Book Review – Six of Crows

I have been reading a lot over the past few weeks, but I wanted to step back to review some books that I read earlier in the year. I had really enjoyed the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo and have since finished a read-through of her other novels. Most of them are set in her Grishaverse world, so I’m going to start with those. Next up in the reading order after the Shadow and Bone trilogy are the Six of Crows Duology books: Six of Crows and then Crooked Kingdom (paid links). I listened to the audiobook version of Six of Crows, narrated by a cast of Jay Snyder, Brandon Rubin, Fred Berman, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans, and Tristan Morris.

You can find my reviews for other books by Leigh Bardugo here:

I listened to the audiobook edition.

Here is the blurb:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager

A runaway with a privileged past

A spy known as the Wraith

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

It’s hard to even know where to begin with this book, but it was by far one of my favorite reads in the past few years. At it’s heart, it’s a heist story with the six characters in the blurb taking on a seemingly impossible task. Yet where this book shines is the characters. Each one has their own reasons for being there and secrets abound. While they are all criminals of some sort, it was easy to root for them and to understand the circumstances that brought them to this life.

While this book is set in the Grishaverse, it takes place in parts of the world that did not feature in the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Grisha magic is also less of a factor here, although the group still has a renegade grisha. There is romance woven through the plot as well, and it is torturously good. Just don’t expect a payoff from any of the characters’ relationships in this first book.

I think that you could also read Six of Crows without having read the Shadow and Bone books. The events of the earlier trilogy are mentioned, but none of that is directly relevant to this story. The grisha powers might be a little confusing, but since those play a smaller role here, it shouldn’t limit the enjoyment of the book.

The audiobook used a different narrator for each character’s chapters. This worked well and I was able to adjust to the different voices easily. One difference in my reading when I listen to an audio performance of a book is that I don’t always have a good sense of how much of the book is left. However in this story, I realized that I had too many minutes of the book left when I thought it was almost done. While that isn’t specifically a spoiler, I knew that something more was going to happen, which I think actually added to the tension at the end, making it tragically perfect.

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Planetfall

I’ve had Planetfall by Emma Newman on my shelf for a few years and kept meaning to start it (the story of my reading life, but that’s a separate topic). It is the first book of four in the Planetfall series, which was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Series in 2020 (paid links). Read on below to see what I thought.

I read this in trade paperback format.

Here is the blurb:

Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.

More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.

The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…

While this book is part of a series, it looks like the other books are only set in the same universe and do not involve any characters from this volume, so it could be read as a stand-alone. Planetfall set up a mystery involving a religious-like calling, a troubled colony, and an alien city but then failed to give me enough of an explanation or resolution at the end. Even so, most of the book was great and other readers may enjoy the ending.

Renata is one of those guilty characters who has been hiding a secret for so long that by this point it is impossible to think of revealing it to others. The stable life of the colony on this alien world is uprooted when a descendant of another group of colonists thought to be long-lost arrives on scene. This visitor causes some colonists to rethink an annual tradition tied to one of Ren’s secrets, propelling the main plot of the novel. Ren’s other secret is that she never lets anyone see her home because she is a hoarder. This created a situation that was unique in the science fiction that I’ve read, and ultimately ties together with the rest of the conflict as the book progresses.

The action and stakes increased toward the conclusion of the book, and while I don’t want to give any spoilers here, the ending was one in which I had expected a greater reveal and explanation and was left sort of scratching my head.

Have you read any of the Planetfall books? Have you read any of Emma Newman’s other books? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Quantum Curators and the Faberge Egg

This is another book that was suggested for one of my book clubs and it sounded intriguing. The Quantum Curators and the Faberge Egg by Eva St. John is the first book by this author that I have read. It is also the first book (of five) in The Quantum Curators series (paid links).

I read this as an e-book.

Here is the blurb:

When a priceless Fabergé egg comes to light everyone is after it. Neith Salah is a quantum curator. It’s her mission to get the egg; she doesn’t know what it looks like, or where it is, but she knows it’s not on her earth.

