Valor’s Choice (Confederation #1) by Tanya Huff

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: March 17 to 25, 2019

Initial impression upon first finishing the book: 
A rollicking good read, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would considering this is military sci-fi that’s light on the sci-fi and heavy on the military.

After a quick reread:
My initial impression still stands. This was a surprisingly enjoyable read, although that will never not be weird to say about military fiction (even in genre). Another point in this book’s favor is it’s the beginning of a new series that looks like it could be really good, if the first book is any indication, and I’m looking forward to diving in further.

Tanya Huff is a new author for me, one I’ve been meaning to read for years now, just never had the chance. She’s favorite among my circle of friends, and now that I’ve read one of her books, I can see why.

Her prose is exacting, to the point, and she doesn’t waste space summing up things for you nor does she dwell too long on sentimentality. She strikes a balance between the physicality of war and the emotional toll it takes on troops on the ground, and between the personal and the political. I think it’s just right for this kind of story where the balance of deftness and a delicate hand is required.

That aside, the tone is actually neither heavy-handed or maudlin as one might expect from military fiction. There’s a lot of humor, bantering, and camaraderie, even in the face of peril. And all of it feels authentic. As a matter of fact, this whole book feels authentic, if you don’t count the space ships and lizard people.

Every military organization needed heroes; tragic heroes if they were the only type available.

The book kicks off by dropping you into the beginning of a new mission.

The marines of Sh’quo Company have recently returned from a mission in which they suffered a great deal and lost a number of their own. They’re currently on temporary leave at the start of the book. However, that doesn’t last long as they get called to another mission. Not to another battlefield this time, but to a meeting of diplomats. The company is to escort a group of ambassadors to a new planet, Silsvah, that the Confederation (hegemony) is looking to bring into its circle.

Along with the order, the company also receives a new commanding officer, Second Lieutenant Jarrat, to replace their recently deceased lieutenant. The new guy is good with diplomacy, but has zero field experience. He’s basically custom-fit for this job, whereas the company, being a group of rowdy marines with the exception of their sargents, are not.

Weird to call in battle-weary troops to be diplomatic escorts, yeah? That’s what they thought as well. But an order is an order and they might as well see the new planet and meet its apex predators, the Silsviss, while they’re at it.

The catch is–of course there’s a catch–the new planet is inhabited by a less advanced, rather primitive race of warmongering lizard people who are undecided about the Confederation and aren’t easily impressed by its fancy techs. These people require a show of might before they agree to anything the Confederation has planned.

What initially starts as an assignment to babysit a bunch of diplomats for a few weeks on a foreign planet turns into a siege and a series of skirmishes in the middle of a desert swamp in which the company is outnumbered by hundreds of Silsviss. It’s a grueling fight, but in the end, tech wins out, even at the expense of the people using it.

“We find it strange,” the ambassador murmured, almost to herself, “how a species can be able to make such a sacrifice one moment and can kill another sentient being the next. This mix of caring and violence is most confusing–it must be a factor of bisymmetrical species.”

[…]

It was by no means a truism that insight into a species could be gained by wholesale slaughter, but Torin was willing to bet that, right at this particular point in time, no one in the Confederation knew the Silsviss as well as she did.

In the midst of all this is Staff Sargent Torin Kerr, the backbone of the company, main POV character, and someone who grew on me. She’s got the weight of the whole universe on her, and I couldn’t help but feel for her and the burden she lugs around. She’s got a platoon to keep in line, a young officer to back up (who looks to her for confirmation), and of course, diplomats to keep alive.

“It’s all right,” [Jarrat] said after a long moment. “I understand where it’s coming from.”

It had come from places he’s never been, from battles he’s never fought. Torin turned, ready to challenge his assumptions, but his profile–carved out of the morning, too tight, too unmoving to be flesh–convinced her to hold her tongue. He couldn’t understand it all, not at his age, not his first time out, but, unfortunately, he was on his way.

All good stuff, but I have just one quibble. I always imagined the future of warfare to have more drones and fewer or no boots on the ground. The battle scene described in this book, while very well portrayed, is not unlike any battlefield from the last century, which is a little off-putting for me simply because, if humanity ever manages space travel and forms coalitions with alien lifeforms, would face-to-face combat still be a necessity? Wouldn’t there be a more efficient way to eliminate a threat on a large scale?

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The Bones Beneath My Skin by TJ Klune

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: March 11 to 15, 2019

I will sum up this book the way it was recommended to me: like an X-Files story on a road trip minus the FBI.

