The Dead Cat Tail AssassinsGenres: Fantasy Pages:
The Dead Cat Tail Assassins are not cats.
Nor do they have tails.
But they are most assuredly dead.
Eveen the Eviscerator is skilled, discreet, professional, and here for your most pressing needs in the ancient city of Tal Abisi. Her guild is strong, her blades are sharp, and her rules are simple. Those sworn to the Matron of Assassins—resurrected, deadly, wiped of their memories—have only three unbreakable vows.
First, the contract must be just. That’s above Eveen’s pay grade.
Second, even the most powerful assassin may only kill the contracted. Eveen’s a professional. She’s never missed her mark.
The third and the simplest: once you accept a job, you must carry it out. And if you stray? A ﬁnal death would be a mercy. When the Festival of the Clockwork King turns the city upside down, Eveen’s newest mission brings her face-to-face with a past she isn’t supposed to remember and a vow she can’t forget.
I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I was definitely excited by the appearance of P. Djèlí Clark’s new book on Netgalley: the summary was tantalising, the cover looks awesome, and I was quickly intrigued by the world once I started reading. I don’t know quite why it didn’t work for me — it may be as simple as it being the wrong time, but somehow I just didn’t get properly sucked in, and the pace didn’t feel quite right.
Objectively, because I feel safest there while I can’t put my finger on what’s up, the world-building is really cool. There’s a whole bustling city of which we see glimpses, rather than a city that comes to life only for the characters to run through it; there are characters busy getting on with their lives in ways that aren’t fully explored and thus leave tantalising things to wonder about; there’s the whole concept of Eveen’s unlife, and how she ended up where she is. The ending isn’t too neat: possibilities remain, and the characters’ lives (or unlives) go on.
The climactic scenes are really cool, and I think I’d like to see more of the world, if Clark writes any other books in this setting. I don’t know why I struggled with this one, why I kept stopping and starting; if the premise entices you, I’d give it a go.
A Master of Djinn, P. Djèlí Clark
A Master of Djinn takes the threads from the novellas in this world — primarily A Dead Djinn in Cairo, but also the world-building and some characters from The Haunting of Tram Car 015 — and pulls them together into a full-length novel, with Agent Fatma as the lead. If you haven’t read those novellas, I’d strongly suggest doing so first: I suspect there are enough details here to let you jump in, but the novellas provide a lot of context (e.g. the Clock of Worlds, what exactly Fatma does, why the world is the way it is).
Clark seems to love writing female characters who have strong opinions and their own way of approaching the world: the central three female characters are each quite different, though driven and capable. Hadia is not a carbon copy of Fatma, despite their shared profession, and nor is she the wilting flower that Fatma originally expects — and Siti’s something else entirely. I found the female characters a joy here, to be honest, though I’d like to see more of Hadia and her weak points as well as all her surprising strengths.
As far as the antagonist goes, I called it well before the characters did, though in part that’s being outside the narrative and knowing how mysteries are structured. I was glad that Fatma realised a particular aspect of it before the story actually revealed it, because it would’ve felt weird if she wasn’t sharp enough to see that when I had realised it.
I found it really satisfying that this book pulled together the threads from the novellas, while creating a whole new story that revealed more of the world. It’s a book I may well come back to, as I did the novellas.
Sorry I missed last week, folks! It was a heckuva week, for sure. Anyway, this week is a bit like a scavenger hunt for me, because I’m not sure I can actually think of books I like with colours in their titles… so I’m going to survey my shelves for whatever I can find.
- Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston. I haven’t read this one, and I really really want to.
- The Silver Branch, by Rosemary Sutcliff. This I have read, of course, though I wish I could find the editions I had as a kid. I read ’em to pieces, though The Eagle of the Ninth was my favourite.
- The Boy in the Red Dress, by Kristin Lambert. A recent acquisition, so one I haven’t read yet. It looks so fun, though!
- Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James. I haven’t read it yet, and I’m not entirely sure it’s going to be my thing based on reviews… but I’m eager to give it a go.
- Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse. Okay, this is actually on my wishlist and not on my shelves because it’s not out yet.
