Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Popular Books that Lived Up to the Hype

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

1. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: there was hype around this one, right? It was a group-read pick for a group I was part of on Twitter and I was definitely planning on reading it anyway but. I'm glad I got to it so soon after it was released because I really enjoyed it.

2. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: this one has A LOT of hype on Tumblr. It actually took me to attempts to get into this one after I read The Scorpio Races (also a recommendation from someone, but I wasn't blogging back when the hype would have been happening...) in one sitting and went prowling the library for more Maggie Stiefvater books.

3. When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore: This one is something I don't think I would have known about or picked up without people telling me that they'd really enjoyed it.

4. And I Darken by Kiersten White: After my not-so-fabulous experience reading The Chaos of Stars, I'm not sure that I would have picked this one up without the generally super positive response people had to it (and the group-read).

5. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: OH. SO. MUCH. I actually audiobooked this one while I was doing a temp job as a cleaner in a factory. It is difficult to have a serious emotional reaction to a book while you're vacuuming and scrubbing out microwaves and toilets but. This one managed.

6. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski: I'm pretty sure the hype contributed to me picking this one up?

7. A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab: okay so this is slightly a lie, I only REALLY got swept up in this series when I was reading A Gathering of Shadows but I am using the first book to represent the trilogy in this case.

8. Illuminae by Amie Koffman and Jay Kristoff: I remember this book being such a big deal when it came out (justifiably so, it was a fantastic reading experience).

9. The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: I think I did pick this one up before a lot of the hype actually hit? That or I missed a lot of the hype by the early readers, read it around the release day, and then got to watch people discover it later on, which was lovely.

10. First and Then by Emma Mills: I can't remember who recommended this one exactly but it isn't something I think I would have picked up if I hadn't heard really good things.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Review: Star-Touched Stories

Title: Star-Touched Stories
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Star-Touched Queen
Volume: 2.5 (short story collection)
Genre: Fantasy, Folklore, Retellings
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Goodreads        Chapters        IndieBound

A collection of three stories that flesh out and expand on companion novels The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes.

eARC received through NetGalley

Death and Night
Roshani Chokshi hitting me where I live with hints of the courtship-involving-riddles trope which is, for some reason, a favourite. If I were a character in a folktale courting/being courted by a deity of any variety I would expect, nae, require riddles. There's just something that feels like a folktale about them and I really enjoy that a lot. Nonsensical folklore riddles are my favourite.

I think this does a good job of setting up the characters who we meet in The Star-Touched Queen. In a way I kind of wish that I'd been able to read this before going into the book because I think it would have made some of the aspects that frustrated me the first time I read the story more understandable. (Although... I might have been confused by things in the short story if I read it first without knowing what happens next. #folkloreproblems I guess? Oftentimes stories drawn from folklore are a little bit stories with no beginnings.)


Poison and Gold
It's nice to see Aasha facing the challenges of living in the human world- especially when Gauri and Vikram ask her to take on the role of spymaster, a role for which she'll need to leave the court of training. Her time at court has been an uncomfortable learning curve- she's found herself unprepared for navigating the politics of the court and terrified to touch anyone after an incident with her vishakanya abilities- and she approaches this new challenge with a combination of hope and trepidation. Living in the maze-like house of the current spy master, she has to learn to control her abilities (magical and otherwise).

This one did feel like it suffered a bit for being a short story- there just wasn't quite enough time to build up the relationship between Aasha and Zahril for my taste (although I did like what we did see). Zahril was an interesting character in that I still don't feel like we know that much about her. (Also that she's apparently well-versed in poisoning and making things that smell good but. Aasha just gets rid of the tea she makes which I'm assuming means that Zahril is not great at tea? This detail amused me.) I liked what we did see about Aasha and Zahril coming to know each other, although I do wish we'd gotten to see more of it. It's also kind of a strange relationship because... Zahril is her mentor and also because Aasha is hiding her vishakanya nature (something she's reasonably certain Zahril would hate her for) so off the bat the dynamic is a little tense. Not so much that it was necessarily unbalanced by these factors but it was definitely complicated by them, and they weren't really explored in the limits of the short story. (Because it was. You know. Short.)