Didn’t know much about either the author or the book itself, but I was intrigued by that pitch and anything inspired by the X-Files was and will always be a point of interest for me.

So I went into this book not knowing much about it, which wasn’t that hard as the blurb barely touches on the actual plot, and that’s the best way to approach it. Go in unaware and let the story slowly reveal itself to you. It’s worth the experience. The characters are endearing and their journey, unforgettable.

This book has everything–well, almost everything. Big government secrets, fugitives on the run, botched cover-ups, road trips, first contact, crazy cults, a love story, and a comet shooting across the sky. None of which makes any sense until you start reading.

This book is so much more than the sum of its parts, so much more than what I initially thought it was. It’s a journey, it’s an experience, it’s a new way of looking at the world and it makes you want to believe.

The thing that will stay with me long after I finish reading is the humor. I didn’t expect such a somber, sobering novel to have so many laugh-out-loud moments embedded within the text.

It took awhile to suck me in, over 30%, but once I was in it, I found myself unable to put it down. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to finish in one sitting because you have to know how it ends, but at the same time, you don’t want it to end.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.

So a rough sketch of the premise is:

The year is 1995 and a comet is making its way across the sky, inspiring a bunch of conspiracy theories about extraterrestrials, Roswell, and what the government is keeping from the people.

Nate Cartwright, who just lost his dream job as a journalist for the Washington Post, gets a call from his estranged brother letting him know that their parents, who were also estranged from Nate, have died. His father has left him an old pickup truck and his mother, a cabin in the woods of Oregon.

So Nate, adrift and grieving and angry, leaves his life in DC behind and heads for the cabin in the woods with the intention of taking some time off to gather his thoughts and figure out his next career move. Once there, though, he finds two squatters in the cabin. Alex, a gruff ex-military guy with a huge chip on his shoulder, and with him, Art, a little girl about ten years old and very precocious but not so as to be annoying.

It’s a weird situation and a surreal experience, so weird and surreal that Nate couldn’t help but get pulled into it. He lets them stay in the cabin and slowly become entangled in their lives. Once trouble, in the form of secret government agents, catches up to them, they all go on the run. The journey takes them from the Pacific Northwest all the way to the East Coast; it’s quite delightful, given the circumstances.

On this cross-country road trip, Nate finds out who and what Art really is. Then, he learns of Alex’s connection to her, and Nate’s mind gets sufficiently blown by all these back-to-back revelations. Again, it’s really funny.

“Don’t drive away,” Art said, eyes wide as she stared at Nate. “If you do, there is nowhere you can run where I couldn’t find you.”

Nate gaped at her.

“Knock it off,” Alex said, cuffing the back of her head.

“I was just kidding!”

“Does it he look like he knows that?”

“It’s not my fault Nate’s mind is being expanded in ways he never expected.”

[…]

“What’s that look on your face?” Art asked. “Is that what sheer terror looks like? I mean, yesterday you looked scared because of the guns and the helicopters, but this certainly isn’t that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone look so white before.”

In the course of the road trip, Nate and Alex also grow closer, like two lost souls recognizing in each other a familiar sense of loneliness. It’s very sweet watching these two get to know each other, and I’m glad they got their happily ever after.

“Does that mean you like me?” Nate wondered aloud, as if Alex wasn’t capable of reaching over and strangling him with one hand. “Because I think that means you like me. At least a little bit.”

“Absolutely not,” Alex retorted. “I don’t like anything about you.”

“Well, that’s certainly not true. You seemed to like how I look in the morning when i drink coffee. Saw that image a couple of times.”

My only quibble with this story is Nate’s reluctance to get on board with the situation he’s found himself in. It takes too long for him to accept the reality that there are [*mumbling spoilers*] out there. I mean, he’s a journalist in DC before this road trip, so he should have been used to uncovering outlandish stories and been quicker on the uptake. But at least he got in the end.

“You make yourselves a home out of nothing. Out of a place where one should not exist. You carried each other until your knees gave out and you stumbled. It’s always impossible to understand. None of us could get that. not until they felt a heart beating in a chest like I have. Not until I felt the bones beneath my skin. We’re not alike. Not really. We’re separated by time and space. And yet, somehow, we’re all made of dust and stars. I think we’d forgotten that. And I don’t know if you ever knew that to begin with. How can you be alone when we’re all the same?”

[…]

And strangely, somehow [Nate] was okay with it. He was okay with all of it. He’d been lonely. He’d been sad. But he’s found a purpose. He’s found a reason. Two, in fact. If he died right here, right now, there was a very real possibility that he’d done something good. That his life had mattered. That he’d loved and been loved in return.

