Book Review: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

the invasion of the tearling erika johansen

The second Mort invasion had all the makings of a slaughter.

BEWARE SPOILERS!

This, you may have guessed, is the sequel to The Queen of the Tearling. And it is amazing! One of the main points about the fantasy world that has been created here is that, although it looks pretty typical human high fantasy at first glance, it is revealed throughout the first book that actually, these people are descended from fugitives from our world. Or our world some years forward with horribly believable dystopian trappings. A revolutionary called William Tear led the Crossing (what they were crossing is a reveal in this book, so I’m not telling).

This means that the Tearling (and presumably other kingdoms and queendoms) has this interesting juxtaposition of technologically being about able to make a basic cannon, but having historical records of x-ray machines. I love it. This book really deals with that part of the story, as Kelsea starts having visions of a woman who is somehow connected to the Crossing. At first, I was a little impatient with these flashbacks as I just wanted to know what was going to happen: Mortmesne is invading! We’re getting clues about who the Red Queen is! Please just tell me what’s happening! However, after a slightly awkward section I quickly became hooked, and it started becoming clear that the flashbacks were important and also forwarding the plot.

Kelsea herself I found challenging in this instalment, but nowhere near as challenging as a lot of teenage sovereigns in fantasy can be. And I think I was meant to find her challenging, and to question her judgement and her decisions. Other characters certainly did. I loved the intrigue, the back and forth between church and crown intensifying, the preparations for this totally hopeless invasion, Kelsea’s weird magical powers starting to make more sense…

The end was, well, I had a hunch about the ending. And I was half-right. And it was a massive cliffhanger (Kelsea you redeemed yourself bigtime) and I have been waiting on tenterhooks for the final book to come into the library (which it finally has). So, if you are interested in some slightly brutal, fast-paced, interestingly-built fantasy with WOMEN, I recommend this series.

And if you have read it, I would love to chat about it with you! I have so many feelings about this series!

Rating: read this book – do not make deals with the demon in the fire.

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Book Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, cover design Helen Crawford White, images by Buffy Cooper, Trevillon images, Miloje, Shuttershock, Vertyr, pavila

They say the day the Governor arrived, the ravens did too.

This is a stunning book. Bittersweet and wonderful. Set in a historical not-quite-here world that reminded me a bit of His Dark Materials in atmosphere, this is the story of Isabella, her father, her best friend Lupe, and the island of Joya. It’s ferocious and beautiful and strange. The story is fantastic – the plot is a bit chaotic at times, but to me that felt realistic and I liked it.I also really enjoy stories that have friendships between women or girls front and centre, which this did: Isabella’s main motivation is to find her best friend, Lupe, who has gone missing. Seeing as Lupe is the Governor’s daughter, she is generally unpopular with the rest of the islanders.

And that was another thing: I don’t think there is a single white character in this book. Not one. And it is a story that manages to be about (among other things) colonialism without that being the sole focus. Quite the feat. In this sense, it reminded me (odd as it may seem) of The God of Small Things, in that the politics were simply there and happening and impacting on people’s lives without being shoved into your face. The Girl of Ink and Stars is meant for middle grade readers, which is reflected in the writing style (although Kiran Millwood Hargrave is also a poet and it shows in a good way). I found this to be a genuine emotional journey, with touches of myth and magic and a lovely voice. But definitely have tissues on hand.

Also, for those of you who enjoy that kind of thing, the inside covers (I know that I know what these pages are called, just can’t remember) have beautiful colour illustrations, and there are map motifs on the edges of all the inner pages.

Rating: read this book: journey to a volcano, cry.

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Book Review: For the Love of God, Marie! by Jade Sarson

For the Love of God Marie

What’s important in life?

I am, slowly, getting into comics. And fiction. This is both. For the Love of God, Marie! is absolutely brilliant. I loved the art; warm and dynamic, often with restricted colour palettes. Jade Sarson is very, very good at conveying emotion through her art. Her characters are wonderful, nuanced people with truly fantastic facial expressions and body language. I feel as though there is a lot that could be said about her art; I don’t quite have the language to do so except to say that it’s good. And I pretty much read this in one sitting.

The main character (as you might guess from the title) is Marie. And the story, the damn brilliant story, is Marie growing up and being herself. It was awesome. It was sex and defiance and friendship and yelling at the world when the world gets cruel. It was Marie making friends and falling in love and facing loss and doing all those incredibly human things that we do. It was her best friend, Will, who boxes and wears dresses. It was Agnes, who she loved and lost and found. It was trying to raise a child while terrified of getting it wrong. It was family silences. It was losing Prannath, the father of her child. It was being raised Catholic and being bisexual and trying to fit all those things together. I just, I had so many feelings while reading this book: I cried and I laughed and I sat stock still desperate to know what happened next

Rating: read this book, go out into the world and love fiercely!

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Book Review: Mother of the Sea by Zetta Elliott

Mother of the Sea, Zetta Elliott, art by Christina Myrvold, image shows black woman holding a child surrounded by ocean

When the skinless men leave, the taste of salt lingers on her lips.

So this is a tiny book – forty-six pages in fact. And it kicked its way through my ribs, grabbed my heart and held. Mother of the Sea is not a history book, (I’d say fantasy/speculative fiction probably) but it is set in one of those places during history that my (school) education never adequately reached, and that is the slave trade.

