Tag: Fantasy

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

I will start this review by saying that if you read only one book this entire year, please make it this one.

Victoria Schwab is an absolute powerhouse author who has built some pretty damn incredible worlds in her novels. It is by the grace of the gods that she is amazingly prolific, so there isn’t a lot of wait between devourings of her words.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, however, is nothing short of her masterwork. This is a book whose end actually brought me to tears twice (I had to go back and read Part VII again), and I couldn’t be happier for it.

The long and the short of it is that The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a Faustian tale of a girl who makes a diabolical deal in order to be her own person. The side effect of said deal makes her totally unmemorable to those she comes in contact with, as soon as that contact is broken. Oh, here’s the kicker: she’s also immortal.

Addie spends a lot of time jumping back and forth through the timeline honing in on defining Addie’s personality, her voracious appetite for knowledge, and a slow build of strategy that the reader starts to uncover.

Then comes Henry.

This book is as much about Henry as is it about Addie, but I’m not really going to say much about him other than he works in a book store and he remembers who Addie is. That’s right, the forgettable girl finds someone who remembers.

Then there is Luc — the dark god who doled out Addie’s curse — and his lithe and infuriating interaction with Addie. Luc is a classic tormentor who slithers into the scene to trip up Addie just when she is starting to get into the swing of navigating her life. Like Henry, I just don’t want to say too much about Luc.

At the end of the day The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a story about the human condition, navigating the impossibilities of life, and about knowing just who you are to yourself. Like I said at the beginning, this is a book that should absolutely be picked up and never put down: a book to both be savored and devoured. Yes, it’s absolutely that good.

If you are on my Christmas list, chances are, I’ll be giving you a copy shortly.

Battle Ground (Dresden Files #17) by Jim Butcher

Battle Ground (Dresden Files Book 17) by [Jim Butcher]

OK, first things first. If you have not read Peace Talks (Dresden Files #16), then stop reading right here and go read that. Slight spoilers are absolutely inevitable.

OK, on to Battle Ground.

I love this book, and I hate this book. On top of that, I love that I hate it, and hate that I love it. Additionally, I hate Mr. Butcher for writing this book, and I’m terrified where we go from here.

I actually finished the novel about a week ago, and I’ve been wrapping my head around how I wanted to approach a review. Not the easiest task.

Battle Ground is really the biggest pressure release valve that the series has seen, and it’s pretty much 418 pages of non-stop crazy action. With the entire grimoire of supernaturals jumping in to take on the Last Titan, and, incidentally, the Fomor, I would have subtitled this book “Harry Dresden and the Battle for Chicago.”

Shit got crazy, and it got crazy very fast. We’ve seen Harry deal with all manner of threat and challenge in all the previous novels, but this one seriously takes the cake. Throughout my read, I constantly wondered if this was the one where Mr. Butcher was throwing in the towel and wrapping up the Dresden Files for good. I can’t imagine he is, after all we learn towards the conclusion of the story, but it would not have surprised me.

One thing that sets this particular novel apart from many of the other ones in the series is the emotion. We see sides of a lot of core characters that we have never seen before, and some of it is downright frightening.

I’m super curious to hear what other fans of the series thought about this one.

Oh, the bonus “Christmas Eve” story tacked on to the end of this book was a delightful palette cleanser and a pretty darn good little tale. Do not skip it.

Peace Talks (Dresden Files #16) by Jim Butcher

Peace Talks (Dresden Files Book 16) by [Jim Butcher]

Almost twenty years ago I picked up a book on a whim because the blurb described the story of a wizard for hire in Chicago. That book was Mr. Butcher’s first Harry Dresden novel — Storm Front — and I’ve not looked back since.

To say that I devour Dresden content is an understatement. I supported the television show (even though it wasn’t the best, and really should have had James Marsters in the title role), and even read each comic book adaptation.

Adventures with Harry were like clockwork: every year there would be something new. Then, after book 15 — Skin Game — came the lull. Six whole years without a new book. And, boy howdy, Skin Game did not end cleanly. I’m not going to spoil anything, but that was an agonizing wait.

