Category: Reviews


Review – Trail of Lightning

Posted 24 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse

Trail of Lightning is set in Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation, after a climate apocalypse that drowned half the world. In the post-apocalyptic landscape, old gods and spirits now prowl. Maggie ends up hunting those old gods and spirits, looking for her former mentor, trying to keep her sidekick alive, and killing some nasties along the way — you know, the usual sort of urban fantasy shtick, only with a decidedly non-usual setting.

Maggie’s got clan powers: skills which allow her to do superhuman feats in battle, and run faster than is physically possible for most humans, which come from her heritage. In principle, it’s all really interesting, and I do enjoy the setting and background. It’s not the beaten path, and that’s great.

I don’t think I liked the side characters as much as I should have, and mostly I mean Kai. I needed to feel more of a connection with him for the ending to really work, I think, and I was actually grossed out by aspects of his behaviour (which I shouldn’t spoiler!). He’s meant to be nice, but his manipulation of people is not something I admire in a character.

As for the plot, well, as soon as Coyote came along, I knew there was going to be some kind of reversal, some kind of trick. I did actually fall into part of the trap just because I disliked a particular character so much and was ready to believe the worst of him, but I was never really along for the ride because I know what Coyote is — or at least, I know a number of stories about Coyote, and about tricksters in general, and it was obvious that there was a twist coming.

I think overall I like the idea of the book more than I like the book itself, and that has sort of settled in — over the time since I finished the book — as my conclusion. I’m interested enough to read Storm of Locusts — and it’s higher in my Hugo ballot that Space Opera for sure — but I’m not in love with it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic for Liars

Posted 23 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Magic for Liars by Sarah GaileyMagic for Liars, Sarah Gailey

Received to review via Netgalley

You either are magic, or you are not. Ivy was not, but her twin sister was — a fact that came between them so that years later, they’re almost strangers. Ivy’s a private investigator, though, and when approached by the head of the magic school where her twin Tabitha works to help in solving a suspicious death, she jumps at the chance to see a little of what she’s missing. The problem is that she lies, lies and lies again as she tries to live the life she might have led, if only she was magic.

There is one way in which Magic for Liars is just so totally not for me: it relies fairly heavily on miscommunication (deliberate miscommunication, at that). That’s Ivy’s MO here, and it’s what gets her into half the trouble, and I just find that so vicariously embarrassing and so annoying. Ivy’s problems towards the end of the book are 100% caused by herself and her own stupid decision, and that is not a plot line I enjoy, at least not when it’s made quite so explicit, or is so utterly avoidable. Hubris is one thing, but getting caught in a web of your own lies — lies you know to be stupid — is just… gah.

On the other hand, it is a fun read: Gailey does some fun misdirection and plays with the tropes, and her writing is just… When I first came across some of the lines, one comparison immediately jumped to mind, and that’s Raymond Chandler. There’s something fresh about the way she puts things, a sense of ‘that’s perfect, but also new’ that I think I honestly last encountered when I first read Chandler and followed his ‘shop-worn Galahad’ around town. Things like “Monday morning came on like a head cold” — not even the best example, but one of those right, yes, that feeling moments.

(For all his faults, Chandler was one hell of a writer. This is 1,000% a compliment.)

There’s a lot to enjoy about this book, especially if you enjoy the idea of following around a profoundly damaged and self-sabotaging person. What she’s doing to herself is beautifully clear; it’s just not my jam at all.

Rating: 4/5

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Readalong – The Ninth Rain & Trail of Lightning

Posted 21 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Text banner: Wyrd and Wonder: Celebrate the Fantastic (1-31 May) - plus a gorgeous stylised dragon glyph

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseTrail of Lightning:

Stakes are getting higher and seemingly more personal for Maggie as she finds more back-up in her fight that she can’t seem to simply walk away from. How do you feel about ‘found family’ stories, and do you think that’s what we’re getting here? What do you think of Grace and her family?

We find out more about Kai – specifically, that Maggie isn’t the only one with clan powers – after a particularly brutal run-in with Longarm. What’s your verdict on how Maggie handled the corrupt cop, and has your opinion of Kai changed with this reveal? If so, how?

Ma’ii’s method of transportation was an interesting one, and it raises the fact that Neizghání isn’t the only one with a ‘signature’ that involves lightning. Do you think it’s possible (or even likely) that Neizghání’s involvement in this mystery is a red herring?

