Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Title: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Series: Untitled, but a companion novel starring Felicity is in the works
Volume: 1
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Release Date: June 27, 2017

Monty's Grand Tour of Europe was supposed to be the last hurrah- his last chance for his wild lifestyle, last chance for drinking and gambling, last chance to flirt with his best friend Percy- before returning home to take over the running of the the family estate. He's going to make everything of it that he can, even with his bookish younger sister in tow. But when one of Monty's impulsive decisions turns the Tour into a manhunt across Europe, Monty finds himself reevaluating everything- his future, his relationship with Percy, and himself.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A fun historical fantasy adventure with a whirlwind plot featuring bold and diverse characters- including a fantastic narrator!

Review: A couple of my friends went into Toronto for Pride this year, and one of them picked this one up from the Glad Day Bookshop for me! This was one of the titles that I'd been anticipating, but that I hadn't thought to pre-order because I am excellent at planning, so I'm really glad she was able to snag a copy- especially because I had a lot of fun reading it!

I went into this mostly hoping for fun Victorian road-trip shenanigans with LGBTQIAP+ characters, and I definitely got that, but this book also touches quite a bit on a variety of more serious topics and issues. The combination of silly and serious made for an interesting, and sometimes slightly discordant, reading experience. It wasn't something I necessarily disliked, but it was just a little strange, I guess? I'm not even sure what I'm getting at with this observation... (great reviewing there, Kelly, 10/10 points for you).

This books somehow felt both well-researched and very fictional, at the same time- the adventure part kind of turns things up to 11. Historical fantasy, in terms of the overarching plot of the story? It actually wound up getting a little bit more fantasy there toward the end, which was unexpected, after spending the first half of the book in what came of as a non-fantasy world. It wound up a bit heavier on the fantasy-adventure component than I was expecting (silly me), and that was really enjoyable! (I mean, speculative fiction is my favourite genre, so... bonus for me, really.)

The strongest and most dynamic part of this book for me was the characters. Our main character comes off as a bit larger-than-life, in keeping with the plot of the story. Like, if this plot was going to happen of course it was going to happen to someone like him. Monty's a very ...amplified, maybe? person, both in terms of his good and bad personality traits, and it was fantastic seeing his character develop. He's someone who is doing his best, while struggling with quite a few things, and sometimes screwing up in a kind of spectacular way. He's vivid, multi-faceted, very funny, and also very dramatic, and made him both a fantastic character and a great narrator.

I also really liked how both Percy and Felicity were vivid characters in their own right, and I really liked both of them. They're both really strong personalities as well, living their own lives and facing their own challenges. (I'm pretty excited to see that Felicity is getting a book focused on her, because I have a strong personal preference for ladies of science!)  Over the course of the book, Monty really finds himself evaluating is relationships with and his assumptions about both of them. Those relationships both wind up changing a lot over the course of the book- especially the relationship between Monty and Percy, which was fantastic to see grow! They have such a great dynamic from the start, and the way their romance unfolded fit really well with the story itself.

Overall, I had such a fun time reading this book. I was impressed by the number of tougher subjects this book touches on, while still being a really funny, enjoyable read, and I'm delighted that there's a companion novel!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review: Ash and Quill

Title: Ash and Quill
Series: The Great Library
Volume: 3
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk
Release Date: July 11, 2017

Jess and his group have fled from London to the Burner-held Philadelphia, where they immediately find themselves imprisoned for being members of the Library, albeit rebellious ones set on changing the system. Their only bargaining is the plans for a printing press, which will free the distribution of information from the Library's stranglehold.

eARC received through NetGalley

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A fast-paced and complex continuation of a series with a great premise and fantastic characters.

Review: I feel like I start a lot of my reviews like this, but look at this cover. Isn't it beautiful? This series is really upping it's game in the cover department- the first book was okay, the second book was lovely, but this one is really great. Okay. Now onward to the actual review part.

There is one thing I'd like to mention in terms of content going in. A main/predominant secondary character (not sure how to describe her character-status, but she's kind of my favourite, so main character to me, probably secondary character narratively?) in this book wears a hijab, and in this book, when the group are violently searched, the scarf is momentarily torn off. While this is clearly emphasized within the book to be a bad thing, and all of our lead characters are horrified and angered, it does still happen- something that may be upsetting for some people to read, especially in the world's current social climate of people being awful to Muslim people for no good reason.

This is the third book in what is to be a five-book series, and it dives right back into the action, essentially carrying on from where the second book ended. They've fled to a Burner-held city, where they're really not safe- one thing we see is the degree to which they aren't really safe anywhere. The enemy of their enemy, in this case, is not their friend, but more of another enemy. This book starts off fast, and doesn't let up- there's a lot of action, and, even when there isn't an actual action scene, Rachel Caine does a good job of maintaining the tension.

It's still impressive to me how BIG this world is. There's a lot going on, and things just keep happening. Last book demonstrated that the Library isn't a monolith, and many of the characters who are currently resisting the Library aren't doing so because they feel that it is 100% evil- sometimes the motivation is the opposite. In this book we also get to see more of that grey area- especially given that quite a few of the main characters are also somewhat grey, including Jess himself. I definitely found myself cringing a little at some of his choices in this book, but they were still totally understandable, especially given his character and history.

There are also A LOT of characters, and Rachel Caine does a good job of juggling her constantly expanding cast and making them distinct. Something that I find I really appreciate about this series is that there are adult characters who really do respect the autonomy and abilities of the main cast, most of whom are teens. (Wolfe and Santi have been two of my favourite characters since book one, so I've been delighted by their continued presence. And also concerned for their safety. Also that.) There's such a wealth of characters that I'm not great at picking favourites- you'll notice I've kind of already mentioned three favourites... The cast is also fairly diverse, as well- there are a few points where I think the author it's possible may have stumbled a bit in terms of representation, but overall seems to have done a fairly good job, especially in terms of making her characters individuals. (I can't speak to all of the representation of course, and am mostly speaking from an outsider's perspective. I'm hoping to read some reviews from those in the communities represented in these books to see how they felt, now that I'm done the book and don't have to fear spoilers!)

Similar to how a lot of the stronger parts are evident in the first two books, something that I disliked is also a carry-over: Jess and Morgan as a couple still... is kind of boring to me? I know it should have emotional resonance, especially as it was given more time in this book, but I still kind of feel like there's more nuance to Jess's relationships with basically everyone else- I think I just wish they felt more like he and Morgan were friends as well as the romantic component? So that still kind of interrupted the flow for me, but it's something I've kind of accepted is going to be something I might not really get.

Overall, this was a great contribution to an excellent series, and I'm really looking forward to the next book- especially with that cliffhanger, which was, frankly, stressful. I am stressed. I'm also really curious where the story is going from here, both from plot and character perspectives, but also from a storytelling perspective.

My reviews of the rest of the series so far: