when we drop into what I like to call “poor Wade” mode. I’m not going to go into a lot of it because it was a complete drudge, but the most infuriating part of the entire first half of the book was the complete overuse of foreshadowing, and a total lack of action. This is what was most disappointing: Ready Player One was all about action and survival while Ready Player Two presents us an OASIS-addicted hermit with a shitty attitude and a rigorous workout regime.

In the second half of the book, however, we go back into quest mode and the reading becomes enjoyable again. Once again we have the pop culture mega-nerdery with tricky puzzles and strange quest fights, and all is right with the world. The problem is, half of the readers have already rage quit the book before getting to this halfway point.

Honestly, the first half of the book could have been summarized in just a couple of chapters. Hell, it could have all been done in an introduction; and a good editor would have pointed that out.

Ready Player Two is a huge case of an author overestimating the patience of his audience. I pray there is no Ready Player Three.

A Girl From Nowhere (The Firewall Trilogy #1) by James Maxwell

I was about ninety percent done with this book when I realized that it was written by the same author of the Evermen Saga: James Maxwell. Boy, didn’t I feel stupid.

Much like the amazing worldbuilding in the Evermen Saga, A Girl From Nowhere sets us up in a vast landscape that feels very well developed. We open on a homestead in the wastelands where Taimin, the primary character, is learning survival and subsistence from his mother, father, and aunt Abigail.

When Taimin’s family is attacked by raiders, he is left crippled and both of his parents left dead. From there Taimin is raised by the very stern Abigail who, while moderately harsh to Taimin, teaches him how to fight and survive.

Later on, tragedy strikes again and Taimin is left to set out into the wastelands to find the perpetrators of the atrocities that have put him in this situation

In a semi-parallel storyline, we meet the mystic Selena. Because of her gifts, Selena has been passed from one wasteland enclave to another; sewing mistrust among superstitious simple people.

Taimin and Selena’s paths eventually cross, and we begin to see how inseparable the two are.

The two of them, along with a few others, set out to find the city of Zorn, a mythical “white city” where the chance at civilization is a dream.

A Girl From Nowhere has all the great fence posts of greatly developed fantasy literature: you have the warrior, the wizard, exotic races, and a stalwart non-human companion. As the story built, I found myself anticipating what fantasy trope would next get employed. To my surprise, there were often subtle twists that really helped move the story forward.

Plus, this book has some of the best gladiatorial fights since Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight series.

I’ll be jumping into book two shortly.

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

Imagine Harry Potter meets Battle Royale. Throw in a dash of The Cabin in the Woods and that is pretty much the core plot for A Deadly Education.

This novel follows the story of Galadriel, or El for short, and her experience at The Scholomance as an outcast and loner. The long and the short of it is that all the other students in the school — a place with no teachers and just slightly attached to the mortal dimension — think that El is an evil magician preying on the other students (as is the norm).

What follows is El being followed/befriended by the class do-gooder, Orion Lake. Orion has the penchant for being in the right place to save El, and a mess of other students, from the monsters that seem to always be randomly roaming the halls and grounds of The Scholomance.

The story in A Deadly Education is really one of trust, friendship, learning, and self-sufficience. El is a fantastically snarky character who really feels — up into this story which happens in the third year of her schooling — that she is pretty much totally alone going into the ordeal known as “graduation” at the end of the fourth year. Let’s just say a whole lot happens.

I rather enjoyed this book because it came from the perspective of an underdog who really had no aspirations of being anything else. El’s one focus is on methodical survival and that is her singular goal.

Kudos to Ms. Novik for writing a novel that builds a tiny world full of mysteries and horror along with some pretty strong bond-building and, gasp, friendship. I cannot wait for book two.