Tag: Fantasy Fiction

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean #1) by Rebecca Yarros

Well, I finally caved in and read the dragon book everyone has been raving about for the past year. I fought picking it up because I find a large portion of what is pitched as “romantasy” just awful to read. This book was so hyped by my reader friends who fawn over Sarah J. Maas’ stuff, so it was definitely near the top of my “just not going to ever get there” list.

Then I started hearing from some other reader friends of mine that it was a book that I would definitely enjoy, and very much of the ilk of some of my other favorite authors. Cue the torment.

Soooo, I broke down and gave it a go.

Let’s be real about Fourth Wing. By and large it has an overarching plot that telescopes itself like crazy from the first few chapters. It hits the standard YA-ish tropes of rivals to lovers and “bad boy with a heart of gold” pretty damn hard, but it’s a really really really fun read. Ms. Yarros really knows how to flesh out very likable, and very hateable characters with ease, and she’s really not afraid of throwing weakness out there and exploiting it.

Violet’s journey at Basgiath War College to become a rider is definitely a rollercoaster with more than a smattering of death and destruction. I started getting some Pierce Brown PTSD because of the ease at which Ms. Yarros kills of characters: some expected, some unexpected.

In addition to the harrowing journey that Violet is taking to become a rider, there is a larger political storm that is brewing in this book. There are subtle hints that facts are being hidden or redacted, and that there is a bigger issue getting ready to rear its head. That’s the depth of writing that keeps me absolutely sucked in.

So yes, I’m now a Fourth Wing fan, and I jumped right in to Iron Flame, so expect my thoughts on that one soon. If anything, I just want to learn why Ms. Yarros loves using “subluxated” so damn much.

We Are the Crisis (Convergence Saga #2) by Cadwell Turnbull

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

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long while. No Gods, No Monsters took up a lot of my headspace, and I really needed Mr. Turnbull to move some of these characters along for the sake of my sanity.

I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The thing about Mr. Turnbull’s writing, especially in this Convergence Saga is that you can’t help but get very very invested while also being completely lost as to where you are, and who you are dealing with.

Continuing on a couple of years after No Gods, No Monsters, We Are the Crisis continues with how the world is reacting to the revelations of the “Boston incident.” Monsters are now known to the general public, but there is a massive political debate over what rights monsters should have (if any), and a human-supremacist group, Black Hand, is committing more and more atrocities against monsters and monster supporters.

On the flip side, there is a pro-monster activist group, New Era, who is working to build a cooperative network between monsters and humans, but there is also an even more esoteric bit of subversion going in within New Era perpetuated by the cosmic elements we were introduced to in No Gods, No Monsters.

All of the tensions from all sides — and there are a lot of sides — seem to be pressing together into a Gordian knot situation that seems both hopeful and hopeless at the same time.

Much like the previous book, We Are the Crisis is one that is going to require re-reading and analysis to fully follow what is going on. While it is very complex, it is amazingly entertaining. I read almost three quarters of it in one sitting: it’s that captivating.

This series is very important in regards to how it approaches civil rights, and the concepts of autonomy and free will. Mr. Turnbull deftly glides between story lines and locations while building up a slow pressure that comes to a head in a way that, while everyone saw coming, nobody expected.

The Midnight Kingdom (The Dark Gods #2) by Tara Sim

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

I wanted to love this book so much. The City of Dusk was an amazing read that really set the scene and executed superbly. The Midnight Kingdom, though, not so much. The world building continued to be amazing, but the readers are really torn in different directions with the spread out story. Just when I would get engaged with one of the arcs, the perspective would change to another character arc, and I’d have to build up the momentum again.

For those who can just sit down and consume a book in a few days, this is probably a good read for you. Honestly, I ended up having to take written notes, and that’s just not very conducive to an enjoyable read.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Bookshops & Bonedust (Legends & Lattes #0) by Travis Baldree

Our favorite mercenary orc is back! In this prequel to Legends & Lattes we find Viv fighting for Rackam’s Ravens and hunting a powerful necromancer. When she is injured, Rackam leaves Viv in Murk to recuperate. Naturally, Viv gets bored, and finds a good diversion in the form of a local bookshop. There we meet the foul-mouthed ratkin owner Fern and her griffin-dog Potroast.

There is some mystery and intrigue, a bit of romance, and a whole lot of reading.

I very much enjoy the way Mr. Baldree worldbuilds. It’s pretty boilerplate high fantasy, but the attention to detail is great, and the reader really gets to know Murk and it’s passel of occupants. There were a couple of twists in this that I did not expect, and the epilogue was pretty much my favorite part of the entire book. I’m sure this will show up on a mess of “must read” lists for 2023/4. I, for one, cannot wait for the next installment. Baldree’s writing is definitely a marvelous palate cleanser for the amount of grimdark I typically read.

The Fragile Threads of Power (Threads of Power #1) by V.E. Schwab

Holy crap, it’s a new book in the A Darker Shade of Magic universe! To say that I had great expectations for this novel is an understatement. There was definitely the expectation that we would encounter Lila, Kell, Rhy, and Alucard; but what new shenanigans would be introduced to keep us captivated by another ADSOM series?

