Review – Dreamer’s Pool

Posted 14 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 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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Weekly Roundup

Posted 11 May, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

How’s it been another week already?! Yet, here we are… It’s felt like a busy week, I’m not sure how much reading I even got done. I guess we’ll find out as I write this post!

Books acquired:

Cover of Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Books read this week:

Cover of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse Cover of Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

Reviews posted:

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, by K.J. Parker. I ended up entirely on the fence about this on just about every point. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t love it. 3/5 stars
Inheritors of the Earth, by Chris D. Thomas. I found myself in agreement with so much of this. Smart, hopeful, and unexpected. 4/5 stars
In An Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire. On one level this really stuck with me — am I giving fair value? But at the same time I felt like there was a distance that got in my way. 3/5 stars
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. Sat down and just steamed through rereading this, though I still have some reservations! 4/5 stars
Snowspelled, by Stephanie Burgis. A short bit of fun with an interesting world we barely get to glimpse! 3/5 stars
The Incredible Crime, by Lois Austen-Leigh. Meehhhh. Horrible romance plot and not that fascinating a mystery. 2/5 stars
Magic Bites, by Ilona Andrews. A very fun reread. I do enjoy the worldbuilding a lot. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Trail of Lightning Readalong. My thoughts on the first week of questions!
WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

By the way, if anyone wants to hang out on a site that’s a bit like Twitter for books, a bit more like Instagram solely for books, Litsy’s now on the web as well as on mobile! Find me here!

How’s everyone doing? Busy week? Dead tired? Good book? Let me know!

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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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WWW Wednesday

Posted 8 May, 2019 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet MarillierWell, it’s mid-Wyrd and Wonder and I’ve been reading up a small storm, so right at this second I’m partway through Dreamer’s Pool (Juliet Marillier), for that. I forgot I kind of found Oran’s story a bit embarrassment squicky, so I kinda stalled for a day or two, so I should get back to it.

Other than that, I am reading at least two other books currently. One is A Short History of Europe, by Simon Jenkins. It really is short; it’s an absolute whistle-stop tour of history, pausing at the most obvious moments before tearing on again. It’s not bad, but I might not finish it if it weren’t for a reading challenge. The other is J.S. Weiner’s The Piltdown Forgery, which is about how Weiner, Le Gros Clark and Oakley figured out the Piltdown Man forgery. It’s pretty fascinating, because the forgery seems so obvious now, but it was those three who figured it out when most others were credulous.

Cover of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseWhat have you recently finished reading?

The last thing I finished was Snowspelled, and before that Trail of Lightning. I want to read the second book for both! Which is lucky, since Storm of Locusts just arrived in the post for me today, and I can’t see any reason not to get Thornbound as well. Trail of Lightning… I had some doubts, but I’m still interested in the world. Snowspelled is sweet, and I want to know what happens, though I’m a little mad about… well, I shan’t spoiler. (I’m not mad at the author, I should clarify. I’m mad at the book for not turning out the way I wanted.)

Cover of Spinning Silver by Naomi NovikWhat will you be reading next?

Pretty sure it’ll be Spinning Silver; it’s the most contrary thing to read on the bingo card I’ve got, so naturally I’ll be drawn to it. Also contrary because I was waiting for the paperback, I even have a preorder of the paperback, so it’d be totally natural and normal for me to go ahead and read the eARC I got way back when now, because… why not?

What are you reading? What’s next on your stack?

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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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Review – In An Absent Dream

Posted 6 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuireIn An Absent Dream, Seanan McGuire

Received to review via Netgalley

I know, I know. I’m late.

In this installment from the Wayward Children universe, we learn more about Lundy’s past, only briefly glimpsed before. We see her finding her door as a child, and we watch her learning the rules of the world she stumbles into: a world strongly based on fairness and trading. A Goblin Market, of sorts (though it’s not quite a retelling of Christina Rossetti’s poem, in quite a few ways). There’s something rather distant and fairytale-ish about the tone in this one, something that reminds me more of Cat Valente’s knowing narrator from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland than the other Wayward Children novellas. I’m not certain I liked that; I felt like I never really got to know Lundy, as herself, because I was always being told what to think about her.

