30 Days of Pride: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Title: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: 24 March 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 437 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Five New Yorkers must come together in order to defend their city in the first book of a stunning new series by Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.

The City We Became is another masterpiece from speculative ficiton legend N.K Jemisin. As a non-American who has only spent five days in New York, I marvelled at the character and essence Jemisin evoked of this city. I expected great things from this book, because Jemisin is the author of my favourite adult fantasy series (The Broken Earth trilogy), and all my expectations were thoroughly met! This book entwines a brilliantly unique and imaginative a premise and the harsh and confronting realities of racism in the US, in a way that manages to bring New York to life and makes me feel like I know the city in a way I never imagined I’d be able to.

The City We Became is about what happens when the city of New York becomes alive. Sometimes, when a city grows large and develops a unique enough culture, that city’s soul can become alive. But the birth process of the city is dangerous and destructive, and smashes through other parallel universes in the process. When New York comes alive, the process is a bit different. There is such distinctive culture in each of the boroughs, that each borough awakens – and they choose one person (an avatar) to protect them, one person who personifies the culture of that city. So at the start of The City We Became, six people, one for each borough and one for the city of New York, suddenly realise they are a city. And the city needs protecting because during the birthing process, the avator of New York was injured. The Enemy is trying to kill the City whilst it’s weak, and it’s up to the five boroughs to find each other and protect the city from an attack that would kill millions.

I am in awe of Jemisin. I have never been to New York, and yet Jemisin has made me feel like I know the city. The way the culture of the boroughs is embedded in the characters is so well done, from the way they dress, to the way they act, to the the tensions between each of the characters, these characters fully embody the spirit of their home. Obviously, I’ve only spent 5 days in New York, so I feel like Americans and New Yorkers will be way more able to actually speak about how realistic and well this characterisation does actually represent the boroughs. But as an international outsider, I thought it was done fabulously, and I feel like I really get who and what each of the boroughs is. There were all so different and even though we switched between lots of POVs, every one felt so different. We have:

  • Manny: the newby to New York, who literally stepped off a train platform and the city immediately took him over and made him forget his past, New York giving him the new start he moved here for. He seems to have a very dark side, a memory of a coldness and cruelty to his past to represent the coldness and cruelty of Manhattan’s business class.
  • Bronca: if I had to choose a favourite, I’d choose Bronca. She’s the oldest of the team, Native American, queer, director of the Bronx Arts Centre. She’s fought all her life with AIM (the American Indian Movement), and she’s tired and doesn’t want to fight again. But she is so fierce and tough and her close relationship with daughter-figure Veneza, another employee at the Arts Centre, is sweet and so protective.
  • Brooklyn: points to the best fucking entrance goes to Brooklyn, who managed to fight off an alien with a music beat and goddamn stilleto heels, she is an icon! Black, rich, councilwoman, mother, Brooklyn is as stylish as they come. She has a past as a rapper, and uses her music to give her power.
  • Padmini: the woman from Queens, incredibly clever, but who’s bored out of her mind putting her mathematical brain to use in finance because that’s where they money is, which she needs to support her family.
  • Aislyn: Staten Island, white, racist, doesn’t feel like part of New York, scared of change, scared of foreigners, someone who just wants to be left alone.
  • And then there’s New York themselves, the homeless, skinny young man who would die for the city – but he isn’t going to let The Enemy win that fucking easily.

The diversity and uniqueness of each of these individuals, and of the boroughs they represent, was so vivid. I feel like I know New York even though I’m not a New Yorker, and not even American.

What’s just as special and as important as this incredible characterisation, is the way Jemisin entwines this hugely creative concept with the confronting insidiousness of racism and otherness. The Enemy, this creature from another world, is able to manipulate people in New York who are susceptible to bigotry – it makes them easier to manipulate into attacking the avatars of New York. From police turning into monsters, to the white women calling the cops, Jemisin showcases the way societal structures can be twisted to uphold white supremacy. What I found most haunting, most insidious and most terrifying, was the way The Enemy interacted with Aislyn, Staten Island. This is a woman who’s had a pretty shit upbringing, she lives in an abusive household, she isn’t a loud and vocal racist like her dad though she prefers if foreigners stay away from her, she’s there as the silent, complicit white person. And the way The Enemy hooks its claws into Staten Island slowly, the way it uses friendship and niceness as a weapon, the way Staten Island is willing to give it the benefit of the doubt because of how it looks, is terrifying because Jemisin made it so easy to see how white supremacy is upheld – not by the white supremacists, but by the people like Aislyn who don’t say anything, who choose to believe what’s easy and not what’s right. I want to recommend this book to every white person I know.