OK, here’s the deal: The Fragile Threads of Power is set seven years after then end of A Conjuring of Light, and a whole lot has happened. Rhy is now King of Red London, but there is a growing movement to depose him in order to help save magic, and a mysterious Antari named Kosika has been found in White London and made Queen there.

On top of that, we are introduced to a young tinkerer named Tes who, seemingly, has the ability to see how magic works in items and people, as well as change or fix that magic: a total game-changer that could affect all worlds.

Revisiting an established universe is always a comfortable thing, but Ms. Schwab does not just sit back and rely on the familiar for The Fragile Threads of Power. This world is in a constant state of evolution, and Ms. Schwab is quite deft at drawing the reader into the scenery with a sense of wonder. It’s been seven years, and these Londons have changed drastically: both physically and politically.

This series is going to be as powerful as the prior one, and, I, for one, cannot wait for the next round of adventures. This is definitely one of my favorites of 2023, and I’m sure it’s going to be put on a lot of year-end lists.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk and Robot #1) by Becky Chambers

It’s very rare that I read a book that I know absolutely nothing about and turns out to be so incredibly life changing. This is one of those books.

I cannot say enough about the worldbuilding that Ms. Chambers spins into this incredibly wholesome tale. Dex is a monk unhappy with their role in the world, so they take on the daunting task of becoming a Tea Monk: a caretaker and counselor, traveling the areas of Panga being a regular fixture in the small communities. Dex has no idea what they are doing, but eventually falls into the regular cadence of excelling at their role. The thing is, Dex isn’t happy with where they fit in the world.

On yet another lark, Dex decides they need to go into the wilds and find a hermitage of the old order to seek fulfillment. Enter Mosscap, the robot.

In the times before, centuries ago, robots gained sentience, and humanity gave them the levity to do what they needed to do. As a result, robots went one way, and humanity the other. Humans gathered at Panga and the surrounding towns, while the robots were, ostensibly, out in the protected wilds: never to be disturbed by humans.

In their quest to find the hermitage, Dex comes across Mosscap who is “checking in” on humanity.

Their journey is one of discovery (a primary theme in this book), and an unlikely duo of soulmates is born.

As is my way, I never want to spoil the experience for future readers. That being said, this book changed me profoundly. Mosscap’s life philosophy is atypical, but absolutely relevant for our own modern life. Mosscap’s interactions with Dex change both of them in incredible ways, and it made this bitter old reader smile a lot. As a constantly spiraling anxiety ball, I was comforted by Mosscap’s approach to the “meaning of life” and how we all fit into the cogs.

I absolutely loved this book, and will read it again and again for validation. I can’t wait to start the second.

Minimum Wage Magic (DFZ #1) by Rachel Aaron

Ahhh carefree and fun books just for the sake of having something original to read. Minimum Wage Magic has some heavy themes, but, at the end of the day, it’s just a very fun romp through an awesome world of magic and vice.

The basic gist is the that the Detroit Free Zone is a lawless city where the god of the city (the aforementioned DFZ) ensures that everyone is free to do as they will. Opal Yong-ae is a local cleaner — someone who bids on abandoned properties, and then sells the stuff she finds to get the property ready for the next tennant — and a girl on a mission. She’s racing frantically to pay off her father in order to get out of debt with him and break free from her family.

Here’s the thing. Opal’s father is the Dragon of Korea. Either way, Opal owes him a sizable chunk of money, and she’s just stumbled on what could be her biggest score. What happens next is a roller coaster of and adventure with so many little gems of creativity and masterful story-crafting.

One of the most fun things about this book — and I can tell it’s going to be a theme of the series — is the nigh anarchistic chaos surrounding life in the DFZ. Ms. Aaron masterfully throws in some lithe details about life in the DFZ that downright make you think about how it would be in a world with no rules. That coupled with some very memorable characters and an incessantly chatty AI make Minimum Wage Dragons just a joy to read.

I’m sure I’ll devour the next two as quickly as I did this one.

Nona the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #3) by Tamsyn Muir

After three books and much experimentation, I believe I have figured out the secret to full comprehension of The Locked Tomb series: just let it flow over you. Enjoy the ride and do be sure to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

OK, here we go with the story of Nona.

First we had Gideon, and then we got to ride the roller-coaster with Harrowhark. Now we have a much harsher world with a much softer protagonist: Nona.

Nona’s life is relatively simple. She loves her family, longs for an elaborate birthday party full of dogs, and loves her job as teacher’s assistant at the local school. Did I mention her love of dogs?

The thing is, Nona is about six months old, and doesn’t belong in the body she is inhabiting. In addition, Nona doesn’t really like to eat (unless you consider the mild case of pica she constantly conceals), and doesn’t really know much about dealing with things on her own. I’d say Nona was simple, but she is oh so far from that.

