Book Review: The Winter of the Witch

winter of the witchThe Winter of the Witch
by Katherine Arden
Fantasy
372 pages
Published January 2019

The Winter of the Witch is the conclusion to the Winternight trilogy that began with The Bear and The Nightingale (enjoyable, but a little overhyped) and continued in The Girl in the Tower (fantastic). And ooooohhh what a conclusion it is! Vasya truly comes into her own in this book, dealing with the Russian fae with a confidence and conviction she didn’t quite have before. The war between the twin brother spirits – the Bear and the Winter King – comes to a head, with Vasya in the middle. While that war is heating up, so is the war between the Tatars and the Russians, with its climax in a version of the real-world Battle of Kulikovo.

The whole of Vasya’s family history is finally revealed, which has surprises of its own. Previously unknown family members appear, and Vasya is no longer as alone in her powers as she thought she was.

It can be very hard to review books in a series – especially concluding books – without spoiling things, so I’ll just say this was an epic conclusion to the trilogy and was just as enchanting as the other books. I cried at more than one point in this book, because Vasya’s heartbreak is so poignant. Gorgeous book. Beautiful use of Russian mythology. This entire trilogy is just brilliant.

From the cover of The Winter of the Witch:

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and The Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers – and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

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Book Review: The Kingdom of Copper

kingdom of copperThe Kingdom of Copper
by S. A. Chakraborty
Fantasy
620 pages
Published January 2019

I….may have an unpopular opinion on this book. First, I LOVED the first book of this trilogy, The City of Brass. Absolutely loved it. It was one of my favorite books of that year. I like this one significantly less. I think that probably wouldn’t be the case if I had read this in quick succession, but I read City of Brass when it came out, and had to wait a year for this one, in which time I read around 200 more books.

I expected a certain amount of backstory explanation in Kingdom of Copper – and it wasn’t there. I think the book assumes you remember everything that happened in City of Brass – and I most certainly did not. I don’t remember why we have the division between the djinn and the daeva, or really which is which. I know the shafit are part human, part…djinn? Daeva? See that’s the problem. These are very politicky books and forgetting key parts of the political drama makes this book VERY hard to follow. I don’t know WHY there’s conflict between certain people, and I don’t recognize missteps when characters make them because I’ve forgotten who has which opinions.

All the worldbuilding explanations are in the first book, and they aren’t revisited in this one. Had I KNOWN that, I might have re-read City of Brass before this came out, as much as I dislike re-reading anything.

All of that aside, and despite my confusion, I mostly enjoyed this continuation of Nahri’s story. We delved a little more into murky bloodlines, the more recent past of Daevabad, and the more ancient past of Nahri’s healer ancestors, the Nahids.

I still love Nahri, I like Ali a little more, and I like Dara a little less. I am curious to see where the third book leads, especially after the cliffhanger ending of this one. I just might have to re-read both City of Brass and this one before reading the trilogy’s conclusion.

From the cover of The Kingdom of Copper:

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked away from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad – and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there. 

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family – and one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins and adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he must rely on the frightening abilities the marid – the unpredictable water spirits – have gifted him. But in doing so, he risks unearthing a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for a great celebration, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior caught between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

Book Review: A Spark of White Fire

spark of white fireA Spark of White Fire
by Sangu Mandanna
Science Fiction/Fantasy/Mythological Retelling
311 pages
Published September 2018

This book ripped my heart out and stomped on it. I started crying during one of the last scenes, and thought that was bad enough – then the next chapter just DESTROYED ME. It is the first book in a trilogy inspired by the Mahabharata (which I totally want to read now!) – the second book, A House of Rage and Sorrow, isn’t due out until September. September! What am I supposed to do until then?!

So. Wow. This is the first book I’ve read by Mandanna, though The Lost Girl sounds interesting. Given how good this one was, that one has moved higher on my list.

In A Spark of White Fire, we follow Esmae, a girl who was sent away at birth because her mother was told she’d destroy her family. Trying to subvert those kinds of curses never works out well. She’s grown up an orphan in a different kingdom, albeit one educated by royal tutors with the local princes, as requested by a goddess. (When the goddess of war asks you to educate an orphan girl with your sons, you do it.) All Esmae really wants is to return to her family; she believes the only way to do that, to claim her place with them, is to help her brother regain his throne. And she thinks she can best do that by winning this contest, earning the unbeatable space ship, and pretending to go join her uncle’s family so she has an inside channel to her brother’s enemies. It’s a little convoluted, but it is something that her brother desperately needs, so it kind of makes sense.

Things unfortunately don’t go as planned, and every attempt to escape fate only winds the net tighter.

I loved every character in this book, from the sentient warship Titania (who I wish we’d spent more time with!) to Esmae, her best friend Rama, her cousin Max, her brothers, even her uncle, the usurper king. And the gods. Everyone has such personality. They just leap off the page. Granted, some of them are trying to stab arrows into your heart, but they come to life regardless!

The family dynamics are really what the book is about – no one’s truly in the wrong, here, and no one really wants to kill each other, but pride, miscommunication, and bad advice rips them apart. Esmae and Max are doing their best to reconcile the two halves of the family, but the family resists them at every turn.

I actually picked this book for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge January prompt, which is “Family.” I moved it up several spots in my To-Read list to make it a January book! I’m glad I did, though, it was absolutely amazing. I can’t wait for the next book!

From the cover of A Spark of White Fire:

When Esmae wins a contest of skill, she sets off events that trigger an inevitable and  unwinnable war that pits her against the family she’d give anything to return to.

In a universe of capricious gods, dark moons, and kingdoms built on the backs of spaceships, a cursed queen sends her infant daughter away, a jealous uncle steals the throne of Kali from his nephew, and an exiled prince vows to take his crown back.