- All Systems Red, by Martha Wells. Oh, Murderbot. <3
- Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord. I’ve been meaning to reread this, I remember loving it but not much about it.
- The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark. Loved this novella so much!
- The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle. I was less of a fan of this Lovecraft retelling, but it kinda sticks in my head!
- A Pale Light in the Black, by K.B. Wagers. Another one that’s on my TBR but which I haven’t read yet…
As you can see, I have a TBR problem, insofar as that can be considered a problem!
How’d everyone else do with the scavenger hunt? Or could you think of enough books with colours in the title that you could pick out your favourites? I’m looking forward to seeing all the obvious ones I’ve missed…
Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 13th October 2020
I’ve pretty much had Clark on my “must-read” list since I picked up The Black God’s Drums, but I was less sure about reading this one. I wasn’t sure about the idea of the Ku Klux Klan being literal monsters: it seemed a bit unsubtle? And I don’t know much about the Ku Klux Klan beyond the very basics, and I just don’t have that deeply American background where they’re a part of my story. That said, I’m gathering that a lot of (white) Americans don’t either, and I don’t normally let a lack of context stop me! Just I’m not always sure what’s really clever and what actually happened, when books blend reality and fantasy like this, and I was worried it’d matter particularly with a book like this, grounded in the pain of Black people and the real horror of history.
I’ll admit, I’m still not entirely sure the literal monsters worked for me. I stayed a bit too conscious of how apropos it is, almost to being a cliché… But laying that aside, it was a quick read, albeit a challenging one: trying to parse the Gullah dialogue kept me busy, especially since I’m not actually good at sounding out what I read, and the dialogue sometimes gave me pause at first. I think it’s probably a good thing I read it in one go, because it gave me a chance to get into the swing of the dialect!
The horror is genuinely horrifying, and I quickly got fond of Maryse and (mostly) Chef. I can’t say any of the twists of the story really surprised me, but they unfolded in such a way that they felt like the only natural way for things to go — not that they felt forced, but that it all flowed from one decision to another. I loved the quoted bits about ring shouts, which illuminated the story and gave me the background I needed… while teaching me a bit of history that I didn’t know about at all.
I can’t say I liked it as much as The Black God’s Drums, but it might stick with me more in terms of the story and images (there’s some really gory bits). I’m not quite sure how to rate it, being honest: my first instinct is three stars, but other aspects (including a worry that I just don’t “get it”) make me want to bump it up… and reading other people’s reviews and what they pick out (particularly the use of folklore, including the shouts) I think that’s more than fair. I’m just a wuss and still cringing at some of those descriptions!
It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!
What are you currently reading?
Fiction: The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu. I was warned by friends who found it really slow that I might not like it… well, I’m not sure about the liking it or not, but I’m definitely not finding it too slow. I haven’t read for a day or two because I wasn’t feeling like it, but I’ve been reading it in chunks whenever I do.
Non-fiction: The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries, by Donald R. Prothero, which the library ordered for me in ebook on my request. It would probably be better in pbook format because it’s got a lot of pictures, but it’s not so bad in ebook; I’m glad I’m reading it, but also glad I didn’t buy it for £27! It’s nothing I haven’t read before, but it’s always fun to spend some time with dinosaurs.
What have you recently finished reading?
Uhhh, interesting question. Oh: Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark. I’m still thinking this one over. I found the idea of members of the Ku Klux Klan being literal monsters a bit… simplistic? That’s not quite the word I want. Obvious? And I never wholly warmed to it, though I appreciated a lot of aspects of the novella. I want to read around some other reviews and see if they help it click into place for me, before I write my review. (And of course Tor used to say not to post a review until two weeks before publication; I still stick to that, though most bloggers don’t… I’m auto-approved on Netgalley, though, so I don’t see that approval message anymore.)
What will you be reading next?
Still Ninth House, most likely; I’m also eyeing The Lost Boys, by Gina Perry — I was eager to read it anyway, and now it fits a book club prompt (as a book in the 300s in the Dewey Decimal System). I loved Perry’s book on Stanley Milgram’s experiments, and it looks like she’s done much the same here with pulling apart Sherif Muzafer’s experiments a bit and examining how they tick and where they go wrong.
So what are you reading at the moment?