Review of “European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman” (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #2) by Theodora Goss

Goss, Theodora. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. New York: Saga Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481466530 | 708 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

I enjoyed the previous installment, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, so much, I was glad that I had the foresight to also pick up the second book, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. I was a bit concerned about it being nearly double the length of book one, and upon reading, did find some areas where I felt the story did lag a bit, particularly toward the end, with the moment that felt like the climax being succeeded by a rather long and drawn-out conclusion.

The book also does feel a little slower than the previous one, with the action being split into two parts: London to Vienna, then Vienna to Budapest, instead of confining the action to a single location. While that did lend itself to some of the pacing issues, I feel the characters and their growing dynamics within one another more than made up for it, with a lot of humor (particularly in the interstitial conversations) to keep me laughing and a reasonable amount of action to keep the pages turning.

There are also more interesting introductions of literary characters, particular Mina Murray Harker and Count Dracula, the former of whom was already pretty interesting in the context of the original due to the way she was described, but is given a much more satisfying fate, especially for those who love the romanticized depictions of her relationship with the Count. There are also hints of romantic interests for the main Athena Club ladies, and while they are still subtle, I am excited to see how they develop, especially given that this topic elicited some great commentary on the part of the ladies amongst each other.

While this one has more flaws in terms of the mechanics than the previous book, it is still an enjoyable book purely for the excellent characterization and the continued tribute to Gothic literature. I once again recommend this series to fans of Victorian Gothic literature, or lovers of historical fantasy.

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Review of “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #1) by Theodora Goss

Goss, Theodora. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. New York: Saga Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $24.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481466509 | 402 pages | Fantasy

4.5

I randomly heard about The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter through an advertisement at the end of another book, something that hasn’t happened in a while, but I was immediately intrigued by the idea of the daughters/creations of famous Victorian Gothic literary figures, not to mention Sherlock and Watson. And while I have not read all the books the characters come from, I appreciated how well each major character’s backstory was explained, while also showing some recognizable differences in the narrative arcs to give the characters more agency.

And this is just pure fun. Given the mystery and monster elements, it does get a bit gritty, but it was ultimately a fun ride that I zipped through in a matter of hours, with lots of questions left open that kept me intrigued to immediately pick up the next one.

The writing style does take a bit of getting used to, because, in between the actual narrative and plot, there will consistently be interruptions from the characters, commenting on the text itself, uner the pretext that the book itself is one they’re collaboratively writing, which is made even odder by third person for most of the book, and the revelation of an external narrator making themselves fully known at the end. However, it is such a fun and quirky book, I just kind of went with it after a while. But I can see why some might find the style a little jarring.

This is a delightful homage to 19th century Gothic literature, and meshed together in such a natural way too. I’m sure other fans of those clssics who are looking for a new take on them would love them.

Review of “An Unkindness of Magicians” by Kat Howard

Howard, Kat. An Unkindness of Magicians. 2017. New York: Saga Press: 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481451208 | 354 pages | Fantasy

4.5 stars

I heard about An Unkindness of Magicians through BookTuber Merphy Napier, and while I was a little hesitant due to the urban fantasy setting, Merphy also seems to favor more high fantasy and still praised this one highly, and given that she pitched it as an “adult Harry Potter” of sorts, I decided it was worth at least keeping an open mind.

And I found all my preconceptons about urban fantasy going out the window without this one. There is still intricate world building and, while there isn’t a lot of hand-holding where the explanation of of the magic is concerned, I found I enjoyed learning about things as I went along. I love that it is a little darker, and delving into the mysteries of the Shadows, juxtaposed against the lavish Houses.

I enjoyed the characters for the most part, some more than others. Sydney particularly was pretty badass and kept me intrigued by who she was meant to be, especially with her uncertain origins.

While very much a story in itself, the ending does leave something to be desired, something which I hope will be rectified in the forthcoming sequel. I recommend this to other fantasy fans looking for a slightly less popular book to check out, especially if they also love Harry Potter.

Review of “The Fifth Season” (The Broken Earth Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin, N.K. The Fifth Season. New York: Orbit Books, 2015.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316229296 | 468 pages | Science Fantasy

5 stars

I held off on reading The Fifth Season for a long time, mostly because there are portions in second person, which threw me off in my first half-hearted attempt to get into the book ages ago. But this is the book I constantly heard raved about where N.K. Jemisin was concerned, and there’s been buzz around it recently on Book Twitter and BookTube. And despite everything, I found myself really enjoying it this time.

To start with, the world building is wonderful, feeling both fantastical and startlingly current, with its focus on intense climate changes. I also loved the deeper lore demonstrating that somewhat cyclical nature of these “fifth seasons.”

As for the characters themselves, it is deeply moving reading about how each of them, in their own unique circumstances makes their way through the Stillness. And despite the fact that it also contains one of my least favorite elements of fantasy, the inclusion of several different POV characters with only vaguely connected plot threads, I found I appreciated it more this time around due to the purpose of the book, demonstrating how these women managed to survive in spite of their bleak situations. Surprisingly, given my initial reticence, I found myself most drawn to Essun, the character whose POV is written in second person, and her journey to find her husband after he ran off after killing their son. Jemisin demonstrates a truly great use of second person here, managing to engross me deeply in her narrative. However, I also enjoyed Damaya’s journey of self-discovery as an orogene and Syenite’s training at the Fulcrum, and felt like the book balanced all of these perspectives.