Rose and Sword
This was interesting. Again, I feel like I could have done with maybe... 10 more pages for to fully get across the part of the story involving Hira- as that whole bit really did seem to mostly be an excuse to get Gauri to tell the story of how she had to drag Vikram back from the brink of death right before their wedding. I'm going to have to re-read A Crown of Wishes too because I feel like I forgot what wound up happening with Kamala and I was super confused by the meeting in the short story because of it...

That said it wound up being part quest story, part peak into post-A Crown of Wishes canon, and part musing on what it is to love someone and what it is to commit to loving someone for the long-term. (Especially in the face of the day-to-day stresses of juggling the concerns of an entire kingdom. But also just. In general.) This one was, for me, the most touching of the three stories and a really good note to end the anthology on because it feels like a satisfying conclusion and also like a good reflection of what the stories in the anthology were driving toward.


Final Word

This collection is a wonderful way to delve further into the world of The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes featuring Roshani Chokshi's signature lyrical and musing writing style and familiar characters (and a few new ones too). 

 Related reviews:

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Top Ten Books with Sensory Reading Memories

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

1. Harry Potter series. I read these with my family and I've done multiple rereads so I have a lot of really strong memories associated with it. The 6th book especially for some reason...

2. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: I pretty strongly associate a few books, but especially this one, with the tomato soup served in my alma mater's mess hall because... I eat while I read. Also cool, clear, slightly humid summer days.

3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor: the first time I read this book it was super humid and I remember being in a dark room reading by the bedside lamp.

4. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer: this book came out when I was 16, travelling for the first time without my family... I was in Belize and tired and homesick and reacting badly to antimalarial medication (the thing antimalarial medication has to recommend itself: better than malaria. That's about it. I'm still glad I had access to it, though.) and I shut myself in my hotel room to read this on the Kindle app, having barely managed to download the ebook I'd purchased with the patchy hotel internet.

5. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Very warm summer day. I read this all in one go, having shut myself in my room. With very little lighting. All consecutive rereads have tended to be in the autumn because. It's the Scorpio Races.

6. Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare: mostly I remember finishing this book during chemistry class (I was snatching reading time in between presentations) and looking up and realising that absolutely none of my classmates had just gone through the rollercoaster that was Clockwork Princess and just. Looking around while people made noise and worried about such trivialities as "their grades" and "academia."

7. Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater: I know lots of Maggie Stiefvater books on this list. Last one, I promise. This is specifically the audiobook, which I listened to while on buses a lot and now. Strong sensory association with buses.

8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Vivid memory of the same trip I mentioned above, though this one of post-rainstorm Costa Rica. The power was out and it was very peaceful.

9. Lone Survivors by Chris Stringer: I read this on a camping trip and associate it the particular combination of smells.

10. Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George: this one I just have intense generalized nostalgia attached to.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Review: Ayesha at Last

Title: Ayesha at Last
Author: Uzma Jalaluddin
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Retelling
Release Date: June 12, 2018
Goodreads        Chapters     

Ayesha Shamsi is busy- she's put aside her poetry for a job as a substitute teacher in order to pay back her wealthy uncle. She's also agreed to help her cousin Hafsa arrange a much-needed fundraiser for the community mosque. Hafsa is flighty, and currently more interested in shopping and gathering offers of marriage numbering in the dozens than planning an event. Compared to Hafsa, Ayesha knows she's the responsible, more reserved older cousin, a much less appealing prospect- not that Ayesha wants an arranged marriage but she's also not keen to spend the rest of her life alone. When she meets Khalid (and despite his making a truly terrible first impression) she starts to hope... only for him to wind up engaged to Hafsa. 

Out of Ten: 7/10

Review at a Glance: A fun and thoughtful adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel set in Toronto's Muslim community.

