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.

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.

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

18665033

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.

Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn

446945

Reading: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: August 29 to September 6, 2018
Location: Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport

Another surprising read of 2018. I expected to like this book, but didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and it was just what I needed to pull me out of my weird reading slump.

I bought this out-of-print book at a used bookstore because I liked the look of the cover and thought the brief summary on the back was interesting, but I had no idea what was inside. This was the best kind of surprise.

Can’t really say much about the plot or characters without giving too much away; I can only say that both are intertwined in an interestingly layered and nuanced way. In short, this book is about having faith and losing faith and finding your way back to what you lost. The brief summary on the back cover doesn’t do it justice, but I don’t know if there is a way to summarize this story and capture what it’s really about. I’ll work on it.

I had never read anything by Sharon Shinn before, only heard a lot about her over the years since I started reading genre fiction again. Now I look forward to reading everything she’s ever written.

Birthgrave by Tanith Lee

#1. The Birthgrave
#2. Shadowfire (formerly Vazkor, Son of Vazkor)
#3. Quest for the White Witch

These books are intense. Like, INTENSE. Mind-blowing. Ground-breaking (only sort of a pun). And easily the best sword-and-sorcery series I’ve ever read, which might not mean much coming from me since I’m not a fan of the genre in general, but recently I learned it’s because I haven’t read any good sword-and-sorcery. None that fit my particular taste. Until now.

Tanith Lee’s writing fit the bill. Some people don’t like her prose and say she had a tendency to over-write her stories, that she was too flowery with her words, too elegant or too extravagant at times. I like it though. I know it can be hard to read, might take some time getting used to, but I like it. I find it very enjoyable, especially when it’s at odds with the intensity of the stories she was telling.

This trilogy was originally released with Conan-the-Barbarian-esque cover art, complete with scantily-clad women in awkward poses, to convey the style of fantasy its written in… and appeal to its “target” audience? It’s target audience is actually me… but who could have known that back then, right? Recently the whole trilogy was re-released with darker, slightly gothic-looking covers (see below) that are more in line with the characters and apocalyptic world in which they live, which I prefer. 

I still have the last book to read, so below are not quite reviews, just some brief notes and impressions.

* * * * *

The Birthgrave

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: June 21 to September 2, 2015

A hard book to read and an even harder book to like. And I enjoyed it very much, mostly because I have strange taste in genre fiction and strange books always call out to me, but I think, if the mood is right and you’re looking for something with depth, with flesh, to sink your teeth into, you might want to give this challenging book a try.

The writing is subversive and sublime and unexpectedly hard-hitting, and not what I expected from the Conan the Barbarian throwback cover and description. I simply expected Conan the Barbarian but told from a female perspective, which sort of what this book is. It takes Conan as the foundation for which the story builds on to create a whole new world that’s on the edge of destruction and reincarnation.

And I find every part of it fascinating because it really delves into and takes advantage of all the things that genre adventures often ignore, like the inner life of a confusing character who is, by all accounts, an alien. She is definitely not of the world in which she walks. And in most stories written in this genre, she would’ve been ignored or killed early on. Here, though, she gets to tell her tale.

* * * * *

Shadowfire (Birthgrave #2)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: April 14 to 18, 2018

Still good but still a hard read like the first book. Unlike the first book though, we’re no longer following the mysterious nameless woman who emerged from a volcano, broke the world into pieces, and set a host of apocalyptic things into motion.

Instead, we move on to her son’s perspective, Vazkor (son of Vazkor). He’s an angry young man who was raised in a society that valued violence, might, and masculinity. He grew up without his mother, only having heard tales of her in a destructive, demeaning light all his life. So when he grows up, he does the expected thing. He sets out to kill her.

I’m not saying he isn’t within his rights, but the reason behind his revenge journey is… weak. His mother would not have approved.

Still an interesting story and still well written, but maybe not as compelling as the nameless woman’s story because it lacks the nuanced, alien feel of her narration. Vazkor is more in line with the series’ old Conan the Barbarian inspired book covers. He’s more human in his wants, needs, and motivations, and therefore not as interesting to me.

These books though… when I see or hear people say “pillars of the genre” and then name the usual names and list the usual books, I always wondered what my pillars of the genre would have been if I had grown up reading sci-fi and fantasy. I think this series would have easily made my list.

Just One Damned Thing After Another (Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1) by Jodi Taylor

18867162

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: February 12 to 24, 2018

RIVETING.

If I didn’t have to work for a living, I would have finished this book in a single night, and then reread it immediately. And then maybe once more in audio because it was that kind of book and exactly what I needed.

I honestly did not expect this book to be so funny, or rather, I didn’t expect it to feature dry British humor so heavily. It had me laughing so hard, so many times, I could not read it in public. And then there were times when it had devastatingly honest commentary that made for some hard reading, but the humor certainly helped to offset the heavier moments.

This book is not without faults or shortcomings by any means. The beginning is slow and longish and very explain-y. You have to wade through a ton of background and set-up info before the action gets going, and the real action doesn’t start until half-way through the book. But it’s got a great cast of characters and snappy dialogue and, once the action started, things happened quickly. Literally, it was just one damned thing after another.