Julius Strathclyde lives on a parallel earth. He’s a Cambridge professor and an archivist; he loves tea, research and a quiet life. It’s a pity then, that he’s the only person alive who knows where the egg is.

She has guns and attitude, he has a fountain pen. Together they are going to have to race against time to save the egg, before a hidden enemy gets there first.

This book was the start of a series, but could be read as a stand-alone novel because it does wrap up the main events of the Faberge egg plot by the end. Not every detail is resolved though which leaves something for the next book to presumably explore. I did enjoy this book, but I’m not sure if I’ll read the rest of the series. I didn’t identify with the characters enough to put this on my must-read-more list.

The story is mainly set on our Earth, but the characters that are seeking the Faberge egg are from a parallel Earth, so the book felt a lot like a time travel novel. Of course these technologically advanced treasure hunters meet up with the professor, Julius, on our Earth and he is swept up into the search with them as different factions compete to find the egg.

I liked the plot twists and the action scenes were well-done. The idea of the parallel Earth where relics from our world are saved from destruction and stored for everyone to be able to enjoy and cherish them was something unique in this story. I’m curious to know more about how that world developed.

Have you read any of the Quantum Curator books? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Many-Colored Land

The Many-Colored Land is the first book in the Saga of Pliocene Exile by Julian May (paid links). I had never read anything by this author, but this book was proposed as a selection for one of my book clubs, so I picked it up. This book was nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula Award and won a Locus Award.

I read this in e-book format.

Here is the blurb:

In the year 2034, Theo Quderian, a French physicist, made an amusing but impractical the means to use a one-way, fixed-focus time warp that opened into a place in the Rhone River valley during the idyllic Pliocene Epoch, six million years ago. But, as time went on, a certain usefulness developed. The misfits and mavericks of the future—many of them brilliant people—began to seek this exit door to a mysterious past. In 2110, a particularly strange and interesting group was preparing to make the journey—a starship captain, a girl athlete, a paleontologist, a woman priest, and others who had reason to flee the technological perfection of twenty-second-century life.

The group that passes through the time-portal finds an unforeseen strangeness on the other side. Far from being uninhabited, Pliocene Europe is the home of two warring races from another planet. There is the knightly race of the Tanu—handsome, arrogant, and possessing vast powers of psychokinesis and telepathy. And there is the outcast race of Firvulag—dwarfish, malev-o olent, and gifted with their own supernormal skills.

Taken captive by the Tanu and transported through the primordial European landscape, the humans manage to break free, join in an uneasy alliance with the forest-dwelling Firvulag, and, finally, launch an attack against the Tanu city of light on the banks of a river that, eons later, would be called the Rhine. Myth and legend, wit and violence, speculative science and breathtaking imagination mingle in this romantic fantasy, which is the first volume in a series about the exile world. The sequel, titled The Golden Torc, will follow soon.

While the concept of this novel was quite intriguing, this book was challenging for me to enjoy. The story is told through numerous points of view, and at the beginning of the book I struggled to keep each character straight and to understand how they related to a coherent story. Eventually it is clear that these are the characters that are going to travel back in time to the Pliocene, but I think it would have been easier to follow this opening if the story had started closer to the point at which they begin their journey.

Once they arrive in Pliocene Europe, the book was better, but I still found it hard to identify with the characters. They encountered some difficult conditions there and each character’s personality created different responses to this unique world state, but I also found that I struggled to like or care about any of the characters.

Some positive aspects of this book were that the idea of traveling back in time on a one-way journey is always fun to explore. Part of me does want to discover what happened to this Pliocene land and how the alien Tanu and Firvulag arrived and made it their home. I’m not sure that’s enough to convince me to invest the time to read the next book (The Golden Torc), but I’d consider a different series by the author (paid link).

