DNF Round-Up

Posted 14th November 2021 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews / 2 Comments

Two books I couldn’t stand, and one that I loved!

The Carnival Of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge
Published on: 15th March 2022
ISBN: 1786185008

Solaris Lead title for Spring 2022.

An extravagant, lyrical fantasy about a city of poets and librarians. A city that never was.

Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.

Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present. A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether…

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 was so excited for The Carnival of Ash; what booklover doesn’t want to read about the magic of books and writing? Unfortunately, this is only SFF in the sense that it’s an alternate history; there isn’t any actual magic (or at least, there wasn’t in the parts I read. I did DNF it; there’s a possibility there’s magic later. But from other early reviews, I doubt it.) Instead we have a fictional city in vaguely Medieval (or maybe Renaissance?) Italy, which is stuffed full of libraries and poets, and yet doesn’t really seem to be about books. It’s very pretentious, very male-gaze-y, very concerned with the egos of male poets and politicians. The prose isn’t anything I would consider lyrical or beautiful; it’s very thick, very heavy, so that reading it felt like an exhausting chore. I didn’t enjoy reading it, and every time I put the book down, I didn’t want to pick it up again. Distinctly unimpressed.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess (The Celestial Kingdom Duology, #1) by Sue Lynn Tan
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Representation: Chinese-coded cast
Published on: 11th January 2022
ISBN: 0063031302

A captivating debut fantasy inspired by the legend of Chang'e, the Chinese moon goddess, in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm.

Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.

Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor's son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.

To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.

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.

Sigh. I guess I’m being a special snowflake again, because every other review I’ve seen for Daughter of the Moon Goddess is glowing, and I…just can’t see what everyone else is seeing. (Honestly, some of the other early reviews have made me question whether I’d read the same book.)

This is supposed to be Adult, but it reads like YA, and not especially good YA, either: generic, meh YA. Everything was disappointingly simplistic; the prose, the worldbuilding, the ridiculously convenient way that things fall into place for the heroine. Of course she ends up as the crown prince’s companion through virtually no effort; of course he chooses her as said companion, and manipulates the challenges on her behalf, based on an impression she made during a five-minute conversation. Of course he is kind and good despite his parents being unmitigatedly terrible (how??? where did he get all his virtues, who did he learn them from??? insert shrug here). Of course Xingyin is immediately so good with a bow the imperial soldiers watch her train – because her dad is a legendary archer, I guess, and that’s definitely genetic.

Even the magic system is oddly simple, mostly coming down to affinities for Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. I was surprised, and disappointed, that Tan chose to base her magic system on the classical Greek elements rather than the Chinese ones (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal), although in fairness she does add an additional two elements, Life and Mind. But the whole thing of, people who live by the sea are best with Water, by forests are best with Earth… That’s just simplistic and dull again. And the literal demonization of those with Mind powers was so obvious it had me eye-rolling at the page. It’s so in-your-face that it’s like a big flag waving ‘this will be plot-relevant shortly!!!’

And good gods, does anyone really need that many info-dumps? Info-dumps that repeat previous info-dumps?

These are all things that I can live with if they’re balanced by really beautiful prose, or lush, unique worldbuilding, or interesting and unusual characters. But I didn’t find any of that here. Despite drawing from Chinese mythology, Daughter of the Moon Goddess felt incredibly generic to me. I DNF-ed it at 22%, and it’s completely possible that it gets much better later, but I felt absolutely no desire to keep reading and find out.

The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta
Genres: Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy
Representation: Mesoamerican-coded cast
Published on: 1st March 2022
ISBN: 1250754852

A stunning YA fantasy inspired by ancient Mesoamerica, this gripping debut introduces us to a lineage of seers defiantly resisting the shifting patriarchal state that would see them destroyed—perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir.

Indir is a Dreamer, descended from a long line of seers; able to see beyond reality, she carries the rare gift of Dreaming truth. But when the beloved king dies, his son has no respect for this time-honored tradition. King Alcan wants an opportunity to bring the Dreamers to a permanent end—an opportunity Indir will give him if he discovers the two secrets she is struggling to keep. As violent change shakes Indir’s world to its core, she is forced to make an impossible choice: fight for her home or fight to survive.

