Tag Archives: gottakeepreading

Review: This Is How You Lose The Time War

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

One of the problems of working for a publisher is that I get to read books about, oooh, a year – or more! – before everyone else. This is one of the ones I read, and I couldn’t talk about it until it was officially a bit more Announced… and now it is!

The sort-of-downside is that we’re not publishing it for various reasons, but! That means that I can officially squeak about it being AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL and OHMYGOODNESS BUY THIS BOOK without looking at all partisan.

So I am going to tell you that it is AMAZING and BEAUTIFUL and OHMYGOODNESS BUY THIS BOOK.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

I adore the lyricism of the language and the poetry of the letters; I adore the twist in the tale, and the steps they take to get there; I adore all the scenarios of this time war, the knots and whorls and the locations of assignments, and the tiny, weird things that make such a difference downstream; I adore the rapid-fire action and the slow build of the romance; and it’s just…

Put it this way, I’m buying myself a copy and buying another one for Otter because they will love the language, and then handing my copy round my entire family and probably half my friends and telling them all to GO BUY ONE.

It’s beautiful, haunting, clever, enthralling and stunning; I love it, and it’s a wonderful story. Get this.

Review: The Girl Who Drank The Moon

The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is in fact a good witch who shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge – with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

Sweet, complex and gentle, with some savage undertones!

I admit to feeling a bit frustrated by this book. It’s billed as a children’s story, and it is; the harder themes (loss of a parent/child, loyalty, coming into your self & powers, standing up to authority and wrong) are all needed and all done very well. However, I found myself wishing the book was written in a more adult style; wishing that we could have more depth on many of the characters and their situation, and reading the same book but in a way that didn’t make me feel I needed a ten-year-old sitting next to me to read to. Which, I admit, sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book – I did! – and that the writing style wasn’t a good read – and it was! – but…

BAH.

A good book. An enjoyable book. One that brings up needed themes and has some suitably horrible villains and some wonderful characters and some interesting situations, scenarios and morals. It’s delightful and fun and interesting. But it’s a book that actually, I felt I wasn’t the right person – or the right age – to be reading.

Review: Thornbound

Thornbound by Stephanie Burgis (Book 2 of the Harwood Spellbook)

Thornbound cover

The first volume is Snowspelled, which I reviewed here.

Cassandra Harwood scandalized her nation when she became the first woman magician in Angland. Now, she’s ready to teach a whole new generation of bright young women at her radical new school, the Thornfell College of Magic…Until a sinister fey altar is discovered in the school library, the ruling Boudiccate sends a delegation to shut down Thornfell, and Cassandra’s own husband is torn away from her.

As malevolent vines slither in from the forest and ruthless politicians scheme against her, Cassandra must fight the greatest battle of her life to save her love, her school, and the future of the young women of Angland.

Jane Austen meets magic, with a wonderful dose of powerful characters! In the same vein as The Invisible Library, Lady Isabella Trent and the amazing The Midnight Queen from Sylvia Izzo Hunter…and just as fabulous.

The first book was light-hearted, magical, character-full, interesting and enjoyable, and this one continues! Cassandra has got her man; but he’s being sent running all over the country by his job; and Cassandra’s set up her school of magic, with all the challenges that brings. And now the students are arriving, along with the  teachers, and the inspectors, and a whole boatload of trouble…

I think this could be a standalone, but it’s probably worth reading Snowspelled first to pick up the characters; the backstory to Cassandra, Wrexham and Amy is worth knowing (they’re so cute!) and definitely lends more to the story. However, a new school, with Cassandra doing her best to corral students and staff while trying to figure out who’s calling the Fey into events, warn teachers from wandering off into the bluebell woods, and dealing with two inspectors who would be very pleased to see the school shut down… it all makes a wonderfully enthralling story, and is as fun as the first!

There’s a short story (published in The Underwater Ballroom Society) and also apparently another novella coming (with more Miss Banks and Miss Fennell, yes!) and I’m thoroughly looking forward to any future stories in the series.

Review: Not In Use For Navigation

Not In Use For Navigation: Thirteen Stories by Iona Datt Sharma

The bell, the lantern, the witching hour…

A refugee arrives from elsewhere in time; a generation ship makes landfall; a vast galactic empire settles to the business of government. Tarot readers find hope in the cards; witches live through the aftermath of war; and Indian mothers think it’s high time you were married. Here are thirteen stories of love and queerness, hope and decolonisation, and the inevitability of change.

Iona Datt Sharma is a writer that I came across through The Underwater Ballroom Society, and also did Sing For The Coming Of The Longest Night. When she emailed to ask if I’d like a review copy of her latest collection of short stories – YES!!