I really enjoyed this book, much more than I thought I would, and I think it’s because of the way it manages to do a lot right, including some of the stylistic things that typically get on my nerves. I would recommend it to sci-fi/fantasy fans, especially those who want to try something a little different and more experimental than the norm.

Review of “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

Rogerson, Margaret. Sorcery of Thorns. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481497619 | 456 pages | YA Fantasy

4.5 stars

I was excited about about the buzz around Sorcery of Thorns, especially since it is one of those rare fantasy stand-alones, which I found refreshing, since I was getting a little annoyed with the structure of especially YA fantasy series, and getting invested then having to wait a year. And while I heard mixed things about Rogerson’s first book, An Enchantment of Ravens, I felt like I would click with the concept of this immediately, especially given it focuses on a magical library.

And I found myself blown away, especially by the quirky concept of the books themselves, with them actually being alive in a sense, comparable, as author Katherine Arden said in her blurb for the book, to the Hogwarts Library. And there is a dark, sometimes Gothic atmosphere to the setting which had me intrigued fairly early on.

As for Elisabeth herself, I felt like she’s a pretty great character to follow. She is a bit naive and trusting, but this is a case where it works with her background and, while it often led to some predictable moments, I still found her more or less relatable and likable in her motivations and desires.

While there are some familiar elements, I like that Rogerson does enough of her own thing that it doesn’t feel like too predictable, and I finished it feeling both satisfied and also longing for more in this fun world, even if not necessarily following the same characters. I would recommend this to other YA fantasy fans who are looking for another author to read.

Review of “Dragonshadow” (Heartstone #2) by Elle Katharine White

White, Elle Katharine. Dragonshadow. New York: Harper Voyager, 2018.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062747969 | 383 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

A direct sequel to what seems like an already-concluded story can be risky, especially if that story is inspired by Pride and Prejudice, which itself has some hit-or-miss sequels. But it appears that Elle Katharine White has managed it, and while the plot itself isn’t necessarily the most engaging now that she isn’t sticking to the frame of Austen’s narrative, there are still things to love about Dragonshadow.

The main thing I enjoyed is seeing more of the world White created, which was one of the standout features of Heartstone. While dragons still feature prominently, I loved getting a wider sense of the scope, including the other creatures, and while many will be familiar to fantasy readers, like trolls and merpeople, they are included in such a fun and unique way.

I also really liked White’s perspective on Aliza and Daired after they’ve gotten together, and how, even though they did come to terms with some of the issues keeping them apart in the prior book, there are still hurdles they are negotiating, especially as Aliza is attempting to adjust to her new role as a Dragonrider’s wife, and him wanting to shield her from it, while she’s determined to be a part of it.

I think fans of the first book who are interested in seeing more of the world and how the major characters progress from the first book will enjoy this one, and would recommend they do so, in spite of any preconceived notions.

Review of “Shadow of the Fox” (Shadow of the Fox #1) by Julie Kagawa

Kagawa, Julie. Shadow of the Fox. Toronto, Ontario: HarlequinTeen, 2018.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335145161 | 409 pages | YA Fantasy

4 stars

Shadow of the Fox was recommended to me a while back, but I never got around to it at the time, and finally decided to give a go. My conclusion is that, while it does suffer from some structural and personal preference things that do lead me to mark it down a bit, it is a fairly solid story.

I felt incredibly silly once I got several chapters into this book, and realized that not only was there the occasional chapter from a secondary character, Suki (written in third person), but there were also two first person narrators, Yumeko and Tatsumi. I partly blame myself for being dense and not noticing, especially in the initial chapters, but it’s just something I find super jarring, particularly when there’s no indicator the narrator changes at the beginning of the chapter, and while it does follow a reasonably predictable rhythm that I picked up on after a while, it was annoying to have to figure out who was who, and only knowing for sure once they were together and each referred to the other person consistently. Your mileage may vary on this, but I’m going to b e the dissenting voice and say that, especially if Suki grows more important in future books, this could easily have been written entirely in third person, to make it less confusing. Or chapter headers could have also helped. Granted, other people seem to have no issue with this style, so it could just be me.

The characters themselves, once I got over that problem, were intriguing to me, with the occasional glimpses of Suki and her plight serving an awful mistress being something I’m hoping we get more of in the next two books. And while initially Yumeko and Tatsumi fall into familiar cliches, those being the naive damsel and the emotionally closed-off hero, they both still had depth that made them feel real beyond that, and I think Yumeko is one of those heroines who, despite not being super kickass like some of the other YA heroines of late, actually does try her best in her own way, and ends up making an impact.