What do you think we can expect from Maggie’s visit to Shalimar? Nothing but trouble, or will she get what she’s there for?

As I said last week, I’ll confess, I’ve finished the book. So I’m trying to answer this without any spoilers and with what my impressions were at the time, but I apologise if I get inadvertently spoilery!

Found family/Grace and her family:

I feel there’s not quite enough development on this to make me really feel like Maggie’s part of Grace’s family at this point. Maybe if they continue to partner up through the second book, but… actually, I’m finding that stuff like this is already fading for me. If I don’t read Storm of Locusts soon, I won’t remember who everyone is.

Kai’s clan powers:

I knew this was coming and it actually pisses me off. Any kind of mind control grosses me out, and I didn’t trust Kai from the moment I knew that’s what he was doing. I don’t think we’re meant to take such a hard line on it, but he’s been using it to manipulate Maggie, despite all his requests to be partners and for her to trust him. It’s not trust when it’s compelled.

Neizghání:

He seems like such an asshole that nothing would’ve surprised me where this came from.

Shalimar:

Ma’ii’s involvement meant much much suspicion of every aspect of his mission for Maggie, this included. He’s a Trickster. It’s not going to be what it seems, or the rug is gonna get yanked out from under you even harder because this does go to plan.


Cover of The Ninth Rain by Jen WilliamsThe Ninth Rain:

1. Vintage’s journal entries at the start of each chapter seem to be filling in more backstory for our heroine, but what do you think of this approach to providing information about her? Are these entries fascinating, or distracting?

2. More details emerge about what happened at the end of the Eighth Rain… What do you think happened to (or between?) the Jure’lia queen and Ygseril?

3. And now it seems that the god-tree still lives. Or does it? What’s your take on what Hestillion is doing, and what do you think she’s going to do with her surprise guests?

4. Make love, not war. Or, if you’re Tormalin the Oathless, do both. How do you feel about the particular mixture of Tor’s skills, and what do you make of his interactions with Noon so far?

I’ve also finished this one now, but I’ll do my best not to give any spoilers!

The excerpts:

I think they’re very cleverly done, because it’s not only a source of lore for the world, but it’s powerful characterisation for Vintage (and some of the people around her). I’ve known books where I always skipped this kind of thing, but these are interesting for being in Vintage’s voice and they provide plot-relevant information. Do not skip!

The end of the Eighth Rain:

I kind of assumed, at this point, that there was some kind of mutual destruction, or possibly just fighting each other to a standstill, and what we see is their long, long deadlock. I was biased toward mutual destruction since we hadn’t heard anything from Ygseril. (Personally, I thought the death of the Jure’lia queen was probably only a temporary setback for the Jure’lia.)

Ygseril:

I’m sceptical of anything so conveniently sudden after years without contact. Hest’s been diving deep all this time: why is she only making contact now? Something seems to be stirring, and I didn’t really believe it could be Ygseril.

Make love, not war:

I don’t think it’s that unusual; Tor’s lived a long time, and has a long time left to live. I’d be surprised if this was the full extent of his talents, too. In terms of his interactions with Noon, I thought that was a fairly obvious and conventional story with an obvious trajectory — not that I object to that.

General point:

This whole book makes me think so much of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The parasite spirits and what they do seem so like the spirits in The Spirits Within that that’s basically how I picture them, and the dream of the Jure’lia makes me think of Aki Ross’ dreams.

A still from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

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Review – Magic and Religion in Ancient Egypt

Posted 19 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie DavidMagic and Religion in Ancient Egypt, Rosalie David

If you’re looking for a comprehensive but readable survey of the beliefs of Ancient Egyptians over time, this should definitely do the trick. It’s an overview, not an in-depth dive into all the ins and outs, so if this is actually your area of study, you’ll obviously be wanting to go somewhere else — but I wouldn’t say this is really aimed at the casual reader, either. You need to have an interest in the topic, at the very least, or the level of detail would be too much.