Saya is a seer, but not a Dreamer—she has never been formally trained. Her mother exploits her daughter’s gift, passing it off as her own as they travel from village to village, never staying in one place too long. Almost as if they’re running from something. Almost as if they’re being hunted. When Saya loses the necklace she’s worn since birth, she discovers that seeing isn’t her only gift—and begins to suspect that everything she knows about her life has been a carefully-constructed lie. As she comes to distrust the only family she’s ever known, Saya will do what she’s never done before, go where she’s never been, and risk it all in the search of answers.

With a detailed, supernaturally-charged setting and topical themes of patriarchal power and female strength, Lizz Huerta's The Lost Dreamer brings an ancient world to life, mirroring the challenges of our modern one.

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 Lost Dreamer is not a DNF-forever; instead, I’m DNFing it for now. Because I’m crossing my fingers that my main issue with it is a problem with the ARC rather than the finished book.

The worldbuilding is absolutely wonderful, and I dearly love that it’s drawing on Mesoamerican mythology and culture rather than generic-Medieval Europe. There are so many cool things – like the Ilkan, the warrior-women who gain jaguar rosettes on their skin when they get angry or upset, complete with claws and sharp teeth! Or the fact that hummingbirds can apparently move between the Waking World and the Dreaming at will! And the whole book giving a great big middle finger to white beauty standards – instead emphasising and celebrating brown skin and thick bodies, full lips and wider noses. I LOVE THAT. ALL THE YAY.

The writing is nothing to sneer at either – maybe a little simplistic, but still lovely, with just enough description to feel lush without overwhelming readers who are wary of purple prose. I adored absolutely everything about the Dreaming itself, which is full of beauty and whimsy, even if there’s dangers in it too. The spirits who inhabit the Dreaming – and can perceive and interact with the Waking World – are fantastic; I love the set-up, their relationship with humans in general and the Dreamers in specific, and the system of trading offerings and stories back and forth. And that’s all without going into the various different cultures the story introduces, which are also brilliant and hugely varied and distinct. The world(s) Huerta has created are incredible, basically!

And I fell in love with the main characters very quickly; two teenage Dreamers living very different lives, both of which you really can’t help but sympathise and empathise with. I started rooting for each one pretty much the moment I was introduced to them. That doesn’t happen to me very often.

The story itself, the plot, is also a delight; I suppose if you zoom out on it, it follows the general arc of stories we’ve seen before, but it feels unique and unpredictable. I freaking treasure a book whose ending I can’t predict, okay? And I really don’t know where this one is going, or how everything will be resolved or what that resolution will look like.

So why am I DNFing it? It’s hard to put into words – the only way I can describe it is that the rhythm of the writing is off. The paragraphs don’t break where they need to, which is the kind of thing that probably won’t bother literally anyone else on the planet, but which is the equivalent of putting itching powder in my clothes, for me. But! I am extremely hopeful that this is an issue with the ARC rather than the book, especially because there are also scene breaks where they are clearly not supposed to be. So the ARC definitely has formatting issues, and I’m hoping this thing with the paragraphs, and thus the rhythm of the prose, is a part of that.

The TL;DR version: I’m putting the ARC aside, but I have the book preordered and will be giving it another go once it’s published! And if it’s not an issue with the ARC, it’s still something that probably won’t bother any other reader, so I encourage you to give it a go when it’s released!

In short: put Lost Dreamer on your tbr immediately, but take a looong look at Carnival of Ash and Daughter of the Moon Goddess before giving them your time.


2 responses to “DNF Round-Up

    • Netgalley didn’t put it in the YA section, but the author called it a cross between Adult and older YA, so I’m getting mixed signals. I think it would do better if it were marketed as YA, though I still wouldn’t personally enjoy it.

      But yeah, fingers crossed for the next one!

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