Have you read any books by Julian May? Which ones do you recommend? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

10 Authors I Haven’t Read Yet

I had the idea for this post from another book blog that I follow and I thought it would be an interesting topic in regard to my own reading. My goal in creating this list was to think of ten authors that I am dying to read, but haven’t had time to get to yet. I started with a longer list and then pared it down to just these ten:

  1. Iain M. Banks – I have read the blurb for the first book in this author’s Culture series (paid link) and I honestly can’t tell what it’s about other than something with a sprawling intergalactic story which is something I generally love. This is a series with 9 books so far.
  1. Pierce Brown – this author is best known for the Red Rising Saga (paid link) which started out as a trilogy and has now grown to six books. Caste warfare on a dystopian Mars????? Yes, please!
  1. P. Djeli Clark is an author that I was not terribly aware of until I listened to him talk in a writing class sponsored by Orbit Books. He spoke about scene structure and sounds like an author who writes diverse and compelling stories (paid link).
  1. James S. A. Corey is a pen name for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck who are best known for The Expanse series (paid link). This science fiction epic was the basis for the television series on Amazon Prime of the same name which is currently in my queue to finish. I plan to read the books once I’ve finished the show.
  1. Diana Gabaldon is best known for writing the Outlander series of historical time-travel romance novels (paid link). I watched the first season of the television show and loved it (but then got distracted – I don’t stick with tv very well). My mother is a huge fan of both the books and the show and if I don’t read this series soon she’ll probably disown me. It currently sits at nine books and is supposed to be complete with the tenth volume.
  1. Ann Leckie wrote the Imperial Radch trilogy of science fiction novels (paid link) that won the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards and was also recommended to me by friends. I picked up the first book but haven’t had the time to start it yet. So many books, so little time…
  1. Sarah J. Maas – I’m torn on this one because I’ve heard mixed reviews of her writing. I first heard of her Throne of Glass series, and now the author’s more recent series (A Court of Thorns and Roses) (paid links) has been added to the list of banned books in some conservative parts of the country – which makes it crucial to read it, right?!?! These are fantasy romance with faeries and probably some magic and swords. As long as the writing isn’t too painful, I’ll probably at least have fun with these.
  1. Seanan McGuire has written a ton of books. Her series include the October Daye, Wayward Children, and Alchemical Journeys books (paid links). The good news is that I’m planning to read Every Heart a Doorway for a book club discussion in the next few months. This series involves children and portals.
  1. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has written several stand-alone novels. Many appear to have a more gothic flavor to them, which is something that I have not read a lot of. I don’t know if I’d like these, but she has received awards and acclaim, so I’m open to taking a look. I already picked up Gods of Jade and Shadow a few years ago and haven’t had time to read it (paid link).
  1. V.E. Schwab is the last author on my list. She has written the Shades of Magic trilogy which explores parallel Londons in a threatened multiverse. Her more recent book, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue looks like a stand-alone novel about a woman who wins immortality but, in exchange, is forgotten by everyone she meets (paid links).

Have you read any of the authors on my list? Which one should I read first? What authors would be on your list? Let me know in the comments (above).

Book Review – Kakistocracy

Next up is a book that I just read last month – Kakistocracy by Alex Shvartsman. This is book 2 of the Conradverse Chronicles and you can read my review of the first book, The Middling Affliction, over here (paid links). I also want to thank NetGalley for providing this book to me in exchange for an honest review.

I read the e-book edition.

Here is the blurb:

If you do it well, lying is every bit as effective as magic.

Conrad Brent has no innate magic, so he bluffs a lot and uses a myriad of magical items to protect Brooklyn from monsters and arcane threats. As a member of the Watch, the group that protects the mundane humans from such dangers, he risks his life on a regular basis. Sometimes twice before lunch. Sometimes during lunch, when he dares order his food from a street cart.

After regaining his position in the Watch which he’d temporarily lost due to the machinations of a variety of evil-doers, Conrad doesn’t want to take any risks he doesn’t have to. But now his boss is missing, there’s a totalitarian new regime in City Hall oppressing all magic users, and the mayor has aligned himself with a diabolical villain.

In order to save the day, Conrad must team up with a recovering necromancer to mediate a dispute between two ancient enemy factions, solve a mystery of a warded house adjacent to a cemetery, and stand with his friends against tyranny.

That is, if the interdimensional fae assassins don’t get him first.

