April DNFs

Posted 29th April 2022 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews / 0 Comments

Six DNFs this month, which feels like a lot. It’s especially heartbreaking because these are all books I was incredibly excited for. Alas!

Glitterati by Oliver K. Langmead
Genres: Sci Fi
Published on: 15th March 2022
ISBN: 9781789097979

Simone is one of the Glitterati, the elite living lives of luxury and leisure. Slave to the ever-changing tides – and brutal judgements - of fashion, he is immaculate. To be anything else is to be unfashionable, and no one wants to be unfashionable, or even worse, ugly…

When Simone accidentally starts a new fashion with a nosebleed at a party, another Glitterati takes the credit. Soon their rivalry threatens to raze their opulent utopia to the ground, as no one knows how to be vicious like the beautiful ones.

Enter a world of the most fantastic costumes, grand palaces in the sky, the grandest parties known to mankind and the unbreakable rules of how to eat ice cream. A fabulous dystopian fable about fashion, family and the feckless billionaire class.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The problem with Glitterati is that it does one thing very well – making its MC vapid and contemptable, even despicable. But by definition then, we don’t give a damn about him being upstaged, or having his trend stolen – there’s absolutely nothing to make the reader attached to him, and that’s more an effect of the vapidity than the despicability, because despicable characters can be interesting, even weirdly likable if they’re also funny or acting on feelings we all have but most of us repress. Etc.

Simone is an airhead in the most extreme definition of the word, and also gross and stupid and horrible. That’s not even the tiniest bit interesting. So why would I care what happens to him?

I thought that Langmead might compensate with lovely prose, or by going wildly imaginative (and hopefully descriptive) with all the fashion stuff, but he doesn’t. There’s some interesting worldbuilding, like the way glitterati communicate through body language rather than facial expressions (which might damage their makeup or, horror, cause wrinkles!), but there’s not enough of it to keep me reading past the first third of the book. To say nothing of the worldbuilding holes: bodily fluids are The Most DisgustingTM, but the glitterati like sex? Um.

(Also? He doesn’t have his trend stolen. That’s an extremely generous, biased way to describe what happened. So on top of him being boring, his outrage at having his trend nicked is just eye-rolling.)

No thank you, I’m not interested in hanging out with this brainless little twit one moment longer when you give me nothing to enjoy about the experience.

Sanctuary by Andi C. Buchanan
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists

Morgan’s home is a sanctuary for ghosts.

The once-grand, now dilapidated old house they live in has become a refuge for their found family. From Morgan’s partner Araminta, an artist with excellent dress sense, to Theo, a ten-year-old with an excess of energy, to quiet telekinesthetic pensioner Denny, all of them consider this haunted house their home. In a world that wasn’t built for their queer, neurodivergent selves, they’ve made it into a place they belong.

Together they welcome not just the ghosts of the house’s former inhabitants, but any who need somewhere to belong. Both the living and the dead can find themselves in need of a sanctuary.

When a collection of ghosts trapped in old bottles are delivered to their door, something from the past is unleashed. A man who once collected ghosts – a man who should have died centuries before – suddenly has the house under his control. Morgan must trust their own abilities, and their hard-won sense of self, to save their home, their family, and the woman they love.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I really, really loved what Sanctuary was trying to be and do, but it just didn’t work for me. I found the prose very unpolished, more like a draft then a finished book, and the vocabulary choices got on my nerves – like saying ‘unexplainable’ rather than ‘inexplicable’, and yes, that’s super petty and nitpicky, but I can’t help it – things like this really bother me.

I do think I might come back to it at some point, though; some time when I want to read something low-key and pretty soothing.

Merchants of Knowledge and Magic (The Pentagonal Dominion #1) by Erika McCorkle
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists

On one of the many planes of the Pentagonal Dominion, priestess Calinthe trades in information, collecting valuable secrets for her demonic employer. Calinthe has a secret of her own: she’s intersex, making her a target for the matriarchal slavers of the Ophidian Plane whose territory she must cross in her search for hidden knowledge. But thanks to her friend Zakuro’s illusions, Calinthe presents as a woman- a comfortable, if furtive, existence in a world determined to bring her to heel.

