Categories
Review

Circle of Magic

Tamora Pierce

I suspect I have mentioned in the past that Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series is one of my favorite things to read. As a general rule, I reread most of her bibliography at least once a year – quite often when I’m stressed. Tamora Pierce is my comfort reading.1

I’ve recently stumbled my way into a lovely group of people, and among many of the projects we created for ourselves was something of a book club. And we started with the Circle of Magic.2

And here’s where I begin to struggle in writing this, nominally a review of the first quartet. I’ve been reading and rereading these books for so long that it’s impossible for me to come at them with fresh eyes. I can’t even begin to put myself in the mind of someone who hasn’t read them, to try to figure out what about them I should mention to convince someone they’re worth the time to read. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their influence.

Instead, I’m just going to list some thoughts about the different books, in no particular order.

Tris’s Book is, I think, my favorite of the four. I identified the most with Tris, growing up – a total bookworm, and too quick a temper. It is, unsurprisingly, in Tris’s Book that we get to see what Tris is thinking, and what made her that person – and, conversely, that we see her start to grow, and learn to trust.

Briar’s Book scares me to this day. I’d say “even more so, considering,” but, having just reread it last week, I don’t think the amount it scares me has changed, even in light of living through a pandemic. It’s still terrifying – and it turns out to have been pretty accurate about just how scary, and lonely, and crushing it all is.

“Most disasters are fast, and big. You can see everyone else’s life got overturned when yours did. Houses are smashed, livestock’s dead. But plagues isolate people. They shut themselves inside while disease takes a life at a time, day after day. It adds up. Whole cities break under the load of what was lost. People stop trusting each other, because you don’t know who’s sick.”

Daja’s Book is all about the important of family, and how family doesn’t always match what you grew up thinking it would. You can find more people who love you, and who you love, and they can be just as much family as the one you were born into.

Daja’s Book is also… a big spoiler, in how I’m going to phrase this, so I’ll tuck it into a footnote. You’ve been warned!3

Sandry’s Book… is coming home.

I cannot, cannot express how much I love these books. Please, please give them a try.4 And, because I adore Tamora Pierce, also check out her patreon – the next goal is an admirable one.5

  1. In fact, many times the thing that makes me realize quite how stressed I am is the realization that I’ve picked up one of her novels. It’s automatic!
  2. The book club may have come about as a result of my strongly urging everyone to read these books. As far as the #influencer life goes, “encouraging people to read Tamora Pierce” is probably the best possible outcome.
  3. Daja’s Book is a beautiful example of a happy ending in a book, with everything getting tied together beautifully. It’s not just that every thread gets wrapped up nicely, it’s that half of them are solved by being the solution to another problem. To borrow a phrase that I first heard as a descriptor of another favorite piece of media of mine, it’s competence porn.
  4. I’m breaking my usual ‘use Bookshop links instead of Amazon’ pattern here, but Sandry’s Book isn’t available on Bookshop at all, and based on the paperback prices on Amazon, is thoroughly out of print. The Kindle edition is available, though!
  5. I’m of the opinion that she (or her staff) haven’t done a good enough job of advertising this, because I’ve had her public blog in my RSS reader for years, and just found out about the Patreon a few days ago. So now I’m doing my part by telling you, dear reader. Go support her! She’s great!
Categories
Review

“The Counterfeit Viscount”

Ginn Hale

I don’t think I read the word ‘viscount’ a single time in this book without thinking of Enola Holmes, but that was a fun movie, and this was a fun book, so it all worked out okay.

Like the last book of Hale’s that I read, there’s a great deal of fun worldbuilding going on in a short read. Another alternate history thing, in an entirely different direction, and once again it provides a fun backdrop for a simple enough story.

Admittedly, the mystery itself is a bit convoluted, but it feels like a backdrop for the romance angle, so it can get away with it.

It’s a short read, so I think this short review will suffice. It’s a fun little story, with a silly little romantic plot, and sometimes that’s what you need. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, give it a read.

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Review

“Floodtide”

Heather Rose Jones

The introduction to this book was familiar enough that I did a quick search and found out I’ve read another book in this universe.1 I may go back and reread that one now, in fact, because I think that “Floodtide” did a better job of introducing the system of magic in a way that makes sense to my brain.

