Fine, Fine, Awful: Three Mini-Reviews

Posted 4th June 2021 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews / 4 Comments

Quite often with ARCs I don’t have strong feelings about – especially ones I DNF – I write something up for Netgalley, but don’t make a post for them here on the blog. So here’re are some mini-reviews on a few ARCs that were either okay or awful…

Hall of Smoke (Hall of Smoke, #1) by H.M. Long
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Published on: 19th January 2021
ISBN: 1789094984

An epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war.

Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy's bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess's command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.

While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa - the last Eangi - must find the traveller, atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path, Hessa strives to win back her goddess' favour.

Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa's trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.
Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they're about to wake up.

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.

Hall of Smoke is…perfectly adequate? On paper, it should have been a book I adored, with warring deities and religious secrets and culture clashes…but for some reason I never quite clicked with it. For the most part I don’t blame the book for that – sometimes it just happens, you know? – but two genuine flaws were a) I saw the ‘big twist’ coming from a mile away, simply due to familiarity with the genre and its patterns, so I was never invested in a huge chunk of the plotline, nor affected whatsoever when the reveal finally came, and b) Hessa’s relationship with fate was incredibly confusing. Multiple times, various gods and mortals acting on behalf of the gods don’t kill her because she is, supposedly, the one who is fated to do [insert major spoiler here]. But how this is determined, or why she’s the only one who can do the thing, is…never explained? It felt majorly handwaved, like her enemies didn’t do the smart thing every time it came up Because Plot, not for any real reason.

It’s an okay book, it just wasn’t great. I seriously doubt I’ll be picking up the sequel.

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould
Genres: Queer Protagonists
Representation: Lesbian MC, Bisexual MC, F/F or wlw, secondary M/M or mlm
Published on: 3rd August 2021
ISBN: 1250762014

Courtney Gould’s thrilling debut The Dead and the Dark is about the things that lurk in dark corners, the parts of you that can’t remain hidden, and about finding home in places―and people―you didn’t expect.

The Dark has been waiting for far too long, and it won't stay hidden any longer.

Something is wrong in Snakebite, Oregon. Teenagers are disappearing, some turning up dead, the weather isn’t normal, and all fingers seem to point to TV’s most popular ghost hunters who have just returned to town. Logan Ortiz-Woodley, daughter of TV's ParaSpectors, has never been to Snakebite before, but the moment she and her dads arrive, she starts to get the feeling that there's more secrets buried here than they originally let on.

Ashley Barton’s boyfriend was the first teen to go missing, and she’s felt his presence ever since. But now that the Ortiz-Woodleys are in town, his ghost is following her and the only person Ashley can trust is the mysterious Logan. When Ashley and Logan team up to figure out who—or what—is haunting Snakebite, their investigation reveals truths about the town, their families, and themselves that neither of them are ready for. As the danger intensifies, they realize that their growing feelings for each other could be a light in the darkness.

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 Dead and the Dark is, I think, a book that some readers will adore, but which was mostly wasted on me. It had a great number of twists and turns, and I liked all of the characters and that Gould wasn’t afraid to go there when I was sure she wouldn’t. The writing was good – I’d happily read another book by Gould, so long as it had a pretty different premise – although I wasn’t a fan of the multiple time skips; at numerous points the story would skip a week or two, and while I see why Gould did it, it made parts of the narrative feel disjointed to me. I also would have been much happier if the two main characters could have been queer and friends rather than pushed into some kind of romance – a relationship I didn’t buy into at all; I didn’t feel like they had any chemistry or any kind of real connection.

I was also really disappointed that some of the most interesting bits and pieces – like the ghost-detecting equipment – was never explained, and the final reveal of the ‘villain’ felt like it came out of nowhere. Although maybe I was just too dim to catch the clues?

All in all, perfectly okay, but in no ways memorable.

For the Wolf (Wilderwood, #1) by Hannah F. Whitten
Genres: Fantasy
Published on: 1st June 2021
ISBN: 0316592781

The first daughter is for the Throne.The second daughter is for the Wolf.

For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn't the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he'll return the world's captured gods.
Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can't control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can't hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn't learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.

The author has provided a list of content warnings here.

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 sorry for For the Wolf, because it has to debut in the same year as The Wolf and the Woodsman – and although their stories are incredibly different, they are inevitably going to be compared against each other, for a few reasons

  • Their titles are similar enough, with that Wolf, to tie them together
  • They’re published a week apart
  • Forests feature heavily in both
  • Both have been compared to Uprooted and Bear and the Nightingale
  • Both feature unfeminine, unlikable protagonists
  • Both feature ‘monstrous’ male love interests
  • Both feature body-horror magic
  • Both have been pitched as ‘genuinely dark’ fantasy.

I feel sorry for For the Wolf because it fails abysmally on every point – bar the bit about featuring a forest – and it might be a bit less obvious if The Wolf and the Woodsman weren’t right there, knocking it out of the park on every level, from every angle.

I’ll have a proper review up for The Wolf and the Woodsman soon, but my feelings for For the Wolf are pretty much unmitigated disgust. Dark fantasy? Please. I was writing darker fic when I was 12. As for the much-hyped ‘monster boyfriend’ – the love interest is not any kind of monster. He’s a broody and self-sacrificing hero, not monster – which is fine, but don’t promise me monster boyfriends when you’re not going to deliver. The magic system is superficially body-horror, I guess, in that it revolves around blood – but it’s the least gory blood-magic I have ever seen, which is saying something, and it certainly isn’t scary or horrifying. And Redarys, aka Red (which, thanks, I stretched my eyes quite nicely with that eye-roll) is another angsty, self-sacrificing heroine with very little personality. The prose is meh at best, mind-numbing at worst. It reads like very poor YA, not the dark and boundary-pushing Adult Fantasy it purports to be.

If you’re craving dark fantasy with a heroine who is angry and sharp-edged and vicious, with a story that explores so many different kinds of monstrousness, do yourself a favor and skip For the Wolf entirely. The Wolf and the Woodsman is out on Tuesday, and I promise, it does everything For the Wolf tries to do, but infinitely better.

Certainly comparing it to Uprooted is an insult to Novik. (Can’t speak for Bear and the Nightingale, since I’ve never managed to finish it.)

I hate writing hate-on reviews, but there you go. My next write-up should either be The Wolf and the Woodsman or The Jasmine Throne, and I promise I have much more positive feelings about them both!

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4 responses to “Fine, Fine, Awful: Three Mini-Reviews

  1. Great reviews! I started Hall of Smoke a few months ago but couldn’t get into it, but to be honest I think that might have more to do with me not being in the mood for something Viking-y than anything in the book itself. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy For the Wolf! I follow the author on Twitter and she seems really lovely, but I must admit nothing about the premise of For the Wolf particularly intrigues me. I am VERY excited for my preorder of The Wolf and the Woodsman to arrive, though!

    • Thank you!

      I probably should have known better, For The Wolf’s premise didn’t appeal to me either, but all the monster-boyfriend and body-horror hype…ah, well. But The Wolf and the Woodsman is INCREDIBLE, I’m sure you’ll love it!

  2. Hmm. I’d been kinda eying up Hall of Smoke. Is there anything you think it does really well? Or is it just adequate all round with those two big flaws?

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