Tag: SF/F

Review – Finna

Posted May 17, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Finna by Nino CipriFinna, Nino Cipri

Nino Cipri is one of those authors I didn’t know anything about a few months ago and then started hearing a lot about all at once, so I was very curious about Finna. It’s set in what is basically IKEA, a megastore called LitenVärld. The layout of the place is so confusing that it wears at the seams of reality, and employees (and customers) have found portals to other worlds opening — and some of those worlds are less friendly than ours. As Finna opens, Ava learns that somebody’s lovely grandmother has vanished into one of these portals… and of course, Ava has to go after her. With the help of her ex-partner, Jules, with whom she has recently broken up.

The book mostly explores a) capitalist misery caused by stores like IKEA — I mean, LitenVärld, and b) Jules and Ava’s relationship, and how they fit together, and all their faults and insecurities getting in the way of what could be a pretty cool relationship. Jules has a tendency to run away from their problems and hide their emotions; Ava has anxiety and lets all her emotions burst out all over the place. Jules is eager to go off exploring, while Ava just wants to find the customer’s grandmother and go home.

T0 say too much about so short a book might spoil it, so I won’t recount any more of the plot or the characters! (Though none of that is a spoiler: it’s obvious from the first chapter.) There are some quirky ideas about the other worlds, and I could wish for a bit longer quest story that takes us through some more worlds — but it’s obvious the focus is really Ava and Jules and how our current world really messes everyone up and is soul-sucking and boring and awful. I’ve never worked retail, but that feeling rings true to me from people who have worked retail, and some of the points about how society is set up and how capitalism can really ruin things make total sense. Jules and Ava’s feelings and messiness all ring true, too.

It’s fun, and I’m not sure the conceit would really have stretched to a long book. It ends on a note of possibility and freedom, and that works for me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Replacement Husband

Posted May 16, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Replacement Husband by Eliot GraysonThe Replacement Husband, Eliot Grayson

The Replacement Husband was an impulse read, because it was on Kindle Unlimited and I thought “why not?” It’s set in a Regency-analogue fantasy world where various gods exist and choose people to receive their blessing. Owen is one such, blessed by the goddess Mirreith: he is apparently inevitably gay, and will have to marry a man. Though he obviously cannot produce an heir, his partner is guaranteed to have a healthy heir and good fortune.

Unfortunately, in his little countryside estate, there’s very little chance of him meeting anyone anyway. At least until he takes a tumble, hits his head, and is gallantly carried home by a pair of brothers. He quickly falls for Tom, the more handsome and lively of the two — but Tom jilts him more or less at the altar by having a shotgun wedding with someone else. Tom’s brother Arthur steps in…

I wasn’t wholly enamoured of Arthur’s possessiveness and temper; provoked or not, several times he’s inches from violence, and clearly frightens Owen. He is in general a considerate partner, in fact, and takes pains to make Owen comfortable… at the same time as saying things like “say stop now or it’ll be too late”, which, ah, no. No thank you. Owen should get to say no whenever he likes, dude.

So there was some stuff about their relationship that was weird and uncomfortable, and led to me not quite believing in the sweetness of it as they settled in. However, I also did not root for Tom and his behaviour, and I find it difficult to believe that the next book is about Tom getting a happy-ever-after. I might read it if it’s on Kindle Unlimited, because I’m very curious as to how Grayson manages that — Tom makes himself extremely unlikeable — but I’m not in a hurry. Particularly since the other protagonist of the next book is apparently a complete arsehole.

In conclusion: fun enough, but not something I’d be in a hurry to read.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Posted May 12, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. HarrowThe Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow

I confidently expected to love this book. January is a temerarious girl who grows up in the home of a very rich collector, shielded by his money and position from the judgement that might arise from her coloured skin in the US at the time. Her father is away constantly, searching for things for their benefactor, so January grows up in that house, lonely and browbeaten into becoming a good girl.

The “temerarious” thing and some of the narration constantly reminded me of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making, especially with the names of the protagonists (September, January). Perhaps it’s partly that constant obvious comparison that brought it down for me; I really, really love the Fairyland books, and all their bright and wondrous cast of characters, the joys and pains of growing up and falling in love. There was a fair bit of the same here in many ways, and it just didn’t make a niche for itself in my heart in the same way.

That being said, there were things I loved; Jane is really cool, and it’s beautifully written; whenever I picked this up I crammed it into my brain in big chunks. It just didn’t quite come to life for me: when I put the book down, I didn’t feel the immediate desperate urge to pick it back up. I actually took a month to read it, even though it was so easy and quick and more-ish once I was reading it. To some extent that’s January’s rather spoilt ways: raised in privilege, she thinks she’s so much better than she is — and then I didn’t believe her transformation at the end to being able to do whatever she set her mind to! In a way, I preferred the story within the story: Adelaide and Yule Ian.