[…]

[Nate] thought they were getting close to an ending, one the precipice of a new beginning. It didn’t matter. Home didn’t always have to be a place. Home could be a person too.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the way in which it took me on a transformative journey along with the characters from start to finish. Like the them, I actually felt like I became a different person by the end of the book.

Wild Country (The World of the Others #2) by Anne Bishop

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: March 5 to 9, 2019

Initial reaction:

Not good and yet I’m looking forward to the next book. It’s complicated… not this series, but the reason I’m drawn to it and keep on returning to it even though it just isn’t good.

More on this later, when I sort it out.

* * * * *

Now that I’ve had a few days to sort it out, I’ve come to the conclusion that my attachment to these books is quite simple, really. I only like one thing and that one thing is karmic retribution, and this series has it in strides. By the end of each book, you are guaranteed a bloody, satisfying ending in which decency comes out on top and evil doers get what they deserve–eaten, as nature and the universe intended. Many of them die in horrific ways and all of them are satisfying on a very basic level.

There are no complexities here. You never have to worry about nuance or depth or lack of depth or shades of gray or moral ambiguity or finding yourself in a tough spot when you’re reading. You’re relieved of the burden of having to figure out where you stand on questionable things because “good” and “evil” are clear cut and defined in ways that leave no room for discussion. If one happens to get eaten by nature, then one definitely had it coming because nature is never wrong. Simple as that.

That’s too basic for what I normally like in my fiction, but I put up with it here because the ways in which the revenge-by-nature or nature-with-a-vengeance arc is played out is so satisfying. It fills a void that other, better written, more dubious fiction don’t or can’t.

I mean, where in fiction do violent, openly racist (specie-ist?) characters consistently get what they deserve (eaten)?

The moment a shady character shows up on the page causing trouble, you know that character will suffer and die by the end of the book. It’s only a matter of how and how bloody it will be. Mauled by wolves? Mauled by bears? Mauled by panthers? Drained by vampires, pecked by crows, harvested by a harvestor or–everyone’s personal favorite–torn to pieces by an elder and left for scavengers?

However they die, they die for good. It’s kind of ghoulish, but in a fun way.

I made the mistake of calling this series “cozy” and a friend read Written in Red (#1) on my recommendation thinking it’s an actual cozy like a cozy mystery. She came back, just kind of stared at me, and then said, “I don’t think you know what ‘cozy’ means.”

Me: *scoffing* “Of course I do.” [I didn’t, apparently.]

Bewildered friend: “People get ripped apart and eaten in this book. In just the first few chapters!”

Me: “And they deserved it.” *failing to see what the issue was here*

BF: “That’s not cozy. That’s not what cozy is.”

Me: *narrowing eyes* “But it should be, yeah?”

BF: “NO.”

And then the discussion veered off into what was and wasn’t cozy and how I should read actual cozies to see what they’re like.

Me: “Do bad people get devoured in cozy books?”

BF: “Nope.”

Me: “Then they’re not very cozy, are they?”

BF: *showing signs of mental hair pulling*

I did end up trying a few categorically cozy mysteries to see what they’re like as the friend requested. And? They’re fine, just not for me. Too tamed and not enough wholesale devouring for my taste (puns maybe intended).

This series is kind of difficult to sum up using existing paranormal books and series as examples or descriptions because it’s in a class of its own. However, if you’ve read one book, you’ve pretty much read them all.

* * * * *

Okay, now onto this book.

It takes place in the town of Bennett, where a wolf pack was massacred in by humans in an attempted land grab and where the apocalypse officially “kicked off.” The story opens after the apocalyptic events of Marked in Flesh (#4) and the timeline runs parallel to Etched in Bone (#5). It runs up to Meg’s kidnapping and recovery and then breaks off to deal with trouble brewing within the town.

Bennett is right in the middle of the wild county. There’s a small farming village close by, but the land is extremely isolated from the rest of the human population and the elders live just on the other side of the invisible border. A group of sanguinati led by Tolya and two wolves, Virgil and Kane who are the only survivors of the slain pack, take on the difficult task of resettling the town by gradually letting select humans come in to work for them.

Most of the people they let in are skilled, hardworking people who really need the jobs and a fresh start. But then there’s the Blackstone clan who are a family of intuit swindlers and grifters; they’re looking for a fresh start as well, but they’re not inclined to share the town. They head to Bennett thinking they could case the area and then push out the Others for control of the town, with the idea of turning it into a paradise for more people like them.

