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ANGELIKA FRANKENSTEIN MAKES HER MATCH by Sally Thorne – double review!

From USA Today bestselling author of The Hating Game Sally Thorne comes something a little unexpected… a historical rom-com that imagines Victor Frankenstein’s sheltered younger sister, and her attempts to create the perfect man. 

For generations, every Frankenstein has found their true love and equal, unlocking lifetimes of blissful wedded adventure. Clever, pretty (and odd) Angelika Frankenstein has run out of suitors and fears she may become the exception to this family rule. When assisting in her brother Victor’s ground-breaking experiment to bring a reassembled man back to life, she realizes that having an agreeable gentleman convalescing in the guest suite might be a chance to let a man get to know the real her. For the first time, Angelika embarks upon a project that is all her own.

When her handsome scientific miracle sits up on the lab table, her hopes for an instant romantic connection are thrown into disarray. Her resurrected beau (named Will for the moment) has total amnesia and is solely focused on uncovering his true identity. Trying to ignore their heart-pounding chemistry, Angelika reluctantly joins the investigation into his past, hoping it will bring them closer. But when a second suitor emerges to aid their quest, Angelika wonders if she was too hasty inventing a solution. Perhaps fate is not something that can be influenced in a laboratory? Or is Will (or whatever his name is!) her dream man, tailored for her in every way? And can he survive what was done to him in the name of science, and love?

Filled with carriages, candlesticks, and corpses, Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match is the spooky-season reimagining of the well-known classic that reminds us to never judge a man by his cadaver! 


Title : Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match
Author : Sally Thorne
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : historical romance / gothic / retelling
Publisher : Avon Books
Release Date : September 6 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated/****


Hollis’ unrated review

I don’t quite know what to do with this one.

Like, on the one hand, we open with these characters basically shopping for parts so they can reanimate a man that fits Angelika’s specifications for what she hopes will be her husband because she’s given up on, and has been given up on by, the living. And when, of course, he is brought back to life, you have to kind of side-eye the whole “was dead and now mostly alive-ish” element being sold to you as sexy and romantic when it’s really not. But.. vampires are corpses too, you know? It’s just the fundamentals of it make it extra icky. So you suspend some disbelief. You lean into the camp and outrageousness of it all and you have a good time.

But unlike vampires, where the power imbalance is age gap between a hundred+ year old dude and a highschooler (predominantly!), this time the power imbalance — wealthy spoiled woman, undead nobody with no memory, heavily reliant on said wealthy woman — is also layered with consent issues because he literally had no say with a) coming back to life and b) the parts of his body she kept or replaced. Plus his body continues to betray him in ways he doesn’t understand.

But if you suspend some disbelief and lean into the camp.. yeah, I don’t know. See aforementioned mixed feelings.

Some of this was so good. Spoiler alert, I cried twice near the end. We get some good character development out of said wealthy spoiled woman. There’s a mystery at the heart of who Will, the man Angelika has brought back to life, is. And there’s a good sibling dynamic that is complex and does evolve.

Except there are things near the end I did not love, and won’t mention due to spoilers, but are tied up in both what the Frankenstein’s believe to be part of their foundation and, as it turns out, Will’s, and how that all comes together.. I don’t know, felt a little strange. But then again the whole book is strange. I’ll also admit that Will was occasionally a struggle when it came to his behaviour towards Angelika and not always in the way he should’ve been. It’s hard to explain but him being hot and cold was fine, I just thought there were some inconsistencies mixed in, too.

However, I think you do have to let this book just be what it is and not think too hard about the weird bits that don’t quite work. But I didn’t get on that until too late in the game, even though I tried to go in with an open mind knowing it had been not very well received with many mixed reviews. But instead I’m just adding to them.

All that to say! Well, nothing really. You’ll either read this book, or you’ve already read it, or you won’t.

I’m definitely glad I gave it a chance because I do think Thorne has shown she can do more than just contemporary, and she can be weird, poke around into different spaces, and that’s all good. This either works for you or it doesn’t or, like me, you’re somewhere in the middle. But this is not remotely the nail in the coffin that I expected it to be (everything post-The Hating Game has been unpredictable) and I look forward to seeing what she does, and where she goes, next.


