Book Review: Trail of Lightning

trail of lightningTrail of Lightning
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Fantasy/Dystopia
285 pages
Published June 2018

Okay, first off, this cover is AWESOME. I’ve been following the author on Twitter for a few months now, and was extremely disappointed when my library didn’t order this book. But one of the other libraries in the state did, so this showed up recently as an interlibrary loan and MADE. MY. DAY.

The story and writing is EXCELLENT. The reader is thrown into the world of the Diné, with little to no explanation of what the Dinétah words mean. I think that only comes across as weird because it’s a real language; if the words were some made up fantasy language’s words, we wouldn’t think twice about it. I saw someone on Twitter mention that they really enjoyed the book because they spoke the language, so having the Dinétah words meant something to them. I think I like that they’re not explained; so much in this world is created for white people’s consumption. It’s nice that this isn’t. It’s no less understandable to those that don’t understand the Navajo language, it’s just a little extra thrown in for those that do.

I do know a little bit about Native American mythology, so to see Coyote show up made me grin. What we learn about him through the course of the book doesn’t surprise me at all. I knew about Changing Woman and the Sun, but I’d never heard of their son, so I wonder if he was made up for the novel or if he actually exists in the mythology too.

Overall, I absolutely loved this book. It has a sequel, Storm of Locusts, due out next year, and an unnamed third book already planned. I can’t wait!

From the cover of Trail of Lightning:

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

Book Review: Sky in the Deep

sky in the deepSky in the Deep
by Adrienne Young
Fantasy
335 pages
Published April 2018

Sky in the Deep came out in April to a LOT of hype. It’s mostly deserved. The plot is a little odd; the two clans come together every five years to fight in a blood feud between their gods. But they only fight every five years in a designated place – if you really hated each other, why wouldn’t you try to wipe out the other tribe all the time, instead of letting them rebuild their strength for five years? And then this third, mysterious tribe shows up and is enough for you to set aside all your anger at each other? I don’t know. It’s a little weird.

That oddness aside, I loved this story! I loved Eelyn’s fierceness, and also her willingness to see the Riki as people too. Eventually, of course. In Eelyn we have the definition of a strong female character. (She’s not the only one, either!) She is admired for her fierceness and strength, but not seen as any less female. Women are warriors in her culture too.

It’s a pretty straightforward book, with a few graphic scenes of violence in the fights. Everything happened pretty much as I expected it to, but I still enjoyed seeing Eelyn grow and change throughout the book. It’s also very atmospheric; I could almost hear the snow crunching beneath boots, the rushing roar of the mountain river, the quiet creaking of the frozen lake. Young’s writing style pulls you right into the book and doesn’t let you go.

Set aside your questions about the plot’s logic and just enjoy this book. It’s wonderful.

From the cover of Sky in the Deep:

Part Wonder Woman, part Vikings – and all heart

Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield – her brother, fighting with the enemy – the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

Book Review: Furyborn

FurybornFuryborn
by Claire Legrand
Fantasy
516 pages
Published May 2018

I’d seen several glowing reviews of this book, but I was always put off by descriptions of events that happened millennia apart from each other “intersecting” and affecting each other. Like, no. The past can affect the future, but the future can’t change the past. That appears, however, to just be a problem in the synopsis of the book and not the book itself. At least in this, the opening volume of the trilogy, the future does not change the past. The book alternates between the two women, Rielle in the past and Eliana in the future. Each chapter flips back and forth. I was much more intrigued by Rielle’s chapters, but that could be because there was a lot more magic in Rielle’s time.

The magic system is really interesting! I love that through Rielle’s trials we learn so much about the magic system, each school and guiding saint and prayers. It’s really fleshed out and I enjoyed that.

The “shocking connections” aren’t shocking, they’re predictable. But the book was no less fantastic for it. I really think the synopsis is where the problems lie. The first couple chapters pretty much reveal all the surprises the description hints at, and the book details how we got to that point. (Mostly, anyway!) It was great, don’t get me wrong, but the description of the book feels a little misleading.

The GLBT content in the book is only about two sentences, but it was a surprise and made me grin.

I really enjoyed this book. I’m looking forward to the rest of the trilogy to discover the rest of Rielle’s story and what Eliana is going to do about it.

From the cover of Furyborn:

When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and a queen of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable―until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire’s heart is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world―and of each other.

Friday 56 – The Empress

the empressThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

This week my quote is from The Empress, the second book in the trilogy started by The Diabolic. The main character, Nemesis, is talking to the Emperor, who also happens to be her betrothed.

I’d feared he was reckless. Insane. Suicidally stupid. But he’d been underhanded, and he was even underhanded with me. And not without reason. I had posed a genuine threat to him. The part of me that wished to be his partner seared with the knowledge he hadn’t trusted me, and yet the part of me that scorched with love for him knew this was the instinct that would preserve him.

“Tyrus,” I finally said, my thoughts growing clear. “it vexes me. I’m offended you clearly don’t trust me. I resent knowing you are underhanded and a liar with me at times and I’m also . . . I fully understand why you do it. I believed Cygna’s fabrication. I believed her – and not you. I was foolish. So . . . so what am I to say? I’m glad you keep yourself alive and safe. Even if it’s against me. I’ve warranted your mistrust.”