So suffice to say: I fucking loved this book. N.K Jemisin remains one of my favourite authors. Her books are so unique, so well researched, and she combines these huge creative powerhouse concepts with vicious take downs of societal structures and the racism they uphold. I cannot recommend enough!

Book review: Eden by Tim Lebbon

Title: Eden by Tim Lebbon

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication date: 7 April 2020

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 384 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: From the bestselling author of The Silence comes a brand-new supernatural eco thriller. In large areas of the planet, nature is no longer humanity’s friend…

In a time of global warming and spiralling damage to the environment, the Virgin Zones were established to help combat the change.  Abandoned by humanity and given back to nature, these vast areas in a dozen remote locations across the planet were intended to become the lungs of the world. 

But there are always those drawn to such places.  Extreme sports enthusiasts and adventure racing teams target the dangerous, sometimes deadly zones for illicit races.  Only the hardiest and most experienced dare undertake these expeditions. When one such team enters the oldest Zone, Eden, they aren’t prepared for what confronts them.  Nature has returned to Eden in an elemental, primeval way.  And here, nature is no longer humanity’s friend.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Another very enjoyable horror, this time ticking off my first eco-horror! Eden combines the dark ecological future of humanity with the beauty and life of nature.

In Eden, a group of adventure racers are sneaking into a heavily guarded nature zone, an area of Earth where all human presence has been removed and the area ‘given back’ to nature, in an attempt to halt or fix the ecological destruction caused by humans. They plan to be the first to race across Eden. But Eden has different plans. Wildlife and nature is different in Eden compared to the other zones they’ve crossed, and something seems to be hunting them. Only wild animals? Or is it something worse….. (Of course it’s something worse).

I absolutely loved the premise and history of Eden. Each chapter opens with short anecdotes and quotes about the creation and maintenance of these nature zones and the violent mercenaries hired to guard them (Zeds). I thought these added such a sense of history and intrigue to the book. I would love to read a book set several years before Eden, that looks at how humanity went about removing themselves from these areas, and about the formation of the Zeds, the mercenary group, because it sounds like it was a very interesting time.

My biggest problem with this book however is the very detached writing style. Because of this very detached way of saying what’s happening, I didn’t really feel close to any of the characters. So, similarly to the last horror book I read, Devolution, I really didn’t care when the team started dying. And in horror, you really need to give a shit about the characters to be fully sucked into the book and emotionally invested in the deaths. Everything felt like it was happening somewhere else. Plus, none of the characters seem like very nice people which probably didn’t help with my attachment to them.

The descriptions of Eden and the world around them were really lovely though. The style of writing worked much better towards descriptive world building that it did to charachter building. The landscape was huge and expansive and full of wonder untouched by humanity. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of these ghost orchids, new, almost magical plants giving life to the horrors of Eden.

All in all, I liked this book and enjoyed another stop on my road of horror exploration. I just wish it was written with a bit more emotion as I found the detached tone worked brilliantly for worldbuilding but not so great for character building.

Book review: Devolution by Max Brooks

Title: Devolution by Max Brooks

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Publication date: 16 June 2020

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 320 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: The #1 bestselling author of World War Z takes on the Bigfoot legend with a tale that blurs the lines between human and beast–and asks what we are capable of in the face of the unimaginable.

As the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier’s eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined . . . until now.

But the journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town’s bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing–and too earth-shattering in its implications–to be forgotten.

In these pages, Max Brooks brings Kate’s extraordinary account to light for the first time, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the legendary beasts behind it.

Kate’s is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity’s defiance in the face of a terrible predator’s gaze, and inevitably, of savagery and death.

Yet it is also far more than that.

Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us–and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I came to Devolution entirely new to both the author and the Bigfoot legend, but with the knowledge that the World War Z film terrified me and that’s what made me want to read Devolution. It’s my first ‘monster horror’ (most I’ve read so far have been more paranormal or psychologically based). And I really enjoyed it! I absolutely flew through Devolution, it’s the kind of book where you start reading and then suddenly notice it’s four hours later and you’re clenched with fear on the sofa.

