Book Review: The Brilliant Death

the brilliant deathThe Brilliant Death
by Amy Rose Capetta
Young Adult/Fantasy
330 pages
Published October 2018

It’s not often that I like a relationship more than I like the separate parts of it, but that’s the case with The Brilliant Death. I love Teo and Cielo together. As a couple they are amazing. I like them individually, but together they are something unique and lovely. By the end of the book, they can both switch genders at will, and they love each other for who they are, not what bodies they happen to be wearing.

This book plays with the gender binary, giving us two characters who dance from boy to girl and back again when it’s convenient for them. Teo uses this ability to masquerade as her brother, going to the capital city when summoned by the ruler of her country after the assassination of her father.

If Teo’s name and the use of the word “strega” hadn’t given it away, the book is very Italian-inspired. The family ties, the landscape, the names, the atmosphere is unmistakably Italian. While that’s still a Western European culture, it’s not one we actually see in fantasy that often, which makes this book more enthralling.

While Teo juggles loyalties to family, country, and friends, Cielo is on a mission to find out what happened to their mother. Falling in love isn’t in the plan for either of them, but when is it, really?

I loved the magic, the characters, and the setting of this one, and I really hope there’s going to be a sequel. The plot was definitely left open enough to allow for one, though I could be happy with this as a standalone, too.

From the cover of The Brilliant Death:

Teodora Di Sangro is used to hiding her magical ability to transform enemies into music boxes and mirrors. Nobody knows she’s a strega – and she aims to keep it that way.

Then she meets Cielo – and everything changes.

A strega who can effortlessly swap back and forth between female and male, human and animal, Cielo shows Teodora what her life could be like if she masters her powers – and how much more she’s capable of. And not a moment too soon: the ruler of Vinalia has poisoned the patriarchs of the country’s five controlling families, including Teodora’s father, and demands that each family send a son to the palace. If she wants to save her family, Teodora must travel to the capital – not disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.

But the road to the capital, and to bridling her evolving powers, is full of enemies and complications, including the one she least expects: falling in love.

Book Review: Black Wings Beating

black wings beatingBlack Wings Beating
by Alex London
Young Adult/Fantasy
426 pages
Published September 2018

This highly-anticipated young adult fantasy was – alright. I’m a little disappointed, actually. I love birds. I grew up with a number of parrots, and crows are still one of my favorite animals. So a book where falconry is a central part of the culture, and they have to go hunt down a mythical bird? Count me in! Unfortunately this book suffers from the “reluctant hero” trope, which is far too common in YA and gets tiring.

The two main characters in this book are twins. We have Brysen, who was never good enough for their alcoholic father, and was beaten regularly. He’s also stubborn, irresponsible, and reckless. His sister has an ancient power to control falcons, but she refuses to learn how to control it because she doesn’t want to overshadow her good-for-nothing brother. (She also might be asexual, but it’s not explicitly stated in the book. It’s heavily implied, though.)

The two dysfunctional siblings set out to capture the near-mythical bird that killed their father, in order to save the life of Brysen’s lover, falconry trainer, and manipulator, Dymian. They’re joined by Nyall, a boy in love with Kylee who doesn’t care that she doesn’t love him back. (In the truly-good-guy way, not in the creepy way. I like Nyall. He’s good people.)

They of course run into dangers in the mountains that the bird lives in, and the book is about that journey. Interspersed with their story is the occasional scene of the invaders sweeping across the land elsewhere. I wish we had a better sense of time – both how long before the invaders near the Six Villages where Brysen and Kylee are, and how long their journey in the mountains takes. That could have been much better communicated.

Kylee frustrates me – she could be so badass, and if she’d use her powers, it could get her what she wants. She’s trying to earn enough money catching and selling birds of prey to get out of the business entirely. (She has to pay off their father’s debts first.) So why not use her powers to call down a few of the most valuable birds and BE DONE WITH IT? How does this not occur to her? As far as I can tell, the only real reason she doesn’t want to be a falconer is she knows she’d be excellent at it and she doesn’t want to overshadow her brother, whose dream it’s been to be a great falconer. News flash. Your brother is worthless, girl. If he wants to be great maybe he should buckle down and focus instead of blaming those around him for his misfortunes.

So I’m not sure what my overall opinion of this book is. The world-building is shaping up to be interesting, but needs more fleshing out. The writing itself is pretty good, it flows nicely but needs a better sense of time. The characters’ motivations are clear but occasionally frustrating. I am a little invested in seeing what happens in the next book, but I’m not sure I’m invested enough to spend the time to read it. I’ll make that decision when it comes out, I suppose.

From the cover of Black Wings Beating:

THEY’LL RISE TOGETHER OR FALL ALONE

The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their world is more revered than birds of prey, and no one is more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists. 

Brysen strives to be a great falconer, while his twin sister, Kylee, possesses ancient gifts for it but wants to be free of falconry altogether. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward the Six Villages, with a rebel army leaving nothing in its wake but blood and empty sky. No bird or falconer will be safe from this invasion.