Review: I am weak for Pride and Prejudice twists. So when I heard about this, I was so excited- P&P retelling set in Toronto's Muslim community by a Canadian author! I don't live in Toronto so my familiarity with Toronto's Muslim community is passing, drawn mainly from my roommate's stories about her family and their (somewhat Austen novel-esque, ironically enough) experiences. Uzma Jalaluddin offers a vivid portrait of Ayesha's multi-generational family and the close (and sometimes complicated) ties between them.

I also really liked any and all scenes where food was being prepared because. I'm a fan of food. But also because it reminds me what I like about cooking, I just really enjoy the process of making things from scratch. (Although I am not nearly as adept as either Khalid or Ayesha's Nani...) Anyway. This is a book that will probably make you hungry.

The plot of Pride and Prejudice provides a scaffolding for the story, although the characters and motivations are often quite different. Unlike Elizabeth Bennett, Ayesha doesn't have 4 sisters, nor is her mother determined to be as dramatic as possible and also see said daughters married ASAP, for example. Rather than lifting the plot and characters wholesale, Uzma Jalaluddin uses certain scenes and concepts from P&P as jumping-off points from which to spool out a story that is both familiar and new. Some of the changes made actually reminded me of The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, another modern retelling. (Particularly Hafsa's situation at the end, though the conclusion was handled a bit differently.) It was interesting to see how they both used similar modern analogs when translating Lydia's situation at the end of P&P.

Ayesha and Khalid are both really interesting people with different outlooks on a lot of things in life and start off on the wrong foot. Despite that they manage to find an equilibrium, and understanding, and eventually affection. I found myself rooting for both of them (even when I cringed as Khalid put his foot in his mouth again). Both in their relationship, and in their separate endeavours... one of the bigger barriers to their relationship (besides meddling family members, and interfering family drama) is that they both need to figure out what they want out of life and how they're going to work toward that. While I found I wasn't totally pulled in by every moment of the story (I think that was more a "me" thing than a thing about the book...).

Overall I quite enjoyed this one. I'm always tentatively excited about Pride and Prejudice retellings and twists because. Well. I've been burned before. While this one didn't quite capture the feel of Jane Austen's work for me, it did do a good job of drawing on P & P and weaving a story that was good in it's own right.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Favorite Novellas and Short Story Anthologies on My TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I had to change up the theme a bit because I honestly haven't read enough short stories and novellas to be able to pick my top ones. For the purposes of this discussion I'm going to be dodging all short stories and whatnot that build on an existing world, not because I haven't read and liked many of those, but just because they feel a little different than a short story that creates and carries as story in a world all within a small page count. If that makes sense.

Most of the novellas are Tor because... I am Tor's target audience I guess?

1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: I have heard SO MANY good things about this trilogy and I own the first book and I haven't read it yet because I am terrible.

2. Mapping the Interior by Stephan Graham Jones: I have this out of the library right now and I'm really looking forward to picking it up (when I'm in a horror mood)

3. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson: I bought this on sale on a whim, because I loved the title and cover. It's a spin on a Lovecraft story which I... have not read.

4. The Black Tides of Heaven by J. Y. Yang: This is a pretty new addition to the TBR that I was intrigued by at the library where I work.

5. Brother's Ruin by Emma Newman: snagged on a whim, again from the library I work at. (Working in a library is not doing excellent things for the scale of my TBR list.)

6. Passing Strange by Ellen Klages: Words alone cannot describe how much I adore this cover. I am SO EXCITED to read this. I missed putting it on my TBR list when it came out and then I forgot about it until it was on a recent list on the Tor website.

7. Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn: one of the notably non-Tor novellas on this list. I feel like I SHOULD have read this already but somehow haven't.

8. All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout The Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell: I actually bought this shortly after it's release and read one or two of the stories and then stopped because... I don't know why I just wasn't in a short story mood I think?

9. The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows edited by Johnathan Strahan: I also did pick up this and read a few of the stories but the only one I remember is the one by Neil Gailman..

