Review: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

crossroads of canopy

Setting a fantasy novel in a rainforest is, with the benefit of hindsight, a genius idea, due to the genre’s historical love of stratified societies and hierarchical social structures.

Canopy is home to those who worship the thirteen gods and goddesses of their pantheon. Residents are closest to the sunlight, have more access to resources, and are the safest from the creatures that roam the forest, thanks to the magical barrier that separates Canopy from Understorey and Floor. This barrier also traps those who live in Understorey to the mercy of harsher, more dangerous living conditions and fewer resources. To those in Canopy, Understorians are savages fit only for slavery.

Unar, a Canopian born and bred, knows she has a powerful destiny. At the age of twelve she ran away from home to avoid being sold by her impoverished parents and gained entry to the Garden of Audblayin, the Waker of Senses and the goddess of birth and life. There she easily masters the magic that lies in Audblayin’s province, arrogant in her knowledge she was meant to serve one day as the bodyguard for her patron deity’s next incarnation.

Instead, Unar’s plan is thwarted again and again. Refused to ascend in rank in the Garden, entangled in promises and debts to a family of slaves, Unar’s destiny takes her beneath the barrier into Understorey. There she learns of another, powerful type of magic, and discovers an organized plot to overthrow Canopy—a plot that Unar has the power to aid or destroy, at the cost of everything she’s striven for.

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Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

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Sixteen-year-old Saffron Coulter’s life is changed forever when she witnesses a strange woman she met a few hours ago enter a giant portal leading god-knows-where. Almost unthinkingly Saffron follows and finds herself in a whole new world. This strange woman, Gwen, is originally from Earth but years ago became a worldwalker and made this world and its country of Kena her home.

Kena is in the midst of political turmoil. To Gwen’s eternal regret, she supported a candidate for the thorne who turned out to be a backstabbing tyrant. Now Gwen and the group of rebels she belongs to have laid their sights on forming an alliance with the neighboring country of Veksh, whose government is rife with its own set of tensions and factions. Immediately thrust into a bewildering landscape of magic, politics, and religion, Saffron comes to play an integral role in determining Kena’s future. But at what cost? And what price will she have to pay upon the day she returns home?

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Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

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Late one night on the outskirts of Kolkata, a middle-aged, lonely college professor named Alok is approached by a mysterious stranger who claims to be part-werewolf. He gives Alok mesmerising, terrifying visions, a prologue to what will become this stranger’s unbelievable story. Captivated by what he’s seen and wanting to know more, Alok agrees to transcribe the contents of two ancient scrolls the stranger possesses.

These scrolls contain a bloody, magical tale that transcends recorded history and legend both. The first tells the story of a powerful Nordic shapeshifter, one of whose many names is Fenrir, who travels east with two other shapeshifters and seeks to fuck a human woman in order to partake in what his people do not—the creation and bearing of children. The second scroll is written by Cyrah, the woman who was raped by a bestial-looking white stranger. Her story is one of resistance, sought clarity, and dissolution of boundaries as she straddles the two worlds she—and her unborn child—will inhabit.

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Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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It feels a little odd to write a review of a popular, NYT best-selling book published four years ago—not only does my review inherently veer towards obsolescence (what’s the point of reviewing a commercially popular book several years after its publication? Most people have likely already read it or made up their minds whether or not they’re going to), there’s a good chance I’ll compound its obsolescence by not having anything new or worthwhile to say. But hopefully people reading this are interested in my thoughts because they are my thoughts. (And if not, I hope you stick around anyway.)

A good friend of mine has been regularly prodding me to read this book and its sequels for over a year now, and now I’ve finally made a start. (Also I reeaally want to read the Six of Crows series, but I want to have read the Grisha Trilogy first for context.)

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Mini-Reviews: The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin and Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

I have read too many books I have not written for reviews for yet, and I would like to be caught up, therefore I present you with some mini-reviews.

