As ever, this book continues the trend: Thara Celehar needs a hug, but he won’t let anyone give him one.
That’s a pretty succinct summary of this book, but it’s a bit unfairly reductive, so let’s see what else I can say without spoilering… This obviously continues in the vein of the previous book about Celehar, and it widens the scope again to show us more of this world. Photography, for example, does exist, and is considered automatically rather risqué. Celehar ventures into that world with very little judgement and does what he does best and listens. Not just to the dead, but to what people are willing to tell him, and to the scraps of information that let him eventually put things together: not just who killed who, but also where the scone recipe might be, and the burial customs of particular traditions, and who you need to ask about any given problem.
Slowly, he pieces his way through multiple mysteries, which of course begin to intersect. He’s helped in this by a new apprentice, a woman who began to hear the voices of the dead as an adult and has no training in how to be a prelate, and by the friends he made in previous books.
There is some progress, I think, toward Celehar forgiving himself and allowing light into his life again… but it’s a slow, slow burn. I really want to see that come to fruition — and I really need to know what happens to Celehar next given the results of his work in this book.
Along the Saltwise Sea, A. Deborah Baker (Seanan McGuire)
The frustrating thing about this book is that the first fourteen pages are a recap… and I read the first book earlier this week. The tone is knowing, meta-fictional, and gets you right back into the world — there’s a bit of Cat Valente, a smidgeon of C.S. Lewis, in the way it knows and comments on the characters, and on the world. But it was annoying that in a novella, 7% of it was pure recap. It felt like it took a while to get going… and then stopped short of its destination.
Which is not to say I didn’t find it charming, because I did. I just want more, and wish I had the third book in my hands right now. I saw somewhere that it ends on three, but I’m not sure how that’s going to fit in with the general pacing.
I wondered about some stuff, like whether the iron shoes were part of stopping the Crow Girl from coming apart, for example… but in the end that seemed not even a red herring, just a detail that didn’t mean much.
I think I preferred the first book, but largely because it feels like we didn’t get anywhere much (though some good and interesting stuff did happen). I’m still rating it a 4 because I ripped right through it and enjoyed it; it’s more in retrospect that I’m sighing a little.
Received to review via Netgalley
The Language of Roses is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast which also pulls in elements of other fairy stories (the girl from whom pearls drip from her mouth whenever she speaks, the fairy wife enduring three strikes and then leaving), featuring an aromantic lead character who is not going to follow the fairy tale and fall in love. It also features Grace and Eglantine, who are in love despite Eglantine’s courtship by Philippe, Grace’s brother.
And that’s perhaps already saying too much — it’s worth experiencing this storyline for yourself and seeing how Heather Rose Jones works it out and weaves together the fairy tales. It was very satisfying for me despite the novella length: I enjoyed it a lot. Alys is a lovely character, interested in helping those around her, in being kind, and also in being true to herself.
I could wish to see a little more of the aftermath — not just as a “and they all lived happily ever after”, but what Alys’ role is exactly in the life of the estate after everything is over and done.
Over the Woodward Wall, A. Deborah Baker (Seanan McGuire)
I loved Middlegame, but I didn’t expect to enjoy this spin-off so much! It shares DNA with Cat Valente’s Fairyland books, though the narrator is a little less intrusive and knowing. It also shares some DNA with McGuire’s own Wayward Children series, unavoidably.
It also manages to be something of its own, though, and I quickly stopped comparing it and started caring about Zib and Avery and the Crow Girl, and what will become of them. It’s a world based on fantasy/fairytale tropes and tarot cards, and there are giant talking owls and Bumble Bears and an improbable road to an Impossible City — what’s not to like?
I didn’t expect to get so caught up in it, but it was lovely; exactly what the doctor ordered. I know the second book is out, though, and I wish I’d got it before I started, because the story really doesn’t end at the end of the book.
The Bruising of Qilwa tries to tackle a lot. It’s a medical fantasy, with a mystery element, and it also delves a little bit into the question of what it means to be oppressed when you have also in your turn been the oppressor (or at least, your people have). The author is Persian-American, so obviously they have a lot of thoughts about this, though the story of Firuz and their work as a healer is at the forefront.
There were a few surprises here in how the story went versus what I’d expected, but mostly it’s surprisingly quiet for a book with some pretty dire consequences at stake. The climax of the story does become rather more energetic, but a lot of the story is just… trying to get on with life as a refugee. Firuz is trying to build a home for their elderly mother and their trans brother (who needs gender-affirming treatment only Firuz’s secret blood magic can provide), and for a foundling from the streets, and trying to help others as well, using their skills at one of the few clinics that provides care for the refugees.
Oh, and there’s a plague. Two separate ones.
It feels like a very slim number of pages to hold so much going on; I think it punches above its weight in that line. I found it a bit uncomfortable to read because certain elements of the second plague hit my anxiety just so, but it’s a really interesting setup.
Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances, Aliette de Bodard
Received to review via Netgalley
Of Charms, Ghosts and Grievances picks up on Thuan and Asmodeus from Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen world once more, and once more they’re in the world of Thuan’s birth rather than safe (well, relatively safe) in Asmodeus’ particular domain. As ever, they love each other very much, but Asmodeus is a stabby creature of revenge, while Thuan believes himself saner and more just… though it does become clear that Asmodeus is capable of love, self-sacrifice and reaching for justice, while Thuan is more hide-bound than he’d like to admit.
It’s not quite “together, they fight crime”, but it’s not far off either. While babysitting, they quickly stumble upon a mystery and a ghost, and following that to where it leads promptly exposes all the stress-fractures in their relationship, and all the flaws of both of them.
For fans of the characters, it’s lovely; it’s being billed as a one-shot, which I wouldn’t say is entirely true. I think it works on its own, probably, but there’s more to it when you can see it against the backdrop of the Dominion of the Fallen books, and the last of Asmodeus and Thuan’s relationship. That said, you don’t need to have read them recently (I haven’t), because it gives a lot of cues about their background to help make things clear.
It was a fun read, for sure, and I’ll pick up anything else that happens to come out about Asmodeus and Thuan.
Hidden Hands: The Lives of Manuscripts and Their Makers, Mary Wellesley
Hidden Hands is a book about manuscripts, and more than that, about the people behind the manuscripts. It’s not necessarily about the most beautiful or most impressive manuscripts, or the rarest, though it discusses manuscripts from all those categories. Wellesley isn’t just interested in the contents of the manuscripts, but also the people who composed the words, the scribes who wrote the actual script, the owners of the manuscript, and the potential readers of them.
I was familiar with most of the manuscripts mentioned, to the point where I’d have been interested in hearing more about the Pearl/Gawain manuscript or something for once, rather than the Beowulf manuscript yet a-fucking-gain. There were a couple of surprises too, though, like the discussion of the collection of letters from a particular family and how some of them were illiterate and thus the anxiety about the use of scribes. I’m not sure I’d normally count a collection of letters as a manuscript, but it was still an interesting section.
I also knew nothing about Gwerful Mechain, a medieval Welsh poet who wrote erotic poetry and protests against the misogynistic poetry circulating in her day. She was a definite and welcome surprise to me (as was the mention of a scholar who taught me, Katie Gramich).
All in all, I felt like there was so much to say that it would have merited a longer book, one which I would’ve read eagerly!
The Wood for the Trees is a ramble through the woods that Fortey owns and maintains (a small patch of woodland that once belonged to a large estate). With the curiosity of a lifetime’s work in science, he examines every little bit of the wood in all seasons of the year, lifting up rocks, turning over fallen branches, and digging around in the history of the woods.
I got it because he made geology really interesting in another book I read, though I find this book didn’t have quite the same touch — perhaps because it’s so wide-ranging, so unfocused. Instead of just looking at the geology or the biology, he digs into the archaeology as well, into literature and historical figures that touched upon the wood, into the way the wood used to be worked with.
His little cabinet of curiosity is interesting, and his enthusiasm for the wood admirable — but unlike his other books, this didn’t keep me picking the book up to pursue more of it.
Bitter is a prequel to Pet, and it’s slightly unfortunate that some of the important details from Pet have now slipped my mind, because I think that would’ve helped significantly in finding my feet again in the world. Bitter is Jam’s mother, and this covers the period leading to the upheaval that made Lucille such a utopia for Jam. It makes more sense of Bitter’s reactions to Pet, and the world which Jam and Redemption live in.
I didn’t love it as much as I hoped; it felt very topical, particularly when a character loses an eye during a protest, and for the first half of the book seemed mostly to be a chronicling of current events in lightly fictionalised form. Then Bitter finds her magic, and things open up, giving us access to more of the background of Pet: the angels and the takeover of the city.
It’s a really quick read, and I enjoyed the background it gave to Pet, but it didn’t quite speak to me in the same way, even though I fully understood Bitter’s insecurities and fears. Maybe that’s part of why I didn’t get involved as much!
I found this an interesting read more because of what I had resistance to than because of what it said, almost. Much of it is well known to anyone who’s had a course of CBT (yes of course I should turn notifications off on my phone, and of course I don’t because I have unrealistic expectations of how much I should work)… but it’s quite provocative to come out and say it’s due to the “Laziness Lie”, and see every case of “laziness” as something non-lazy.
It’s an easy enough read, and brings together some good points, but it could seriously use fewer anecdotes and more research-based conclusions. It’s sometimes self-contradictory, saying that people are more productive when they take time to rest and then saying at the end that if you take time to rest, you’ll be less productive… which I think is mostly the author not quite connecting dots where they meant to point out that if you’re taking time to rest, you might just find some other priorities arise that you care about more than the work that made you exhausted in the first place.
There are some things it made me think about doing; of course, its conclusions are about the opposite of what I do every day working for an app that helps people commit to their goals, often involving productivity… But mostly I didn’t think it was wrong, just that there’s room for me to find a lot of satisfaction in my job and find some more time to rest. I think it bangs the drum a bit too hard about the joys of not working, and forgets that security is really key too.