Suddenly, it’s 2020 and, lo and behold, there’s a new Dresden book dropping in July! So I subtly shuffle my ever-growing to-be-read list around and slide it in as quickly as possible.

Let me tell you, this is exactly the Dresden book I needed. Yes I whined that it had been six years with no new fix, but this one made great strides towards mending that wound. We get new characters, old characters with new-found talents, new alliances, and stunning new foes.

About halfway through the book I get a notification that book seventeen of the Dresden Files is dropping on September 29. Two Dresden books in less than four months?!?!?!? So this is what Mr. Butcher has been doing for the last six years (I’m still waiting for another Cinder Spires book, too). Battle Ground will get its own review after I am done devouring it, and, while Peace Talks and Battle Ground could have been one giant epic of Harry Dresden greatness, I totally understand the split, and why it was very important to have an oh so brief pause between the two.

Peace Talks is the perfect stage-setter for what is to come while also building up an interesting semi-reboot of the the series. Harry, interestingly enough, has become less impulsive, more introspective, and is beginning to realize the responsibilities he has to himself, his family and loved ones, and the obligations he has gotten himself into. Hell, I think I counted less than ten FUEGO! mentions in the entire book!

Ultimately, it’s good to have Harry back, and it’s even better to have something other than short story case files in hand from Mr. Butcher.

I am still waiting for Cinder Spires book two, though…

Ruthless Gods (Something Dark and Holy #2) by Emily A. Duncan

Lore is something that keeps me totally invested in a book. Give me a well thought out world where there is far much more going on than is in just the setting of the primary story, and we’ve got something. I’m not talking about the insane heights of world building like J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin does, but I find myself more sucked into a story where you get little hints and mentions of other lands, or random factoids that just traipse across the page because they can, and not because the are 100% germane to the story.

This is the sort of detail that has made the current two Something Dark and Holy books so enjoyable to read.

Wicked Saints had a fun little romp with some toyed at romance and political intrigue. Ruthless Gods is all nitty gritty. To be honest, I’m not sure there are many scenes where someone isn’t bleeding.

Ultimately, this epic-ness of a middle book really blows the lightness of the first one out of the water. There are definitely small gems of joy that pop up throughout the story, but, by and large, it really lives up to the “dark and holy” moniker of the series.

Nadya is running away from all magic, Serefin is pretty much being torn apart, and there is never any telling if it’s going to be Malachiasz or the Black Vulture who shows up to a conversation… Sometimes both.

I absolutely love the way magic is presented in this series: as not just a singular thing from a singular source. We have divine magic, blood magic, relic magic, and probably several other versions that we just haven’t had the opportunity to unveil. Nothing is easy in these stories (not even dying), and nothing is sacred or safe. Beautiful scenes open onto eldritch horrors, and not even Divinity is as it seems.

I cannot wait for, but am totally terrified by, what lies between the covers of book number three. Also, there just aren’t enough tales set in a Slavic setting.

By the way, I just wanted to throw it out there that I would absolutely buy a set of the “reference books” Ms. Duncan quotes in the epigraphs of each chapter. I feel like I really need them in my life.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

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Every so often I come across a book that is both incredibly enjoyable, and masterfully constructed. The Starless Sea is definitely one of those books.

I really enjoyed Ms. Morgenstern’s first book, The Night Circus, so I figured I’d give this one a go after it sat in my “to be read” pile for a good chunk of the year. I am both happy and sad that I sat on this one. Happy that it did not get to overshadow a lot of what I have read in 2020, and sad that I did not have the characters within in my life sooner.

The Starless Sea is the story of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a fortune teller and lover of books. Without giving too much away, the story really starts to progress when Zachary stumbles across a very particular and mysterious book with no apparent author or origin.

What ensues is a grand adventure involving deception, intrigue, secret societies, and, of course the Starless Sea.

To me, this story really captures a perfected world of fantastic fables and storytelling. Hold your hands together like you are packing a snowball. What lies within that sphere of space in your empty hands is how I imagine the world within The Starless Sea: it is compact, mysterious, yet perfectly contained.

I cannot wait to read what Ms. Morgenstern has in store for us next.