Devolution is all about the Bigfoot legend. Mount Rainier has just erupted, devasting the North West US. The resulting impact causes a group of animals (Bigfoots) to make their way south, where they encounter a small group of humans living in a new ‘green eco village’ in the middle of nature. What follows is a vicious contest of human vs animal.

Brooks acts as a journalist of sorts, similar to the style (I believe) that he used in his previous novel World War Z. The book is composed of an introduction from Brooks the journalist, and then extracts from a journal from one of the villagers, Kate, an interview with a ranger who discovered the village massacre after the eruption of Rainier, and an interview with Frank, Kate’s brother who is still searching for her. I really love books which have a more unconventional format like this, there’s something really special about horror novels which give you little glimpses into the terrible future through different extracts and interviews. I just get great amounts of pleasure in knowing things are about to get real fucked up, does that make me a bad person? It’s a similar format to one of my favourite books of all time, Into the Drowning Deep, which this reminded me of given the writing style and ‘monster of legend’ feature (though ITDD is much more sciencey).

I thought the first half of the novel in particular was really excellent. As I said above, I started it not knowing what to expect as this was a new type of horror writing, and then I found myself entranced several hours later almost half way through the book and riveted with fear. The initial build up, the unknowing, the noises in the trees, the feeling of someone watching them, it was all done so well. I did find the fear dropped quite a bit once the monsters are revealed and it becomes more gorey fighting horror, and becomes a bit predictable (Sasquatch kills human, humans retaliate, and repeat). I think that’s probably more related to what scares me than anything else, I’m sure other readers will find the opposite.

I enjoyed Kate as our lead character too. She goes through a huge progression across the novel, from anxious wife, to gardener, to weaponsmith. I really liked the idea that catastrophe reveals who you truly are, and watching the characters undergo this transformation was really interesting, with those you disliked at the start becoming your favourites when they transform in the face of danger (hello Carmen). The characters are all quite surface level deep, but I think that was likely intentional. It’s very satirical the way Brooks handles this group of vapid idiots going into nature, assuming nature won’t ever hurt them and thus bringing zero useful supplies, but if she does hurt them then they’ll be saved by “someone” anyway so what does it matter. However unfortunately it does result in you not really being hugely emotionally invested in any of the characters, which obviously makes their deaths a lot less affecting. And I feel like that’s the most important part of horror writing: I need to care about the characters or else the entire lead up to the scary deaths is completely pointless because the resulting ‘end’ just has me going ‘meh’. 🤷

All in all, I think this was a great intro to a new genre of horror for me. I loved the writing style, and found the first half particularly scary and I definitely now want to work up the courage to read World War Z (though after how scared I was of the film, I don’t know if that’ll ever happen – I find zombie movies particularly frightening!!) It was a quick and enjoyable read, but did lack a bit of character development to get me more invested in any of the characters staying alive.

Book review: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Title: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Publication date: 23 June 2020

Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 400 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Danger lurks within the roots of Forest of Souls, an epic, unrelenting tale of destiny and sisterhood, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Susan Dennard.

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been quite disappointed in a number of recent YA fantasy reads, so I was quite nervous going into this one. But I was absolutely enthralled with this world! Forest of Souls is an action packed, fast paced, creepy forest driven fantasy. I can definitely see where the comp to Naomi Novik comes from, this felt very reminiscent of Uprooted, which I also loved. I’m so happy this turned out to be just as exciting as I wanted.

Forest of Souls is a magic driven world, with shamans born into five seperate callings. Sirscha discovers she is a lightwender when her best friend dies in battle, and then Sirscha brings her back to life. Ronin, an incredibly powerful shaman who is the only thing keeping three kingdoms from ouright war, summons Sirscha to the Dead Wood. The Dead Wood is a terrifying, alive forest where trapped souls strain to be free. He wants Sirscha’s help to control the souls to ensure he remains all powerful enough to keep the kingdoms from war.

It’s definitely a complex plot and world that isn’t as common in YA, and is something more usually seen in adult fantasy (which could be why I enjoyed this so much since I’m on a very strong adult fantasy binge right now). There is a huge magic system, lots of history regarding Ronin and the creation of the Dead Wood, and the history and politics of the three kingdoms, all of which need to be explained to really understand what’s happening. Because of the amount of information needed, it’s hard to avoid info-dumps, but I found them really intriguing and interesting. I think this was particularly helped my the voice of our main character, Sirscha. This book is first person POV, all told by Sirscha. She has a very easy and accessible voice, so the info dumps didn’t really feel like you were being overwhelmed with lots of information, it was really easy to get through and find out about the fascinating world.

