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 – 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.

Book Review – A Deadly Education

I have had A Deadly Education (paid link) by Naomi Novik on my to-be-read pile for a couple of years. She is an author who burst onto the scene with her Temeraire series (paid link) and then followed it up with two fairy-tale-inspired stand-alones–Uprooted and Spinning Silver (paid links)–and I have read them all. While I felt like the Temeraire series fizzled after the first three or four books, I loved both of the later stand-alones. A Deadly Education is the first book in a new series titled The Scholomance.

You can read my reviews of some of her other books here:

I read this in paperback.

Here is the blurb:

A Deadly Education is set at the Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

At first glance, A Deadly Education sounds a lot like a Harry Potter knock-off. However, this magic school is far less forgiving than Hogwarts. The main character, El (short for Galadriel, courtesy of her hippie mother), is a loner with no friends and few resources who is struggling to stay on top of her courses while avoiding the monsters that search out vulnerable students. However, she is also haunted by a prophecy that foretold her to bring destruction upon the enclaves of magicians across the world. The school seems determined to help her along with this fate by revealing the most destructive and powerful spells to her, but El refuses to use the darker side of her power.

When El accidentally befriends Orion, the talented and privileged monster-slayer of the famed New York enclave of magicians, her fortunes shift. This relationship is integral to The Scholomance series, and Orion is not what El expected.

I loved this first book in The Schlomance! The school captured the essence of being a student of magic, but embraced the danger of learning those skills in a unique way. Additionally, the characters were diverse and interesting, with personalities that drew them into conflict beyond what the school already provided. I discussed this book in a local book club and we all decided that we must continue with the series.

Have you read The Scholomance series? What about other books by Naomi Novik? Let me know in the comments (above)?

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Cat Who Saved Books

I picked this novel up on a whim last year because it was about books and a cat, so what could be better? The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa has been translated from Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai, and I read this as an e-book.

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Here is the blurb:

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and Tiger and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners. 

Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, Tiger and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter…

This was a fun and short read, but felt like a YA book rather than anything more serious. Rintaro follows Tiger through alternate worlds where he must figure out how to stop people who are mistreating books. Each of these challenges was interesting, but some of the people that Rintaro meets felt more like caricatures to me.

Tiger doesn’t take as active a role as I might have liked, but there are other secondary characters that help to liven up the plot. Given that this story was told by a Japanese author, I liked learning about some of the concepts from that culture that I was not aware of previously (like hikiomori).

Overall, I didn’t get quite as much out of this book as I would have liked, but it was also a quick read. I might pick up another book by this author in the future.

Have you read many books by authors from other cultures or backgrounds? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my book reviews here.

Book Review – Season of Storms

Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski is the most recently published book in The Witcher Saga, but is not the end chronologically. This could almost be read as a stand-alone novel and is set sometime after the initial relationships in the series have been formed, but before Geralt takes up his quest to protect Ciri. I listed to this as an audiobook, narrated by Peter Kenny.

Here are my reviews for the other books in the series:

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Here is the blurb:

Geralt of Rivia. A witcher whose mission is to protect ordinary people from the monsters created with magic. A mutant who has the task of killing unnatural beings. He uses a magical sign, potions and the pride of every witcher — two swords, steel and silver. But what would happen if Geralt lost his weapons?

In this standalone novel, Geralt fights, travels and loves again, Dandelion sings and flies from trouble to trouble, sorcerers are scheming … and across the whole world clouds are gathering – the season of storms is coming…

This last Witcher novel was a lot of fun to read and felt like a side quest. Geralt’s two special swords are stolen and he suffers a series of unfortunate events as he attempts to find them. While this is a conceptually simple plot, other complications arise, both from the local politics, the attentions of a sorceress, and a mad wizard who lives by the credo that the ends justify the means.

One of the best parts of Sapkowski’s writing is how he comments on the genre while clearly being a fan of it and all that it entails. In this novel he jokes around with the trope of the magical or otherwise special sword, with Geralt refusing to ever truthfully answer what powers his swords have beyond functioning as well-made blades.

Those readers not familiar with this series could likely read this book with no prior knowledge of the story. But anyone who has read the main series will get more out of this one with multiple references to minor characters throughout the text. I suspect that at least one part of the ending won’t make sense unless you know how Geralt and Ciri’s story ends in The Lady of the Lake (although it doesn’t give anything away about that ending).