I wouldn’t say the book is brilliant, and its style is definitely not “unputdownable”, but the topic was interesting enough to carry it for me. And I enjoyed David’s approach, which took things in chronological order and looked at the way religion changed with politics (and/or the way politics changed with religion).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dreamer’s Pool

Posted 14 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet MarillierDreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier

This was a reread for me, in order to get back into the world so I could finally read the rest of the trilogy! It opens with Blackthorn in prison — a horrible sort of prison, where all kinds of atrocities are committed, creepy-crawlies are your closest companion, and you scratch on the wall to count the days until the hearing where you might receive justice. There’s one night left, except the guard says she’s not going to have her trial. There’s a ray of hope, though: Conmael, a fae man, offers her a deal. She must leave the area for seven years, use her craft for good, and say ‘yes’ to any request for help.

Blackthorn takes the deal, of course. Conmael fulfils the start of the promise in an unexpected way, and Blackthorn escapes — with a companion from the prison, Grim — and travels to her new home. She expects to see folk just like the folk she left behind, and a lord who is no better than the one she planned to testify against at her hearing. Enter the other main character, Oran: a gentle poet who tries to be generous and fair to his people, and who has a little dilemma of his own to be solved…

The main thing for me in these books is the relationship between Blackthorn and Grim. It’s coded non-romantically and non-sexually: they are friends, they rely on each other, and they’re even somewhat co-dependent, but there’s no hint that the relationship is or could be romantic. (God, I hope this stays true of the other books. It wouldn’t be a total deal-breaker for me, but I don’t really read it as a romantic relationship. At least not in this book!) Blackthorn’s not interested, and Grim’s only interest is in being useful, in drowning out the nastiness in his past and the horrors of the prison to be by Blackthorn’s side. It’s the strongest part of the book, their bond, and I only hope it will stay rock-solid through the other two books.

I’m less interested in Oran, whose management of his lands and people reads like a modern insertion — he’s just too egalitarian for the medieval Ireland-ish setting we’ve got here, though we do see a less flattering side of his character in his total impatience with Flidais for not acting the way he expects. His love story with Flidais is interesting in terms of the mystery it provides, but I don’t really believe in either of them as people, and I found some aspects of that storyline vicariously embarrassing (usually a death-knell for me, with any form of media). The solution is rather neat and ties most things up, so I rather hope the focus will be elsewhere in the next book. Despite my reservations about Oran, I’m ready to dive in.

Rating: 4/5

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Readalong – The Ninth Rain & Trail of Lightning

Posted 12 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Text banner: Wyrd and Wonder: Celebrate the Fantastic (1-31 May) - plus a gorgeous stylised dragon glyph

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseTrail of Lightning:

– 24 hours isn’t long to forge a partnership, but it’s been eventful! Do you think Maggie and Kai make a good team? Why?
– A Trickster comes to tea! We meet our first Bik’e’áyée’ii – what do you make of Ma’ii? …and his mission?
– We learn more about Maggie’s past, and about Neizghani. Do you think she’s too hard on herself? How do you feel about Neizghani’s role in her life – and about the way he left?
– Any predictions or other observations at the half-way stage?

I’ll confess, I’ve now finished the book. I just couldn’t stop reading once I got into it — I was worried I’d forget things. So I’ll try and answer this without any spoilers and with what my impressions were at the time, but I apologise if I get inadvertently spoilery!

Maggie and Kai as a team:

I wasn’t sold on it at this point (or actually even at the end of the book). It feels like there are too many secrets, and Maggie’s holding back too much. There’s certainly potential, because she’s definitely responding to his friendly advances.

Ma’ii:

Is a trickster, so he’s playing a long game and keeping his cards close to his chest. I wouldn’t trust Coyote as far as I could throw him. It’s hard to see at that point what the trick is, but he’s Coyote; you know it’s coming.

Neizghani: 

His whole thing about evil tainting Maggie reminds me of the fact that so many abusers have themselves been abused; there’s an element of truth to it, and to the idea that if you have darkness inside you, you’ll always be fighting it. I don’t think that’s just true of Maggie, though; I don’t think she’s somehow set apart from the people around her, that the people around her are better than her. Neizghani’s oversold it.

Predictions or observations:

Would be unfair at this point, given I’ve finished the book. I’ll just observe that having finished it, I’m curious about the next book, enough that I’ve bought it… but I’m not sold on the series and this definitely isn’t going to top my Hugo ballot (though it will come ahead of Space Opera). The background is fascinating, and I enjoy the fact that it’s not your typical cookie-cutter urban fantasy. But something about the storytelling, the characters, isn’t quite working for me.


Cover of The Ninth Rain by Jen WilliamsThe Ninth Rain:

1. ‘You travel with an Eboran, and you explore the Wild, and you’re looking for things that might kill you. None of it makes sense.’ – What are your first impressions of Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon?
2. Not your traditional Elves, eh: how do you feel about Ebora and the Eborans?
3. Parasite spirits, mutant animals and really big grapes: would you live safe behind city walls, or would you make your home in the Wild?
4. In a nightmarish world, a few bad dreams are to be expected. Or are they? How much are you reading into them?

Vintage:

I love her! She knows what she wants and she’s going for it. I enjoy her scientific curiosity and her will to push on and figure things out. She’s pretty no-nonsense, and yet she has ideals as well.

Ebora:

Reminds me of Elantris, in some respects. The Carrion Wars sound awful; clearly the Eborans have committed atrocities, but just as clearly, they aren’t all bad. Human-ish, just long-lived and different, in part because you have different priorities when you live 1,000 years. In terms of specific Eborans: Tor is entertaining, but could fairly clearly be more. Hest’s fervour is… discomforting; I’ll be interested if she continues to be a quasi-sympathetic character with terrible moral boundaries.

The dangers:

Oh hell yeah I’d be in a city. I want to believe I wouldn’t turn a blind eye to the dangers, and I’d do my part to protect the city, but… nope nope nope. City for me. Of course, a parasite spirit there would wreak absolute havoc, but statistically, it seems a lot safer.

Dreams:

I’m assuming they’re prophetic, some kind of warning, or even an instinct. They could be being sent by someone as a warning, or by the Jure’lia as a threat, or maybe people are just inherently sensitive. Still, I’m fairly sure there’s a new invasion incoming — we know already that they’re cyclic — and that the dreams are significant.

…I suspect I’ll finish this one too before the next question post. Must try and keep notes!

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Review – Magic Bites

Posted 10 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of Magic Bites by Ilona AndrewsMagic Bites, Ilona Andrews

The first time I read this book, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. This time, I was surprised by the way the world was stripped back and all the stuff I remembered from later book was not here yet… though there is some delicious foreshadowing, and really, if you’re paying attention, you have some idea of what’s up by the end of this book.

I’d also forgotten how much these books make me laugh.

Magic Bites gets dismissed as paranormal romance, but there’s really not much romance in this book. There’s one potential romance that fizzles out because the main character is suspicious, emotionally unavailable and wedded to her job (her job is killing things), and there’s a hint at what’s to come in later books. But for the most part this book is Kate Daniels going it alone. She’s a mercenary who gets herself involved when her mentor gets killed. Wherever there’s trouble, she’s there, and half the time she’s the cause. Try saying ‘here, kitty, kitty, kitty’ to the Lord of the shapeshifters, a lion shifter… yes, that sounds like a good idea.

I love the setting of these books. It’s set in Atlanta, post-magic-apocalypse, where the world alternates between magic and tech — so you need a jeep and your horse if you want to be sure of getting around. It’s a wilderness of old tumble-down buildings that should have stood for years, and a world where shapeshifters and vampires (very creepy vampires) rule the shadows.

Really, those who dismiss this as paranormal romance and decide it’s not their thing because everyone knows paranormal romance is just ‘sex with a plot’… might just want to give it a go. Kate’s tough as nails and a lot funnier, in a deadpan scary sort of way, and the world-building is actually an interesting set-up. It’s not all about who Kate gets in bed with, and honestly in this book it’s barely even about that at all. I’m not saying it’s perfect: I think some people struggle with the worldbuilding, because you’re expected to take it for granted, and I think it’d have given me more pause the first time too. I think some characters you’re supposed to like come off fairly badly.

But it’s funny, and there’s so much potential. After Magic Bites, there’s so much more to come. Looking forward to revisiting the books I’ve read before, and finally reading the newer ones!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Incredible Crime

Posted 9 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of An Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-LeighThe Incredible Crime, Lois Austen-Leigh

The Incredible Crime takes place partly in the country and partly in Oxford, and mostly follows Prudence Pinsent, the daughter of the Master of Prince’s College. She’s a rather independent and strong-minded young women who takes care of her father and clearly has it in her to kick over the traces and do something truly scandalous one day. Meeting a friend by coincidence, he ends up confiding in her that there’s a drug problem — smuggling and sale of a really dangerous new drug, both in the estate of a relative of hers, and in Oxford itself. What follows are various red herrings, entwined somewhat questionably with a romance plot that came across as really outdated and unpleasant.