10. Unbroken: 13 Stories starring Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp: I'm really eagerly anticipating this anthology! We don't see enough characters with disabilities in fiction.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Best Books I’ve Read In 2018 (So Far)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

You only realise how many rereads you've done in a year when you look through your Goodreads to find a list of new reads for the year... anyway. In no particular order:

1. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black: While I prefer the slightly more muted quality that The Darkest Part of the Forest had, I did really enjoy reading this one. Holly Black is really playing with dubiously likable characters and I really liked the political component. I'm so intrigued by what will be happening in the story.

2. Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore: This is such a strong sophomore novel. It's beautiful and very visual and meaningful.

3. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse: In terms of grit and action this was pretty much my favourite this year. Maggie is a really fantastic lead character. 

4. Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine: This has become one of my favourite series. It does an admirable job of creating a vivid cast and compelling plot, and does an admirable job of juggling these things in a really interesting world.

5. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: Soft sci-fi!

6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Tayor: I'm just going to list this as one because I whipped through these books back-to-back. I listened to the audiobooks and found that was super helpful for me, as someone who had struggled to get through the series before. (I had read Daughter of Smoke and Bone quite a long time ago but, while I found the writing beautiful, the series didn't pull me along like I needed it to. Audiobooks were really helpful on that front because I could listen to them while doing other things as well and I found that worked really well for me. I could appreciate the story without feeling like I was stuck anywhere.)

7. Shades of Milk and Honey series by Mary Robinette Kowal: I did get through the first two books in the series a while ago but I finally sat down and read the rest of the book. It was really interesting how the magic was interwoven with the regency world.

8. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This one still kind of sticks with me as a book which... I can't figure out if I exactly liked it, but I definitely admire how it was crafted.

9. Bygone Badass Broads by Mackenzi Lee: This is an excellently illustrated and wonderfully informative book that started off as Mackenzi Lee's tweets.

10. The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle: Admittedly I wasn't crazy about everything in this book but I did like the concept and also am kind of nostalgic because this was my first review back.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Review: The Goblin Emperor

Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette)
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: March 3, 2015

When the airship carrying the emperor of Ethuveraz and his three sons crashes, Maia Drazhar, only child of the emperor's fourth (despised, goblin) wife finds himself unexpectedly inheriting his father's throne. 18 years old, raised in exile, and bearing a resemblance to the mother the court so hated, Maia is a vulnerable and unprepared outsider. The court is bewildering, the gaps in his often-neglected education are a constant hindrance to him, and within a week it is discovered that the crash that killed is father and half-brothers was no accident. 

Out of Ten: 9/10

Review at a Glance: A delightfully complex political fantasy with an unusual approach to the genre and one of my favourite main characters ever.

Review: You know that feeling when you've just constantly been rereading a book for 18 months but haven't reviewed it? No? Just me? So here's the upshot. I have now read this book... going on 6 times. In less than 2 years. That's a lot even for me.

This one is going to be tough for me to review for a lot of reasons but partly because it's such an unusual book, at least in my (not totally inextensive) reading experience. It's a little bit quiet and a little bit dense and a lot political and I really, really like it a lot.

Something I really appreciated about this book is that it dives right in, there's very little in terms of introductory exposition, and trusts the reader to be able to catch up. Formal and informal tenses are used which was, for me as a reader, a novel and slightly disorienting experience at first, but one I found I really enjoyed. Not only did it help give a sense of the sort of social world that this story inhabited, but it also helped showcase character. This definitely isn't a book that I'd recommend to people who like high-action plots or dislike long names but, since I like a little linguistics (and a lot of politics) thrown into my fantasy when I can get it, it was a perfect fit for me.

About those names: there are a lot of them. There are a lot characters and a most of them have a first name and a last name and a title or two. Addison manages to make so many of them memorable, even when they only have one or two scenes and are very minor. The ones that are around for longer are, in general, clearly rendered people with personalities that really stand out.