Things… don’t go as planned. Lots of people and Others are killed. The ending is a bloodbath, literally, though not as intense as the ones in previous books. The plotting could have been tighter to ratchet up the tension, about 200 pages could have been cut to quicken the pace, and a couple of the minor character-centric subplots could have been discarded to keep the focus on the action leading up to the showdown between the Blackstones and the Others.

Some familiar characters are back: Jesse Walker and her son Tobias, both intuits from the farming village; Barbara Ellen, assistant vet and Micheal Debaney’s sister; John Wolfgard from the Lakeside bookstore.

Lots of new characters are introduced: Jana, the first and only female cop in this whole world (no joke); Abigail, another intuit who can “read” gemstones and a former Blackstone; Joshua Painter, an orphan raised by panthers; Saul Panthergard, one of Joshua’s adoptive relatives; the Gott family; the Hua-Stone family; Scythe, a harvestor (like Tess).

This is the first book in which we get a sex scene between a human and an Other (sanguinati). The pairing is an interesting one. The characters have a working relationship prior to getting together, and much to my surprise, there’s no awkwardness between them afterward.

This is also the first book in which we get to see a same-sex relationship. It’s never been mentioned before, not even briefly, so I just thought it was the author’s choice to not take on subject matter she wasn’t comfortable writing. But here in this book, we see a gay couple who have adopted 4 children, 3 Others and a blood prophet (unbeknownst to them), and are looking to start a new life together in the wild country, far away from judgmental humans. (Yes… even in the post-apocalypse… *long suffering sigh*)

What’s interesting about this development is it’s some of the humans, not the Others, who take issue with same-sex relationships, although they don’t voice their objection as Bennett is an Other-controlled town. The Others are actually fine with the 2 dads and their 4 kids. They only make a fuss at first because one of the kids is a young, untrained blood prophet and they thought the couple stole the kids.

Another first for the series is having a minor character with Down Syndrome, but since she’s not a POV character (yet?), we only get to read about what the main characters think and say about her. Once they make the connection between her and Skippy (back at Meg’s office in Lakeside), the Wolves look after her as one of their own.

One last first for the series: first female cop. Jana is the first woman to graduate from the police academy and become the first female police officer ever, but she can’t get hired in any human-controlled areas because, you know, sexism and misogyny. She has to go all the way out to the wild country if she wants a job. This is a world that’s vaguely technologically advanced–there are cell phones and internet–and yet Jana is the first woman to become a cop in the history of humanity. (*long suffering sigh to the power of infinity*)

And that pretty much wraps up this book.

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)

Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: February 17 to 24, 2019

You know how there are books you have a feeling are not quite for you but you read them anyway to make sure? That’s this book for me. Young protagonists and their youthful points of view don’t do anything for me; that’s why I stay away from most YA. I’ve read enough to know that I’m outside of its reach.

But here’s where it gets tricky. This book and others like it like The Invisible Library, Sorcerer to the Crown, and a few others, aren’t YA according to their authors, but they read like YA (to me). They straddle that fine line between YA and adult fantasy, and it’s hard to tell what they are and even harder to tell whether or not you’ll like them. Better to err on the side of caution and avoid them altogether or take a chance because you never know until you try? It’s always the latter for me.

So I had to try even though I sort of knew I’d have a hard time finishing this book. In fact, I thought about abandoning it several times during the read, but in the end, I decided to go with the audio and let it do most of the work.

The premise is there are four dimensions and in each there exists a city called London—I have no idea why, just roll with it—and all the Londons are both unique and similar to each other in various ways. There’s Gray London (aka our London, the non-magical London), Red London (magical and vibrant), White London (magical and deadly), and Black London (magical and lost). The ruling houses of each London know of the other Londons, but the majority of the people don’t. Only a rare kind of magic users called antari can travel from one London to another—again, I have no idea why or what the point of it is. It seems delivering letters and smuggling trinkets from one London to another is their main purpose. The rest of the book doesn’t delve into the why of it; things just are the way they are, and the antari can walk between worlds.

Kell tipped his head so that his copper hair tumbled out of his eyes, revealing not only the crisp blue of the left one but the solid black of the right. A black that ran edge to edge, filling white and iris both. There was nothing human about that eye. It was pure magic. The mark of a blood magician. Of an Antari.