I had enjoyed the first book in this series and was hopeful that the second installment would continue in the same vein. Fortunately, Kakistocracy lived up to and exceeded my expectations! This volume felt more polished with a smoothly moving plot, although I think that may be because I already knew the rules of this world and the characters.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was how the necromancer, Moira, decides to try to be one of the good guys. Like the first book, Kakistocracy continues to examine what it means to be a hero and the different ways that one can act heroically.

Even though I felt like the plot moved forward smoothly, that didn’t mean it lacked twists and complications. Conrad is pulled in different directions by his obligations, his limitations as a middling who cannot do magic, and his personal feelings. I also loved the plot device where he loses several months in the faerie realm and has to reorient himself to all the changes that have occurred to New York City during his time away.

The humor also continues in this book, but I think there may have been fewer pop culture references (if that’s your thing). The immediate story is wrapped up by the end of the book, but still leaves room for more. I expect we’ll get to see more books in the Conradverse Chronicles in the future.

Have you read the first book or any of the author’s short stories? Let me know in the comments (above).

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Victory City

Victory City (paid link) by Salman Rushdie is one of the controversial author’s most recent novels. I had never read any of his works, but one of my book clubs chose this one and so I picked it up a few months ago.

I read the e-book edition.

Here is the blurb:

She will whisper an empire into existence – but all stories have a way of getting away from their creators . . .

In the wake of an insignificant battle between two long-forgotten kingdoms in fourteenth-century southern India, a nine-year-old girl has a divine encounter that will change the course of history. After witnessing the death of her mother, the grief-stricken Pampa Kampana becomes a vessel for a goddess, who tells her that she will be instrumental in the rise of a great city called Bisnaga – literally ‘victory city’ – the wonder of the world.

Over the next two hundred and fifty years, Pampa Kampana’s life becomes deeply interwoven with Bisnaga’s as she attempts to make good on the task that the goddess set for her: to give women equal agency in a patriarchal world. But all stories have a way of getting away from their creator, and as years pass, rulers come and go, battles are won and lost, and allegiances shift, Bisnaga is no exception.

The first thing that struck me about this novel was that it was a fantastical exploration of ancient history. Salman Rushdie had never been on my radar as an author who wrote fantasy, but after investigating his other works, it looks like much of his catalog is regarded as part of the magical realism genre. While that term originated in the German art world, it has been mostly used to describe writing by Latin American authors in which magical events are described in a realistic manner and the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred.

After reading Victory City, I don’t think that I would categorize this book as magical realism because the events of myth and magic are overt and clearly magical. This book read more like a mythical exploration of history, similar to some of the retellings of Greek mythology that have become prevalent recently (Circe, Ariadne, A Thousand Ships [paid links]).

I struggled to get into this book, and I think that was because the narrative style was comprised of too much telling and not enough showing for me. It was also hard to identify with the narrator. While some of the individual stories and conflicts had interesting aspects, I never felt engaged with the outcome of Pampa Kampana and her city. It also seemed that the author tried to create a story that gave women agency and power, but didn’t quite get there in the execution of that idea.

This book might appeal more to other readers and I think some of my reaction to it is that the style didn’t work for me. The prose itself was well-done, and I would consider reading another book by the author at some point.

Have you read anything by Salman Rushdie? What did you think? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Horse

This was another book that was not in my typical reading genres of fantasy and science fiction, but sometimes it’s good to take a look at something else. Horse (paid link) by Geraldine Brooks is a novel based on true history that tells a story across multiple timelines.

I read this in hardcover.

Here is the blurb:

A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history

Kentucky, 1850. An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack.

New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.

Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse–one studying the stallion’s bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success.

Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.

I was not familiar with this author before reading Horse, although it looks like another one of her novels, March (paid link), won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. However, I was happy to have read this sprawling tale that stretched over three (mostly two) different time periods. The author clearly has a background with horses, and the details of their husbandry and training felt real and accurate.

While one of the themes in this book is how slavery and racism affected the characters, I felt like we didn’t see the full effect of that in what this novel shows. The groom, Jarret, is a slave throughout the book, but could have had it far worse if he had not had the affinity with the horse, Lexington, or the knowledge that he did. However, the focus of the story is the horse, so it was necessary to have Jarret’s character stay with him to portray that.

