February DNFs

Posted 27th February 2023 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

A number of my most anticipated reads of 2023 ended up DNF-ed, alas!

Dragonfall (The Dragon Scales Trilogy, #1) by L.R. Lam
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Nonbinary MC, pansexual MC, NB/M
Published on: 2nd May 2023

The first in an epic fantasy trilogy from Sunday Times bestselling author Laura Lam.

Long ago, humans betrayed dragons, stealing their magic and banishing them to a dying world. Centuries later, their descendants worship dragons as gods. But the 'gods' remember, and they do not forgive.

Thief Arcady scrapes a living on the streets of Vatra. Desperate, Arcady steals a powerful artifact from the bones of the Plaguebringer, the most hated person in Lumet history. Only Arcady knows the artifact's magic holds the key to a new life among the nobles at court and a chance for revenge.

The spell connects to Everen, the last male dragon foretold to save his kind, dragging him through the Veil. Disguised as a human, Everen soon learns that to regain his true power and form and fulfil his destiny, he only needs to convince one little thief to trust him enough to bond completely–body, mind, and soul–and then kill them.

Yet the closer the two become, the greater the risk both their worlds will shatter.

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 made it to 37% before I just had to call it quits.

I’m so disappointed – this was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, from an author whose work I’ve enjoyed before. And every other review I’ve seen for Dragonfall is glowing with love and praise!

But I was so bored, and unimpressed, and the writing style was awful: blunt, arrhythmic, and sentences often seemed to be missing words (although hopefully that’s just an issue with the arc, and will be fixed in the final version). Everything was telling-telling-telling (which sometimes contradicted itself), the worldbuilding was incredibly simplistic, despite a few attempts to add interesting details, and then it started to turn into a freaking heist story!

I was hoping for – expecting – lush prose and detailed, interesting worldbuilding; and to be honest, I was also expecting Dragonfall to be written in third-person, not first. The voices of the main characters didn’t appeal to me, and although Arcady and Everen both have what should be interesting backstories, as characters I found both of them predictable and dull. I was genuinely annoyed that the culture of the dragons was so minimal; it felt very lazy and hand-waved, and nothing about the dragons themselves felt non-human. The only thing that differentiated Everen from any of the human characters was that he hated humans. That was it. Nothing about him felt alien, he didn’t have a unique perspective on anything, he didn’t think like someone who had never been human. He could have been a human character from a distant island, as he claimed, and it would have made almost no difference to the reading experience.

I guess a big part of the problem is that I was expecting Dragonfall to be something it isn’t. But what it is doesn’t interest me at all.

Furious Heaven (The Sun Chronicles, #2) by Kate Elliott
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: East Asian-coded cast, sapphic MC, F/F, secondary nonbinary character, queernorm world
Published on: 18th April 2023

Non-stop action, space battles and intrigue abound in the second in a galactic-scale, gender-swapped space opera trilogy inspired by the life of Alexander The Great.

The Republic of Chaonia fleets under the joint command of Princess Sun and her formidable mother, Queen-Marshal Eirene, have defeated and driven out an invading fleet of the Phene Empire, although not without heavy losses. But the Empire remains strong and undeterred. While Chaonia scrambles to rebuild its military, the Empire's rulers are determined to squash Chaonia once and for all by any means necessary.

On the eve of Eirene's bold attack on the rich and populous Karnos System, an unexpected tragedy strikes the republic. Sun must take charge or lose the throne. Will Sun be content with the pragmatic path laid out by her mother for Chaonia's future? Or will she forge her own legend despite all the forces arrayed against her?

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.

My relationship with Furious Heaven is slightly complicated for a DNF, in that I don’t actually think it’s a bad book. It’s simply one that I am choosing not to continue.

I think it’s very deliberate on Elliott’s part, but I just couldn’t stomach Sun, the main character, anymore. In book one, she craved power; in this book, she gets it, and what she does with it isn’t surprising – she doesn’t suddenly become someone different, all that she does is completely in-character. But…how do I put this?

