Review of “The Angel of Crows” by Katherine Addison

Addison, Katherine. The Angel of Crows. New York: Tor, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0765387394 | $27.99 USD | 432 pages | Historical Fantasy

Blurb

Katherine Addison, author of The Goblin Emperor, returns with The Angel of the Crows, a fantasy novel of alternate 1880s London, where killers stalk the night and the ultimate power is naming.

This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.

Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

Review

4 stars

The Angel of Crows is essentially Sherlock Holmes fanfic with some different names substituted in and a few other minor changes to add a supernatural twist, and while I’m not a big fan of Sherlock, I still found I enjoyed the novelty. It’s a great balance of kooky and gritty, and while I was more interested in the latter aspect, given I was interested in how Jack the Ripper fit in, I still found it a fairly solid book that somewhat logically fits together. 

I love the relationship between Crow and Doyle, and how it pays homage to Sherlock and Watson (which is obvious even to someone with only the bare minimum of Sherlock knowledge). I’ve heard about Sherlock’s awkwardness with others, and seen it manifest differently in another adaptation, but I think it’s well done here by having Crow be an angel who really doesn’t understand humans.

As for the Ripper element, I enjoyed the way it was interspersed into the more traditional Sherlock stuff, and attempted to provide conclusions to one of the most notorious cold cases in history. 

I personally enjoyed it for what it is, even though I did feel like it was a bit odd at times. I think fans of Sherlock would also love it, as would anyone interested in fun steampunk-esque mysteries. 

Author Bio

Katherine Addison is the author of the Locus Award-winning novel The Goblin Emperor, and her short fiction has been selected by The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. As Sarah Monette, she is the author of the Doctrine of Labyrinths series and coauthor, with Elizabeth Bear, of the Iskryne series. She lives neat Madison, Wisconsin.

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Review “The Court of Miracles” by Kester Grant

Grant, Kester. The Court of Miracles. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1524772871 | $21.99 USD | 416 pages | YA Historical Fantasy

Blurb

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I was excited at the prospect of The Court of Miracles on multiple levels: for one, a reimagining of Les Miserables in itself just sounds so much fun. And given the increasingly turbulent times we’re living in, it’s fascinating to look back and examine a period like the French Revolution and imagine what if it failed, and the underground fight that would have endured in an alternate universe where that occurred. 

The timeline does feel a bit jerky and uneven at first, and it takes a while for a consistent pace to build, given there are several skips forward in time. However, once it hits the second half, the momentum picks up and doesn’t let you go.

I really liked Nina, especially her voice as a character and narrator, which kept me reading even in the difficult bits and engrossed me in the intense world around her. I loved her devotion to caring for Ettie, and that she’s strong without feeling like a caricature. And while she does have some glimmers of romance with multiple people, I like that it doesn’t become the dominating factor in her story by any means.

I enjoyed this book, and am curious to see how future books develop this concept from here. I recommend this to anyone who likes the alternative history.  

Author Bio

Kester Grant is a British-Mauritian writer of color. She was born in London, grew up between the UK, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the tropical island paradise of Mauritius. As a wanton nomad she and her husband are unsure which country they currently reside in but they can generally be found surrounded by their fiendish pack of cats and dogs.

Kes can be found lurking with intent on kestergrant.cominstagramtwittergoodreads

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Review of “Seven Endless Forests” by April Genevieve Turcholke

Turcholke, April Genevieve. Seven Endless Forests. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0374307097 (hardcover)/978-0374307103 (ebook) | $18.99 USD (hardcover)/$9.99 USD (ebook) | 352 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

In this gorgeous standalone companion to the critically acclaimed fantasy, The Boneless Mercies, April Tucholke spins a bold and blood-hungry retelling of the King Arthur legend that is perfect for fans of Naomi Novik, Garth Nix, and Laini Taylor.

On the heels of a devastating plague, Torvi’s sister, Morgunn is stolen from the family farm by Uther, a flame-loving Fremish wolf-priest who leads a pack of ragged, starving girls. Torvi leaves the only home she’s ever known, and joins a shaven-skulled druid and a band of roaming Elsh artists known as the Butcher Bards. They set out on a quest to rescue Torvi’s sister, and find a mythical sword.

On their travels, Torvi and her companions will encounter magical night wilds and mystical Drakes who trade in young men. They will sing rowdy Elshland ballads in a tree-town tavern, and find a mysterious black tower in an Endless Forest. They will fight alongside famous Vorseland archers and barter with Fremish wizards. They will feast with rogue Jade Fell children in a Skal Mountain cave, and seek the help of a Pig Witch. They will face wild, dangerous magic that leads to love, joy, tragedy, and death.