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
A pleasant surprise
Historical-fantasy-retelling mash-up
Leave reality at the door

I like Sally Thorne’s writing but I wasn’t sure about this romantic take on Frankenstein themes from the blurb, but you know, you’ve got to give it a go. I’m really glad I did because this really worked for me.

This brother and sister duo in Angelika and Victor were utterly irreverant to the sensibilities of the era. The people in the surrounding areas were suspicious of them supposedly but in actuality, everyone who came across them seemed to be won over (as was I). Angelika was a funny in both ways, haha and odd but this story was safely in rom-com territory, encouraging the reader to not take things too seriously.

The plot was strange and yet hugely interesting, I read this book pretty quickly, always looking forward to getting back to it. The love interest Will was fascinating as he adjusted to his new life. At first, I had worries about consent related to Will and yes, you could definitely say he didn’t consent to revival but my other worries regarding potential consent weren’t realised. This was actually a bit of a slow-burn story with a building chemistry and romance.

One of my favourite elements was the set of side characters, all endearing in their own way. Those side characters became found family and I warmed to them all.

As I said in my headlines, if you want a plot that replicates historical life in this era, you will struggle but if you leave your preconceptions at the door and fun with this, it might end up surprising you in a good way, like it did for me.

Thank you to Piatkus for the review copy.

EMPTY SMILES by Katherine Arden

New York Times bestselling author Katherine thrills once again in the finale to the critically acclaimed, spook-tacular quartet that began with Small Spaces.

It’s been three months since Ollie made a daring deal with the smiling man to save those she loved, and then vanished without a trace. The smiling man promised Coco, Brian and Phil, that they’d have a chance to save her, but as time goes by, they begin to worry that the smiling man has lied to them and Ollie is gone forever. But finally, a clue surfaces. A boy who went missing at a nearby traveling carnival appears at the town swimming hole, terrified and rambling. He tells anyone who’ll listen about the mysterious man who took him. How the man agreed to let him go on one condition: that he deliver a message. Play if you dare. 

Game on! The smiling man has finally made his move. Now it’s Coco, Brian, and Phil’s turn to make theirs. And they know just where to start. The traveling carnival is coming to Evansburg.

Meanwhile, Ollie is trapped in the world behind the mist, learning the horrifying secrets of the smiling man’s carnival, trying everything to help her friends find her. Brian, Coco and Phil will risk everything to rescue Ollie—but they all soon realize this game is much more dangerous than the ones before. This time the smiling man is playing for keeps.

The summer nights are short, and Ollie, Coco, Brian, and Phil have only until sunrise to beat him once and for all—or it’s game over for everyone.


Title : Empty Smiles
Author : Katherine Arden
Series : Small Spaces (book four)
Format : physical
Page Count : 205
Genre : MG paranormal fantasy
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young 
Release Date : August 9, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I honestly thought this would edge out Dead Voices as my favourite of the series. Until the story wrapped in the span of ten pages and the book abruptly ended out of nowhere. And when I say out of nowhere I mean it because there were sixty plus pages of previous-instalment excerpts at the back of the book. Which I definitely thought would be plot or reveal or explanation related.. but no. Just filler.

I am.. disappointed. I feel like we’re left with more questions than we started with because we had so much unexpected smiling man character reveal over the course of the book four and yet it turned out to just be a tease. And all that beautiful tension, the creepiness, the clowns!, it all just fizzles out and poof, the end.

But.. for 80% of this? Solid. Eerie. Fun. So I won’t round down but just.. brace yourself.

Also, I know I hinted at it (and I mean, the cover is r i g h t t h e r e), but seriously, if you fear or have an issue with clowns? Middle grade or not, this might legitimately terrify you because some of those scenes? Oh yeah, they were creepy.

I definitely see myself rereading these, maybe next year for a spoopy readathon or something. They weren’t brilliant but they were a good time (and had some good spooky moments!) and, as I’ve said a million times, nostalgic for those of us who lived through the Goosebumps era of storytelling.

HOUSE OF HUNGER by Alexis Henderson

WANTED – Bloodmaid of exceptional tasteMust have a keen proclivity for life’s finer pleasures. Girls of weak will need not apply.

A young woman is drawn into the upper echelons of a society where blood is power, in this dark and enthralling gothic novel from the author of The Year of the Witching.