Together the twins must embark on a journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the near-mythic ghost eagle, a solitary killer and the most feared of the Uztari birds of prey. They each go for their own reasons: Brysen for the boy he loves and the glory he’s long craved, and Kylee to atone for her past and protect her brother’s future. But they both are hunted by those who seek one thing: power.

With this book, Alex London launches a soaring saga about the memories that haunt us, the histories that hunt us, and the bonds of blood between us.

Book Review: Silence Fallen

silence_fallen_layout.inddSilence Fallen
by Patricia Briggs
Urban Fantasy
371 pages
Published 2017

Silence Fallen is #10 in the Mercy Briggs series, and honestly, they’ve started to get a bit boring. Mercy gets into trouble. Mercy gets into SPECIAL trouble that werewolves would have a hard time with, but she’s special because she’s a coyote shifter, and her abilities give her an edge over the pure strength of werewolves! Mercy antagonizes enemies, escapes, finds her way home. Gets revenge. That’s basically the plot of almost every one of these books. I generally like them, but this one in particular fell short. Maybe it’s because I haven’t read them in a while, but it just lacked the urgency of some of her other adventures.

One thing that really bothered me was the big bad vampire in the beginning – who was creepy as ALL get out – turned out to not be that bad, I guess? They let themselves get used by him to fulfill a plot and weren’t mad about it? I would have expected Mercy’s pack to take the dude down, no matter the consequences, but that wasn’t what they decided to do.

And then, very frustratingly, they revealed something in the last ten pages or so that made me go re-read EVERY SCENE with a certain character and yep, there was no foreshadowing of that AT ALL. And there should have been. That’s something the reader should be able to guess, because the viewpoint character knows about it. And it’s absolutely not hinted at. So that’s frustrating, and changes the meaning of several scenes.

So I’m very meh on this one. I don’t know if I’ll continue this series. Sometimes series just overdo their lifespan. This should have been wrapped up and moved on to other characters some time ago. The second series in this world, Alpha and Omega, is still pretty good. But maybe it’s time to set Mercy aside. Do a series focused on the fae, or the vampires or something.

From the cover of Silence Fallen:

In the #1 New York Times bestselling Mercy Thompson novels, the coyote shapeshifter has found her voice in the werewolf pack. But when Mercy’s bond with the pack – and her mate – is broken, she’ll learn what it truly means to be alone.

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against Alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes – only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in a foreign country.

Unable to contact Adam through their mate bond, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

Book Review: The Dreaming Stars

the dreaming starsThe Dreaming Stars
by Tim Pratt
Science Fiction
384 pages
Published September 2018

I don’t read a lot of hard sci-fi. It’s just not where my interests lie. But every once in a while, I do enjoy a good space opera. Firefly/Serenity (before I learned about the Confederate connection, dammit), Dark Matter, even the occasional episode of The Expanse. Tim Pratt has written a fantastic space opera in his Axiom series. (The Forbidden Stars should be coming out sometime in 2019.) The story started with The Wrong Stars and continues here.

First, the diversity is fantastic. The crew runs the gamut of genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and religions. Our two main characters, Captain Machedo and Elena, are both bisexual women, and the Captain is also demisexual. (One of the first things she does in this book is crash her own funeral being held by her ex-husband!) I enjoyed seeing Elena and Callie’s relationship continue to grow.

Second, the dialog is hilarious. The Captain and her ship’s AI are both smart alecks, and sarcasm and snappy comebacks abound.

The action is also very well-done; the physics of traveling through space aside, most of the science is feasible. All of the Axiom-tech is pretty far out, and some of the other science is….well it’s such a long shot that it only worked because it’s in a book, but it IS conceivable it could work.

This is one sci-fi series I will continue to watch for. (And I wonder how long before it gets optioned for TV?)

From the cover of The Dreaming Stars:

In the breathtaking sequel to The Wrong Stars, Tim Pratt brings you much closer to that ancient race of aliens, the Axiom, who will kill us all – when they wake up. 

In deep space, a swarm of nanoparticles threatens the colonies, transforming everything it meets into computronium – including the colonists. The crew of the White Raven investigate, and discover an Axiom facility filled with aliens, hibernating while their minds roam a vast virtual reality. The treacherous Sebastien wakes up, claiming his altered brain architecture can help the crew deactivate the swarm – from inside the Axiom simulation. To protect humanity, beleaguered Captain Callie Machedo must trust him, but if Sebastien still plans to dominate the universe using Axiom tech, they could be in for a whole galaxy of trouble.

Book Review: Confessions of the Fox

confessions of the foxConfessions of the Fox
by Jordy Rosenberg
Historical Fiction/Contemporary Fiction
329 pages
Published June 2018

Confessions of the Fox is an #ownvoices novel – written by a trans author, about a trans professor writing about a manuscript about a trans eighteenth-century thief. In that way, it’s quite unique, and valuable for its observations about being trans.