It’s enjoyable, but it’s not a favourite for me. I can’t put my finger on why not, but… here we are.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Infernal Affairs

Posted May 10, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Infernal Affairs by Jordan L. HawkInfernal Affairs, Jordan L. Hawk

I loved Widdershins, and pretty much expected to love this one because of it. And there’s quite a bit to enjoy about it, mostly involving Chess: they’re non-binary, they drive a hot pink car with a vanity plate saying NBINARY and a they/them bumper sticker, and they seduce a crossroads demon into making them a hero (leading to said demon’s disgrace in Hell, dooming them to an eternity of processing new souls as they enter Hell). They’re unashamedly themselves, all over the place, and that’s lovely.

Buuut, the humour and the sex/attraction-focused relationship didn’t quite work for me. I didn’t believe that Ralgath and Chess were that attached to each other, and I didn’t have much skin in the game when they were in peril. Everything just happened very fast, from the relationship to the plot, and… I’m not that good with humour or this style of plot. I’m sure it’s a lot more fun when you aren’t a humourless lump like me — but I’ll stick to Whyborne and Griffin, with their angst and pining and more solid plot. Sorry!

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Widdershins

Posted May 8, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Widdershins by Jordan L. HawkWiddershins, Jordan L. Hawk

I’ve been meaning to try out Jordan L. Hawk’s work for a while, partly at the urging of Portal Bookshop, and partly because I already loved K.J. Charles’ work — and this series crosses over with one of Charles’ series. If you’re a fan of K.J. Charles, this is definitely going to be for you; it has many of the same hallmarks.

Whyborne is a philologist working in a small museum who gets suckered into helping an ex-Pinkerton detective (Griffin) unravel the murder of a museum patron’s son. At first, he’s just meant to translate a coded book for the detective, but he quickly finds himself drawn in deeper — partly due to interest in the case itself, and a large part because he finds himself attracted (of course) to Griffin. Both of their pasts become absolutely key to the investigation, laying them bare to each other (in more ways than one, hurr hurr) and forging an incredible bond.

Their relationship progresses pretty fast, but it makes sense that it does: both are lonely, and Whyborne in particular has been hiding his desires and repressing everything for a long, long time. It’s also great fun to watch as he opens up and throws fears to the wind, figuring out how to stand tall in his own way. I liked the glimpse of his family (or mostly just his mother), and the slight complexity to his relationship with his father that creeps in at the end.

All in all, I’m excited to read more, really!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Grave Importance

Posted May 2, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Grave Importance by Vivian ShawGrave Importance, Vivian Shaw

Grave Importance is the final book of this trilogy, in which Greta Helsing finds herself invited to become the interim medical director of an exclusive facility in France: Oasis Natrun, the spa-and-clinic location for a particularly exclusive sort of customer… mummies! She needs to deal with delicate operations, treat ancient TB infections, and deal with pesky infestations in somebody’s mummy wrappings. Oh, and her patients are frequently experiencing a weird draining, something that makes them woozy and lacking in strength. Nope, no one has any idea.

Of course, it’s not just a medical mystery: Ruthven and Grisaille meet two strange beings in Rome, and a certain amateur enthusiast collector of Egyptian antiquities is getting younger all the time. Fass isn’t having a good time of it dealing with the Monitoring and Evaluation department… And of course, you guessed it, all these things are somehow linked.

I couldn’t believe I took so long to pick this up; once I did, it was everything I wanted. The romance between Greta and Varney remains adorable, Grisaille is the best unsuitable boyfriend, Ruthven is still everything, and I love the entire found family they’ve built up… and all the weird little touches like the fact that screaming skulls are a real thing, but they’re mostly not a problem, and a young screaming skull mostly just squeaks.

I just. I love it. I love the idea of treating medicine for monsters seriously; I love Greta’s dedication to her work; I love her bizarre found family’s shenanigans, including a heist.

Now, I didn’t quite jive with it all. I was a bit put off by the ending; I don’t want to spoiler it for anyone, but I felt like the solution to all the problems was a little… pat. In a sense, it’s been foreshadowed in the first book, if I remember rightly… but it just didn’t quite come off, for me. I like Varney, but it was all A Bit Much.

That said, I love 95% of this book, even the bits that hurt, like Greta trying to doctor angels in a makeshift demonic clinic. I could honestly start rereading this trilogy again right now and I’d be entirely happy to steam through it all in one go, without stopping. There’s something profoundly comforting in the love and caring of these books, something profoundly hopeful. Awful shit happens and people still care. Gah. It’s the best.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Steerswoman

Posted April 26, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Steerswoman, by Rosemary KirsteinThe Steerswoman, Rosemary Kirstein

The Steerswoman is the first book of a series, focusing on the explorations of a steerswoman. The steerswomen seek after knowledge wherever they go: learning about local customs, drawing maps, and passing on their knowledge. If a steerswoman asks you a question, you must answer; if you do not, they will place you under a ban, and no steerswoman will ever answer your questions again. Rowan has been a steerswoman long enough that it’s baked into her through and through, and she loves her work — even as it begins to get her into trouble, even though she doesn’t understand why.