It’s also, largely, a much more human-scale story. The protagonist isn’t changing the world, she’s just trying to get through life, finding a little bit of happiness along the way. Sure, she has friends changing the world, living a grand, romantic life, and she’s determined to help them do that as best she can, but she’s still… a regular person. Sometimes, it’s nice to read things like that — it’s what got me watching Agents of SHIELD back when it first aired, after all.2

It reminds me, a little, of the idea of a space opera. There’s all sorts of large-scale things happening in the backdrop, but the actual core of the story is about the characters and how they’re doing, why they make the choices they do, that sort of thing.

I’m not certain how well I’m selling this book, but I did quite like it. Give it a go.

  1. That was more than three years ago, now? Somehow, in my head, none of my ongoing projects have actually been ongoing that long, and yet, here I am, several years into writing little book reviews.
  2. And, y’know, once Agents started being about saving the whole world instead of just, y’know, regular people trying to exist in a world with superheroes, I gave up on it.
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Review

“The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter”

Theodora Goss

This book reminded me of the 2017 remake of The Mummy. Which, I must admit, sounds like an insult, but hear me out: this book is what that movie wanted to be.

The premise is fairly simple: what happened to Dr. Jekyll’s family? (And, further, what happened to any of the background characters in any of the popular novels of the time?)

And from that question, Goss made a marvelously interesting story. She’s establishing a shared universe for a lot of these stories, pulling together the literary zeitgeist of the whole period into a single interlinked whole, in a delightful way.

Beyond that, the actual writing style is very well done. There’s a main protagonist, and the story is mostly told from her viewpoint, but there are interjections from the other characters, and you learn fairly quickly on that, though she’s the protagonist, she’s not actually the one wring — just giving the occasional editorial comment. It reads like the, oh, third draft of a book, where you can still see all the margin notes thrown in by the various people reading through and remarking on their own perspective of the events in the book.

Very early on, this disorganized style is used for what I think is the most interesting piece of foreshadowing I’ve read in quite a while — one of the more impatient characters leads in with “no, no, you should start in medias res, like this” and suddenly we’ve skipped forward several chapters, to a very exciting scene, for something like half a paragraph, before we’re pulled back to where we were with “now hold on, they won’t know what’s going on if we jump right to there!” It is, frankly, delightful.

I very much enjoyed this book — as evidenced by my reading it in a single sitting — and highly recommend it. Give it a go, and, if you need me, I’ll be adding the sequels to my wish list.

Categories
Review

“The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper”

AJ Fitzwater

I very nearly gave up on this book halfway through, the point of putting it down and not picking it back up again until a couple months had passed. I’m glad I gave it that second chance, though, because once I was over that hump, I quite enjoyed it.

That midpoint was where the amount of ‘fantasy’ in this fantasy novel jumped up by a lot. Because, yes, it’s a book about a capybara pirate, so of course the whole thing is a fantasy novel.1 But where it nearly lost me was in changing from “here’s a bunch of tropes that I’m using to make some characters I like” to setting up a whole new mythology unlike any I’ve seen before. And if I’d given up, that would’ve been a shame, because this new mythos is downright beautiful. I can’t honestly say that I follow every part of what’s going on, but I also can’t really say that I mind, because, again: beautiful.

I’m trying very hard not to spoil anything, because it all ties together so well. Suffice it to say that if you aren’t invested by the end of the story where Agnes makes her first appearance, you have my permission to give up on the remainder of the book.

Hopefully that won’t happen, though. Give it a try.

  1. You could also make it science fiction, assuming that there’s been an uplift and possibly some sort of apocalypse in the interim, but that’s pushing so close to the “sufficiently advanced technology” line that it may as well be a fantasy novel at that point.
Categories
Review

“Catfish Lullaby”

AC Wise

About 2/3 of the way through this book, I wound up texting a friend, “I didn’t want t get invested in this book, because it’s creepy, but here I am, queueing up the nightmares.”