I really like Madeleine Maxwell, simply called Max, as the narrator. She is funny (often without meaning to be),smart quirky, and honest, and I had a great time following her on her journey to the cretaceous period.

Since the quirky characters and their nerdy, haphazard, time-traveling ways are so endearing, I find that I don’t really mind all the other stuff. All the things that normally bother me, things that plague all time-travel books such as plot holes and continuity issues and the method of time-travel itself, don’t really register. Sure, they’re noticeable if you look into them, but I don’t really care (this time). Just gonna enjoy the ride (through time).

Long series are a blessing when you find one that fits. I personally love long series, but rarely do I find one that makes me want to keep reading. This one is one of those rare ones. Good thing there are 8 more books and a couple of short stories already written.

A few memorable moments:

“I certainly wasn’t where I should be and it would be the cautious, the sensible thing to do. But, for God’s sake, I was an historian and cautious and sensible were things that happened to other people.”

[…]

“The Society for the Protection of Historical Buildings was the official body whose task it was to oversee repairs and maintenance to our beloved but battered listed building. We had them on speed-dial. They had us on their black list.”

[…]

“Time is important in our organisation. If you can’t even get to an appointment in your own building on time, they argue, you’re not going to have much luck trying to find the Battle of Hastings.”

[…]

“And finally, I have been asked by Mrs Partridge to raise this issue. As some of you may struggle to remember, next month is your annual appraisal and I’m advised by Mrs Partridge that some of the forms you were asked to complete as a preliminary need… more work.

“Your personal details update form… Mr Sussman; you are not a Jedi Knight. Kindly amend the details in Box 3–Religion. Ditto Mr Markham, Mr Peterson, Miss Maxwell, Mr Dieter and Miss Black.”

 

The Book of Jhereg (Vlad Taltos #1-3) by Steven Brust

590349

Jhereg: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Yendi: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Teckla: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: December 16, 2016 to April 30, 2017

Amazing books. Amazing journey. Very memorable characters. I love Vlad and this world of dragons and dragon people and their layered politics, and I can’t wait to get started on the second omnibus.

I have a thing about reading series in order, and it was with a lot of reluctance and much hand-wringing that I read this series out of chronological order. I had gotten almost the whole series in these omnibus editions that “organized” the books in publication order (i.e. definitely not chronological order), and figuring out where to start or jump in took up too much time. So I just started with the first book of the first omnibus, which was Jhereg, and soon found that the order was not that big a deal for this series, as many people have told me before.

The order in which you read doesn’t affect your enjoyment that much because each book could be read as a standalone–sort of, “technically.” I could explain further now that I’ve read the first three books, set in three different points of Vlad Taltos’ life and career, but the explanation is… gonna get complicated, more complicated.

Suffice it to say I really enjoyed all three books, maybe the third one a little less than the previous two, but that’s only because it contained too many real life implications that mirrored some of my own and reading about those things are never fun.

The writing is great, however, and I never felt it faltering once. This doesn’t mean much unless or until you take into account the series’ complete timeline and you see where each book falls (how years apart they are, how much happens in between). Only Then you would realize the depth and complexity of this world and how writing a series out of order like this is unbelievably difficult. Steven Brust did this all the while maintaining continuity and coherence AND not letting the overarching story line falter, not even once.

It’s amazing, and I’m nothing short of impressed.

Teckla (Vlad Taltos #3) by Steven Brust

817358

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: January 31 to February 15, 2017

I read this book a year ago and I still haven’t gotten over it yet. It’s the book I like least in the series, but it’s the only one that I remember most vividly.

The most frustrating thing about this book is experiencing the end of Vlad and Cawti’s marriage through Vlad’s eyes. Well, everything is experienced through Vlad’s eyes since he is the only narrator, but with this book, you feel the limited first-person narration the most and you see all the ways in which it lacks finesse. But then again, this is how we all experience the end of a relationship, right? One-sided and most of the time without closure or answers.

The end of the book once again mimics real life in that there are no resolutions. Things are still tense between Vlad and Cawti, and they are still drifting apart, pulled by different ideals, and you don’t know what the future holds. You don’t even get to know whether or not they separate or stay together, and these books being written out of order makes it all the more frustrating.

In the last book Yendi, we see when Vlad first met Cawti, back when he was a burgeoning crime lord with lofty ideas and she was hired by one of his rivals to assassinate him, and she almost succeeded. They somehow managed to hit it off and got along well together. That led to the beginning of a quick romance, one of the more realistic portrayals that I’ve seen in these kind of fantasies. So it was endearing to see that.

(It’s like everything was going so well. What happened??? Life happened. Of course. Too much realism bleeding in my fantasy. Can all of this just go away or not? Because I don’t read fantasy for the realism. This seems repetitive and unnecessary to say at this point, but I thought it was obvious. I don’t read fantasy for the realism. Please bring back convoluted political intrigue and add more dragons and flying castles. No more relationships falling apart gradually over time. Ok thnx.)