Torvi set out to rescue a sister, but she may find it’s merely the first step toward a life that is grander and more glorious than anything she could have imagined. 

Review

2 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I was intrigued by the premise of Seven Endless Forests, and how it seemed to be inspired by Arthurian legend, something I wanted to lear more about. However, I found that it only loosely borrowed from King Arthur, taking names of characters and places, and to an extent, the wider mythology, with a focus on the Druids. And for the most part, that is pretty well done.

But this is a case where the comparison in the blurb to Laini Taylor proved accurate, and a double edged sword. Turcholke, like Taylor, has a very evocative writing style, and while I definitely enjoyed her style more than Taylor’s, I felt it did at times make the book feel a lot longer than it was, even though this book wasn’t that long to begin with. There were also some odd style choices in the text that constantly threw me off guard.

There’s also a large cast of characters, and I didn’t even care who most of them were, even Torvi’s love interest. Torvi also wasn’t a particularly compelling lead, although I was invested in the journey to rescue her siste to an extent, and the developments once that panned out.

This is possibly an author-reader mismatch, given my conflicting feelings about the writing style which many others listed as a positive for this book. However, if you’re a fan of poetically written fantasy with a large cast of characters, maybe you’ll connect with this more than I did.

Author Bio

April Genevieve Tucholke is the author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Between the Spark and the Burn, Wink Poppy MidnightThe Boneless Mercies, and Seven Endless Forests.She also curated the horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys. Her books have been published in sixteen countries, and have received ten starred reviews. They have been selected for the Junior Library Guild, Kids’ Indie Next picks, and YALSA Teens Top Ten. When she’s not writing, April likes walking in the woods, exploring abandoned houses, and drinking expensive coffee. She currently resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.

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Review of “The Other Bennet Sister” by Janice Hadlow

Hadlow, Janice. The Other Bennet Sister. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2020.

eBook | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250129437 | 480 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

Mary, the bookish ugly duckling of Pride and Prejudice’s five Bennet sisters, emerges from the shadows and transforms into a desired woman with choices of her own.

What if Mary Bennet’s life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of The Other Bennet Sister, a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Austen fans.

Ultimately, Mary’s journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself—and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.

Mary’s destiny diverges from that of her sisters. It does not involve broad acres or landed gentry. But it does include a man; and, as in all Austen novels, Mary must decide whether he is the truly the one for her. In The Other Bennet Sister, Mary is a fully rounded character—complex, conflicted, and often uncertain; but also vulnerable, supremely sympathetic, and ultimately the protagonist of an uncommonly satisfying debut novel.

Review

3 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I’ve always felt some kinship with Mary Bennet as the sister with the least prospects in Pride and Prejudice, and have always found myself disappointed with the overall execution of the stories, even though they do interesting things with her character. The Other Bennet Sister, sadly, was another such disappointment.

Mary’s character is still probably the best part of the book. I enjoyed seeing the first part of P&P from her perspective to start off, providing context to the situation the Bennet family’s financial uncertainty. I also like how, even though Hadlow is yet another author who doesn’t fully deliver on it, she entertains the idea that Mary saw Mr. Collins as a suitable match in a practical sense, as well as their sharing similar interests, which makes a good jumping-off point for her to compare to as she begins to come into her own and actually experience love.

But this book was so long, and it felt tedious at times. I appreciate it objectively from an artistic standpoint, as it highlights the journey Mary goes on perfectly, but there was so much of it that was so boring, I ended up skimming in hopes of getting it over with. And I don’t know that I fully felt engrossed by Hadlow’s style either, as it failed to fully engross me.

This was kind of just ok, but I think this of one of the better books about Mary Bennet I’ve read. I think if you love Austen, it’;s wotth a try, to see if you love it more than I do.

Author Bio

Janice Hadlow worked at the BBC for more than two decades, an for ten of those years she ran BBC Two and BBC Four, two of the broadcaster’s major television channels. She was educated at Swanley School in Kent and graduated with a first-class degree in history from King’s College London. She is the author of A Royal Experiment, a biography of Great Britain’s King George III. She currently lives in Edinburgh. The Other Bennet Sister is her first novel.

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Review of “Brightly Burning” by Alexa Donne

Donne, Alexa. Brightly Burning. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD |ISBN-13: 978-1328948939 | 394 pages | YA Science Fiction

3 stars

I had Brightly Burning on my radar for a while, and FINALLY had time to get to it. The idea of “Jane Eyre in space” intrigued me, and while it’s not the perfect book, I enjoyed it for the most part.