But when, instead of a mere secret, the priestess uncovers an incalculably powerful artifact, Calinthe finds herself in a high-stakes negotiation with the same matriarchs who sought to enslave her. On the table: Calinthe’s discovery, a charm powerful enough to transform a mortal into a god… against a secret so deadly it could quell all life on every plane of the dominion. If Calinthe plays her cards perfectly, she and Zakuro could escape Ophidia wealthier than either of them ever dreamed possible.

But if she plays them wrong…

…she’ll learn slavery in her pursuers’ hands is a fate far worse than death.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Alas, this one just didn’t work for me. It was a pretty simple case of a first-person voice I just didn’t connect with, and the worldbuilding (of which there’s a lot, normally my favorite thing) was explained through footnotes rather than via the narrative. I’m not sure that would have been a problem for me…if the footnotes had been functioning links in the ARC I had. But they were not, so I just had numbers dotted throughout the text, and had to keep flipping to the end of the chapter to get the references. Which is annoying as hell, especially in an ebook.

And when there’s nothing about the book holding my interest and making that kind of inconvenience and effort worth it? Well…then I’m not going to put the effort in. Insert shrug here.

Prince of the Sorrows (Rowan Blood, #1) by Kellen Graves
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists

Without an academic endorsement to make him valuable to the high fey, Saffron will be sent back through the veil to the human world. The place he was traded from as a changeling-baby, and a place he is terrified of. And while getting an endorsement shouldn't be impossible, it's hindered by the fact his literacy is self-taught, using books stolen off of Morrígan Academy's campus of high fey students.

When mistaken identity leads to Saffron learning the true name of brooding, self-centered, high fey Prince Cylvan, what begins as a risk of losing his life (or his tongue) becomes an opportunity to earn the future he wants. In exchange for an endorsement, he and Cylvan form a geis where Saffron agrees to find a spell to strip power from Cylvan's true name. While Prince Cylvan doesn't know Saffron can barely read, Saffron is determined to meet his end of the deal in order to remain in Alfidel—or, maybe, just to remain by Cylvan's side, as affections grow stronger every night they spend alone in the library together.

But as other human servants soon fall victim to a beast known only as “the wolf”, Saffron realizes he has embroiled himself in a manipulative reach for power like he never anticipated—and even Prince Cylvan cannot be trusted. Between the wolf, uncovering forbidden magic, and his growing feelings for the prince, Saffron will have to decide which is most important to him—his endorsement, the lives of his friends, or the prince’s life and wellbeing.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Yeah, no.

Alarm bells started ringing for me in chapter one, when the circumstances under which Saffron gets hold of a magic ring are…just unbelievable, frankly (why would an immortal magical creature give some random human a ring that can control them? That’s like a genie handing over their lamp!) But my main problem with this is the prose, which is almost great, but keeps slapping me in the face with awkward or flat-out incorrect words that jar me out of the story.

thinking he could snipe one of the small pies

Unless you’re planning to be sarcastic to the pies…?

Saffron frowned and prepared to squabble back

This is just such awkward phrasing! Why not simply ‘argue back’?

Letty adjusted Saffron’s hair until it was presentable, then summoned him to his feet

Is magic involved in summoning him to his feet?

The sun barely slipped beneath the horizon in the distance, casting the world in a hazy purple that was the ideal time for spirits to wander.

Purple is not a time.

Basically, this needed a good, ruthless editor. The bones of something really great are here, but the constant jolts of incorrect words or very awkward, pretentious phrasing meant I just couldn’t get invested in the story. Which is a shame!

The Unbalancing by R.B. Lemberg
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Published on: 27th September 2022
ISBN: 9781616963811

In this first full-length novel from the acclaimed Birdverse, new love blossoms between an impatient starkeeper and a reclusive poet as they try together to save their island home. Nebula, Locus, and Ignyte finalist R. B. Lemberg (The Four Profound Weaves) has crafted a gorgeous tale of the inevitable transformations of communities and their worlds. The Unbalancing is rooted in the mystical cosmology, neurodiversity, and queerness that infuses Lemberg’s lyrical prose, which has invited glowing comparisons to N. K. Jemisin, Patricia A. McKillip, and Ursula K. LeGuin.