Marion Shaw has been raised in the slums, where want and deprivation is all she knows. Despite longing to leave the city and its miseries, she has no real hope of escape until the day she spots a peculiar listing in the newspaper, seeking a bloodmaid.

Though she knows little about the far north–where wealthy nobles live in luxury and drink the blood of those in their service–Marion applies to the position. In a matter of days, she finds herself the newest bloodmaid at the notorious House of Hunger. There, Marion is swept into a world of dark debauchery–and at the center of it all is her.

Countess Lisavet, who presides over this hedonistic court, is loved and feared in equal measure. She takes a special interest in Marion. Lisavet is magnetic, and Marion is eager to please her new mistress. But when her fellow bloodmaids begin to go missing in the night, Marion is thrust into a vicious game of cat and mouse. She’ll need to learn the rules of her new home–and fast–or its halls will soon become her grave. 


Title : House of Hunger
Author : Alexis Henderson
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 304
Genre : historical fiction / horror / LGBTQIAP+ / fantasy
Publisher : Ace Books
Release Date : September 27, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

When the need for a spoopy vampire book to fit a spoopy-themed readathon prompt was required, this was (maybe oddly) the first to come to mind.

I had heard good things about the author’s witchy debut, which I have yet to read, and this cover really caught the eye. And while it did start off well, I will admit that the characterization of the lead character took too sharp a turn at a certain point and I felt the emotional impact and motivation just didn’t measure up. In fact, in general, I just didn’t find her convincing at all. Too forthright, too pushy, all from the get-go; and considering her position in life, before and after being a bloodmaid, it just didn’t really fit. I would’ve liked to see her come into that as a result of her change in circumstances instead of already possess it. Much like I would’ve liked to see more of what drove her to feel devotion, desire, and more, instead of it just seeming to happen. And likewise, her unique blood aside, she didn’t seem to inspire it in others, despite what we were told.

This wasn’t a long book and we had time for so much more. Not just Marion’s character development but more of the other Houses, the history, the politics. So much of this felt too much like set dressing; interesting at first glance but too static and without depth. Even Lisavet, for all her hunger, felt a little too two dimensional.

Having said all that, though this wasn’t a win, I may try to pick up The Year of the Witching during this autumnal spoopy time, after a few other changes in pace, to see if maybe that’ll be more my vibe.

NONA THE NINTH by Tamsyn Muir

Her city is under siege.

The zombies are coming back.

And all Nona wants is a birthday party.

In many ways, Nona is like other people. She lives with her family, has a job at her local school, and loves walks on the beach and meeting new dogs. But Nona’s not like other people. Six months ago she woke up in a stranger’s body, and she’s afraid she might have to give it back.

The whole city is falling to pieces. A monstrous blue sphere hangs on the horizon, ready to tear the planet apart. Blood of Eden forces have surrounded the last Cohort facility and wait for the Emperor Undying to come calling. Their leaders want Nona to be the weapon that will save them from the Nine Houses. Nona would prefer to live an ordinary life with the people she loves, with Pyrrha and Camilla and Palamedes, but she also knows that nothing lasts forever.

And each night, Nona dreams of a woman with a skull-painted face…


Title : Nona the Ninth
Author : Tamsyn Muir
Series : The Locked Tomb (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 480
Genre : LGBTQIA+ fantasy/sci-fi
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : September 13, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

So, listen. The transition from Gideon the Ninth to Harrow the Ninth was rough, right? We ended on such a heartwrenching note, after running around amok for hundreds of pages, only to be dropped into pure chaotic confusion with the sequel. Meaning I wasn’t really worried when Nona the Ninth also switched gears and we ended up in a whole new setting, facing familiar faces but new dynamics, and trying to understand things all over again. But knowing that Nona wasn’t supposed to exist but just got a little out of hand in the writing of the original third book, Alecto the Ninth, well.. it does sort of feel and read like that.

But maybe it’ll all fit together in hindsight, once the series is done, and on a reread. But as of now? There were some really delightful moments in the first half, and I was really into the interludes (so! much! explained! so! much! worldbuilding! wow), but on the whole? It really doesn’t feel like the series-part of the story starts until like.. 60%, if not more, into the book.