Raised alone and far away from her home on Kali, Esmae longs to return to her family. When the King of Wychstar offers to gift the unbeatable, sentient warship Titania to a warrior that can win his competition, she sees her way home: she’ll enter the competition, reveal her true identity to the world, and help her famous brother win back the crown of Kali.

It’s a great plan. Until it falls apart.

Inspired by the Mahabharata and other ancient Indian stories, A Spark of White Fire is a lush, sweeping space opera about family, curses, and the endless battle between jealousy and love.

Book Review: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

a thousand beginnings and endingsA Thousand Beginnings and Endings
Edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
Retold Asian Mythology Anthology
328 pages
Published June 2018

This is one of the many new releases I have been eagerly awaiting from the library, and it did not disappoint! There are fifteen stories here, reimagining Asian myths, legends, and fairytales. Each story has an author’s note following it, giving a little bit of background information on the inspiration for the story. I didn’t realize until reading the author bios in the back of the book that three of the authors (including the two editors) are from the We Need Diverse Books team, which is one of my favorite book twitters! (@diversebooks) Their book recommendations are always fantastic. One of the editors is actually local to me, so that’s pretty neat, too!

I think my favorite stories were the last two in the book – Eyes Like Candlelight (by Julie Kagawa), about a Kitsune falling in love with a mortal, and The Crimson Cloak (Cindy Pon), about a goddess falling in love with a mortal. Stories range from Japanese mythology (Eyes Like Candlelight) to Filipino, Hmong, and Punjabi-inspired tales. The diversity in both culture, style, and time period of these tales is fantastic. I really enjoy Asian mythology, and I love seeing more and more books exploring it. (Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was another semi-recent one.)

Because it’s a bunch of short stories, it’s an easy book to take in small bites – a story here, a story there. I like mixing short story collections in with my longer reads; they make for nice breaks. I highly recommend this book, and I’ll be looking up the authors to find some of their other works! (That’s another reason I love short story collections – they introduce me to authors I might not otherwise read!)

From the cover of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings:

Star-crossed lovers. Meddling immortals. Feigned identities. Dire warnings.

These are the stuff of myth and legend. Add a dangerous smile, a game that pulls players out of one world and into another, a ghost town, a never-ending war, a night of dancing . . . and this collection of inspired and original retellings is only just beginning. Fifteen acclaimed authors reimagine tales from their own East and South Asian cultures. Classic epics, lush fantasy, inventive science fiction, sparkling contemporary – there is a story here for every reader to devour.

But beware . . . not every tale has a happy ending.

Book Review: Circe

CirceCirce
by Madeline Miller
Mythological retelling
400 pages
Published April 2018

Circe was my April Book of the Month club pick, and WOW was it epic. I haven’t read Song of Achilles, but I just put a hold on it with my library, because this book was amazing. So amazing, in fact, that it sent me into a bit of a reading slump – what book could follow up this masterwork?

This is actually going to be a pretty short review because I’m just in awe of this book. Circe begins as a somewhat naive child in her father’s household, unaware of her own power until her brother points it out to her. For those powers, she is banished to a deserted island, but her powers only grow from there. We meet many figures of Greek mythology – from gods and goddesses to mortals and monsters like Scylla and the Minotaur.

I just don’t even know how to properly review this book other than it was amazing. If you like Greek mythology at ALL, you should read this book. It’s captivating.

From the cover of Circe:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

So I usually publish a review on Saturdays, but as it’s St. Patrick’s Day today, I thought I’d do something a little different, and share the Irish books on my shelves! I have Irish and Scottish ancestry, so I’ve always been fascinated by Celtic things. It’s also a popular theme in the Renaissance Faire community, so I see a lot of it. So here are my Irish books, with a couple of more general Celtic books tossed in.

bloody irishBloody Irish – Celtic Vampire Legends by Bob Curran
A short book, only 186 pages, but centered on Irish Vampire stories. This book hails from the days I played Vampire: the Masquerade all the time! I didn’t find anything in here too creepy, but it gave me material to use in my games!

 

celtic myths legendsCeltic Myths and Legends by Eoin Neeson
This one actually belongs to one of my housemates. Unlike the rest of these, it only has seven stories, but they are preceded by a lengthy foreword on the place of myth in Celtic history, and what we know about ancient Celtic history. Each story is much longer than the stories in most of these other books, as well. And having the larger historical context is pretty interesting.

 

irish fairy folk peasantry talesFairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry edited by William Butler Yeats
This one focuses more on the Irish tales, rather than general Celtic ones, and most of them were collected in the 19th century by folklorists, so the language is rather old-fashioned. There are stories here that I haven’t seen anywhere else, though, like Bewitched Butter, and Rent-day, and The Pudding Bewitched.

 

great irish fantasy myth talesGreat Irish Tales of Fantasy and Myth edited by Peter Haining
Similar to Celtic Myths and Legends, this book includes context for its stories, but instead of a lengthy foreword, it contains a few paragraphs before each story about the legend it came from and the authors who recorded it. I like the bit of context and history it gives to each individual story.

celtic fairy talesCeltic Fairy Tales collected by Joseph Jacobs
Another general Celtic book. It overlaps a few stories with the Irish Peasantry book – The Horned Women and King O’Toole and his Goose, among others, but still a fun book of fairy tales. He has a second book (More Celtic Fairy Tales) that I don’t own.

 

 

 

irish tales fairies ghost worldIrish Tales of the Fairies and the Ghost World by Jeremiah Curtin
Another book belonging to a housemate. A tiny book of only 124 pages, it still manages to cram in 30 stories told within a framework of a man and his houseguest trading stories.