[…]

The people of London—and of the country beyond—loved their prince [Rhy]. And why shouldn’t they? He was young and handsome and kind. Perhaps he played the part of rake too often and too well, but behind the charismatic smile and the flirtatious air was a sharp mind and a good intent, the desire to make everyone around him happy. He had little gift for magic—and even less focus for it—but what he lacked in power he more than made up for in charm.

[…]

Lila was nineteen.
Nineteen, and every one of the years felt carved into her. She poked at the skin under her eyes, tugged at her cheeks, ran a finger along her lips. It had been a long time since anyone had called her pretty.

The first half of the book is all about scene-setting and world-building and character introductions, and the plot doesn’t kick off until halfway through the book. Doesn’t go smoothly though. There are quite a few glaring plot holes that are hastily patched up with magic.

I was going to dig further into the story, but that seems unnecessary at this point because I’m clearly not the target audience and it’s clearly not the kind of fantasy that moves me. Going further into that just seems unnecessarily mean. So I’ll stop here.

The Queen’s Gambit (Rogue Queen #1) by Jessie Mihalik

The Queen's Gambit (Rogue Queen, #1)

Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: January 19 to February 19, 2019

This novella is fine for a short, self-published sci-fi romance that’s light on the romance and heavy on the shooting. A bit like a direct-to-video version of Star Wars, which could be fun when you’re in the mood for it. The prose, however, is too clunky and awkward in too many places for me, and the ending felt too abrupt. Also, I don’t get the whole kings and queens in outer space either.

But the biggest hurdle for me was the awkwardness. There were too many times during the read that the writing reminded me that it needed an editor’s touch. But overall, this was a fast, jaunty read–a good way to kill an hour or two. Took me a whole month to finish because I was reading it in between a few other books, otherwise I would have been done weeks ago.

An example of the awkwardness

I wore a stretchy black stealth suit that would help me slip past any perimeter security that Jax missed. My braided black hair disappeared in the dark and most of my light brown skin was hidden by the stealth suit. My uncovered face would be visible in low light, but it was a liability I had learned to mitigate because I hated camouflage paint. Soft leather boots hugged my calves and protected my feet but kept my footsteps light. A belt around my waist secured a holstered electroshock pistol, an extra magazine of stun rounds, and a sheathed ceramic knife. I would’ve preferred more weapons, but tonight I traveled light in the name of stealth.

The rest of the novella gets a little better with each chapter, but there are moments like this passage sprinkled throughout.

I was looking forward to Jessie Mihalik’s first traditionally published novel, another space opera romance adventure called Polaris Rising, but after reading this little story, my interest in the other one is waning.

Diamond Fire (Hidden Legacy #3.5) by Ilona Andrews

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: February 15 to 17, 2019

This one surprised me with how good it was, and I enjoyed the read quite a bit. Didn’t like or finish the trilogy (Hidden Legacy) it spun off from though. So I went in not expecting much.

The premise is, in the days leading up to Kate and Curran’s wedding… *ahem*… Not-Kate and Not-Curran’s wedding, chaos ensues when a bunch of wedding-related things go awry. An heirloom tiara goes missing, the caterer’s shop is sabotaged, the cake is poisoned, and someone or maybe multiple someones on the groom’s side is / are behind it.

There’s a new protagonist and she’s Not-Kate’s younger sister, Catalina, who is a quiet, wall-flower kind of gal. She’s tasked with the tiara job by Not-Curran’s mother at the beginning of the book, but then during the investigation, she uncovers a bunch of things about that side of the family, and it’s an interesting read. And much to my surprise, I found myself liking Catalina’s voice and POV a lot more than her sister’s. IMO she’s the better investigator.

So now I’m thinking maybe I don’t actually hate this series; I just didn’t care for the former leads. Will have to read the next book of Catalina’s to be sure.

Combined review of Burn for Me and White Hot.

DNF the third book, Wildfire, in the DNF, Vol. 2 blog post.

Warrior’s Woman (Ly-San-Ter Family #1) by Johanna Lindsey

Image result for warrior's woman johanna lindsey

Rating: ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: 2005 or 2006

Oh, this book… totally forgot I read it, and for good reason too.

My first reaction upon finishing was the fuck did I just read and then it was followed by how did I even finish.

I distinctly remember there were two factors that saved this book from a DNF:
1) it was a page turner in that sickly “car crash on the side of the road” way,
2) I was stuck at an airport waiting for a connecting flight home.
(I do my best reading at airports and while trapped inside during snowstorms obviously…)

The premise, if I remember correctly, is an officer, from a technologically advanced world currently in the middle of a civil war, crash lands her ship on a backwater, primitive planet where the population has barely advanced past the bronze age. So a battle of the sexes; so far so good. It’s a place where men are men and women are property (and everyone is heterosexual), and so she gets captured by a warlord and brought back to his stronghold as a prisoner. Sure, okay, moving on.