The book is absolutely action packed and is very fast paced, which I really enjoyed. I absolutely raced through the book. There’s lots of new information and twists that help the surging of the plot. I think it’s definitely more of an action driven narrative than character driven. There’s not huge amounts of time to get to know the side characters because Sirscha is charging all over the place trying to save her kingdom. It’s a very different kind of fantasy to what I usually read (heavy character driven books), but I still found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Of the characters, I do have a soft spot for Ronin. Troubled, brooding characters are just the best. He doesn’t spend huge amounts of time on page but he still manages to have such a presence when we see him. Between him and the atmosphere from the woods, I think that’s what gave me the very strong Novik vibes. Which I am not complaining about at all because I love this vibe. The forest is a really scary and creepy place, the faces on the trees screaming ‘Run’ is definitely an image I’m not going to forget for a while!

All in all, I really enjoyed this book! It’s very different to the fantasy I usually read, but I thought it was a really well written, fast paced, action centric fantasy, with a fun voice and full of lots of atmospheric dead forests and brooding men! It’s definitely one of my favourite YA fantasies of the year so far!

Book review: It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood

Title: It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood

Publisher: Text Publishing

Publication date: 6 August 2019

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romcom

Page extent: 304 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: When her parents announce their impending separation, Natalie can’t understand why no one is fighting or at least mildly upset. And now that Zach and Lucy, her two best friends, have fallen in love, she’s feeling slightly miffed and decidedly awkward.

Where does she fit in now? And what has happened to the version of her life that played out like a TV show—with just the right amount of banter, pining and meaningful looks?

Nothing is going according to plan.

But then an unexpected romance comes along and shakes things up even further.

It Sounded Better in My Head is a tender, funny and joyful novel about longing, confusion, feeling left out and finding out what really matters.

As a disclaimer, please be aware that I do now work for this publisher (for about a month now!) This has in no way influenced this review nor did they ask me to review this book on my blog. All opinions are my own. I just read it and fucking loved it!

Yes!! I read a book on my TBR that isn’t sad and stressful but is happy and full of joy and fun and snark! This was so much fun. A brilliant romcom about a stressed and anxious teen who accidentally falls in love with her best friend’s brother. This reminded me of all my favourite romcoms, from Red, White & Royal Blue to Amelia Westlake to Only Mostly Devastated (I apologise for only having queer comps, turns out I rarely read hetero romcoms! Who’d have thought it!) This was absolutely the perfect book for me to read right now, it is lighthearted, fun, and the main character is such a mess, I adore her, she is me and I am her.

It Sounded Better In My Head is the story of Natalie, a young adult on the cusp of change, as she prepares for university in Melbourne. But on Christmas Day, her parents reveal they’ve broken up (and have been for 10 months, they just didn’t tell her). To top it off, her two best friends are dating each other so she constantly feels like a third wheel, she’s racked with fear, shame and anxiety over her acne scars which destroyed her self esteem as a young teen, and now, when she’s finally starting to fall for a boy, he just so happens to be her best friend’s older brother. Suffice to say: her life is a mess.

Natalie is quite possibly one of my favourite characters in YA. She is immediately relatable and likeable. I think this book joins Only Mostly Devastated as book with most lines I squealed at, screenshotted and sent to my partner to exclaim how similar she is to me. She is so self deprecating, so sarcastic, and incredibly destroyed from her experience as a young teen with severe acne. And underneath all her martyr-like behaviour to avoid being vulnerable, she is deeply hurt and broken by her parents divorce, and is terrified of being alone forever. She is such a brilliant character, she was so messy and imperfect and clearly aware of how messed up she was but at the same time totally unable to change, and it felt so realistic and relatable.

This book is light hearted and so full of fun. I absolutely raced through it and found it the perfect antidote to the constant stress and bombardment of bad news from the virus situation: this book felt like a hug. Highly recommend if you, like me, are an anxious mess and would like to feel warm and cosy and safe for the first time in a while.