But story-wise – it drug on about a hundred pages too long, got bogged down by the footnotes that tell the professor’s story, and ultimately went off on some conspiracy tangent that added nothing to the plot. It got weird. I think the book would have been better if it had just been Jack Sheppard’s story, without the “professor-annotating-the-manuscript” framework built around it.

Jack is a very compelling character, but we keep getting distracted from his story by the professor’s career and love life problems, so it feels very fragmented. I did enjoy the colorful, metaphorical language constantly being used to talk about sex, though! Make no mistake, this is a dirty book. It’s mostly dirty in the most flowery of terms, so it’s more entertaining than titillating, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of gifting it to someone!

Ultimately, I wish I’d skipped it. I know there are people that like the book-within-a-book framework, and I do sometimes, but I feel like it distracted from the story I really wanted to read, here.

From the cover of Confessions of the Fox:

Jack Sheppard and Edgeworth Bess were the most notorious thieves, jailbreakers, and lovers of eighteenth-century London. Yet no one knows the true story; their confessions have never been found.

Until now. Reeling from heartbreak, a scholar named Dr. Voth discovers a long-lost manuscript – a gender-defying exposé of jack and Bess’s adventures. Dated 1724, the book depicts a London underworld where scamps and rogues clash with the city’s newly established police force, queer subcultures thrive, and ominous threats of the Plague abound. Jack – a transgender carpenter’s apprentice – has fled his master’s house to become a legendary prison-break artist, and Bess has escaped the draining of the fenlands to become a revolutionary.

Is Confessions of the Fox an authentic autobiography or a hoax? Dr. Voth obsessively annotates the manuscript, desperate to find the answer. As he is drawn deeper into Jack and Bess’s tale of underworld resistance and gender transformation, it becomes clear that their fates are intertwined – and only a miracle will save them all.

Confessions of the Fox is, at once, a work of speculative historical fiction, a soaring love story, a puzzling mystery, an electrifying tale of adventure and suspense, and an unabashed celebration of sex and sexuality. Writing with the narrative mastery of Sarah Waters and the playful imagination of Nabokov, Jordy Rosenberg is an audacious storyteller of extraordinary talent.

Book Review: Give The Dark My Love

give the dark my loveGive The Dark My Love
by Beth Revis
Young Adult/Fantasy
351 pages
Published September 2018

Yet another lady necromancer book! I do really love this topic. It’s also really interesting to see the different flavors various authors can give it. Sometimes it’s binding wandering spirits into physical objects, or bringing spirits back from the Shadowlands to live in our world as normal people, or being a warden against great undead beasts, or, in this case, trying to stop a cursed plague that might have necromantic origins.

There are a lot of commonalities, though, even with how different these ladies’ reasons are. There’s always some line, usually the line into “true” necromancy, that she shouldn’t cross, and which she normally does. There’s always a loved one who ultimately supports her even if they’re not sure she’s doing the right thing. There’s always a sense of desperation driving her to what she sees as the only solution.

What’s amazing is that given that framework, these books continue to surprise and delight me. Each one is still such a unique take on the “dark art” of necromancy. These ladies aren’t evil. Nedra, here, is trying to save her family and her people from a plague that evades any kind of scientific explanation. They have no idea how it spreads. It usually starts in the extremities, and if you cut off the infected limb, sometimes that stops it. But sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it starts over the heart, or right in the brain. Some people simply seem to be immune. Nedra works with the sick for months and never gets it, but some people come down with it without having any contact with a sick person. Her teacher at school finally confesses that he thinks it might be necromantic in origin, and things begin to cascade from that point.

There is a romance in the book, though it’s definitely a side plot. Nedra’s studies and work on the plague is the main focus. We have a bisexual character in Nedra’s twin sister, but again, she’s really just a side note. The book ended on a bit of a cliff hanger, and the second book doesn’t have a title or a release date yet, unfortunately. “Sometime in 2019” is all we’ve got, which is quite disappointing because I need it NOW!

While Give The Dark My Love wasn’t the best of the lady necromancer books I’ve read recently, it was still pretty great. I am eager for news of the sequel!

From the cover of Give The Dark My Love:

Seventeen-year-old Nedra Brysstain leaves her home in the rural, northern territories of Lunar Island to attend the prestigious Yügen Academy with only one goal in mind: master the trade of medicinal alchemy. A scholarship student matriculating with the children of Lunar Island’s wealthiest and most powerful families, Nedra doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids at Yügen.

Until she meets Greggori “Grey” Astor. Grey is immediately taken by the brilliant and stubborn Nedra, who, he notices, is especially invested in her studies. And that’s for a good reason: a deadly plague has been sweeping through the north, and it’s making its way toward the cities. With her family’s lives – and the  lives of all of Lunar Island’s citizens – on the line, Nedra is determined to find a cure for the plague.

Grey and Nedra grow close, but as the sickness spreads and the body count rises, Nedra becomes desperate to find a cure. Soon, she finds herself diving into alchemy’s most dangerous practices. And when she turns to the most forbidden practice of all, necromancy, even Grey might not be able to pull her from the darkness.