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin:

the-obelisk-gateThis is the book I would love to write a full-length review for if a) I had the time and b) this book wasn’t due back at the library the moment I am writing this post. N. K. Jemisin is a phenomenal, fantastic writer—it’s true what everyone is saying that these are the best books she’s written yet—and it’s all to do with how much fine-tuned control she has over the story and its many converging threads, as well as the words and tone she uses to tell it. 10-year-old Nassun’s chapters are pieces of painful beauty, the way they balance her childness, her trauma, her cynicism, her self-loathing, and her bottomless pit of yearning for the adults in her life to love, and to have loved her, the way she wants them to, the way they were supposed to.

… [Nassun] never knows anything of his ultimate fate other than that she has killed him, which makes her a monster.

“Perhaps,” [he] tells her as she sobs these words. He holds her in his lap again, stroking her thick curls. “But you are my monster.”

The Obelisk Gate is a comparatively slower, steadier book than The Fifth Season, which doesn’t mean it’s stagnant. More is uncovered about the nature of orogeny, the obelisks and Alabaster’s plan, and Essun is running on borrowed time to understand all of them before the current Season leads to starvation and the end of all humanity. To use a geology analogy, the story, and Essun and the comm of Castrima and Nassun, are all subjected to heat and pressure on all sides, and the rising tension threatens to explode and obliterate everything around them. Essun has already had her world destroyed far too many times already, and now she has a choice to make whether she’s going to do something to prevent her grudgingly adopted world from suffering the same fate as well.

“No vote,” you say… “Leave. Go join Rennanis if they’ll have you. But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any other part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people… This is a community. You will be unified. You will fight for each other. Or I will rusting kill every last one of you.

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal:
ghost-talkers This novel posits a World War I that contains the all-important Spirit Corps, a group of mediums who channel the ghosts of recently killed soldiers in order to obtain crucial information about the battlefield to aid the British war effort. American heiress Ginger Stuyvesant is one such medium. Like her fellow Spirit Corps members, she is beyond exhausted from channeling the influx of soldiers and handling their death experiences. When a ghost passes on information that suggests a German plot to neutralize the Spirit Corps, Ginger embarks on a dangerous mission that carries her to the front lines of battle and back to uncover both the plot and a murder.

Ghost Talkers is a breeze of a novel to read, which is an odd thing to say about a book set in World War I during the Battle of the Somme. Mary Robinette Kowal’s prose is smooth and light, and the scenes are written with levity, kindness, and warmth while retaining the horror and senseless destruction of war, and the particular form of disillusionment that characterized World War I. The characters are fun, and Kowal’s cast is composed of more than white, male soldiers, such as female nurses and hospitality women, Jamaican and Indian soldiers and aides in the war effort, and elderly and disabled soldiers and civilians.

Ginger herself was fine as a protagonist, but she never felt as having more than surface-level characterization, demonstrating generic strength, determination, and fire-branded-ness that didn’t actually tell me much about who she was, or what kind of person she was before the war. Additionally the plot involved some too-convenient twists near the end and unconvincing revelations (namely why the spy was a spy to begin with). Ultimately the historical fiction and supernatural elements of the book were far more successful than the actual story, which is a shame, because the world-building was so good.

Review: Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

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What would you sacrifice for your art? How much would you give up to be the very best? How much does one’s identity as an artist comes from innate talent versus the act of creation? Can an artist create art separate from their past experiences? Can an artist ever surpass their past?

These are the questions Roses and Rot asks of its readers and that protagonist Imogen, her sister Marin, and their fellow artists ask of themselves.

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Review: Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland

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Zephyr Mourning is a harpy bred-and-born, albeit not a very good one—her fighting and magic skills are deplorable, she freezes up in the middle of a fight. She was all prepared to live the rest of her life in the mortal realm amidst the humans rather than become a fully-fledged contract killer for the Greek gods, known here as the Exalted, the high Aetherials. And then someone was ordered to kill her beloved older sister. Upon finding her sister’s body, Zephyr killed him right back … except that person was a god, one of the low-ranked Aetherials. Now she’s been condemned to spend the rest of her days in Tartarus, forever known as Godslayer, with no hope of redemption. All that changes when two teenage boys—one of whom used to be her childhood friend—come looking for her. Zephyr has a role to play, one she never would have expected.