Book review: The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood

Title: The Unspoken Name by A.K Larkwood

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication date: 11 February 2020

Genre: Fantasy | Adult

Page extent: 464 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

“Nothing in this world has earned the power to frighten you, Csorwe,” he said. “You have looked your foretold death in the face and turned from it in defiance. Nothing in this world or any other deserves your fear.”

Hello to another incredible fantasy of 2020. I absolutely loved this debut! It set itself up to be a pretty incredible sounding fantasy: sacrifice, necromancy, terrifying gods, a deal with a wizard, portal travel, f/f slow burn romance, TUSKS. And I definitely thought it delivered! It’s one of those “it’s definitely not for everyone” fantasies. It’s quite slow in places, and has extensive (and I mean extensive) worldbuilding with all of these cool flying ships, portals, the Maze and the different worlds to explain and explore. But if you like a long, detailed, super queer fantasy, then this is for you!

The story begins with Csorwe, a young woman destined to be sacrificed on her fourteenth birthday to her god. But, when it comes her time to die, she instead runs away with a wizard, Sethennai, who offers to take her on and train her to be his sword and right hand person. We follow Csorwe on her journey to help the wizard find an ancient artifact, the Reliquary of Pentravesse, an object that claims to hold incredible magical knowledge developed by the legendary Pentravesse himself.

First of all, I had no idea this had portal travel going in, and it was so much fun! This novel really blends sci fi with fantasy, combining the best parts of magic with technological advances to create this incredible world. At the start, it can be difficult to get your head around – I wasn’t quite sure how The Maze worked for a while. But as Csorwe expands her knowledge of the world and discovers what living is really like, so do you! Larkwood has created such a huge, expansive world, full of imagination and wonderfully describes it. Each different world we enter is fully realised and created such a perfectly clear picture in my head, from the Shrine where Csorwe grew up, to the city of Tlaanthothe, to the dying world within the Maze (the inbetween space of the portals). It reminded me rather of Dragon Age actually, with the same type of expansive world, these gates that lead to an inbetween space, so full of different peoples and of course, magic. I think if you love the Dragon Age games, this book is definitely for you. Like DragonAge, religion is a huge element of this book which is something I always love in fantasies because I find them so creative and unique in every book I read. In The Unspoken Name we are introduced to several gods and the people who follow them, from Csorwe and the Shrine of the Unspoken orc priestesses to Shuthmilli’s nine gods, one of the nine fallen to evil who attempts to re-enter the world through mages (of which Shuthmilli is one). I loved exploring each of these and I expect we’ll see more of these religious theories play a part in the next book.

As much as I loved the worldbuilding (and given this is perhaps one of my favourite world’s I’ve ever read about, I love it a lot), my favourite thing about The Unspoken Name were the characters. There is something about a character who is just a total mess that makes you love them (and we have several!!)

Csorwe: our main character, so devoted to Sethennai, the wizard who rescued her and determined to pay him back for what she sees as giving her life. Her growth over the book is so brilliant, from the quiet sacrificial bride, to the fiersome, but blunt, sword of Sethennai, to a woman who must toy with betrayal to do the right thing.

Tal: the much needed lightness and humour of the book! God he has had a rough ticket in life. He’s so full of anger and resentment that he is never noticed by Sethennai and thus spends the entire book attempting to undermine Csorwe so for once he will be centre of Sethennai’s attention.

Shuthmili: probably my favourite because there’s nothing I love more than the most powerful, in control woman in the room completely losing it. I LOVE HER. She’s able to wield incredibly powerful magic, and is due to be bound into a group of magic soldiers with one mind. But then she meets Csorwe, and well, things go a bit off course.

Oranna: our wonderful necromancer. She dances in and out of our gaze and we’re never really quite sure if she’s the villain we should be looking at. Searching for immortality, she is always two steps ahead of Sethennai and his crew.

And then there’s Sethennai himself: the wizard controlling all the strings and so secure in the faith and loyalty of his crew. Well, see for yourself what that gets him….

I really just adored this fantasy. It kept me so immersed and distracted from the real world. Csorwe and Shuthmili’s relationship is of course a delight. My heart was bursting, there’s one particular scene which killed me (see above comment about a very in control woman losing all sense of control). I was so invested in all of these characters, I understood all of them so much (even if I wasn’t the best fan of them at first – sorry Tal. But then he ended up being one of my favourites!!) I really liked that we got to see short insights into the minds of each of these characters, breaking away from Csorwe at times to see what the rest of them are up to. I think that really helped get me so invested in all of them, rather than just our main character.