And, really, that’s a great summary of the book. It’s definitely creepy, but it’s also enrapturing. Think of… a swamp. It’s a place of decay, and death – but also, full of so much life. Beautiful, and terrible; ancient, but always changing. That’s how the story feels, all the way through.

In short, it’s excellent. Not too long a read, so not too long a review, but I quite liked it. Check it out.

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Review

“Wayward Son”

Rainbow Rowell

I enjoyed “Carry On” so much that I immediately picked up the sequel and read through it. “Wayward Son” is also a fun read, but not nearly as strong as “Carry On” was; “Carry On” is a conclusion and a beginning, while “Wayward Son” is… the middle book.1 It feels like it’s trying to progress the arc of the story, while still leaving enough un-finished for there to be a properly conclusive sequel — to the degree that the “ending on a cliffhanger” doesn’t actually add much more “well, guess I need to read the next one to see how this ends” than the book already had.

Still, there’s a lot of fun worldbuilding going on — an actual proper treatment of what the United States is like in this magical world, unlike Rowling’s utter disregard for… our entire culture, really.2 It honestly leaves me wanting to see other countries in this world, as well. Anglocentrism fits something that started as a Harry Potter parody, but now that we’ve established that Magical Britain is Britain and Magical America is “America, but more libertarian”, I’d love to see, like, Magical Brazil. Magical China. Fill out the world a bit more — what sort of international laws are there governing magic? How does the rest of the world deal with the fact that the Magical United States has no government, and the only thing keeping magic from going viral is that all the magic-users are secretive by nature? Lord knows that won’t last.

I’ll wrap up my rambling here, though. It’s an alright book; I think my main issue with it is timing. If I’d been able to go through all three in the series in a row, I suspect I would’ve enjoyed it a bit more — there’s a lot of set-up for the next book, but now, instead of getting to carry right on to the pay-off, I’m just stuck waiting. So, y’know, maybe wait until next year, but then read it.

  1. Literally so: there’s a third book in the series, scheduled to be released next year, which is explicitly billed as “the third and final book in the Simon Snow series.”
  2. The Fantastic Beasts film actually did an alright job of portraying my country, it feels like, but every aspect of the magical school she tried to describe as our equivalent to Hogwarts is extremely “I don’t get America.” We don’t do school houses, and you really think we’d have a single school? (I must admit, I really love watching Europeans be utterly unable to grasp just how big the US is.)
Categories
Review

“Carry On”

Rainbow Rowell

I keep going back and forth on whether or not I think this book is a parody of the Harry Potter series. On the one hand, it really obviously is – magic school in Britain, Chosen One, mysterious villain, rival from Old Money.1 But it’s doing so much more than just poking fun at these things that have become tropes; it has its own story to tell, and a system of magic that honestly makes more sense than anything Rowling ever accomplished.2

But a good part of my enjoyment of the book is also in the contrast with Harry Potter. What if Harry and Draco had been roommates? (And yes, it’s magic, so we do get to say “they can’t just strangle each other, the school has magically-enforced rules about that.”) What was Draco thinking when Harry was doing the “I have to keep an eye on him at all times” thing in their whichever-th year?3

The opening couple chapters are a delight to read. It’s the start of the school year, which makes for a very clear narrative beginning point… except it’s the start of Simon’s final school year, and he’s been a Protagonist all along, so we’re coming in very much in medias res. The amount of “as you know, Bob” is kept very low, which makes it a fun puzzle of “what all Insane Bullshit has he survived so far?”, and I’ve always enjoyed a game of “what’s the setting.”

Suffice it to say, I heartily recommend this – I’ve been trying to reduce the number of books in my to-read pile, but the moment I finished the book I immediately ordered the sequel, so here we are. If you at all like Harry Potter, and want something without the… tainted association of Rowling, please do read this delightful book.