While book two had an adjustment in tone and voice, there still maintained some Locked Tomb-ness of the vibe and I don’t think we had that until right before the end in this third instalment. And yeah, it makes sense, but it also makes this book feel very much other from the rest.. and we already had an other book to content with. But at least that bore some similarity to the first. Equally, I didn’t find the writing as captivating, certainly not as funny, because everything was once again so different.

Yet, having said that, those delightful bits? The familial dynamic that we get to explore? Camilla fucking Hect? Chefs kiss. Really lovely. But, ultimately, this seems (at this stage) like a lot of filler and distraction and build-up; only to kick us in the pants for that big cliffhanger ending.

So, yes, I’m having f e e l i n g s about my most anticipated read of the last two years not being a standout but.. I have to trust the system, I have to trust Muir, and maybe next time I read this I’ll be slapping it with five stars because I will understand how much of this was needed for the end. But that day is not today, I’m afraid.

Please note, though, that none of this, none of it!, dims my excitement for the final instalment though. I need Alecto even more than I did before.

THE EMPRESS OF TIME by Kylie Lee Baker

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami Ren Scarborough is no longer the girl who was chased out of England—she is the Goddess of Death ruling Japan’s underworld. But her problems have never been greater. Her Shinigami see her as a foreigner on the throne. Her brother, Neven, is gone, lost in the deep darkness. And her fiancé, Hiro, has been killed by her own hand.

Then Ren receives the most troubling news yet—Reapers have been spotted in Japan, and it’s only a matter of time before Ivy, now Britain’s Death Goddess, comes to claim her revenge.

Ren’s last hope is to appeal to the god of storms and seas, who can turn the tides to send Ivy’s ship away from Japan’s shores. But he’ll help Ren only if she finds a sword lost thousands of years ago—an impossible demand.

Together with the moon god Tsukuyomi, who shares an uncanny resemblance to his brother Hiro, Ren ventures across the country in a race against time. As her journey thrusts her into the middle of scheming gods and dangerous Yokai demons, Ren will have to learn who she can truly trust—and the fate of Japan hangs in the balance. 


Title : The Empress of Time
Author : Kylie Lee Baker
Series : The Keeper of Night (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Inkyard Press
Release Date : October 4, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I don’t think I enjoyed this quite as much as book one, which is why I knocked off the half point, but overall I think it’s a pretty solid duology — even if it won’t be a new favourite.

This story really shines in both the tone and the worldbuilding/setting. It’s dark but somehow also vibrant. However, much of this one does feel a bit wheel spinny in the sense that Ren is sent running around Japan for.. reasons.. and only one of the encounters along the way was actually interesting. This side quest in the run-up to the big conflict does give a little breathing time for a certain reunion but it does also end up feeling like a lot of nothing happens between those bits. And this isn’t a short book!

Having said that, I was really pleased with how everything went down at the end. Unlike book one, I actually enjoyed the big conflict and how that resolved. I finished this feeling very satisfied and that’s a win despite some of the middling middle bits.

If this is on your radar, I would definitely suggest you give it a try. I will be very interested to see what comes next from this author.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

SPELLS FOR FORGETTING by Adrienne Young

‘There were tales that only the island knew. Ones that had never been told. I knew, because I was one of them.’

Emery Blackwood’s life was forever changed on the eve of her high school graduation, when the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her best friend, Lily. She’d once dreamt of running away with August, eager to escape the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and chase new dreams together. Now, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence among this tight-knit community steeped in folklore and tradition, ruled by the seasons and ancient superstitions.

But when August returns after fourteen years to bury his mother’s ashes, Emery must confront her first love and the reason he left so abruptly. But the town wants August gone again. And as the island begins to show signs of strange happenings, the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises threatens to reveal the truth behind Lily’s death once and for all.


Title : Spells For Forgetting
Author : Adrienne Young
Format : Physical ARC
Page Count : 364
Genre : Fantasy Horror
Publisher : Quercus Books
Release Date : September 27, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Atmospheric and lamenting
Mysterious
Nature’s grumblings

This book blew me away with it’s haunting vibes, mystery and return to historical events on the Island of Saorise. The whole story just bled atmosphere and gave a sinister chill as you read. Told in present and some past narrative (not overused), the lives of four high school graduates on this small island was brought into the now of over a decade later. Murder, fire and conspiracy were afoot in this tale and the incredible prose kept me devouring the pages.