Overall, if you have read the rest of the books, Season of Storms is one not to miss. It mixes the best parts of Sapkowski’s craft while putting Geralt into ever-worsening situations with Dandelion, and taking new twists as he struggles to survive magic and monsters.

Have you read any of The Witcher Saga? What did you think? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Many years ago, I read The Riddle-Master of Hed series by Patricia A. McKillip, and I had loved that series. I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up another book this this author, but one of my book clubs recently chose to read this one – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. This was a stand-alone fantasy tale and it won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1975.

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Here is the blurb:

Young Sybel, the heiress of powerful wizards, needs the company of no-one outside her gates. In her exquisite stone mansion, she is attended by exotic, magical beasts: Riddle-master Cyrin the boar; the treasure-starved dragon Gyld; Gules the Lyon, tawny master of the Southern Deserts; Ter, the fiercely vengeful falcon; Moriah, feline Lady of the Night. Sybel only lacks the exquisite and mysterious Liralen, which continues to elude her most powerful enchantments.

But Sybel’s solitude is to be shattered when a desperate soldier arrives bearing a mysterious child. Soon Sybel will discover that the world of men is full of love, deceit, and the temptations of vast power.

Sybel’s story reads like a fairy tale and I found this book thoroughly enjoyable. I read the entire thing in about a day and a half! As much as she wants to stay out of the political events and conflicts, Sybel is inevitably drawn into them. Her loyalty is tested and torn as the characters evolve, and I liked how she is not without her flaws.

The “forgotten beasts” come from the mythology of this land but are very much present physically in the time and place of this story. They aren’t tame though, and they even cause Sybel trouble, for she has the ability to call them and communicate with them, but does not truly control them.

This is also a romance here, and while it is not the main emphasis of the story, I felt that it added to both the conflict and the resolution of the tale.

After reading The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, I want to go back to read more of Patricia A. McKillip’s work. Have you read any of her other works and have suggestions? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Master of Iron

Master of Iron by Tricia Levenseller is the second of two books in the Bladesmith duology. I reviewed the first book, Blade of Secrets, here. This is also one of the books I had picked up at New York Comic-Con 2022.

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Here is the blurb:

Eighteen-year-old Ziva may have defeated a deadly warlord, but the price was almost too much. Ziva is forced into a breakneck race to a nearby city with the handsome mercenary, Kellyn, and the young scholar, Petrik, to find a powerful magical healer who can save her sister’s life.

When the events that follow lead to Ziva and Kellyn’s capture by an ambitious prince, Ziva is forced into the very situation she’s been dreading: magicking dangerous weapons meant for world domination.

The forge has always been Ziva’s safe space, a place to avoid society and the anxiety it causes her, but now it is her prison, and she’s not sure just how much of herself she’ll have to sacrifice to save Kellyn and take center stage in the very war she’s been trying to stop.

This book continued the story from Blade of Secrets and launches a new crisis where a power-hungry prince takes both Ziva and Kellyn captive and forces Ziva to create magical weapons for his growing army. The action in this book didn’t move as quickly as in Blade of Secrets and I had a harder time getting through it. Some of the plot felt too contrived to me.

The romance also felt like it stagnated, and despite Ziva and Kellyn being thrown together for so much of this book, Ziva’s lack of perception about their relationship made this a frustrating read. So overall, I didn’t like this second book as much as the first, but it did come to an exciting conclusion.

I feel like I’m seeing more duologies out there than I used to. Do you think that this is a good length for a story? Should they generally be combined into a single novel? Or could authors add more depth and get a trilogy out of it? Let me know in the comments (above).

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Blade of Secrets

I had picked up Blade of Secrets by Tricia Levenseller at New York Comic-Con a few months ago because I enjoyed reading one of the her previous books – Warrior of the Wild. This book was the first of two in the Bladesmith fantasy/romance duology series.

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Here is the blurb:

Eighteen-year-old Ziva prefers metal to people. She spends her days tucked away in her forge, safe from society and the anxiety it causes her, using her magical gift to craft unique weapons imbued with power.

Then Ziva receives a commission from a powerful warlord, and the result is a sword capable of stealing its victims’ secrets. A sword that can cut far deeper than the length of its blade. A sword with the strength to topple kingdoms. When Ziva learns of the warlord’s intentions to use the weapon to enslave all the world under her rule, she takes her sister and flees.

Joined by a distractingly handsome mercenary and a young scholar with extensive knowledge of the world’s known magics, Ziva and her sister set out on a quest to keep the sword safe until they can find a worthy wielder or a way to destroy it entirely.