When we get to this book though, Vlad and Cawti have been married for some years, they’ve risen through the ranks of the Jhereg, made a name for themselves, and are very well off and comfortable (for Easterners). But they are drifting apart. We don’t know why or what led them to this point. We just know Cawti was drawn to the uprisings in the Eastern quarters of the city, and Vlad wouldn’t or maybe couldn’t see the point of this movement. He saw it as futile, but she had hope. This was just one more thing piled on top on an already strained relationship.

So to go from Yendi to Teckla, from the beginning of a relationship to its unexpected end in such a short amount of time, is… sad. I’m sure some of the later books will focus on the marriage some more, but I just didn’t expect to read the beginning and the end back-to-back like this. It was unsettling and left me feeling conflicted. That’s my main problem with this book anyway. Everything else though–the writing, the plotting, the intrigue, the scheming–is still good and very much the same as the 2 previous books.

Yendi (Vlad Taltos #2) by Steven Brust

817357

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date Read: January 17 to 31, 2017

Imagine The Godfather, but told from the perspective of a young snarky Vito Corleone who’s all alone and setting out on his own. He’s fighting to make a name for himself as an assassin and mob boss in the Dragarean underworld. He’s got a small network of semi-legitimate businesses and a corner of the city to himself. He’s trying to establish his territory while fighting off stronger, wealthier, more experienced neighbors who are moving in on his turf. He’s fighting on multiple fronts, all the while trying to stay on top of Dragarean politics.

This book has a lot of things going on and the action never stops. Just when you think it can’t get anymore twisty, it gets one more twist in. Turn the page and something new is happening to Vlad. In the midst of all this mess though, Vlad is still an engaging, funny storyteller, and I can listen to him talk all day long.

Like Jhereg, this book is out of order, but unlike Jhereg, it’s near the beginning of Vlad’s tale. So it’s a good place to start the series. You get to know Vlad on his way up the social ladder, but you also get to a glimpse of the things he’s been through that have made him who he is today. He’s still got that optimistic (but also realistic) outlook on life and his place in the world about him that I like. The tone is light and funny and a stark contrast to the story he’s telling, which has a variety of people out to kill him including his future wife… which makes it a little bit funnier because he’s so matter-of-fact about it.

Notes for future reference:
when Vlad first met Cawti and she was paid to kill him

Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters, #1) by Juliet Marillier

Rating: – – – – –
Date read: May 1 to July 15, 2017

I’m leaning toward 4 stars overall but with lots and lots of reservations which I can’t go into without hitting on spoilers. So beware of spoilers.

This book was Beth‘s pick for May and I just finished it today. In July. I’m not even sure where she is because we kind of let it drop after hitting a wall, but I think she’s still pushing on. I’d like to say it was my fault, because I’m usually the one dropping out of buddy reads, but this time it’s a combination of bad timing and a brutal rape scene that put a nail in this buddy read.

The story loosely follows the Six Swans fairy tale and it’s set in Medieval Ireland. There are druids, magic, and mysticism, and the writing does a lovely job of setting the scene and creating an otherworldly atmosphere. We follow Sorcha, the youngest and only daughter of a lord, and her six older brothers through their lives from when they lived at the castle in the middle of a strange magical forest to when tragedy struck and tore their family apart.

I had known of the rape scene going in–it’s part of some retellings of this tale–but I didn’t know about the aftermath, that the main character Sorcha had to live with it, alone and in silence, as she was in the middle of her vow of silence that she had to make to the fae in order to save her brothers. And then her dog, her only companion, was brutally killed. How much worse could it get, right? Not much worse, but bad things did keep happening. Sorcha had to continue knitting six sweaters from nettles to save her brothers and break the curse that turned them into swans.

I don’t like fantasies featuring the fae as it is, so when this scene happened, followed by the dog’s death and Sorcha’s suffering in silence and the fae’s meddling and the nettle knitting, I checked out. It was too much and the amount of brutality seemed somewhat unnecessary. But I get it–objectively, intellectually, whatever. I get why Marillier had Sorcha suffer in silence; I understand it from a big-picture perspective and see the need to portray the aftermath of rape, but still. It was too emotionally consuming, too close to real life, so I checked out and set the book aside. Every time I picked it up, I could only get through a couple of pages, and that’s why it took over two months to get to the end.

I’m glad to have read it because Juliet Marillier’s writing is always lovely and the stories she’s telling are much needed in fantasy. They exist in that tenuous border between folktale and historical fantasy, and Marillier weaves those elements so well, but this is one of those books I don’t think I’ll revisit. And I will pass on the rest of the series too, even though I know I’ll be giving up on an amazing world rich in history, culture, and magic.

Reading this book was kind of like a coming of age experience–I appreciate it and am glad I got through it, but I’m more glad it’s behind me now.

* * * * *

My first Marillier was Heart’s Blood, a retelling of the beauty and the beast fairy tale, and I loved it. I went into Daughter thinking it was like Heart, and in many ways, it is. The setting, time period, prose, magic, and atmosphere are very similar, but the amount of suffering the main character is put through is incomparable.