At the centre of this book were Emery and August with their two best friends in their orbit. That was back then…now there were three. Saorise was a place that was a lore rather than law to itself. The island spoke through the land, the trees, the weather and wildlife and the residents listened.

Sometimes the signs were subtle, like a fleeting shadow or an echo in the trees. Other times, the island wasn’t gentle with her words.

The mystery surrounding Lily, the orchard and August’s departure and return were completely compelling but so was the young romance between August and Emery. I was so invested in how that would end, even though it was often in the background. There’s so much to keep reader’s invested in this story.

Adrienne Young’s storytelling was quite beautiful. I highlighted a lot and her writing captivated my imagination. This is the perfect autumnal read but really I’d recommend it anytime.

We’d had no beginning, I realized. We just always were.

Thank you to Quercus Books for the review copy.

BE THE SERPENT by Seanan McGuire

October Daye is finally something she never expected to be: married. All the trials and turmoils and terrors of a hero’s life have done very little to prepare her for the expectation that she will actually share her life with someone else, the good parts and the bad ones alike, not just allow them to dabble around the edges in the things she wants to share. But with an official break from hero duties from the Queen in the Mists, and her family wholly on board with this new version of “normal,” she’s doing her best to adjust.

It isn’t always easy, but she’s a hero, right? She’s done harder.
Until an old friend and ally turns out to have been an enemy in disguise for this entire time, and October’s brief respite turns into a battle for her life, her community, and everything she has ever believed to be true. 

The debts of the Broken Ride are coming due, and whether she incurred them or not, she’s going to be the one who has to pay.


Title : Be The Serpent
Author : Seanan McGuire
Series : October Daye (book sixteen)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : urban fantasy
Publisher : DAW
Release Date : August 30, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

No, you aren’t hallucinating. This is the highest rating I’ve given a book in this series since book eleven — and before that, the only other three? Book one. Which in hindsight might’ve been an error in “hoping for the best/that things get better”. So, yeah, the bar for this series, which I’ve complained about ad nauseam, is low. But this one, almost start to finish, had elements that kept me interested and unwilling to put the book down.

That isn’t to say it didn’t start off poorly though because we open up with Luna and Sylvester bullshit and to say I am tired of these two characters would be an understatement. What makes me somewhat angry, though, is McGuire gave an exceptional explanation for why the former is now the way she is and.. yeah, I’m mad. Because it makes sense. Why it took so long to get this explanation, I’ll never know. But it doesn’t excuse the latter’s lack of backbone, loyalty, trust, etc etc. October better not have forgiven him that easy, too. I’m offended.

And, honestly, other than that.. other than a few little moments where people gave October shit for things I don’t think she deserved (and trust me, I would mentioned when it was deserved), there were so few blips in this one. Truly, again, I am astonished.

My one real complaint is the constant rehashing of things to various characters as the plot pushed things along because it gets so tired, going over the same things endlessly; whereas certain other characters spent too much time standing around blinking and marvelling over how things don’t make sense (cough Sylvester cough, glad October called him out on this, more please) and, mostly, being useless. But that’s it. Complaint session over.

Oh wait, Tybalt was mostly useless in this one, not going to lie. He’s sort’ve turned into arm candy now that he’s got the girl. Though I suppose when you’re as skilled and surprising as October is.. there isn’t a whole lot to complete with there. Not a complaint so much as an observation.

The big reveal of this instalment, the way it went down, and then the end? Constant shocker. I’m both surprised and not surprised that the most powerful among this crew is also a different kind of useless and, for once, am not mad about October putting them in their place with little regard to niceties. She is all of us in this particular situation. Surprising no one, the sea witch was once again great, no notes, ten out of ten.

I don’t think I’ve ever said this for this series but : I cannot wait for book seventeen. But don’t get me wrong, I’m still hoping the end is in sight because obviously this is not a sustainable read for me (despite evidence to the contrary) and I fully expect the success of this instalment to peter out but hey, low expectations never hurt anyone.

Oh, and ps, the novella at the end of this one? Horrible. In the sense that seeing exactly what the sea witch was cursed with, live in HD4K, was horrible. Brutal. Awful. Lots of Big Bads need to go before the end of this series or there is truly no justice in this world (which is likely the case because faerie).