“No hard feelings, you piece of shit.”

Is there probably a few problems with this book? Sure. I’m never the biggest fan of time hopping in books, and there were some scenes were things fell into place a bit too easily. But I still adored this book. My issues with it didn’t detract at all from my love of these characters and my desire to see more of them!! I cannot wait for this sequel.

Book review: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Title: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Publisher: Zephyr

Publication date: eBook – 7 May 2020 (Print: Summer 2020)

Genre: Historical | Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 432 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

Do you hear the people sing?! Singing the song of angry men! It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again!

I always knew “disaster queers in the French Revolution era” was exactly my type of shit and this book just proved it times like a million. This was such a fun riot of chaos: a rag tag group of teens get in way over their head when they rescue a prisoner who happens to control electricity. With both the Revolutionaries currently in control of France, and the Royalists desperate to return to power, both searching for the girl, the Battalion des Mortes must use all their wit, charm and sheer dumb luck to escape the clutches of all who chase them.

In Dangerous Remedy, the Revolution hasn’t really improved things all that much. Instead of a free France for all, the Revolutionaries have taken over with the same terror and fear as the Royalists before them, sending all to stand against them (and even some who don’t) to the guillotine, the symbol of the revolution. At the heart of this story are the Battalion des Mortes, a group of outcast teens trying to save the innocent from the guillotine. Our crew:

  • Camille, leader of the Battalion: headstrong, combatant and, despite her appearance of planning for her heists, sooooooo impulsive. She is at times a difficult character to like (her unwillingness to communicate causes oh so many problems and got me so mad) but this all comes from her complete devotion and passion to the Battalion which sometimes clouds her ability to think clearly.
  • Ada, our clever science researcher, desperately in love with Camille and terrified that Camille will never choose her over the Battalion. And also hiding a big secret about her father that she knows Camille will kill her for if she ever finds out.
  • Al, who I think is my personal favourite: destructive, sarcastic and just as combative as Camille, terrified to let anyone close in case they don’t care for him as he does for them, broken beyond belief thanks to his parents, and drinking himself to a slow death.
  • Guil, ex military softie, the biggest brain of them all, calm and clear headed in a crisis and the man we all need around to get us the fuck out of situations.
  • Olympe, the girl with magic, otherwise known as able to control electricity, scared and fearful of the world who hurt her but who will do whatever it takes to bring them down.
  • James, the man from Camille’s past, the healer who seemingly will do all he can to protect Cam.

These six will race against time to fool the Revolutionaries and Royalists in the most fun adventure ever. When Kat Dunn described this team as “queer disasters”, we all really underestimated how much disasters they would be, I love all of them so much. I just adore the way Dangerous Remedy opens and we’re immediately thrown into a prison break that keeps going wrong and then wrong again and then wrong again. I adore Ada’s complete “for the love of God/sounds about right” attitude throughout as disaster after disaster follows the team. They are simply the most fun to be around. I love the way Dunn both plays into and laughs at common tropes. The humour and snark really added to this book and made it into even more of the delightfully fun romp it is.

The setting is of course also fabulous. We are embedded in the artsy underworld that made Paris such a centre of the art scene, from the decadent, absinthe clubs, to the theatre scenes, I thought it perfectly captured the essence of Revolution France.

All in all this was a fabulously fun read and I can’t wait to see what happens to the Battalion des Mortes next. More disasters probably. Vive la révolution.

Book review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Publication date: 14 January 2020

Genre: Historical | Contemporary | Magical realism | Young adult

Page extent: 309 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.

I’m a reader whose favourite books tend to be massively detailed fantasy tomes, with lots of rich worldbuilding. I’ve always found this results in me not clicking with magical realism/fabulism/contemporary fantasy quite as much, because there is often some aspects of ambiguity or suspension of disbelief required for the world to make sense. So whenever I read a novel of this type, I find I either really love it or just feel a bit meh. And unfortunately this was the later for me, which I am devastated about because I was so excited to read my first Anna-Marie McLemore book. But saying that, I was every bit in love with McLemore’s writing as I expected to be, and I fully plan to continue my dive into their work!