Maia himself is a really unusual character, suited really well to the story. Having been raised in virtual isolation (first with his mother and then, when she died, handed over to a guardian that hated him), he's an interesting blend of vulnerability and skepticism. He desperately wants friends but is both unsure in social situations and well aware that being emperor complicates every relationship he might have with other people. Despite his lack of formal schooling in, well, basically anything he needs, he rapidly proves himself far more canny and difficult to manipulate than any of the court had expected. It is a genuine pleasure to see, in a heavily political fantasy, a character who is empathetic, well-meaning, willing to try, and determinedly hopeful have their efforts met with anything other than scorn. It was wonderful to see Maia be allowed to keep those traits, rather than, as I've seen in quite a few books, have them completely destroyed within the first half of the book, to be replaced only by bitterness. By page 20 I was messaging the friend who had recommended this book to me basically yelling "LET HIM HAVE FRIENDS. GIVE MAIA FRIENDS."

And here, I think, is where this book really stand out for me. It's kind of the opposite of a grimdark fantasy. It isn't that bad things don't happen (they do), or that there aren't unjust and cruel people in the world, (there are). It is that this book refuses to make these the fully accepted norm. While Maia doesn't start off with any allies at court, he does find them. Amid the difficulty and the overwhelming-ness of what is, to him, an alien situation, he still finds goodwill, and people willing to help. He is able to win people over, to build bridges with many of them, and to learn and accomplish things- even within a messy and complicated political system.

A system which I really liked seeing the ins and outs of. When I say this book is dense, this is what I'm referring to. We get insights into the day-to-day proceedings of the political system, right down to how land-claims disputes are mediated (the resource management student in me clapped delightedly. Like a seal). Most of the book is, rather than action or even the plot regarding finding out who sabotaged the airship carrying Maia's father and brothers, Maia learning to navigate the complicated system, to work within it, and when it is necessary to make a move that circumvents it. Is it a perfect system? No. But no political system in the history of the world has been perfect and I think this book does an admirable job of showing the strengths and weaknesses of it's political system. The proceedings of the court and so many of the discussions in this book also lend the world a sense of scale.

Overall this has wound up being not only one of my favourite books of the past few years, but definitely one of my favourite books ever. It's fiddly and political and intrigued by the minutia of the world and I really like Maia, he's the type of character that you don't often see in the genre.

I have some more ramble-y thoughts here that touch on a few slightly more spoiler-y things (especially if you want more on the political system), although nothing, I think, that would compromise the reading experience.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Top Ten Books by North American Indigenous Authors that I've Read/Am Reading/ Am Looking Forward to Reading

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

So I'm doing something a little different this week. The theme is supposed to be for celebrating the Fourth of July (in the States) or Canada Day (here) or... do other countries even have a day where they celebrate themselves? Is that a weird North American thing?

But I wasn't super comfortable doing that this year, especially with the announcements that my provincial government has made in the past few days. (Regarding reducing the amount of effort that is being put into reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous peoples, who have been treated pretty terribly by settler Canadians for the past few... centuries.) So instead we're going to be talking about some books written by Indigenous authors. It's also gotten kind of long (even by my standards) so I apologise for that. This is a combo of fiction and non-fiction books.

1. A Promise is a Promise by Michael Avaarluk Kusugak, Vladyana Langer Krykorka, and Robert Munsch: This one's a children's book that I remember reading when I was really young... it draws on Inuit lore, specifically the Qallupulluit- a humanoid creature that lives beneath the ice of Hudson's Bay and pull children down under if they get to close. This one was quite enough to freak me out when I read it and follows a young Inuk girl named Allashua after she draws the attention of the creatures.

2. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse: Wow I probably should have organised these from... North to South or East to West or something instead of jumping around but. Too late now. Trail of Lightning takes the reader much further south, to what is now the area around Albuquerque and is set after the rising waters have made most of the planet unlivable, and supernatural beings once again walk among humans, causing trouble and assigning tasks and bothering gifted monster-hunter Maggie about her love life. (No that's not what it's about. Well. A little bit. Maggie continues in a long, proud tradition of heroes who wish the supernatural would just let them have some privacy, please. Mostly it's about hunting for monsters. And fighting monsters of both the real and memory varieties.) I've reviewed this one and you can see that here.

3. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline: I've had this book on hold for quite a while and I'm still waiting on it... I was initially reluctant to read it because I have a couple of things about marrow-based horror. (Um. Not what you're expecting. I don't actually have a fear of having my bone marrow personally stolen or any real cringe factor about that. Just. Long story.) But I've heard really good reviews and it sounds like a really important read. Oh. Right! Summary: when most of the world loses the ability to dream and discovers that the cure to the madness dreamlessness brings on may lie in the marrow on North American Indigenous people (the only ones who still can), they find themselves the target of "recruiters" and on the run from those who would take their marrow- the cure- by force.

4. Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson: Another one I haven't read yet but would like to! I feel like I'm going to have to be in a very specific frame of mind to read this one, though, given that it tackles some heavy topics that I generally avoid in my reading. It sounds really good and everything it's just that I am a sensitive plant about certain things for um... reasons. Anyway. 

5. Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time edited by Hope Nicolson: An anthology focusing on LGBTQUIAA+ and two-spirited sci-fi short stories. I've got this on hold right now, I was SO EXCITED when I found out my library was getting a copy in, because I feel like it's been on my TBR for such a long time. 

6. Mapping the Interior by Stephan Graham Jones: I actually took this out of the library a while ago, drawn by the cover alone... and then proceeded to slip into a reading funk and have to return it before picking it up. That particular funk out of the way, I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on it again because it's a horror novella about a boy trying to map the inside of a house that doesn't want to be mapped... a house that's maybe pretty haunted. 

7. Take Us To Your Chief and Other Stories by Drew Hayden Taylor:
Honestly this one had me at the title because I am a fan of aliens but also it ESPECIALLY had me about drawing parallels between the concept of extra-planetary visitors and the experience that North America's Indigenous peoples had with the European arrival. 

8. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer: This one appeals to the environmental science degree training that I'm never going to fully shake. I'm not that far in but I think the narrative voice is really appealing so far. One of the highlights for me of taking environmental science (with a lot of biology thrown in along with quite a bit of politics) was learning to constantly seek out new ways to think of any given environmental challenge (and solution) and to consider other perspectives (especially those of Indigenous people, who are too often ignored or discounted and who often know A LOT more about the system than anyone whose just showing up and attempting to manage it) and so far I think Robin Wall Kimmerer's perspective is going to be really valuable. I'm hoping I'll learn a lot! (I've already learned more about sweetgrass than I knew before so that's good.) (I'm saying that totally without sarcasm. I have some weird interests.)

9. The Right to Be Cold by Sheila Watt-Coultier: Another environmental science-appeal book for me. The ideas from this book got quite a bit of spotlight in a few of my courses (it was even mentioned by name several times), but I never did get around to reading the book itself.

10. 21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act by Bob Joseph: Since there are definitely more than 21 things that I don't know about the Indian Act, this one seems like a good start. I'm familiar with little pieces of it but not the whole thing and that seems like something I should probably remedy, and I've heard that this is a good way to start familiarising myself with it.  

Monday, July 2, 2018

Review: Smoke and Iron

Title: Smoke and Iron
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: The Great Library
Volume: 4
Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History Speculative Fiction
Release Date: July 3, 2018
Goodreads   Chapters    Amazon

eGalley received through NetGalley

In a desperate move, Jess gambled the lives of those he cares about on his ability to lie- and to pass himself off as his twin. Now Jess is separated from his friends, facing (almost literally) the jaws of the lion as he attempts to work to take down the Archivist from inside the Library. His gamble has landed Wolfe in a Library prison, Morgan in the Iron Tower, the rest of his closet friends are on a ship, being transported to face judgement as traitors. Jess finds himself, and his mission, at risk of failure as he tries to maneuver himself and is friends into position and as the position of the Library itself grows more and more tenuous and the rebellion gathers steam.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A fantastic continuation of The Great Library series that builds tension and manages several different plot threads and points of view throughout.