The world is fascinating, of course; I found myself pondering whether I’m giving fair value or not in all sorts of ways, which is a rather interesting way to think. But… not quite sold on Lundy’s world or her story. The ending, leading up to her decision, felt a little rushed, and was one of the parts where it felt most like we were being told about things rather than shown them (which is not always bad writing, there’s definitely a place for it, but didn’t work for me here). That happens at the end of each section of the book, really, and it feels like being cheated of half the story (although I know the adventure parts aren’t the point).

It’s not a bad story, but definitely not my favourite.

Rating: 3/5

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Readalong – Trail of Lightning

Posted 5 May, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

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

First up, let’s talk about the setting/worldbuilding. What are your first impressions of where/when the story begins?

On to the cast of characters! We get a fairly no-holds-barred introduction to Maggie Hoskie, and some interesting interactions between her and other key characters (or so they seem). What do you think of her, and of Kai and Grandpa Tah?

The plot’s afoot … Perhaps just barely, but still. Any thoughts/suspicions/predictions? Or are you content to be taken along for the ride?

First impressions: I knew about the setting already, and I’ve already read on beyond the eight chapters, so the setting is pretty clear to me. We’re a few years post-inundation, caused by anthropogenic climate change, and in Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation. Here people survive — exclusively or at least largely Native American people — and so do their gods and legends, now walking abroad in the same world. On a scientific level, not sure if the speed of the inundation sounds right — or on a geographical/meteorological level, not sure about the fact that Dinétah is now in drought* — but we’re in a world of magic anyway, so I’m not gonna worry about that.

*It sounds ironic, but even in a world with a huge rise in water level, there can definitely be arid areas. One way would be if there’s mountains all around. Clouds would form over the water and any waterlogged land, but the clouds would get pushed up on reaching the mountains. The air at altitude is less able to hold moisture, so the water would condense as the clouds got pushed up, and rain would fall over the mountains. Get you some mountains high enough and all the rain will be lost on the water-ward side, leaving none for the land beyond the mountains, and potentially none to even run down on that side of the mountain range. Mountains on one side, long stretches of flat dry land on the other, and you can see how somewhere can end up with few clouds and little water, post-inundation. I’ve no idea if that works, geographically, because I suck at understanding maps, but I have seen a review complaining that the drought conditions in Dinétah aren’t possible post-inundation, and I think they are, so you get my thought dump about that!

Maggie Hoskie: She’s the sort of tough urban fantasy protagonist you’d expect; shades of Kate Daniels and October Daye and a dozen other leading ladies in fantasy. Oh no, she has a dark side. Oh no, she has a killing rage. It’s kind of typical — which is not necessarily a turn-off, but neither is she striking me as particularly special. Except of course in being Diné, which is pretty cool in this world of fairly homogenous white heroines, and because the story and her skills are based on Native American traditions and stories.

Kai Arviso: Has obvious secrets, probably clan-powers, or he’s not quite human. I don’t feel like we know anything about him yet, and we’re supposed to be misjudging/underestimating him, so. As a reader I find that set-up somewhat annoying and refuse to be drawn into speculating; I’ll see when it happens.

Grandpa Tah: Old man with a love of gossip and meddling, and a twinkle in his eye; also fairly non-surprising as a character type.

That sounds like I’m not enjoying it, re: the characters being fairly typical, but that’s not it. There’s plenty to enjoy about a tough bloodthirsty female protagonist, a mysterious dandy and an old man with a twinkle in his eye, it’s just not surprising. 

Thoughts/suspicions/predictions: I predict I’m… going to read ahead of the readalong, knowing myself, but hopefully I’ll be able to keep participating in the discussions sensibly and without spoilering anyone. Obviously we’re going to have more encounters with Neizghání, either actual encounters or we could just as well be strung along the whole book in his footsteps without seeing him. I think a knowledge of Diné stories and mythology might make a lot of this more obvious; makes me wonder if it’s more fun if you do know the mythology or if you don’t.

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