If you are familiar with the works of Ms. Muir (and you bloody well should be if you are reading Nona the Ninth), you are familiar with the cool ride through chaos that seems to be her specialty. While focusing on a passel of semi-shifted main characters throughout the series (maybe), Ms. Muir takes every opportunity to absolutely explode each world she elaborately builds up. I find it masterful.

Like I said in the beginning, the best way to enjoy these books is to just lean back and embrace the chaos.

What struck me as most amazing in my jaunt through Nona the Ninth is how normal Nona’s life tries to be. Zombies are coming back, there is a giant blue sphere hanging on the horizon, the city is in shambles, and Nona wants to go swimming.

Running along side the primary story is the story of John: the reason everything is the way it is now. I’d go into that, but it’s much more fun to watch it reveal itself without explanation.

The single thing that I did not like was something that was totally on me and not Ms. Muir. I did not realize that this series had been stretched to four books, so I was getting very very confused as I approached what I perceived as the end of the series, with so much left unresolved. My brain spent a good amount of time spinning possible conclusions as the page count dwindled, only to learn, elsewhere, that a fourth book was incoming. You can imagine my relief.

Now the waiting begins (again).

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries (Emily Wilde #1) by Heather Fawcett

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

I feel like I have to preface this review by saying that I really really really liked this book, and cannot wait for it to get into other peoples’ hands. I’m worried this review might sound more critical than I intended, but that would definitely be the way of Emily Wilde.

Emily Wilde is, at her very core, an academic. It is her belief that introducing possibly leading variables such as compassion, friendliness, interaction, or even social niceties into potential research could sully said research. Emily, above all, is very pragmatic and meticulous in her approach to the research of the ways and stories of the faerie folk, and that is what makes her so good at her work.

With this approach, Emily sets out from Cambridge to the Scandinavian village of Hrafnsvik to investigate a variety of faerie folk who have remained unobserved by academia. To her chagrin, her academic rival, the dashing and quaint Wendell Bambleby follows close behind her to “help” with her efforts to study these faerie.

Emily’s tale is, ultimately, a tale of discovery: not just of the fae she seeks, but also of many of the things she has rather pushed aside in her life.

Presented as an academic diary of sorts, Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries starts off very rote and academic. There is an easy cadence to fall into, and a whole heck of a lot of information that gives the reader a lot of insight into how Emily thinks and operates.

As the crazy story progresses, Emily’s academic endeavors begin to uncover new knowledge that justifies Emily’s reason for traveling to this northern village in the first place. As situations uncover, Emily discovers that letting her guard down not only makes things easier for her in the village, but also opens research opportunities that were previously kept from her by the residents of the village.

Hilarity ensues, and we end up with a very different Emily than when the book started.

As a huge fan of world building and character development, Ms. Fawcett does a wonderful job of setting the scene. Writing from the viewpoint of a highly detailed academic, Ms. Fawcett takes advantage of being able to describe people, settings, and situations very bluntly, and with almost rude descriptors. I found it a very refreshing mechanism that you just don’t see used that often these days.

Story progression moves very quickly, but not in such a way that sacrifices detail. The use of footnotes adds to the academic charm, and, in the end, I found myself dratting that the sequel wasn’t shortly behind. Hell, this book won’t even hit shelves until January 2023!

If you are a fan of the faerie folk, historical fiction, semi-academic romance, or even if you just need a change of pace, definitely put Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries on your 2023 reading list. You won’t regret it.

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

Typically I meander about a review before letting you know that it’s a good read or something worth passing. With Legends & Lattes, however, I’m just going to come straight out and tell you to put down whatever you are reading and pick this one up. Yes, you heard me, and do so immediately.

This tale mixes bits of High Fantasy with an amalgamation of fanciful engineering, slow-burn romance, self-discovery, and the building of a family-like community. All of that together makes for one of the most refreshing and fun books I’ve read in a very long time.

Viv is an orc barbarian who is tired of the warrior life and what it entails. Having fallen in love with the mystery of coffee (widely unknown), she decides to cash in her fortunes and open a coffee shop in Thune. Bolstered by almost supernatural luck, Viv quickly begins to pull new friends into her business, and life, and her dreams begin to become reality.

There is a lot more that transpires in this relatively short gem of a novel, but I do so hate spoiling things for potential readers.

What strikes me the most about Legends & Lattes is the absolute ease with which Mr. Baldree slides us all into Viv’s world and the mechanics of Thune. There are wonderful aspects of discovery since Viv is, herself, new to town, and that is leveraged in my favorite way to progress the worldbuilding. While there are just a few very serious moments in this novel, it is the lightness and humor that pulls the reader along. Every character introduced provides their own little brand of sparkle, and the wide variety of personalities are what really bring the brightest shine to the story.

Like I said at the beginning, this is an absolute must read for me. Pouring through this made me realize that I have a very heavy diet of gritty High Fantasy, Space Opera, and Grimdark; and not enough light fare in my library. All of those are very relevant, and a delight to dive deep into, but sometimes something light and poppy fits the bill perfectly. Legends & Lattes is definitely that pop.