For a woman from an advanced society where there’s equal rights and few gender barriers, she gets the shock of her life. YIKES.

I think in the end she somehow manages to get back to her own world, end the civil war with the warlord’s help, and they live happily ever after, but I’ve forgotten how. Pretty sure it was face-palm-y though.

The next book in the series is about the couple’s daughter having an adventure of her own similar to her mother’s so I guess they also somehow manage to stay together and establish a connection between their worlds. Needless to say, I did not continue reading this series.

But this book… by itself… was really something. I would not have remembered reading it if it hadn’t been for Goodreads’ huge blog post dedicated to romance novels for Valentine’s Day a few weeks ago.

In the days before GR and twitter, my book choices were really–suspect?–terrible. I didn’t have any recommendations to help me sort and there weren’t friends’ ratings or reviews to read to get an idea what the books were actually about. It was a blind selection. So glad those days are over.

* * * * *

Just saw the other cover art for this book and… sure, why not. I’m not even a little bit surprised.

Warrior's Woman (Ly-San-Ter, #1)

Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal #1) by Zen Cho

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: January 21 to February 3, 2019
Location: Newark Liberty International Airport

2.5 stars, rounding up because this is not a bad book, far from it actually. It’s just not right for me.

I don’t want to be unduly harsh, but I do have to be honest. So here goes.

It’s a complete surprise to me that, of all the books I struggled to read last month, this one was the hardest to get through. If this had not been a buddy read, I’m pretty sure it would have been my first DNF of the year.

Not because it’s a difficult read or there were issues with the writing or anything like that–everything about it is fine actually. It was a struggle to get through simply because I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and was bored for most of the read. So bored in fact that, when I had to take a trip right at the moment the climax happened, I didn’t even want to take the book out of town with me.

I think what it boils down to is that I felt the story, while having potential to be something great, was rather uninteresting for a historical fantasy about magic and colonialism. The most interesting thing about it is that it’s told from the perspectives of two characters who were most impacted by the British Empire’s colonial rule. This should have been the thing to reach out and pull me into the story, but that didn’t happen.

However, the subtle and blatant displays of classism and racism faced by the main characters, one a young man and former slave of African descent and the other a biracial orphaned young woman, were well done. This was the strength of the book; everything else, like the magic and the magical society and the fae and the dragons, was mostly filler.

Something like this book should have been right up my alley though since I loved other books that were written in the same vein, all released fairly recently:
The Ghost Bride (short note on Goodreads)
The Golem and the Jinni
A Natural History of Dragons (short note on Goodreads)
His Majesty’s Dragon
The Magpie Lord (short note on Goodreads)

Unfortunately, Sorcerer to the Crown didn’t strike a chord with me.

That aside, I must point out that there were quite a few nuanced, heartfelt moments in which slavery was touched upon by the main characters. This is the one that stands out the most to me and that I thought was very well portrayed.

A fine line appeared between Prunella’s eyebrows. “Did not Sir Stephen purchase your parents as well?”

“No,” said Zacharias. “Presumably he did not discern the same potential [for magic] in them.”

The statement brought up the old anger and confusion, followed by the accustomed guilt, that he should be so ungrateful as to resent the man who had rescued him from bondage. And yet he did resent Sir Stephen, even now.

“I don’t see why you feel obliged to him at all,” said Prunella. “What right had he to part you from your parents when you were so young?”

Her words seemed to echo Zacharias’s own thoughts, thoughts he had suppressed many a time, striving to feel the unclouded gratitude expected of him. What might his life have been, with a father and mother? It could not have cost Sir Stephen very much to purchase them as well—certainly not enough to strain his ample resources. How could his benevolence have extended so far as to move him to free Zacharias, but no further?

But it had been impossible to ask these questions of Sir Stephen or Lady Wythe, whose affection could not be doubted. That Zacharias’s own love for them was leavened with anger was best left unsaid; he tried not to know it himself.

“Very probably I would have been separated from my parents in any event,” he said. “What assurance can I feel that my parents were not in time separated from each other, against their will, and they powerless to prevent it?”

The answers to these questions were too painful to pursue to their conclusion, even in thought. They had only ever served to increase the complicated unhappiness that lay in wait whenever he thought of his parents.