This is a book you need to have patience with, because the details come to the reader slowly. I really enjoyed reading it at the same time as my wife and fitting together what we’d noticed (example: the gum-soled shoes that sailors and steerswomen wear!) but it’s still a little frustrating to watch Rowan’s slow progress. Readers have a bit of an advantage on Rowan, though, so it’s also fun to try to be ahead and figure out where things are going.

Rowan isn’t the only main character; the other is Bel, an Outskirter warrior who upends some of Rowan’s assumptions as she comes along for the ride. They complement each other well, and it’s fun to watch them play off each other. I wish we had more information about Bel and her motivations, though; I don’t doubt her interest in helping Rowan, but she’s gone to a lot of effort by now, and some of it before she really got to know Rowan. I’m hoping for more about her in the next book! (Which, since it’s called The Outskirter’s Secret, I suspect is exactly what will be served up.)

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Silver Chair

Posted April 26, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Silver Chair by C.S. LewisThe Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis

For whatever reason, I’ve never really liked this book. Part of it, I think, is that I often stopped with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as a kid — I couldn’t quite tell you why, except maybe that nothing could match up to how much I loved that book. When I try to be objective, I can see that it’s really no different in quality to the others… and Puddleglum is hilarious! But I persist in disliking Eustace and Jill, and I feel like Rillian is a complete non-entity.

It’s probably also that I really dislike Caspian being old and no longer really a part of things. Okay, the bit at the end helps with that, but still… I’m just not keen on the whole tone of this book: Eustace and Jill are always arguing, Puddleglum is always fatalistic, and Rillian starts off rather patronising and awful (albeit because of the spell). There’s not much of Aslan, and not much faith in Aslan. It feels like Jill in particular doesn’t really understand who he is and why she should obey him, and that changes things rather.

In the end, it’s quite possible I’m making excuses, but… still not one I enjoy, I’m afraid!

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Posted April 25, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. LewisThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

This is probably still my favourite book of the series. Lucy and Edmund get drawn back into Narnia, with the unfortunate addition of a rather odious cousin, Eustace. They’re delighted to find themselves on board ship with Caspian, sailing to the end of the world; Eustace is rather less delighted. There are various little episodic adventures as they face mysteries and horrors, searching for seven lost Narnian lords who were sent away by Caspian’s usurping uncle.

I think my favourite part is probably the island of Coriakin and the Monopods; not for all the stuff with the Monopods, really, but because of the book of spells Lucy has to read from. It sounds amazing and the smell from it sounds delicious… and there must be some really cool spells in there. I also enjoy that it gives Lucy a little more depth — instead of her faults being a little childishness, she almost gives way to jealousy and spite. I loved her as a kid, probably because I wanted to be her, and so it’s nice to find her a little more rounded than I remembered.

The stuff at the very end about the lamb and Aslan’s Country and so on was all a little much for me, after most of the rest (apart from the rescue from the Island Where Dreams Come True) felt just fantastical. I think that’s part of why I loved the book the most as a kid; it touched on some of the strangeness and beauty of Narnia. Dragons and sea-serpents and mysterious pools that turn anything to gold, oh my!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Prince Caspian

Posted April 24, 2020 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Prince Caspian by C.S. LewisPrince Caspian, C.S. Lewis

Prince Caspian follows a new hero, son of the last true king of Narnia, raised by his usurping uncle… and now struggling to the throne. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are called back from our world to help him, while Aslan is at work re-awakening dryads and bringing Old Narnia back to life. It’s always been a highlight of the series for me — perhaps because in some ways Caspian is a favourite, because he struggles to win Narnia (rather than just bringing about the victory through lion-ex-machina; alright, Peter wins a great battle, and Caspian is also ultimately aided by Aslan, but he has a difficult campaign first).

I wish Susan were treated with as much sympathy later as she is in this book; here her fears and doubts are understood, whereas in The Last Battle she’s rather dismissed. Not that I enjoy Susan, but sometimes I rather fear I would be like her: grousing and complaining while in Narnia, doubting when I’ve seen the proof before with my own eyes. Both she and Edmund are usually more believable than Peter or Lucy, who find it easy to be good and to believe in Aslan.

In any case, Prince Caspian pretty much stands up to the memories for me. The thing that’s weird to me is how full and busy these books seemed to be, whereas if I try to sketch out the timeline of each book now, woooow the resolution comes at you fast.

Rating: 4/5

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