Dark and Deepest Red is a dual timeline story: 1518, where a dancing plague rolls through the town of Strasbourg, and modern day, where a pair of red shoes force a girl to dance. Inspired by the real historical accounts of a dancing plague as well as Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Red Shoes. I’m not familiar with that fairytale so I came to this book very new to the story. This is also my very first Anna Marie McLemore book, and I was hugely excited because so many people in the book community absolutely rave over their books.

I’d like to start with the really positive which is that I 100% want to read more of McLemore’s work. I found the language and writing absolutely beautiful, and that really lived up to what I’ve heard from others about their work. The language was what drew me through the story and made me want to keep reading. As expected also, let’s shout out to the awesome rep in this story: there is a lead trans man and he is absolutely my favourite character! I adored Alifair. He’s actually the only character who doesn’t get his own POV, and I wonder if I therefore liked him so much because he felt so mysterious compared to the others.

Unfortunately, I think it was the story itself that I didn’t click with. The ambiguity and lack of explanation got to me and I think I would prefer the story a bit more resolved. I also felt the structure of three different POVs, each section only a few pages long, made it difficult to ever root for a character or get a chance to understand them a bit more. A story like this, which is so heavily dependant on its characters to make up for the ambiguity in its world/magic, really needs strong characters and I just didn’t get a chance to feel close to the characters because we were whisked away from constantly.

So whilst I wasn’t in love with this particular story and world, I really was awed by Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing and I will definitely be picking up one of their earlier books which might work better for me.

Book review: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Title: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Publisher: Mantle

Publication date: 10 March 2020

Genre: Historical | Adult | Gothic romance

Page extent: 352 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .

August 1939.

Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.

Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.

As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses?

Part love story, part mystery, The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is a gripping and atmospheric tale of family madness, long-buried secrets and hidden desires.

If gothic mystery and soft sapphic love surrounded by a creepy setting of taxidermy animals sounds amazing, then this is the book for you! I thought this was absolutely gorgeous, so much so, I have now added several of my favourite gothic classics to my immediate TBR and looked out all my old gothic romance films I watched as an impressionable young adult so I can show my partner and he can see how I became who I am. And why I really have A Type when it comes to my film and literature crushes.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor has one of the most interesting premises of all books releasing this year. Yes I said it! What kind of premise makes me give this statement? Well, it’s the start of WW2 and the Natural History Museum is evacuating its animals from London. Hetty, a young assistant at the museum, is tasked with looking after the mammal collection as it travels and stays at Lockwood Manor, a mysterious and haunting old manor house in the country, ruled by the irascible Lord Lockwood, a man who scorns and belittles Hetty for her passion, and his daughter, Lucy, a woman as equally mysterious as the house, who Hetty is immediately drawn to despite her oddity. (Well that was a long sentence). But when the animals start going missing, Hetty’s future at the museum is at stake as she fears any damage to the collection will be held as sorely her responsibility. And with Lord Lockwood refusing to aid in her efforts to find the thief/ghost/mysterious person behind the damage, she must discover the culprit herself.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor is a beautiful return to the setting of all of my favourite classics. This gothic romance and mystery is so reminiscent of my favourites, from Wuthering Heights to Dracula (though Lucy isn’t quite as brooding a love interest). I found the use of the museum’s creatures as a setting absolutely perfect for this style of book. It created such a disturbing atmosphere, always surrounded by thousands of the dark beady eyes of the animals, no matter where Hetty returned something following her and looking at her. It was so creepily delightful!! The story did perhaps start a little slowly, the more mystery part of the book not picking up until further through, but I found I really didn’t mind that much because the language and setting were so captivating I was happy to luxuriate and laze my way through the story.

When the mystery does kick in, the story heats up as Hetty struggles more and more viciously to live with Lord Lockwood as he exerts his control all through the house. You never really know who the real threat is, which is one the things I most adore about these gothic style novels. I was both overwhelmed with hatred for Lord Lockwood and the way he treated Hetty and the museum as if he owned them, whilst simultaneously being completely engrossed in the more supernatural elements: the woman in white who haunted Lucy’s mother and seems to haunt Lucy herself. And the longer Hetty stays at the Manor, the more she seems to be under the spell of this haunting as well…

Of course no book such as this is complete without the seemingly effortless romance of Hetty and Lucy. I love reading romances set in this time period, because the way everyone seems to laze about and lounge and languish is just so perfectly romantic to me. The start of this novel had me squealing in delight as Hetty and Lucy danced around each other, it was such a gentle and unhurried rush to the romance, full of soft brushes of fingers, a glance across a room and of course the drunken brush of lips against a cheek.