The best part of the book is the way it reimagines the romance. I’ve mentioned in previous Jane Eyre retelling reviews how much the Jane/Rochester romance bothers me, so I’m always up for a version that makes it less creepy. And this one is. I loved the tension between Stella and the slightly broody, but still likable Captain Hugo. They have a great slow-burn relationship that I was rooting for throughout, and without a lot of the major complications of their classic counterparts.

As a sci-fi book, my feelings are a bit…mixed… in terms of the world building. I enjoyed some of it, like the idea that they’re looking back a couple hundred years in the future on stuff that is still relatively modern to us. But it contradicts itself quickly, with the idea that Stella would leave an engineering job to become a governess of all things. It’s stated in the blurb, but I would have liked some further explanation as to why a futuristic society incorporated some concepts from Ye Olden Days, while seeming farther advanced in others.

This is a fun concept, but it could have done with some fine-tuning. I’m hoping Donne’s forthcoming Austen-inspired book will have sorted out some of these issues. But it’s a fun retelling that you don’t have to have read the classic to understand, and one I would recommend to someone looking for a fun YA sci-fi romanc.

Review of “Flamebringer” (Heartstone #3) by Elle Katharine White

White, Elle Katharine. Flamebringer. New York: Harper Voyager, 2019.

Paperback | $16.9 USD | INbN-13: 978-0062747983 | 351 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Flamebringer is the final installment in the Heartstone series, and it’s bittersweet to see it come to an end. It’s also wonderful to marvel at how much development has happened over the course of three books, with book one paying homage to Pride and Prejudice, and the other two books building from there.

Thus, this book is considerably darker than I would’ve expected going in, especially reflecting on the first book. On the one hand, I love that White embraces these epic fantasy stakes, and allows for major consequences and loss, a flaw with many fantasy series where all the important characters survive to the end. But, given the source material, it’s hard not to feel a little betrayed when a character inspired by a beloved major character in a classic is killed off.

But the exploration of the characters and their growth in this one is wonderful, particularly that of the protagonist, Aliza and her husband, Daired, especially as they discover more about his family’s past. One of the moments that really stands out to me is the revelation of the deeper connection between Wydrick and the Daired family, particularly Daired’s own disbelief and shock.

This is a great third installment, and fans of the series and those looking to see characters inspired by beloved classic Austen ones go into a darker, grittier direction will love this.

Review of “Meg & Jo” by Virginia Kantra

Kantra, Viginia. Meg & Jo. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0593100349 | 390 pages |
Women’s Fiction

4 stars

While I am still a little iffy about the need for another Little Women adaptation, I am glad if that movie played any role in the timing of the publication of the excellent Meg & Jo. While I’m pretty sure there have been literary updates to Little Women in recent years, this is the first one I’ve read and I’m pretty sure it’s the first targeted to adults, so I was excited about it.

And this is one of those retellings that strikes the perfect balance of capturing exactly what readers loved about the March sisters, while also changing things to suit the change in time period and to suit Kantra’s personal style. The heart of the book is the relationship between the sisters, with particular emphasis on the bond between Meg and Jo. While the bond between Kantra’s versions of them may owe just as much to other literary sisters (Jane and Elizabeth Bennet are name-dropped in comparison to them), I still enjoyed seeing how they rely on each other, and getting hints of the larger family bonds, which it seems will be discussed further in the forthcoming Beth & Amy.

One thing I loved about Jo’s POV was the way it provided further insight into why Eric Bhaer is the right match for her in this version, as the Professor was in the original. I like that they establish a connection, and in spite of some of the obstacles, come together and he proves himself to her, in spite of her doubts about love. And the aspect of him challenging her creatively to pursue her true goals is a thread that I love was kept in the most wonderful and surprising way.

I admit I enjoyed Meg and John’s relationship a bit more without the forced sense of female domesticity and her actually seeming to care about him consistently in spite of the fact that there are some cracks, as opposed to constantly wanting to fit in with her vapid friends, coming off as rather selfish at times. It was nice to see the modern version of Meg who was happy as a mother, but also wondered if something was missing, and there being this question of whether she and John should try to incorporate aspects of their old lives into their current one.

My one complaint is that I feel like the dad was made to be horrible for no apparent reason. I can see him being absent in the prologue, as he’s fighting in the war, like his classic counterpart, but it just seemed odd to turn an otherwise decent family man into someone who apparently all but abandoned his wife, especially when she’s sick and in the hospital. Yeah, he does still have some redeeming features, particularly seen from Jo’s perspective, as she’s “Daddy’s girl,”but it just seemed like kind of a downer on the rest of it, which otherwise felt like a nice tribute to such well loved characters.

This is more or less a delightful retelling of Little Women, and one I think fans of the original will enjoy. However, it stands on its own, and I would also recommend it to fans of a good sister-focused story that also has strong romantic elements as their first experience (but hopefully not their last) with this amazing story.