Suffice it to say that Prudence’s story is not solving the mystery, not figuring things out, not remaining the smart, strong-minded person who starts out the book — her character arc is to fall in love with someone who previously didn’t attract her, and to learn to “order herself meek and lowly” towards him, and understand him to be her superior and rightful master. No, seriously! There are aspects that are quite endearing — the guy in question is rather shy and unsure of how to court her, and gladly changes himself quite significantly in terms of personal grooming in order to attract her notice and to seem suitable for her. The changing for her is less cool, but the whole attitude he takes to it is rather sweet. But the way it plays out, with her learning to be humble because he’s so much greater than she is… Meh, meh, and meh again for good measure. Let’s skip it.

The mystery itself… you mostly worry about it resolving in a way that makes any of the nicer characters being at fault, rather than having much invested in the resolution of the mystery itself. The clues are fairly scarce and superficial; it doesn’t really work for me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Snowspelled

Posted 8 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Snowspelled by Stephanie BurgisSnowspelled, Stephanie Burgis

Snowspelled is a short read, so be prepared for that going in. It opens on an invitation: Cassandra Harwood, her brother, and his wife Amy have been invited to a house party, which Cassandra’s ex-fiancé is due to attend. The story unfolds from there: it’s not quite a direct flip of the gender/power dynamics of British history, because though women rule Britain (as a body called the Boudiccate), men wield magical power… traditionally, at least. Cassandra is one of the few women who has ever mastered magic, and despite her successes at school, has failed to really make her way in the magical world. Which makes it doubly bitter that she tried to work a spell too strong for her, and nearly died in the attempt, leaving her unable to use the least magic for fear of her life.

Her ex-fiancé is naturally still a brilliant magician — and still deeply in love with her. It’s inevitable, then, that their paths immediately cross as soon as she arrives at the party, and he becomes sucked into her conundrums. And naturally she immediately gets herself into trouble through a rash promise… and this is a world where Faerie and the Boudiccate are (sometimes uneasy) allies.

I really wanted certain things to happen in this book, and they didn’t. Which is probably for the best, because the solution you want isn’t always the best story, but gaaah. I’m looking forward to reading the second book: in many ways, the novella format makes the worldbuilding rather sketched-in, so another book exploring that will be nice. And knowing it’s about Cassandra and her efforts to help other people like her find their places in the Boudiccate… well. I’m intrigued!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Uprooted

Posted 7 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted, Naomi Novik

In a peaceful valley in Polnya, Agnieszka has grown up with her best friend Kasia, knowing that all girls their age will be lined up for the magician who rules the valley, the Dragon, to choose one of them. It seems obvious that the choice will be Kasia: she’s brave, beautiful, and somehow everyone has known all along that it will be her. Needless to say, things turn out rather differently, and Agnieszka finds herself dragged off to the Dragon’s tower, there to cook, clean, and… learn magic?

Nothing goes smoothly at first: Agnieszka’s main talent in life has been getting dirty and running wild, and the Dragon’s rather rough on anything that isn’t perfect. The magic exhausts her, and the lack of freedom wearies her. And then the Dragon has to leave, and just as he does, a call for help comes from the village she was born in.

It’s Beauty and the Beast, but not as we know it, Jim.

I love the way this draws from Polish folktales, creating a setting that is a bit sideways from the usual European medieval fantasy. I enjoy Agnieszka, and the way she keeps her hope alive throughout, keeps trying. I’m not entirely sold on the Dragon, nor Agnieszka’s relationship with Sarkan. There’s almost enough to show that behind it all, he’s awkward and hindbound but still able to grow, still able to be reached by Agnieszka… but it’s just not quite enough for me to believe in him. That he’s on the right side is undoubted, that he wants to do right for right’s sake also, but whether he’s a likeable person beneath the stiff attitude… there’s only a few glimpses, and that’s not enough for me to jump right into “zomg I ship it”.

The story itself works for me, as a whole, though. Even Agnieszka’s attraction to Sarkan works for me — I’m just not quite ready to believe it’s a thing that will work. Even though I’ve read the book before, though, it pulled me right in, seduced me into the flow of the story; even though I remembered what happened, I still needed to keep reading, needed to see what the next thing would be.

I’m still not quite ready to give it five stars, but it’s close.

Rating: 4/5

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