  1. For reference, the titular character, and all the adventures that he went through prior to “Carry On,” made their original appearance in a novel centered around someone’s enjoyment of We Can’t Call It Harry Potter Because Rowling Has Lawyers For That, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of clear similarities.
  2. There’s rules! Actual rules, explicitly stated, about how spells are created! And they aren’t “yeah there’s an insane AI somewhere running things, it thinks making us make those noises are funny and rewards us with making stuff happen.” It’s all I ever wanted.
  3. For reference, here’s how I summarized that to my friend, while I was reading: “Harry is over there like ‘he’s gotta be up to something!’ Draco, meanwhile, is like ‘please, I am a fifteen year old boy, I need five minutes of Alone Time to deal with a… personal matter.’”
Categories
Review

“The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus”

Ginn Hale

I remain a complete sucker for good worldbuilding, and this is a very fun world that Hale has built. Gilded Age America, but with magic around, things went a bit differently – not least of which being that a magical war cracked the continent in half, leaving California an ocean away. In the meantime, magic has been severely regulated, and oh, don’t forget the automatons everywhere. It’s an interesting place.

And that’s without touching on the protagonists, who have an astonishing amount of backstory for such a short book.

It’s a short read – took me less than an hour, once I’d gotten invested – and I heartily recommend it. Give it a read.

Categories
Review

“Relic Guardians Collection”

Victoria DeLuis, Meg Cowley

If you’re a fan of Warehouse 13, you’ll enjoy this book, I suspect. While it’s not as visibly rooted in actual historical fact as Warehouse 13 always was,1 it’s got that same “Indiana Jones, but about saving the world instead of just finding cool stuff for the museum” vibe.

That’s, really, most of the tl;dr of the book, although I’ve left out the magic. It’s a somewhat loosely-defined magic system, which normally I’d be annoyed by, being the “I want to understand the laws of magic” person that I am, but in this case it fits the cinematic feel of the series. The only really solid rule is that magic doesn’t come from people, but is a natural thing — ley lines! — that they channel through a focus of some sort. There’s also a lot of dangerous ancient artifacts around, which is where we get the Warehouse 13 aspect.

Zoe makes for a reasonable protagonist in Ancient Magic and Cursed Magic, but I think Hayley, the protagonist of Hidden Magic, is the one who really makes this collection. Zoe is the seasoned veteran, someone who was raised with magic and made a career out… well, being a badass. Hayley, meanwhile, is a junior museum curator, and spends the first quarter of her story in the perfectly reasonable belief that magic isn’t real. Discovering it with her is a lot more fun, and that “what is happening” mindset makes her a lot more relatable to the reader. Frankly, I’d argue that Hidden Magic should’ve been the first book in the collection, but Ancient Magic dovetails into it so well with the little crossover that it’s hard to be mad.

End result, I quite liked this little collection. It was a pretty quick read, and a fun one; give it a go.2

  1. Well, right up until it wasn’t, but you’ve gotta let the show have its core concept, after all.
  2. Normally, this would be a Bookshop link, but I’m unable to find the collection — or any of the component novellas — on Bookshop, so here’s an Amazon link instead. Strangely, despite being published under the same title, the thing I’m linking to is a 6-novella set, while the one I read only contains the first 3. I, frankly, have no idea where I got this ebook.
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Review

“How to Marry A Werewolf”

Gail Carriger

People say not to judge a book by its cover, but looking at the cover of this book having just read it, I think it does a remarkably good job of explaining the book. The title really covers a lot of it, and the porthole hints at the little bit of steampunk that drifted in around the edges of the ‘werewolf’ bit.

In short, the book is utterly ridiculous. It’s not quite as “empty fluff”-y as you might think, and has some interesting things going on with some of the backstory, but it’s still entirely ridiculous.

But you know what? It’s 2020. The world sucks. Let people enjoy things! Read a ridiculous werewolf-regency-romance novel!

You can judge this book by its cover, but think about what context you’re using to judge it. Does “ridiculous and fluffy” mean bad? Or is it that it’s feminine-coded, and our sociocultural background has spent our entire lives teaching us that we should frown upon that sort of thing?

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk, everybody. Go read this ridiculous, fluffy, delightful book.

Categories
Review

“Knaves”

I was going to start with “it’s been a while since the last anthology I read and reviewed,” but, as it turns out, it hasn’t. I wonder if it’s the variety of stories that makes an anthology feel further away in my memory? No single story has as long to get lodged in my memory, or something. Hmm.

Still, I do like the anthologies – they’re fun in the same way that a 22-minute-long TV show is, a great way to fill a bit of time without getting yourself too invested in something.