Review of “Milady” by Laura L. Sullivan

Sullivan, Laura L. Milady. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451489982 | 366 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I first heard about Milady from Elisabeth Lane when she picked up an ARC and a conference and featured it in a video, finding myself mildly intrigued at a spin on a male-dominated classic told from one of the only female characters, relegated to the role of villain. Subsequently, Dominic Noble’s video summing up the book (uploaded a day after the book released, but given his tremendous backlog of Patreon funded requests, and that this was based on one such request, I’m willing to chock it up to pure coincidence), and it made me realize, just as Laura L. Sullivan did, that the “heroes” of The Three Musketeers are horrible people, even allowing for historical context, and Milady is arguably much more sympathetic, in spite of being cast in the role of villain.

Sullivan thus takes the original story and allows Milady to reclaim the narrative in a wonderful way. Splitting between time periods, focusing on her backstory showing how she got to that point, and the “present” showing her version of the events of the original novel, it shows that while she was miscast to lift up D’Artagnan and the Musketeers, it was all by her design, with her use of excellent deception every step of the way to influence their perception of events.

As a result, I really loved the twists she put on the relationships between the characters, especially focusing on the relationships between women to contrast the theme of fraternity in the original. I love the twist that instead of being essentially a tragic figure, Constance (called “Connie” in the novel) is also in league with Milady and is given a better ending, and there’s a couple memorable scenes of them together that show the depth of their friendship.

As for Milady’s romantic life, I enjoyed seeing how she developed from a naive girl more or less who falls in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate to seizing control of her own sexuality and eventually finding someone who respects her for it…and the fact that he was revealed to have essentially been there all along as well as being a great tie-in with a relationship her character has in the original is wonderful.

This is an absolutely amazing book in its own right, and I love how it pays tribute to the Dumas classic while also acknowledging that some characters deserved way better than they got…and giving it to them. I recommend this to anyone who loves female-centric historical fiction or female-centric retellings of classic novels.

Review of “A House of Rage and Sorrow” (The Celestial Trilogy #2) by Sangu Mandanna

Mandanna, Sangu. A House of Rage and Sorrow. New York: Sky Pony Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1510733794 | 248 pages | YA Science Fiction

5 stars

It’s beginning to feel increasingly rare that we have second books in trilogies that not only deliver, but actually exceed their predecessor in terms of quality as opposed to falling into the dreaded “second-book syndrome.” But A House of Rage and Sorrow is one of the few exceptions to this trend, actually functioning as a second book in terms of both building on the first and building anticipation for the third, without feeling too much like filler.

And one of the technical things that made it better was that the connection between characters were made more clear with a character guide, while still leaving room for suspense, as the lack of one left me feeling a bit confused with book one. And since these can feel a little info-dump-y, I love the stylistic choice to convey it through the voice of Titania the warship, who also gets a few chapters from her perspective. She’s my favorite character from book one, so I enjoyed seeing her utilized in such a fun and creative way.

I also enjoyed getting a much more intense look at the relationships between characters this time around. As the title implies, there is a lot of “rage and sorrow,” and the fact that it’s centered around family and politics makes it all the more heightened. I could sympathize so much with Esmae’s rage, especially toward her brother following the events at the end of the lat book, and the way things come to a head in this one.

I enjoyed this sequel, with all its twists and turns, and can’t wait to see how it’ll all come together in book 3. I would recommend this to fans ofYA SFF with great world-building and complex family-centered politics.

Review of “A Spark of White Fire” (The Celestial Trilogy #1) by Sangu Mandanna

Mandanna, Sangu. A Spark of White Fire. New York: Sky Pony Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1510733787 | 311 pages | YA Science Fiction

4 stars

I first heard about Sangu Mandanna and A Spark of White Fire somewhat recently on Twitter when she spoke about her own experience with non-Indian people imposing their beliefs of her culture when reviewing her book, a common struggle for authors of color writing ownvoices stories. And despite not knowing much about the Mahabharata prior to reading the book, I loved the idea of a new take on Indian mythology in space.

And this book more or less delivers. While I did feel like the cast and its connections is a bit hard to follow at times, and I would have liked a family tree or some sort of character guide to keep them all straight, yet the relationships that were conveyed and how they evolve over the course of the book, and were conveyed very well.

And Esmae is a great protagonist as well. I loved seeing the conflicts through her eyes, and how she had to constantly negotiate the competing loyalties in this tense atmosphere.

And overall, it just does some cool things with its mix of sci-fi and fantasy, like the amusing sentient spaceship, as well as the wonderful world-building, steeped in cultural significance. This is a wonderful beginning to a great SFF trilogy, and one I’d recommend to other lovers of YA SFF.