A TASTE OF GOLD AND IRON by Alexandra Rowland – double review

The Goblin Emperor meets “Magnificent Century” in Alexandra Rowland’s A Taste of Gold and Iron, where a queer central romance unfolds in a fantasy world reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire.

Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen’s new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.

To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.


Title : A Taste of Gold and Iron
Author : Alexandra Rowland
Format : eARC / ARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : August 30, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ .5 /★ ★★ ★


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

This is a tough one to review. Because I had all sorts of feelings about it — one of which was, I read the first chapter and had such a visceral “nope” feeling about it that I put down the kindle and walked away for an hour — but mostly those feelings were ambivalent. And then occasionally frustrated because I was seeing things I could love but the love was just out of reach.

The good? The tropes. There’s an A03-style list of tags for what you can find in this book, I won’t list them out but they are easy to find if you go looking, and most of them are delicious. And honestly how they played out was also, mostly, delicious. And actually most of what I found to be good in this story was the romance because I did like these characters; one was easier to love than the other as he was more fleshed out, but the other had a good bit of unlayering from how he started out, too, so it didn’t feel too unbalanced. They are caught up in a complicated dynamic, and even though there was some angst due to pining and yearning and feeling unworthy being caught up in that, the dialogue that the author leaned on to express consent, reciprocity, the morality/ethics of it all, and understanding between them, was so good.

The less good? The world. For all the prose and descriptions, not to mention the wordcount, I did not have a good handle on the setting or the politics and found the conflict of the plot kind of flimsy. It didn’t help that we were thrown right into things near the beginning and, as mentioned, I really wasn’t feeling it — the first chapter really jarred me but that feeling stuck with me for like 30%. But we definitely had some sweet spots.. though the ending, too, as in the final page, was also jarring (is this a series? or is that just how it wraps?).

Split down the middle? The supporting cast. We had some really good eggs mixed in with our MCs and we also had some less good. Equally, we had some good eggs that just acted in frustrating ways and for reasons that are never truly explained but, of course, forgiven. Part of that supporting cast is a strong presence of queerness and identities interwoven in this world and zero homophobia. Huge win.

So, yes, if this romance-centric high fantasy did well by the romance, why such a low rating? I still felt the slowness of the background fantasy/action plot, and sometimes when there should’ve been urgency, there wasn’t, and I found that a bit jarring. I wish that the villain(s) of the piece had been a bit less obvious because it might’ve added more uncertainty and, again, given us some of the tension that was lacking. And, again, there was that ending — just as I was really feeling things were on the up I feel like I misstepped and was left stumbling a bit, which has me not wanting to round up.

Overall, while there are elements within the whole that could be worth a recommend, I would definitely hesitate to encourage anyone give it a try who wasn’t already going to.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss+ and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Queer historical-feeling fantasy
Politics, parentage and partnerships
Feelings alert

I don’t know why I had so much trepidation over this book and why I read so much later than I intended because everything worked so well for me in this story. I love the UK cover but the US cover depicts how the main characters are described so well that I let my imagination take that course.

The world in this book was ruled by a female Sultan, women had the say on all things to do with parenting and males were called the ‘body father’ which was a very intriguing direction. Love was love in this world and Kadou was the princely brother of the Sultan. One of his guards, Evemer was the other main character.

The couple of the piece, Kadou and Evemer truly stole my heart, bit by bit. This was a serious slow burner but my investment grew until feelings were brimming over. There was a little bit of me at the end that felt something was missing. It seems we will get more books in this world, so I hope to see more of these two.

There’s superb anxiety, panic disorder and mental illness representation in this book. Those elements well woven in well and authentic to the character and those around him.

I part listened to this book and part read the physical copy and I have to say that the audio really helped me with the pronunciations of the unusual words for the guards, companions and so on. The narration was single POV and worked well.

Thank you to Tor Books for the review copy.

BABEL, OR THE NECESSITY OF VIOLENCE : AN ARCANE HISTORY OF THE OXFORD TRANSLATORS’ REVOLUTION by R.F. Kuang

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal. 

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel. 

Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down? 

Babel — a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal response to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.