Review: Okay, so here we are again! When last we left Jess, he'd just risked the lives of just about everyone on a gamble that was... his best possible option, of a host of bad options. It divides his core group into four separate streams that are barely able to communicate with each other (if at all). Morgan and Wolfe are both in their own prisons, and we get to see from both of their points of view, as well as Khalila's over the course of most of the book (as well as snippets of a few others). 

Something that I really like about this series is the sense of scale. The world is a BIG place, and everyone that the members of the core group meet holds a stake in what's happening. This rebellion is rapidly moving well beyond what Jess's band of friends and allies is able to control, or even be fully aware of. They're spread too thin, they've been kind of slap-and-dash throwing plans together as they face situation after situation in quick succession and haven't really had time to regroup and come up with a cohesive plan of vision as to what they're even going to be aiming for in terms of bringing down the power the Library holds, while also avoiding a power vacuum. Because they aren't trying to burn the Library to the ground and destroy everything about it, they're trying to save it from itself and the corruption that has taken root in it over the centuries. This is one of the bigger conflicts within the series, and a point where Khalila, with her combination of idealism and determined calm, really starts to flourish. As a long-term fan, I was pretty delighted. This plotline was something that also felt refreshingly nuanced as someone who has read A LOT of books where the approach to a damaged system is to just. Totally destroy it with no plan for managing the chaos that rises from the complete loss of order. (Granted: different situations require different approaches. I'm with our main characters on their approach to their situation: a burn-it-all-to-the-ground approach would have some VERY messy fallout and leave a power vacuum at risk of being filled by something even worse that what they're trying to rid themselves of.)

If you've seen any of my other reviews (they're linked below for anyone interested) you'll know that one of the sticking points for me with these books is my complete inability to become invested in Morgan as a character and... that remains true to a degree, even having seen from her point of view a lot more. I do like her more than I did in the previous books, though, so there's that at least. She's a bit more fleshed out here, once we've gotten an insight into her head. Her plotline was the one that felt the most like it was going around in circles and was the most interesting for me to read, especially with everything that was going on in Khalila and Jess's points of view. I feel like I keep... waiting... for something to click and that just doesn't happen. I think, compared to the other characters, she still feels kind of static, although I think seeing from her point of view definitely helped that.

Wolfe's point of view was not one I was expecting to get (him being an adult character and this series being YA), but it did offer some insight into exactly what a dangerous situation Jess had thrust them all into- Wolfe was out of communication and basically unaware of the plan. Much of his storyline is more builds tension as Wolfe tries to decide whether or not he can put his faith in a plan he knows nothing of, and I did like the insight into his head as he does his best to handle being back in a prison, much like the one that nearly broke him when he was younger. It also expands a bit more on his character, which is always nice.

Jess's point of view, along with Khalila's, carries most of the action as he frantically tries to gather information and organise people within the Library's home city of Alexandria. Over the course of this book we see how tenuous the plan that Jess has in place is and how he is in very nearly over his head- and the consequences that his miscalculations have. 

This series handles a vast cast of characters with clear character traits and ideals, and their relationships with one another. Even within the core group, those relationships are constantly shifting. Especially in this book, after Jess has broken the trust of several members of his group- most especially Santi, as Jess's plan got Wolfe captured again. The book takes time to build relationships in a way that I find I really like, and for me they pull the story along quite as much as the plot does. There's such a great diversity in character dynamics throughout the book and I really like that I find almost everything these characters do to be believable, but not always expected.

Overall, this was a great book that escalates the story and continues to increase the complexity of the politics surrounding the story. If this series is a five-act play, this books is definitely the rising action, building tension to a climax, and leaving our main characters facing still more, and possibly greater, challenges in the final book which I, for one, am eager to read. 

My reviews of the rest of the series so far: