Category Archives: Review

A Basket of Reviews: June 2020

Long time no read! Or at least, I’ve been reading things that I already love, so there’s not a lot of point in telling you about them. But… I have managed to read some new things!

Embers of War by Gareth L Powell – a book about a poet on the run from people trying to kill her, a misfit-laden ship trying to rescue her, and the cracks left over from the previous war. Action-packed, thoughtful, decent characters, and I like Trouble Dog (the ship.)

Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis – a novella in the same world as Snowspelled. Cute, adorable, and needs to be longer! You do need to read Snowspelled and Thornbound first, though, but I don’t think that’s a hardship – Regency feminist magic with adorable characters!

Recursion by Blake Crouch – a romance for people who don’t like romance. Very hardcore sci-fi and action, but a love story at heart; definitely got some mind-bending stuff in it, but it’s all fairly follow-able.

Ninth House by Leah Bardugo – urban fantasy meets screwed-up student going to Yale… it’s got a nice dose of reality but I wonder if the “Yale is seriously messed up in a whole new magical way!” is the reason it was so popular? Fun character interactions though, it was a good read. Not sure if I’ll pick up the next one or not.

Aaaaand – I can talk about this now! The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison, Sherlock wingfic in a fantasy London, with a whole bunch of really good twists on the Sherlock canon. It’s ridiculously fun and I love it!

Review: Empire of Sand

Empire of Sand (The Books of Ambha, #1) by Tasha Suri


Mehr is a girl trapped between two cultures. Her father comes from the ruling classes of the empire, but her mother’s people were outcasts, Amrithi nomads who worshipped the spirits of the sands.

Caught one night performing these forbidden rites, Mehr is brought to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, who try to force her into their service by way of an arranged marriage. If she fails in their bidding, the gods themselves may awaken and seek vengeance…

You know a book is good when you have to tweet the author (who is a friend, I don’t usually tweet at random authors) going WHAT EVEN IS THIS and I HAD OTHER STUFF TO DO TODAY and YOU ARE A MONSTER.

It’s so, so readable, and I’m annoyed that it took me this long to get to on my TBR.

The setting is haunting and beautiful and I love the multiple cultural inspirations that wind together but never feel like something wholesale borrowed; the characters are believable (and this from me, who ranted about a book with no character agency and I  also really hate the cliches that usually come with this sort of plot because just URGH but this time, YES); the plot has a whole bunch of twists that are built up nicely and tug you along; the magic system is lovely and I love the learning process and just-

I love it.

cover of realm of ashIt’s a running-away-from-home and finding-yourself and realising-the-world-is-mean (actually, more like “realising the world is mean in a whole variety of ways”) and slow-falling-in-love and people-are-actually-kinda-decent and some beautiful magic and landscapes and settings and YES JUST GO READ IT OK.

Also I immediately bought the second one (Realm of Ash) and devoured it so there’s that.

I know I normally do slightly better reviews but it’s readable and lovely and annoying and it’s the type of book that’s exactly what you need for a rainy day when you have a sofa and a cup of tea. So just buy it, ok?

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow


In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored and utterly out of place.

But her quiet existence is shattered when she stumbles across a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page reveals more impossible truths about the world, and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

I have loved Alix Harrow’s writing ever since reading one of her short stories (I’ll remember the name at 4am, don’t worry…) and grabbed the book eagerly when I saw it at FantasyCon! And it’s definitely, definitely worth the read.

It’s a story about a girl trying to find out who she is and where she comes from… and about trying to find her father and mother… and trying to find the way home… and opening and closing doors, and how stories fit into those, and how treasures fit into all of it, and why danger and adventure keeps chasing her around. The book is told between two perspectives, one of which is January’s, and both keep tugging you along to read as you want to know what happens next in both!

It’s also got some wonderful quotes about stories and writing and imagination; Lyndsie Manusos has done an excellent selection over on BookRiot, but I think my favourite is;

Worlds were never meant to be prisons, locked and suffocating and safe. Worlds were supposed to be great ramblings houses with all the windows thrown open and the wind and summer rain rushing through them, with magic passages in their closets and secret treasure chests in their attics.

So basically; if you like words and stories and adventures and beautiful writing, read this.

Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

A century ago, scientists theorised that a habitable planet existed in a nearby solar system. Today, ten astronauts will leave a dying Earth to find it. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space-race. And six are teenagers, graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy, who’ve been in training for this mission for most of their lives.

It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years spent in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong. And something always goes wrong.

I don’t usually do bad reviews, but oh my goodness this book annoyed me.

Let’s start with the good. The characters are well-done, full of teenage angst. The relationships amongst them are nicely woven; the personalities and problems, the events and small dramas, the reactions to problems and the small joys. It is a very angst-filled book, but it’s also one about growing and learning and finding your place – and being scared of the unknown, scared of the future, and learning to overcome all of that.

The writing is also good; it’s thoughtful, philosophical in places, and nicely builds on each character’s personality to let them express wider thoughts. It can be a little clumsy in places but that actually works quite well for teenagers discovering something for the first time, and working towards vocalising their place in the world.

However, I’ve got serious bones to pick with the wider world and situation. The basic premise is that four adults and six teenagers are sent on a one-way trip to a habitable planet – but for some reason, they’re only sending these ten. More people will come later… because obviously that’s somehow cost-effective? Or it’s specifically useful to only send ten people to start with? (We get hints of the wider politics going on around the mission, but we don’t actually get to find out much about it, which is rather frustrating.)