Title : Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution
Author : R.F. Kuang
Format : eARC
Page Count : 560
Genre : historical fiction / fantasy
Publisher : HarperVoyager
Release Date : August 23, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

You know, more and more it’s books like this that make me dislike the rating system more than I already did. It’s all relative anyway, right?

Let me start off with the easiest thing I want to say about this book. The thing that’s been at pretty much the forefront of my mind the entire time I read it : I respect the hell out of this book. Yes, it’s clearly a chonky guy, so you can make the leap that this was a lot of work; not just for research and plotting but because of the academic setting and focus, too. Add to it the intense study of colonialism, racism, and the overbearing feeling that resistance to the system is futile? This book is doing a lot.

It’s also uncomfortable. And I think it’s supposed to be? The main characters we follow are each coming to Oxford, to Babel, with the desire for belonging, for refuge, to become more (better) than those around them believe them capable of. As a group, this random selection of four, who become necessary to each other not just to the survival of their early days in this new place, but become necessary for each others’ happiness, their successes, their joy.. they rub each other raw, fight, hurt each other, and it’s what makes the whole of their dynamic so real. Because even though they face adversity on all sides — for their race, their gender — they are still human and imperfect and their various marginalizations don’t always mean they easily understand one another.

And one of those characters, I think, is meant to be a reflection for readers — that even someone with their own battles, their own hardships, can never understand what it’s like to be other in white society. That even with her best intentions, unthinkingly, she does harm. She’s a reflection of our own blind spots, the times we are complicit, and ignorant — or at least she was for me. And yeah, that’s uncomfortable as hell to read. But I appreciated it.

Incase you can’t tell, there’s a lot of pain in this story. Beyond the dynamics, as mentioned, the topic of colonialism is vivid and stark. The casual cruelties, made to be factual by those who believe themselves the betters of others, the violence enacted on non-white bodies both physically and emotionally, it’s all just a lot. Much like the catalyst that sends these characters towards the bitter end, there is a slowbuild of hurts that shifts into rage. Because there’s only so much that a person, a people, can take.

Having said all that, if you expect this to be a fast-moving action fantasy, you will quickly be disappointed. I’ve only liked one of the two prior dark academia’s I’ve read but in some ways I would argue that those plots move a little differently than this one. Even at the end, during what I guess you would call the climax, it’s slow. But it’s fitting. These are scholars and much like the rest of the book things move at a certain pace. As for the magic, it’s almost not like magic at all. It’s a tool, a resource; and as a result the silver feels like something real. Something to hoard, to master, to go to war over. Interchangeable with almost anything, really.

So, beyond my respect, beyond my discomfort, what else is left and where does that leave us? I will say that I was fascinated by some of the spiralling language discussions, the etymology, the shifting and morphing of language. The whole discussion about translation, really, was just spectacular; and also a little heartbreaking. And how that tied into the end.. well. Shockingly I didn’t cry while reading this, though one or two moments did make it a little hard to swallow, and I’m as baffled as you as to why this didn’t rip me to shreds. But maybe it’s also why I can’t come to grips with a rating?

Overall, while I don’t know if this is going to be a story anyone likes, I do think it’ll be one people revere. And maybe that’s where I’ve ended up. Time will tell if I’m right or wrong but, either way, I would definitely recommend this, if you’re interested, but you can’t say you weren’t warned about what to expect.

And in the meantime, I might try and read (finally) the author’s other series, which I have put off for far too long. Similarly, I’ve heard enough to know what to expect about that. I should be prepared. I hope.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

A PRAYER FOR THE CROWN-SHY by Becky Chambers

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.

Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?


Title : A Prayer For The Crown-Shy
Author : Becky Chambers
Series : Monk & Robot (book two)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 160
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ scifi/fantasy
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : July 12, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Much like book one in this series, this is a wholesome and thoughtful novella. And while I’m not rounding up, I did enjoy it more than book one for one very key reason : Mosscap. This charming and easily enraptured or fascinated robot was such a delight to read about. The discussions, the conversations around need and doing for others, it was all so heartwarming.

There’s a gentleness to the conversations, the observations, of this world and the new experiences seen through a robot’s eyes in a society far removed from our own. It’s a nice departure from reality even knowing that it took this world’s near-collapse to bring it about.

If you struggled a bit with book one, I would definitely recommend you pick this one up. I hope we do get more but if not it ended in a really lovely way and I am satisfied.