Knaves is, admittedly, less fun than some of the other ones, because the focus is on villains. So, by the nature of their stories, it’s a bit of a gloomy topic.

Which isn’t to say the stories aren’t interesting, because they absolutely are. “All Mine” is heartbreaking, as is “Hunger in the Bones”; “The Bloodletter’s Prayer” is a fascinating piece of dark fantasy; “Cat Secret Weapon #1” is a delightful spin on the Bond archetype; “The Hand of Virtue” is sweet and a touch melancholy; and “Old Sol Rises Up” is… well, honestly, mostly confusing. But I suspect that was the intent, so I won’t fault it.

And, of course, there’s an introduction – every anthology has to have one. What caught my eye and, frankly, got me to actually read the introduction was who wrote it – Howard Tayler, the man behind Schlock Mercenary, another delightful piece of media that I’m happy to recommend. Read the intro – it’s weird, and silly, and fun.

In fact, read the whole book. It’s a good use of time.

Categories
Review

“Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)”

I do love a good anthology. It’s all the fun of starting a new book, several times over, and with much less of a time commitment each time.
This did have some of the downside, though – about halfway through, I found myself getting rather bored of the concept of pirates. It’s a bit too coherent a theme, I feel; the book had a lot of the variance that makes anthologies fun, but keeping everything tied to ‘pirates’ limited it a bit more than is really healthy for an anthology.
After that midway nadir, though, it recovered nicely, going off into some interesting science fiction bits, and ending on a delightfully weird fantasy (or, possibly, extremely-distant-future?) piece.
So hey, have some fun with a variety of pirate stories.

Categories
Review

“Ghost Garages”

Erin M. Hartshorn
“This feels like an indie novel,” I told one of my friends as I was reading it. “The content is really interesting, but the title says ‘there wasn’t an editor.’” Looking at the cover now, I’m doubling down on that statement. It looks, honestly, ridiculous. But it was also one of the most fun books I’ve read recently.
It also feels like it’s setting up for a series, both in the subtitle and in the amount of world-building it contains, which I’m pretty okay with. That world building was quite interesting, and I’d like to see what Pepper does next. It’s a fascinating blend of little and big stakes — competing for promotion from ‘assistant manager’ to ‘manager’ at work, a bit of relationship drama, and, oh, a serial killer.
Which leads me to the other thing I said to someone about this book as I was just starting to read it. “It feels like the plot is going to be a Scooby Doo episode, just a real estate developer using ghost stories to drop property values… except they’re murdering people so that they’re Actual Ghosts.”
And hey, if that doesn’t sound like a fun book to you, then… you’re reading the wrong blog for book reviews. Give it a read.

Categories
Review

“A Traitor in the Shadows”

Joseph Lallo
Oh, this book got me. I’ve got a Diana Wynne Jones feeling about it — it took a while to grip me, and then suddenly I caught myself thinking “well, how long will it really take me to finish reading this?” and staying up way later than I should’ve to see where it was going. It’s absolutely a slow start, and (given that I had no memory of buying the book/what it was about) I had no idea where it was going.1
And, as always, what really got me was the worldbuilding. It’s distinctly uncooperative at the start — the character who has the most interesting secrets, who knows the most about what’s going on, starts of being super cagey about it all. So even though Alan, the protagonist, is just as inquisitive as you’d want a protagonist to be, there’s no exposition-dump at any point. What you learn happens in a slow trickle, bits and pieces coming up as the story needs them. It’s a dangerous way to do it — done badly, it feels like the author is making it up as they go along — but, in this case, it worked well. I’m interested to see where the series goes: the main plot wraps up in a surprisingly neat bow at the end, but there’s a couple threads by the wayside that very clearly show this was meant to be a series.
So, hey, I liked the book. Check it out.


  1. And, really, that’s the most fun part of this whole “read all the books I have on my Kindle that I don’t remember buying” project — everything’s a surprise! Everything on here was chosen by someone who’s got a reasonable idea of what I like (by which I mean ‘Past Grey’), but they didn’t tell me anything about any of them, I can just see the title and author.