But my main picky point is: who sends six teenagers into space with only four adults? Who sends teenagers into space and doesn’t realise they might get little things like depression and anxiety, particularly after the trauma they suffer at the start of the book? And who the f*** thinks an incredibly punishing regime of work, study, more work, more study, and no time outside of that – what is essentially a pressure boiler – isn’t going to result in some kind of steam explosion? There’s a complete lack of mental health understanding, no realisation that these kids all have their own personalities and ways of working, and no understanding of personality types that might work well together – or work well on a twenty-three year trip.

I also sincerely disagree with the competitive idea that the teenage crew seems to have. If you’re sending six teenagers into space, why the heck would you not be training them to work together? Would you not let them form friendships and memories and relationships that aren’t competitive? The friendships they do have seem to be in spite of the training, not because of it!

Incidentally, also, would you not train them all on multiple specialisms? And possibly make sure the ship had backup units of all the major components? If they’re travelling for twenty-three years, things are going to wear out. Things are going to fail. You might need, y’know, a spare life support system, just in case the one you have gets hit by something. Or multiple escape modules scattered around the ship. Or more than one person with knowledge of how to use an incredibly vital drive component that needs to be used otherwise the mission will fail. Just small backup things, nothing major.

My final straw came at the ending: it’s a complete deus ex machina. I won’t spoil it, but just say that it’s incredibly frustrating to have something dangled and then NEVER FIND OUT ANYTHING MORE ABOUT IT. The rest of the book could have been two-thirds shorter and then the rest of it spent on the time after the current climax – there’s a political and social mystery that just gets completely dropped, and also some huge character decisions that are just handed to us, and then the book ends. It felt like a huge let-down to spend so much time on the characters, and almost forget that the wider world is out there – and then when we see a glimpse of it and get a hint of a wider mystery, snatch that away immediately, and present an ending.

So, my takeaway from this: good (if rather angsty) characters, but it could have been set in high school for it to be as effective. If you want a good survival story in space, read The Martian. If you want a story about relationships in space, read A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet.  if you want a survival story AND a relationship story set in space, read The Fated Sky.

That said, I’ll be keeping an eye on Temi Oh – but I’ll wait for the next novel to be convinced.

Review: Harrow of the Ninth

Harrow of the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Harrow of the Ninth cover

She answered the Emperor’s call.

She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.

In victory, her world has turned to ash.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

If you haven’t read Gideon of the Ninth, beware spoilers! Go and read that now. Then come back. And if you have read Gideon, I’ll try not to spoiler for this one.

Ok, so you know that when you finish a book, you’ve got certain expectations for the sequel? I expected to see Harrow and Gideon trundling around, kicking ass and being snarky. There were going to be bones, skeletons and blood. There would be a bunch of new characters, a bunch of mystery, a dollop of intrigue, and probably characters having Emotions at each other.

Some of that… doesn’t happen. Specifically, the Harrow and Gideon bit. And, having got to the end of Gideon with a rather fond opinion of Gideon, that was a bit of a surprise.

There are, however, bones, skeletons and blood. There’s new characters. There’s mystery. There’s Emotions.

And, incidentally, the entire premise of the first book is going to get turned on its head.

So, y’know, not really what was expected.

However, it does involve lesbian necromancers in space, fighting a horrible Thing, trying to handle a sword without puking (not very successfully, HARROW), being bitchy to each other (naming no names, MercyMorn), people making Dad jokes (SERIOUSLY?!) and a whole bunch of kickass awesomeness. Also, there’s terrible poetry.

The book definitely focuses more on Harrow, and that’s amazing; we get to see much more of her personality, her skills and her character – mostly, admittedly, when people are trying to kill her. Or she’s throwing up. Or going mad. All three happen a lot.

(Also, I LOVE the soup incident. I think that’s possibly my favourite bit.)

But we also get to see more of the background of the Ninth House, Harrow’s upbringing, and more of the wider world of the Houses. We get to see more of the magical behind-the-scenes, and more of the world – albeit the part that’s stuck in the Emperor’s Mithraeum trying to teach two baby Lyctors how to not get killed the first time they wade into the River.

And Harrow’s also fighting battle’s she’s already won – and she’s going mad. She’s seeing things that don’t exist, remembering things that never happened. And even worse: a previous self appears to have left the current Harrow letters. There’s one “To be opened if your eyes change colour”? What?

There’s also more twists. Now, I loved the twist in Gideon (I’m not going to spoiler it here in case anyone is reading who hasn’t read Gideon) but this… oh yes.  It’s the sort of book that you just have to turn another page because I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT RIGHT NOW. It’s the sort of book that you just stare at when you hit the twist, because suddenly everything makes sense and HOW VERY DARE THEY.  It’s the sort of book that you get to the end, go “OHHHHHH” and then immediately have to go and re-read.

And then you go and re-read it, because screw life. Go and join the necromancers!

In short: enthusiastically surprising in the best way.

In short: fun, exciting and ridiculous with an amazing twist at the end.

In short: lesbian necromancers kicking ass in space. Why would you not?

Disclaimer: I stole borrowed an ARC copy of this from a friend, so I have absolutely zero obligation to anyone to say anything but the truth. I am actually this enthusiastic!