Beneath the waters by the islands of Gelle-Geu, a star sleeps restlessly. The celebrated new starkeeper Ranra Kekeri, who is preoccupied by the increasing tremors, confronts the problems left behind by her predecessor.

Meanwhile, the poet Erígra Lilún, who merely wants to be left alone, is repeatedly asked by their ancestor Semberi to take over the starkeeping helm. Semberi insists upon telling Lilun mysterious tales of the deliverance of the stars by the goddess Bird.

When Ranra and Lilun meet, sparks begin to fly. An unforeseen configuration of their magical deepnames illuminates the trouble under the tides. For Ranra and Lilun, their story is just beginning; for the people of Gelle-Geu, it may well be too late to save their home

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I feel genuinely upset about not enjoying this one, and I do think it’s a me-problem – everyone else loved Four Profound Weaves, the novella Lemberg wrote in this verse and which I was quite meh about, and so far the early reviews for Unbalancing are overwhelmingly positive too. And I’m confused, because on paper this is a checklist of so many things I love – and I adore Lemberg’s short stories!

But reading this just felt exhausting. It felt like a chore. I still love the premise and the diversity, I’m still in awe of Lemberg’s imagination, but I got halfway through the book and just did not care how it was going to end. I didn’t find the prose beautiful, as so many other reviewers have; I thought it was quite plain and also kind of stilted, stopping and starting with a very jerky rhythm. Things moved so fast I had no time to process or understand them, and as much as I appreciate jewelry that indicates your nonbinary identity and discussions of sexuality and consent, those are not what I came to this book looking for. I wanted a fabulous story about stars and magic, and that was kind of lacking. It didn’t help that I didn’t find either of the main characters very interesting, and wasn’t the slightest bit invested in their romance.

Written in third person with lush, beautiful prose, I think I could have loved this. In blunt first person, not so much, unfortunately.

Boys, Beasts & Men by Sam J. Miller
Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Published on: 14th May 2022
ISBN: 9781616963736

In Nebula Award-winning author Sam J. Miller’s devastating debut short-fiction collection, featuring an introduction by Amal El-Mohtar, queer infatuation, inevitable heartbreak, and brutal revenge seamlessly intertwine. Whether innocent, guilty, or not even human, the beings in Miller’s gorgeously crafted worlds can destroy readers, yet leave them wanting more.

Despite his ability to control the ambient digital cloud, a foster teen falls for a clever con-man. Luring bullies to a quarry, a boy takes clearly enumerated revenge through unnatural powers of suggestion. In the aftermath of a shapeshifting alien invasion, a survivor fears that he brought something out of the Arctic to infect the rest of the world. A rebellious group of queer artists create a new identity that transcends even the anonymity of death.

Sam J. Miller (Blackfish City, The Art of Starving) shows his savage wit, unrelenting candor, and lush imagery in this essential career retrospective collection, taking his place alongside legends of the short-fiction form such as Carmen Maria Machado, Carson McCullers, and Jeff VanderMeer.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

There’s a very specific sinking feeling when you’re reading a book that you can tell is great – the use of structure and language are clever, the stories are poignant, the premises are, on paper, really interesting – but it’s just…not for you.

It’s really hard to put my finger on why I stopped reading at 30% – beyond the fact that none of the stories I read till then really hooked me. They were clever and interesting and all, but none of them made me feel anything, really. And I do think that’s not because this is a bad book, but because I was not in the headspace to read about these topics, which are, when push comes to shove, topics I have not wanted to read about in fiction for a while now. (Self-loathing, poverty, racism, capitalism, etc.)

You know what, I lied; it did make me feel one thing, which was: not clever/intellectual enough to appreciate what I was reading. Especially the first story, which genuinely pissed me off, because it’s supposed to be a story about a man who found a living dinosaur in the woods, except really it’s a high-brow commentary on poverty and messed-up relationships and whatever. I just wanted to read about the dinosaur!

See? I’m too shallow for this collection. Sorry. It’s very queer but, at least in the first third, isn’t…isn’t what I want to read, I guess is the best way to put it.

Fingers crossed for fewer DNFs in May!

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