This trilogy continues to be excellent, and I’m looking forward to book three! (My full review should be up next week.)

Series Review: The Memoirs of Lady Trent

a natural history of dragons lady trentA Natural History of Dragons / The Tropic of Serpents / Voyage of the Basilisk / In The Labyrinth of Drakes / Within the Sanctuary of Wings
by Marie Brennan
Fictional Memoirs
300-350 pages each
Published 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017

I had been drooling over this series for quite some time. Every time I went to my local game store, I’d paw through their small fiction bookshelf, and these were always on it. I finally found the first four all at once at the library, and seized the chance. (I had to request the fifth.) I did not regret it. These are fantastic.

tropic of serpents lady trentThe Memoirs of Lady Trent, as one can expect, are told from the viewpoint of Isabella Camherst, who becomes Lady Trent partway through the books. (But since they are written as her memoirs, she is “remembering” back to her adventures before she became part of the peerage.) Lady Trent’s world is analogous to our own Victorian age, except they have dragons, and she is fascinated by them. In the first book, she maneuvers her husband, also an amateur scholar of dragons, into joining an expedition to go study mountain drakes, and manages to get herself brought along. That begins her career.

The representation in these books is excellent for the time period they are based on! In the second book we get an asexual character, who turns into a side character for much of the rest of the series. (In figuring herself out, she mentions she had also tried the affections of women before realizing she didn’t want that, either.) In the third we get a culture with a third gender, and mention from Lady Trent of men who love men back home.

lady trent voyage of the basiliskI actually quite enjoyed how these books treated other cultures. We see a lot of effects from Scirling (British) colonialism, but Lady Trent herself sees other cultures as interesting things to study and become part of temporarily, not as “savages” that need to be “civilized” (or just used) as so many Victorian-age naturalists did. (And, indeed, how the Scirling military sees them.) Her ultimate goal is always the dragons, but if that means becoming part of a jungle or island tribe, and tending camp and hunting and traveling as the villagers do, then that is what she does. I could see the argument for painting Lady Trent as a white savior figure, but if she wasn’t part of one of the dominant cultures in this world, she wouldn’t have the means or access for all the different adventures described in the books. I suppose she could have been Akhian or Yengalese. (Arabian or Chinese, respectively, the other two dominant cultures.) She also forms genuine friendships with the people she lives among, and tries to do her best by them.

I enjoyed the introduction of the Akhian archeologist, and how that helped pull the focus of the books a little bit more onto the ancient culture of Draconeans, who Lady Trent had been largely uninterested in before. He soon became one of my favorite characters, so I was quite happy to see the events of the fourth book take Lady Trent to Akhia.

The fifth book unveiled quite a few surprises. We get to learn a lot more about the Draconeans, which was really cool. They also presented a culture with allowance for group marriage; at one point a villager asks Lady Trent if all four men she’s travelling with are her husbands!

The five books altogether were a really interesting progression in the history of the study of dragons, and I quite enjoyed them. They were definitely unique.

From the cover of A Natural History of Dragons:

Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.

“You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .”

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Book Review: Spinning Silver

spinning silverSpinning Silver
by Naomi Novik
Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
466 pages
Published July 10, 2018

I had previously read Uprooted, and adored it, so I was eager to get my hands on this book as soon as it came out. I was very excited to see it as a Book of the Month choice for July, and quickly made it my pick!

I received the book last weekend while I was at Anthrocon, so I didn’t get a chance to sit down with it until yesterday. (It officially came out Tuesday.) I proceeded to read straight through the entire book because it was SO. GOOD. Novik writes absolutely ENTHRALLING fairy tales. And in Spinning Silver, she has written fae as beautiful, alien, capricious, and as absolutely bound by rules as they should be. Doing a thing three times, even by normal means, gives one the power to ACTUALLY do the thing; in Miryem’s case, turning the Staryk’s silver into gold (by creative buying and selling) means she gains the power to LITERALLY turn silver into gold. Which then gets her into the trouble the rest of the book is built on.

One of my favorite lines was very near the end of the book, about the Staryk palace:

The Staryk didn’t know anything of keeping records: I suppose it was only to be expected from people who didn’t take on debts and were used to entire chambers wandering off and having to be called back like cats.

My only real quibble with the book is that it shifts viewpoints between at least five characters, and doesn’t start their sections with names or anything, so it takes a few sentences to figure out who’s talking. It never takes too long, but it did occasionally make me go “Wait, who is this….ah, okay.”

The plotlines weave in and out of each other’s way for most of the book before all colliding into each other at the end and showing how everything connects. I was definitely confused on occasion, but it was that enchanting Alice-in-Wonderland kind of confusion more than actual puzzlement. The book is, by turns, a mix of Rumpelstiltskin, Tam-Lin, Winter King vs Summer King, Snow Queen, and a little Hansel and Gretel. I love seeing elements of so many fairy tales woven together and yet still remaining recognizable.

And the ending! Oh, the ending was absolutely, marvelously perfect.

I loved this book, just as much as I loved Uprooted. I can’t wait to see what fairy tales Novik spins next!

From the cover of Spinning Silver:

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty – until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk – grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh – Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.