I also love how Kagawa infused her world with Japanese influences, with it being most obvious in part one’s world building, although it continues throughout the book. It feels so rich with lore, and I felt like I learned a lot about aspects of my heritage that I didn’t really know about before (or care to seek out through other means).

This is a solid, if slightly predictable, YA fantasy, although that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable for what it is. And I would definitely recommend it to other fans, with the warning about the weird narrative choices to those like me who aren’t huge fans of it.

Review of “The Queen’s Resistance” (The Queen’s Rising #2) by Rebecca Ross

Ross, Rebecca. The Queen’s Resistance. New York: HarperTeen, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-002471383 | 458 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

The Queen’s Resistance is a delightful conclusion to the The Queen’s Rising duology, building on the great world building and character development of the prior book. Given the reasonably satisfactory ending to the prior book, this could easily have fallen flat as an unnecessary sequel, but it everything worked, with the stakes being raised and the concepts laid out in the beginning of book one being fully realized.

It’s great to see how Brienna has changed now that she is more secure with her adoptive family, the MacQuinns. And found family is a theme that resonates throughout this story of rebuilding following a colossal revolution and deposing of a corrupt and brutal king, with some of the members of his family who have been subjected to abuses and forced to commit acts of violence against others in his name also seeking out a second chance away from the families they were born into.

This also has one of the more subtle, yet beautiful and healthy, romantic relationships in YA between Brienna and Cartier/Aodhan, with them both being dedicated to the cause of rebuilding the kingdom and serving the true queen, as well as caring about and respecting each other.

And while this book sees Brienna continue to have a connection to her ancestor that helped her find the Canon in the last book, there are also some revelations about Aodhan’s family, particularly a family member he once thought dead, and the build-up to the reveal was incredibly well-paced.

While I’m glad that Brienna’s story ended the way it did, I think the world Ross has built is interesting, and would like to read more about it, and failing that, I feel that she has great talent for writing YA fantasies that break the mold, and can’t wait to see what she puts out next. In the meantime, I would recommend this one to anyone who enjoyed the first one.

Review of “His Majesty’s Dragon” (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik

Novik, Naomi. His Majesty’s Dragon. New York: Del Rey, 2006.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.50 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0345481283 | 356 pages | Historical Fantasy

5 stars

I had long heard good things about Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, and with a combination of historical fiction (and set in the Regency period!) and fantasy elements sounded right up my alley. And it ended up being a nice fun read, with and engaging plot and characters, as well as being grounded enough in both the manners and politics of the Regency period while also adding an intriguing new element with the dragons.

I love the central relationship between Will Laurence and Temeraire, and how well they play off each other as this kind of serious naval officer whose life has been upended and this childish, and sometimes funny, young dragon.

I also like how well the lore around dragons is integrated into the world, especially with the exploration of certain dragons that only bond with women, and that leading to an exploration of the gender politics of the period to an extent, with them seen more as exceptions to the rule than as truly groundbreaking. And I also really enjoyed the inclusion of some excerpts from an in-universe text at the end, providing more context for the history of dragons, as well as further discussing different breeds.

This is a delightful book, and one that manages to seamlessly incorporate elements of both historical fiction and fantasy. I would recommend it to fans of either genre, and I would definitely recommend it to those who like blends of both (on the off chance you haven’t read it yet of course).

Review of “Crown of Feathers” by Nicki Pau Preto

Pau Preto, Nicki. Crown of Feathers. New York: Simon Pulse, 2019.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1534424623 | 486 pages | YA Fantasy

4 stars

Crown of Feathers was one of several 2019 YA fantasy books on my radar due to the fact that it seemed to be doing things that set it apart from the crowd within its age range and subgenre, without feeling a bit too old to be YA (while also having enough going on that an adult reader would likely still be entertained by it). While the worldbuilding did lead to the book feeling a bit slow at times, once it picked up, I found myself engaged with the story.

I liked the focus on phoenixes, a creature I haven’t seen in a prominent fantasy release for any age group since the Harry Potter books. And the wider world building is also great. While it initially felt a little disjointed from the main story, I love how there were little hints of how everything fit together, culminating in the big reveal at the end.

Speaking of big reveals, I really enjoyed the centrality of the relationship between the two sisters, Veronyka and Val, and Val’s actions come between them, as well as how it plays into Val’s past. The insighting incident had me unsure what to think of Val, and how she would ever be redeemed, but by the end, I actually felt for her and really hope to see them reconcile in the sequel.

I found the two other characters a bit less engaging, but I think Tristan’s perspective did provide additional insight into the inner workings of the Phoenix Riders, and Sev’s did provide greater context for the world around them, which becomes more pivotal as the story goes on and the pieces begin to come together. And while I liked the friendship that developed between Tristan and Veronyka, and that while a romance is hinted at as a possibility, it’s not a huge (and usually somewhat problematic) world-ending passion that takes over the plot that has slowly come to annoy me in other YA fantasy titles, given how little variation there is between character archetypes, but rather one built on mutual respect.

This is a delightful YA fantasy debut that is doing a few fresh things within the genre. I think fans of fantasy who read YA will enjoy this for these things, and recommend that they check it out.