While Zephyr is incapable of manipulating the aether, the magic of light, she has long been able to channel erebos, the dark magic of the Underworld, but forbidden to do so. For centuries, shadow vaettir like her—the offspring or descendants of humans and gods who can channel erebos—have been quietly hunted to the point of extinction by the vaettir of the aether and the Aetherials.

Zephyr may be a lousy harpy, but, as it turns out, she is also the reincarnation of the Nyx, a powerful being capable of wielding erebos with greater ability than almost anyone and the prophesied champion of the shadow vaettir. But Zephyr’s positive she’ll fail at being the Nyx, just like she’s never been able to be a proper harpy. What will she do when her entire life has been defined by failing to be what people wanted her to be?

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Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

the library at mount char

The Library at Mount Char is easily the strangest book I’ve read in 2016 by far. It’s also super cool and fun and genre-defying.

There are homicidal librarians. Who rule the universe.

I mean, do you really need anything else in your fiction? Because I’m pretty sure you don’t.

Carolyn is a librarian, but she isn’t the normal, checking-in-books, reference kind of librarian. After Carolyn’s parents died when she was eight, she and eleven other children spent the next several years studying under the tutelage of a figure they call Father—who is essentially God. He gives each child a catalogue to study and master—Carolyn’s is that of language, from French to Japanese to the language of wild animals and squalls on Jupiter—and he teaches them in ways that are cruel, obscene, and highly effective. And from his teaching Carolyn and her siblings learn to master incomprehensible, powerful forces and to bend the very existence of the universe to their will.

But now Father is missing, maybe even dead … except he’s Father. No one can kill Father. And in his absence, a power vacuum has emerged that could destroy the entire universe. But Carolyn has had a plan since before Father’s absence, a long game that no one could ever have followed. But this plan carries risk, for humanity, for the universe, and, most importantly, herself.

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Review: The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

the fall of the kings

Remember two months ago how I wrote in my review of Swordspoint that I hoped to read The Fall of the Kings very soon? Yeah, that took a while.

Reading these books for the first time has led me to familiarize myself with their unusual history. Swordspoint, the first book set in the world containing the city of Riverside, was published in 1987. The Fall of the Kings is the second book in chronological publishing order (2002) but not in linear narrative order, taking place eighty or so years after Swordspoint, whereas the third book in this loosely connected series, The Privilege of the Sword, takes place only a couple decades after Swordspoint. As all three books were written to be read as standalones, it doesn’t matter in which order one reads them. I decided to go with chronological publishing order, in part because I was curious how the gaps in time between the writing and publishing the three books might affect each respective novel.

The Fall of the Kings differs from Swordspoint in three ways:

  1. The vast majority of the story takes place among the middle class residents of the city and in particular the city’s University, briefly identified in Swordspoint as Alec’s prior place of residence before taking up with St. Vier.
  2. The book is a collaboration between Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. Kushner is the originator of this universe and first set of characters, and Sherman is the one who first came up with the idea of writing an in-universe story set amidst the middle class and University.
  3. There is magic. Old, wild, powerful, and wondrous magic.

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Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

the lie tree

Do you like historical fiction novels?

Do you like horror novels?

Do you like novels with a light touch of the fantastic?

Do you like novels written for teenagers that are far superior to many novels written for adults?

Do you like novels about the roles of women and men but especially women set in Victorian England?

Do you like novels about the history of science and scientific exploration?

Do you like murder mysteries?

Do you like prose that is as perfect as prose can be?

Do you like novels about girls who lie, who sneak around and keep secrets, who want revenge, who can be cruel, who constantly defy expectations and face danger and punishment for either being themselves or for being female to begin with?

If you said yes to these questions, then you have no excuse not to read The Lie Tree.

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