Healey has created an absolutely marvellous addition to the gothic romance genre, one I am pleased to say was as beautiful and mesmerising as I expected!

Book review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Doubleday Books

Publication date: 5 November 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Adult | Literary fiction | Fabulism

Page extent: 498 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.

A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.

It’s hard to review a book that makes you completely speechless, one that immerses you so completely it is difficult to emerge from. Whenever I put this book down, I found myself wandering in a daze as I struggled to get back to reality. I found myself grumpy and snappish when I had to stop reading to do daily chores, because this book felt so perfectly escapist that it was a joy to journey into in the current climate. Behold and watch me try to write a review that is even one percent as beautiful as this book was!

“Having a physical reaction to a lack of book is not unusual.”

It is, at its heart, a love letter for readers and storytelling, mythology and fantasy. The Starless Sea is a journey for the reader who longs to escape, for those of us who wish to disappear into the books we read every day rather than face the reality around us. And it brought that escape so thoroughly and wonderfully, I felt close to tears when I finished, as well as sheer wonder and astonishment, as I longed to return to the world.

The Starless Sea is a maze of several different stories, crossed paths, and twisting journeys. We follow Zachary Ezra Rawlins after he reads a library boo, and finds himself appearing in the pages, an event from when he was a young boy, but definitely him. But the book has missing pages, and so he can’t read the rest of his story and so begins a quest he doesn’t yet know the end of. As he tries to track down the origins of the book, he crosses paths with Dorian, a storyteller Zachary is immediately drawn to, and Mirabel, a door maker. And if you believe enough, if you long enough for something, then those doors might just lead somewhere. (Yes, to a magical library BOOM).

“It is a sanctuary for storytellers and storykeepers and storylovers. They eat and sleep and dream surrounded by chronicles and histories and myths.”

Interspersed with Zachary’s journey are several different stories from other travellers to the library. Whilst each story appears unconnected the first time we meet it, each subsequent appearance reveals more of these crossed paths and more hints at where Zachary’s story must lead. One of my biggest thrills in reading is that moment of realisation, when all the hints and foreshadowing and different stories all come together in a lightbulb moment as you realise what’s actually going on. And The Starless Sea is a book filled with that moment again and again and again – because this magical library is just that: magical. It sits outside of time, and so time passes oddly and inconsistently, bringing all these characters paths together and apart, with Zachary, Dorian and Mirabel at the centre.

“It is easier to be in love in a room with closed doors. To have the whole world in one room. One person. The universe condensed and intensified and burning, bright and alive and electric.”

The Starless Sea is about love. Zachary and Dorian’s connection, desire and yes, love, is reflected in the stories interspersing their journey, as they travel a path others have journeyed before. Their love is that seen in Romeo and Juliet, they are the star-crossed lovers, they are the couple Time and Fate have longed to bring together, and this love burns through the story. It feels so substantial, as if they’ve lived this story so many times before, their love given power and life through the stories around them. I feel like it needs no stating, but this story is no realistic contemporary. It isn’t a story about a love that makes sense or a love that grows in a sensible, timely manner. This is a story about the magic and joy and escapism in storytelling, thus their love reflects this: it is the passion and urgency, desire and all consumingness that comes with Juliet’s poison and Romeo’s dagger. Much like the library represents that mystery and magic, escape and lifeline that readers long for, Dorian and Zachary’s love represents the desire and connection we long for and see time and time again in the stories we read. Like I said at the start of my review, The Starless Sea is a love letter to storytelling and the longing stories bring out in us: the longing for escape, the longing for love, and the longing for that special feeling that fills us when we are overwhelmed by a good book.

Like Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, the writing and prose is of course beautiful and mesmerising. It’s like getting lost in all of your favourite books at once. The world she has created is the one we all long to go to, the place where we belong and wish we could stay forever.

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“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”

The Starless Sea is not a book for everyone. I’m sure the slow, winding journey through several different stories is not for everyone, it doesn’t have a familiar structure and I can completely see why it may be confusing or meandering to a different reader. If you’ve never known the desire to disappear inside a book, this isn’t for you. But to those of us who read to escape, who live and breathe the books they read, who long to disappear inside the stories, then this story is a love letter to you, and everything you imagine when you read.

In other words: I fucking loved this.

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