The blurb made the story out to be more of a mystery than it actually was, and as a reader, it was obvious how the three timelines connected. The emphasis in the book was more on how the characters in the modern timeline rediscovered the history that had been lost over time and likely suppressed by racism. I want to also comment on the ending of the book, but want to avoid spoilers. I will just say that I was not surprised by how the story wrapped up in the current day timeline, but that it is tragic that we still struggle against the same problems in different centuries.

Have you read Horse or any other books by Geraldine Brooks? Are there more non-sci-fi/fantasy books you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments (above).

Book Review – The Golden Enclaves

This is it – the third and final book of Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series! The Golden Enclaves (paid link) picks up immediately after that heart-stopping conclusion to book 2. You can find my other reviews for this series here:

I read this as an e-book.

Here is the blurb:

The one thing you never talk about while you’re in the Scholomance is what you’ll do when you get out. Not even the richest enclaver would tempt fate that way. But it’s all we dream about, the hideously slim chance we’ll survive to make it out the gates and improbably find ourselves with a life ahead of us, a life outside the Scholomance halls.

And now the impossible dream has come true. I’m out, we’re all out–and I didn’t even have to turn into a monstrous dark witch to make it happen. So much for my great-grandmother’s prophecy of doom and destruction. I didn’t kill enclavers, I saved them. Me, and Orion, and our allies. Our graduation plan worked to perfection: we saved everyone and made the world safe for all wizards and brought peace and harmony to all the enclaves of the world.

Ha, only joking! Actually it’s gone all wrong. Someone else has picked up the project of destroying enclaves in my stead, and probably everyone we saved is about to get killed in the brewing enclave war on the horizon. And the first thing I’ve got to do now, having miraculously got out of the Scholomance, is turn straight around and find a way back in.

I did enjoy this final book in the Scholomance series overall. However, I felt like it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for in the conclusion to this series. Beware, there may be some spoilers below.

While it was interesting to see what the rest of the magical world looked like outside of the Scholomance, it also lacked the same feel as the earlier books. I enjoyed seeing how the students of magic went about their days with classes interspersed with danger. This story was bigger than the Scholomance, though. But then I also felt like it changed the relationship between El and Orion and made it less satisfying than it had been in book 2.

The revelation about the price that must be paid to create an enclave was one of the best parts of this book. The magicians knew they must keep the terrible truth secret, but at the same time, many of them knew and were willing to force someone to pay that price.

I felt that the final conclusion scenes of this series were rather anti-climactic. Both sides postured and threatened, and then nothing happened. They figured out a solution and then that was it. The tension that the prophecy and the danger had built fizzled for me. Still, I mostly enjoyed the series and will definitely be looking for Naomi Novik’s next book.

Have you read the Scholomance series (paid link)? What did you think about that ending? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Last Graduate

The Last Graduate (paid link) is the second book in Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series. I had to continue with this series because I had enjoyed the first book so much. You can find my review of that one (A Deadly Education) here.

I read this as an e-book.

Here is the blurb:

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .

Another school year starts in this book and we follow El, Orion, and their friends as they try to study and survive it. In that respect it is similar to the first book, but this time El is less isolated while at the same time reluctantly put into a position of greater responsibility. The characters continued to shine in this volume as they navigate their way through the dangers of the Scholomance.

El is still haunted by the prophecy that claims she will become a danger to the enclaves, causing her to believe that she is destined to turn to dark magic. This was an intriguing part of the book to me since she has been clearly resisting the prophecy and I couldn’t see anything forcing her to make that change yet. However, I often distrust prophecies in fantasy fiction (thanks, Tad Williams).

This is definitely part of a series and would be difficult to pick up without reading A Deadly Education (paid link) first. The ending also ends on a devastating cliff-hanger, so be ready to start the last book, The Golden Enclaves (paid link), once you’re done.

Have you read any of the books in this series? Do you have a favorite series featuring a magic school? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

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