Some Thoughts on the Fyre Festival of the Publishing Industry

A delectable piece from The New Yorker about Dan Mallory, aka A. J. Finn and author of the best selling thriller The Woman in the Window, detailing his “alleged” manipulation of the publishing industry for the past several years.

TL;DR?

He wasn’t a savvy liar or talented con artist or anything like that. Just a conventionally attractive looking white man in his thirties who’s good at kissing ass and telling sob stories. And people fell for his act because they were kind and took him at his word, which made them easy marks.

(People on Twitter are referring to him as the Billy Macfarland of publishing and I can’t stop laughing.)

End TL;DR

That he was able to dupe a whole industry AND people let him get away with it is something the publishing world needs to reckon with.

So it seems he fit the profile: young, white, male, “Oxford-educated.” Nothing new there. People heard that about him, met with him, and fell all over themselves to help him out–at first, didn’t last though. Nothing new there either. But maybe, idk, take a good look at yourself and figure out what needs to fundamentally change in your industry to keep this from happening again. Or not and carry on as if nothing happened.

I read this long article–could have used an editor tbh–during my trip to New York and ignored the book I was currently reading, and it was totally worth it. It’s a hilarious, convoluted read that would totally be called out for being too unbelievable if it were fiction. Ah, banal irony.

Also, according to Mallory’s dad, his mom had Stage V breast cancer and she survived. Still living, as a matter of fact. It could be a typo or a misquote. Or it could be the dad is also a liar and the trait runs in the family. This would explain a lot actually.

Anyhow. Here are a few excerpts from the article that still crack me up:

I was recently told about two former publishing colleagues of Mallory’s who called him after he didn’t show up for a meeting. Mallory said that he was at home, taking care of someone’s dog. The meeting continued, as a conference call. Mallory now and then shouted, “No! Get down!” After hanging up, the two colleagues looked at each other. “There’s no dog, right?”
“No.”

[…]

He spoke with an English accent and said “brilliant,” “bloody,” and “Where’s the loo?”—as one colleague put it, he was “a grown man walking around with a fake accent that everyone knows is fake.” The habit lasted for years, and one can find a postman, not a mailman, in “The Woman in the Window.”

[…]

While [author Sophie Hannah] was writing “Closed Casket,” her private working title for the novel was “You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Poirot’s About You.”

[…]

This is the setup for “Copycat,” a spirited 1995 thriller, set in San Francisco, starring Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter. It also describes “The Woman in the Window.”

So dude is a pathological liar and a hack. Figures.

I used to work with a skyscraper-full of people like this chap. He’s nothing special. A textbook case, actually. It just seems like he “blindsided” most of publishing, but the reality is they’d knowingly chosen to let him slide on his numerous infractions, a privilege of the young, white, and male.

All that is to say I’m passing on both the book and the author.

* * * * *

UPDATE:

And now it appears there is clearer evidence of plagiarism. A show of hands, who among us is surprised?

The Gospel of Loki (Loki #1) by Joanne Harris

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: January 13 to 19, 2019
Location: O’Hare International Airport

If this book were to have a tagline, it should be sympathy for the devil because this is Loki’s story and you can’t help but feel for him. Or at least I did. The story unfolds with snide first-person narration from Loki’s caustic point of view, beginning from the moment Odin pulled him from Chaos to the moment he might or might not have brought down Asgard. (Is that too spoilery? I can never tell, especially when it comes to reviewing retellings of well known mythology…)

Before I get into it, I just wanted to say that this book has the most hilarious dramatis personæ list I’ve ever seen. If you don’t mind spoilers or are well versed in Norse mythology, check it out at any online bookstore.

For a moment I was disoriented. Too many sensations, all of them new, enveloped my new Aspect. I could see colours; I could smell sulphur; I could feel the snow in the air and see the face of the man before me, cloaked in glam from head to foot. I could have chosen any form: that of an animal, or a bird, or just a simple trail of fire. But, as it happened, I’d assumed the form with which you may be familiar; that of a young man with red hair and a certain je ne sais quoi.

Normally, I don’t enjoy showy, performative fiction and I rarely enjoy snide, caustic POV characters or that style of narration, save for Discworld and the Samuel Johnson series. So it took me over half the book to get used to Loki’s voice, and it took a little more before I began to understand him, his burning rage, and his war path. Near the end, though, I was with him all the way–his reasons for bringing down Asgard made sense, and so shoot me, I approved of his savagery.

He left the hall with the dignified walk of a man with a serious case of piles and I knew I’d made an enemy. Some people would have laughed it off, but not Heimdall. From that day on till the End of the Worlds, nothing would ever make him forget that first humiliation. Not that I wanted to be friends. Friendship is overrated. Who needs friends when you can have the certitudes of hostility? You know where you stand with an enemy. You know he won’t betray you. It’s the ones who claim to be your friends that you need to beware of.

Not being familiar with Norse mythology or Marvel’s Thor franchise, I was able to read this book like any other fictional retelling with a modern spin. That is, I had very few preconceived notions and was able to get on with the writing just fine, in spite of not really liking the narration in the beginning. I have a feeling, if you know Norse mythology or are a fan of Loki (whether from the Thor movies or American Gods or somewhere else), the first third of this book would probably bore you with its account/rehashing of Asgard’s and Odin’s history and the creation of the nine worlds, all told in Loki’s particular style with many amusing asides where he shares what he really thinks of a certain god or goddess and their purpose in Asgard. What he really thinks of Thor are, by far, my favorite moments in the book.

There are races that hate each other on sight – mongoose and snake; cat and dog – and though I didn’t know much of the Worlds, I guessed that the straightforward, muscular type would be the natural enemy of the lithe and devious type who thinks with his head and not his fists.

One thing that gave me pause when I started reading was Loki’s knack for slipping in anachronisms. One moment he would be talking about journeying to the Land of the Dead, and the next he would make a comment about teenagers these days–“you know how they are…” Descriptions of peasant folk and their country farms, and then cars and three-piece suits and so shoot me and je ne sais quoi. I get that the purpose is to show Loki as an immortal who exists outside of our reality, but slipping modern inventions/speech into ancient settings will never not be jarring to me.

That aside, what I like best about Loki’s take on Norse mythology is his biting sense of humor and shameless dishonesty–“it’s the chaos in me.” I started out reading this book on my own, but had to switch to the audio when I went out of town for a few days, and it was a good thing I had to switch because the audio is a lot of fun. Allan Corduner is a talented narrator and, in my opinion, has a great handle on the character of Loki as presented in this book. He adds so much to the listening experience that I think I started to feel for Loki because of his voice and narration style. This is one of those rare instances where I think the audio narrator enhances the prose.

There were a few compensations to having corporeal Aspect. Food (jam tarts were my favourites); drink (mostly wine and mead); setting things on fire; sex (although I was still extremely confused by all the taboos surrounding this – no animals, no siblings, no men, no married women, no demons – frankly, it was amazing to me that anyone had sex at all, with so many rules against it).

[…]

Well, don’t blame me for being attractive. Demons are, for the most part. Besides, it wasn’t as if the competition was especially tough. Sweaty, hairy warlords with no polish and no address, whose idea of a good time was to kill a few giants, wrestle a snake and then eat an ox and six suckling pigs without even taking a shower first, whilst belching a popular folk song. Of course the ladies gave me the eye. A bad boy is always appealing, and I’d always had a silver tongue.

[…]

my charm, which ran more to witty conversation than merely hitting things, a welcome change in Testosterone Central.

[…]

So shoot me. Turns out I’m not naturally monogamous.

In his defense, Loki didn’t start out as a pain in the ass who’s sole purpose was to bring Asgard to its knees. Quite the contrary. When Odin first brought him to Asgard, Loki did his best to try to fit in with “the family,” but after several disastrous attempts, he just couldn’t–it was the chaos in him, forever setting him apart. Also, it didn’t help matters much when none of them wanted to reach out to him or willingly accepted him (and his chaotic ways) into the family. After many disputes and being treated like an outsider even though he’s saved (and disrupted) their lives plenty of times, he finally had enough of them, Odin included. So he stealthily set out to bring down all of Asgard for all the pain he suffered because of them, but little did he know that that was part of a prophecy all along.

Once Loki put his mind to planning and carrying out his revenge, the book became a quick read for me, and much to my surprise, there’s some conflicting complexity to Loki’s characterization later in the book. He became less like his flighty former self at the start of the book and more like what an embattled immortal should be. I really like this change in him–it made the read a lot more interesting–and I’m glad that the whole book isn’t about Loki being a witty, clever trickster outwitting everyone and everything.

This is my first time reading Joanne Harris and certainly not the last. Looking forward to the next book of Loki.

Because it all has to end, of course. Everything dies – even Worlds; even gods; even Your Humble Narrator. From the moment the Worlds came to life, Ragnarók, the End of All Things, was written into every living cell in runes more complex than any we know. Life and Death in one package – with Order and Chaos acting not as two forces in opposition but as a single cosmic force too vast for us to comprehend.