The collection overall is lovely; it’s a woven mix of thoughtful, sweet and amusing stories that all vary wildly, but all have a thread of wonderful characters and detail-orientated worldbuilding running through them.

Light, Like A Candle Flame; actually, this story was my least favourite! It’s a sweet story about a council member trying to make changes aboard a ship, but it felt a bit too abstract for me to get into. However, the second story, Death Comes To Elisha, tugged me back into the collection – a bit of a different take on Death visiting after being drawn in a Tarot deck!

Akbar And The Crows is the first of a collection of sweet and thoughtful stories about an emperor and their woes – more akin to moral tales than stories, and very much in the vein of A Thousand And One Nights etc. Birbal And The Sadhu is the second story, and this one is clever; I love the sci-fi twist on an old tale, and the idea that there are some things you never forget! (Not saying more because spoilers, but it’s worth a read.) The third is Akbar’s Holiday, which is a lovely take on the wronged spouse taking their favourite thing with them; Akbar Learns To Read And Write is a nice version of “what goes around, comes around” in the doing of favours and the idea that maybe everyone should be doing the things they long to do, even if they’re not necessarily very good at them; and enjoyment means more to life than ticks in boxes.

One-Day Listing is a bit weird, honestly; I love that the story doesn’t tell you much about the world and lets you figure it out for yourself, but I could have done with a bit more detail! It’s a story about mental health and coping strategies and alien worlds and justice and adapting, and it’s got a lot of nice detail woven through. I also wasn’t entirely sure about Landfall (your shadow at evening, rising to meet you); this made me think of the Lady Astronaut Books, with The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky and definitely The Lady Astronaut of Mars. It’s a short story about the people living on Mars, and their quest for more people – but also the grumpy first pioneer, looking back at Earth, grouching through their days and thoroughly enjoying it – for all that the story is more of a vignette, the characters are wonderful! Alnwick was another odd one; it’s almost half a story. It starts with a pod of supplies that’s crashed on launch, and following the investigator; again, another character study and almost half a story, which definitely works – but I’d like to see more of it.

Flightcraft – I loved this! It’s a story about a new arrival meeting a local engineer of a new type of plane, and helping her work; but when an accident happens, more is revealed than either of them want to be… I want to see more in this world; I want another story about what happened next, or something else in the same vein. I love the fact that the engineering doesn’t really get explained, but they know what’s going on; I love the relationships between the characters and the unspoken history, both of the people and of the country/world. It’s a lovely story. I also adored Archana and Chandni – it’s an Indian wedding with The Aunts and all the usual wedding stress plus one of the siblings is an AI; I ended up quoting bits of this one and giggling, and I adore the idea of “so when are you getting married and having children, na?” that involves a spaceship. “What, you think I’ll meet a planteoid with prospects?”

Nine Thousand Hours – I thought I’d read this one before, and it’s come back to me where I did; Strange Horizons! It’s a story in the Salt universe, with magic powers in something resembling our world. Nine Thousand Hours is the story of someone who has managed to remove all writing, and broken the world with it – and how they strive to get it back. The second Salt story is Quarter Days, which I think is actually closer to a novelette or novella;  it made me think of Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series, and I really like that we get to see more of the Salt magic! The three central characters are summoned to investigate an accident with a train, where the magic signal system has apparently gone wrong – but there are racial and magic tensions in the city, a new apprentice to worry about, and Ned lost his magic during the War; I love the little nods to outside events and tensions, the mix of daily life and magic and wider politics. It’s a wonderful world and system, and the story is both sweet and tense.

Eight Cities is again, almost a character study; two old friends, one of whom now teaches, the other who has come to visit – and their current lives, their world’s distrust of science, and the gentle pace of their lives as they try to build understanding. Ur is similar, but it’s a story of cultures – of an alien and a human culture, living together, and the steps they take to understand each other. I liked the small details in this, and it’s definitely worth a read; I found bits of it stayed with me after I’d finished. And the final story is Refugee, or, a nine-item representative inventory of a better world; this one makes you focus on the story to understand it, and leaves more questions than it answers – but it’s an interesting story of a refugee fleeing from their world, and then returning.

Out of all the stories, I adore the Salt world – I don’t know if there are more stories, but I’m definitely going to look into it! Flightcraft is also a world I’d love to see expanded, and Archana and Chandni was my favourite in terms of one-offs; but the whole collection is thoughtful and sweet, filled with characters that spark and worlds that shine, and definitely worth picking up for those odd five minutes of reading time.