In book one, the skirmishes/battles that Sun leads are all defensive or reactionary. But here she goes on the offensive, hard, and I just couldn’t get behind that. I kept asking myself why she was doing this, and I know why – for glory – but it didn’t make sense to me. Not because Elliott has failed to set up Sun’s motivations or convey them, but because I felt a…naive distress, I guess. It’s not about protecting her people! It’s not about vital resources! It’s not even about territory. By any reasonable metric, it’s completely pointless violence and death on a massive scale.

And it turns out – shocker, I know – that I really hate that.

But! And this is important – but, I think I’m supposed to. I don’t think Elliott is trying to make us buy into the whole for the glory! thing. I don’t think we’re supposed to approve of what Sun is doing. It was an undercurrent in Unconquerable Sun, but I don’t think I’m imagining that Furious Heaven is even more overt in its critique of Chaonia – I think it’s very intentional. I think Elliott knows what she’s doing, and is in complete control. This isn’t an issue of the story being poorly written.

It’s just that Sun is no longer anyone I want to follow.

That being said, issues with choppy, over-explanatory dialogue and occasional awkward info-dumps persist. I’m baffled, because I’ve read dozens of Elliott’s books and haven’t seen these problems in her work before this trilogy. (Well, that’s not quite true – the dialogue issue was there in Black Wolves. But considering how many books she’s written, Unconquerable Sun + Furious Heaven + Black Wolves is really not a lot.) It makes for a very choppy reading experience – I was constantly getting jolted out of the narrative by lines that broke the writing rhythm, or almost read as first-person, or dialogue that was horribly clunky.

I do kind of want to know how this trilogy ends – mostly because I now want Sun to crash-and-burn, and for Chaonia to be completely restructured. But I don’t want to know badly enough to make myself read through what Sun’s doing – although I’m not swearing I won’t come back to Furious Heaven and try it again at some point.

Dead Country (Craft Wars, #1) by Max Gladstone
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Black MC
Published on: 7th March 2023
ISBN: 0765395908

Discover the destiny of the Craft in Dead Country, the standalone entry point to Max Gladstone's beloved fantasy epic.


Since her village chased her out with pitchforks, Tara Abernathy has resurrected gods, pulled down monsters, averted wars, and saved a city, twice. She thought she'd left her dusty little hometown forever. But that was before her father died.

As she makes her way home to bury him, she finds a girl, as powerful and vulnerable and lost as she once was. Saving her from raiders twisted by the God Wars, Tara changes the course of the world.

Dead Country is the first book in the Craft Wars Series, a tight sequence of novels that will bring the sprawling saga of the Craft to its end, and the perfect entry point to this incomparable world.

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 made it all the way to 81% with this one. 81%! At that point, I really could have finished it. It would have taken me an hour or two, tops. I might as well have.

But I didn’t want to. Don’t want to.

I reread Three Parts Dead before starting this, and the difference between the two is like whiplash. Dead Country is slow and introspective in a way that deadens the mind, makes me feel heavy and tired, and I’m inclined to think that Gladstone deliberately shifted tone for this book, wanted it to be small-scale and intimate and thoughtful. (I think so because he wrote in his newsletter recently about the theme of coming home after the adventure is over, which in a lot of ways describes Dead Country to a t.) And it is those things, so he succeeded, if that was the goal.

But the result is so boring, mind-numbing, in the same way that Last Exit was (which I also DNF-ed, for the record). There’s no sense of urgency or passion, and no amount of banal detail could make me care about the small town – village, really – where Tara was born. There’s no electricity, no thrill, no wonder, and what’s especially frustrating is that we have this suggestion of a Big Bad coming, a potential apocalypse – but that’s a Bigger Picture problem that’s apparently going to wait until Tara heads back to the big city! It’s mentioned here and there in passing, only to be set aside because the right-now issue is the town.

That makes me care about all the small-town stuff even less! It feels like such a tease, like this entire book is pointless because the ‘real’ plot won’t start until the sequel.

Or possibly the last 20% of this book, but I am so Done that I don’t care even about the Big Picture plot any more, and am not going to force my way to the finish line just in the hopes of being thrown some scraps of actual story.

(On the other hand, I would absolutely read a prequel about Tara’s mom, who is amazing. Just saying!)

Fingers crossed for fewer disappointments next month!

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