This was an easy and fun read and moved quickly. Ziva was quickly established as a sympathetic protagonist because she suffers from pretty significant social anxiety and is only truly comfortable around her sister, Temra. Of course the story pushes her out from the comfort of her home and on a journey with her sister and two strangers.

The plot evolves and Ziva struggles to deal with new friends and family, only to be betrayed. The antagonist is relentless, but also holds some secrets that complicate everything. On top of that, Ziva wants to deny to her attraction to the handsome and irritating mercenary, Kellyn. He is only accompanying them for pay, after all.

This is not a complete story, so if you read this novel you will need to be prepared continue on to the second book, Master of Iron, to finish the tale. I will have a review of that one up next!

Have you read any of Tricia Levelseller’s books? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Lady of the Lake

I finally made it to the end. This is a book review for The Lady of the Lake, the final book (#7 publication order) in The Witcher Saga by Andrzej Sapkowski. I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Peter Kenny. There is another book that was published later (Season of Storms), but it is set earlier in the chronology and I’ll review that one soon.

There will be some spoilers in this review because I want to talk about the ending, but I’ll have a warning and some space before them.

You can find my reviews of the earlier books in this series here:

Paid links help to support this blog.

Here is the blurb:

After walking through the portal in the Tower of Swallows while narrowly escaping death, Ciri finds herself in a completely different world… an Elven world. She is trapped with no way out. Time does not seem to exist and there are no obvious borders or portals to cross back into her home world.

But this is Ciri, the child of prophecy, and she will not be defeated. She knows she must escape to finally rejoin the Witcher, Geralt, and his companions – and also to try to conquer her worst nightmare. Leo Bonhart, the man who chased, wounded and tortured Ciri, is still on her trail. And the world is still at war.

It becomes ever more clear through this series that the main character of this story is Ciri, and NOT Geralt the Witcher. She is immediately identified as the titular character in the opening of this book, and we spend a lot of time with her in this one.

Like in some of the earlier books, the author uses multiple points of view and jumps into other times (and even worlds) to tell this story. This method is incredibly effective during the Battle of Brenna, the final clash between the armies of Nilfgaard and the allied Northern Kingdoms. I can’t say that I’ve ever read anything quite like it, and even though you don’t get a play-by-play exchange of blows, the scenes relayed from the viewpoint of a field hospital, a messenger, and Jarre (the boy Ciri knew from her days in the temple, now an infantry soldier), gave a perspective that shows a chaotic struggle while also depicting the events with eerie clarity.

This novel did not give anything away in regard to how it would end, so I read with a lot of trepidation as I got further along. It was satisfying to finally see Ciri use her power as she tried to decide whether to embrace her destiny or fight it. For my spoiler-free review of the finale, I will say that I thought it was well-done and brought the character arcs to a gratifying end. From reading other reviews, it seems that this ending was very polarizing with readers. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on it, keep reading, but there will be…

Spoilers to follow!

Before I talk about the ending, I wanted to first comment on how Sapkowski brought Arthurian legend into these books. At first I was rather put off by this because I didn’t feel like his fantasy world should be so connected to our own. But then as I thought about this, I realized that Arthurian legend is NOT our world, but another mythic tale. So why couldn’t it be connected to The Witcher Saga like all of these other stories from eastern Europe that influenced the author’s writing?

I feel a little betrayed by the television show after reading this because it gave away the secret that Emhyr was Ciri’s father, Duny, so early. When that was revealed in the book, I don’t think that it had as much impact as it could have without already sort of knowing that.

The struggle at Vilgefortz’s castle was terrifying to read since I was convinced that every last one of Geralt’s band was going to die. And then they did (sadness!)… so when Sapkowski began to use the same story-telling technique with Geralt I was in agony. I had forgotten that ominous prophecy back at Caer Morhen about his death. But then… it was okay.

Or, do you think Geralt did actually die at the end? Were the unicorn and Ciri only able to help him reach an afterlife together with Yennefer?

If Ciri used her power to travel to another world, then what happened to the prophecy and her destiny? This is the only loose end that I felt was left too open-ended. Was she really able to scorn her destiny and move on? What happened to the prophecy that said the world would be covered in ice? I wish this aspect had come to more of a conclusion, but perhaps the answer to that is that Ciri was able to thwart destiny and then the prophecy became irrelevant in the end. What do you think? Let me know in the comments (above)!

Read more of my reviews here.

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