It’s a story about a girl, waiting in the dark and fearing what will happen. It’s a story about holding on; to hope, maybe, to one’s sense of self. It’s fantastical, slightly, but that doesn’t mean that everything works out. In all honesty, I don’t quite feel qualified to review this book. But it’s amazing, and it made me question things and it made me cry and it’s a good story so I wanted to give it a signal-boost (as they say). Read this: the writing is sharp, the characters are sharper, and there’s a mysterious fish-child onboard the slave ship…

Rating: heart-stompingly good, bring tissues…

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Book Review: Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb (book two of the Rain Wilds Chronicles)

Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb art by Jackie Kay

Day the 5th of the Prayer Moon

I previously reviewed Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb, and I advise you to read that one first! There are some spoilers in this review.

Well, I said I wanted to see what Robin Hobb was going to do, and I have not been disappointed! Having warmed up to the characters during the first book, with this one I was able to dive right in. I was again struck by the richness of Robin Hobb’s worldbuilding. Her descriptive writing is skilled, nuanced and wonderful (I did have to do a bit of looking things up in the dictionary). Relationships and tensions that were laid out in the first book simmer, boil over, transform and deepen: Alise finally finds out that her husband (Hest Finbok, who is referred to in my head as idiot-man) was in fact having an affair with Sedric Melden, who was her best friend and Hest’s sort-of secretary…

What’s wonderful about this whole progression is that, although the feelings between Alise and Sedric are understandably complicated, they are able to salvage their friendship and somewhat bond over the fact that Hest has behaved manipulatively and awfully towards both of them. Watching these two characters heal from their treatment at the hands of idiot-man, and figure out how to do so while remaining friends, was wonderful. They also have both found lovers who treat them with the love and respect that they deserve, which lead to me yelling happily while I read.

Meanwhile, the dragons continue to be difficult, mysterious and joyful by turns. Thymara’s stubborn back wound persists, and Thymara persists in refusing to be part of the toxic machinations of Greft (idiot-man mark two). One of my favourite characters vanished really early on (swept away by a flood), which was rather upsetting. And everyone keeps heading up the river, slowly and laboriously and being changed by it…

Also, the letters between Detozi and Erek, the pigeonkeepers, start betraying something more than a professional relationship, and give us a glimpse into the havoc being caused by this expedition back in civilisation. A brilliantly engaging read.

Rating: read this book, curl up in the warmth and feel your wings grow and grow and grow…

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Book Review: A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

“It’s all right,” said Ruby, squeezing Saffron’s hand.

This is the sequel to An Accident of Stars, which you definitely need to read before reading this one. You can read my (very)short review of that book here.

A Tyranny of Queens is breathtaking. It takes everything that was built and set up in An Accident of Stars, and runs away with it in unexpected directions. I could probably write a great deal of essays about the world that Foz Meadows has created, about what has been done with gender and sex and religion and race, how they relate to where we are now. About polyamorous marriages and matriarchy and family. About how we treat victims.

And the wonderful thing is that all of those things above are in the book without making one feel as though one is reading a book that wants you to think certain things. They just exist, in the world, and the plot roars along like a steam engine on the boil, veering sharply enough that I thought, several times, it had gone off the rails and there was no possible way that this new development could make sense and then it did! The cast is, as in An Accident of Stars, fantastic. Primarily women, and primarily not white women, and with a big mix of ages and origins and wellness – how often do we get main characters with chronic illnesses? Facial scarring? Partial paralysis? Neurodiversity? The answer is not often enough – it’s hard to find even one, and in this book we get all of those things in a fantasy setting, as well as most of the fantasy settings (this is a portal fantasy, so we get more than one world) being extremely queer-friendly.

It is, of course, not perfect. But it’s damn good, and having only finished it a few hours ago I am still emotionally entangled with it all, and more than a bit breathless from the way it ended. I realise I’ve barely mentioned the characters or the plot; in this instance it’s really hard to do without MAHOUSIVE spoilers… So, yanno, go read it 🙂

Rating: Read this book, phone all your friends and make them read it…

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Book Review: Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

Bearly a Lady by Cassandra Khaw

It’s late, and the star-starved sky’s a shade of indigo-black.

So, I’ve mentioned this book before (link here). Bearly a Lady is, in a word, delightful. There are a lot of supernatural romance (or as I once saw them labeled in a bookshop, ‘fangbanger’) stories around; I don’t think I’ve ever read one quite like this. The main character is a werebear. A bisexual, WOC, fashonista werebear called Zelda. She is a brilliant protagonist: I felt immediate sympathy and investment. I really cared what happened to her, and I wanted her to be happy.

There’s a tendency for most fluffy fun romance to be very straight. And for a lot of queer romance to have angst of the “am I bi/gay/or so on?” or “Should I tell anyone that I’m bi/gay/a werebear?” type. This story, wonderfully, has neither. Zelda is bi, and precisely no-one makes a fuss. Zelda is a werebear, which is a bit more problematic (waxing. Lots of waxing), but similarly just a thing. Her roommate is a vampire. A wonderfully snarky vampire. And really, I just think you should read this book. It’s warm, it’s fluffy, the writing is excellent and it plays with all the supernatural romance tropes with great glee. Should Zelda go out with the sexy werewolf? Or the infuriating but yummy Fae prince? Or perhaps, someone else entirely…?

It has a lot of brilliant background characters, and the humour is spot on. Also, having a plus-sized main character who gets portrayed as attractive and awesome was great. (you may have noticed that I like this book). So, to sum up, this is definitely fluff, but it’s well written, diverse, queer friendly, intelligent fluff WHICH IS ANNOYINGLY RARE. I shall definitely be re-reading.

Rating: read this book. Release your inner beast, just not while wearing your favourite jeans…

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