I Give Up: Recent DNFs

Posted 3rd April 2021 by Siavahda in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

I wish it were common practice to publish the first chapter of a book online before it’s published. There are always books that sound so great, but then the writing style turns out to be absolutely Not For Me, and if I knew ahead of time, I could just skip them instead of wasting more time on them.


So, a few books that have ended up on my DNF pile lately, and a little bit about why!

A Dark and Hollow Star (A Dark and Hollow Star, #1) by Ashley Shuttleworth

Choose your player.

The “ironborn” half-fae outcast of her royal fae family.
A tempestuous Fury, exiled to earth from the Immortal Realm and hellbent on revenge.
A dutiful fae prince, determined to earn his place on the throne.
The prince’s brooding guardian, burdened with a terrible secret.

For centuries, the Eight Courts of Folk have lived among us, concealed by magic and bound by law to do no harm to humans. This arrangement has long kept peace in the Courts—until a series of gruesome and ritualistic murders rocks the city of Toronto and threatens to expose faeries to the human world.

Four queer teens, each who hold a key piece of the truth behind these murders, must form a tenuous alliance in their effort to track down the mysterious killer behind these crimes. If they fail, they risk the destruction of the faerie and human worlds alike. If that’s not bad enough, there’s a war brewing between the Mortal and Immortal Realms, and one of these teens is destined to tip the scales. The only question is: which way?

Wish them luck. They’re going to need it.

A Dark and Hollow Star was a book I was looking forward to for YEARS. And in total fairness, I’m not sure it’s a bad book. I think I’m just…growing out of/away from YA. Which is a shame, because YA is awesome, but I’m tired of books that feel like they’re talking down to me, simplifying everything for me. Which not all YA does, but a lot of it does.

ADaHS felt too simple. At first I was excited, because the set up seemed more complicated than I often see in YA – there are multiple faerie courts and also a whole nother realm of Immortals on top of that – but it’s like…like the author came up with a brilliant idea, and then someone told them to dumb it down. The prose is very generically YA; not as descriptive (read: purple) as I like, but not baldly bland either. The worldbuilding…it’s detailed enough for most readers, probably? I have exacting and unfair standards when it comes to worldbuilding, I know.

There’s nothing wrong with it. I just didn’t find anything it was doing really right, either. And I just don’t have the time or brain-space for books I’m utterly indifferent about.

The Other Side of Magic by Ester Manzini
on 6th April 2021
ISBN: 9781953539137

A revolution is brewing.

Everyone within the realms of Epidalio and Zafiria is born with magic. However, it is also true that for every spell each and every magic-user casts, their innate abilities begin to slowly wane until their power is feeble and depleted.

True, that is, for almost everyone.

Princess Gaiane Asares of Zafiria is the result of a nearly perfect genetic union. Harnessing royal and magical lineage in her conception, the princess was born infinitely powerful and with no limits upon her magic. Sequestered in a lonesome tower as her strength is used against her will to conquer the land of Epidalio, she must find a way to fight against her captors.

Elsewhere within the realms, Leo—a commoner—was born with no magic at all. Except for her brain, wits, and her own anger, she must confront the circumstances thrown at her without the magical gifts that so many take for granted.

THE OTHER SIDE OF MAGIC is a diverse fantasy filled with action and adventure that is sure to pull you in and hold you fast through each twist and turn!

Another book I was excited about; another, far worse let-down. The Other Side of Magic… I didn’t even make it to the halfway point. The worldbuilding here is quite a bit better, I think, than Hollow Star, but the writing? Is appalling. It’s choppy, it’s blunt, it’s weirdly simplistic…forcing myself to read it was like making myself chew plastic. And there were so many typos and formatting errors (although granted, the copy I was reading was an arc, so maybe those are all sorted out in the final book). I didn’t have a chance to get to care about any of the characters because the writing was so…eugh. Queens acting like little children and so much exposition, horrifically awful dialogue…nope, no, thanks, there are too many other books to read.

Sankofa: Born Equal Only (Book One) by Ben (Beenie) T. Mel
on 1st May 2021
ISBN: 9780999534649

Sankofa: Born Equal Only is an Afrofuturism adventure that takes on gender injustice from the perspective of rival fraternal twins, Toomi and Ras, born to be the Guardians of Maat, the first Queen to rise to the throne in the kingdom of Axindar in a post-apocalyptic medieval Africa, where the future of our technology shapes the past of our time.

This is not a bad book. What it is is a grimdark book, which is not at all clear from the blurb – but then, the blurb tells you nothing about the book at all, really. Written in alternating first-person (a pair of twins, and a future queen) – my second-biggest problem with this book was that if I didn’t know it was afrofuturism (from the almost non-existent blurb) then I would have no clue where or when the story is taking place. This is always difficult for a writer when your characters have grown up in a world unfamiliar to the reader – how do you explain to the reader what’s going on? Different writers find different ways to handle it, and here, it just wasn’t done at all. (Or maybe it was, some time in the second half of the book. I didn’t get that far.) There are new nouns everywhere but no clear idea of what any of them mean; new (or modified?) animals and birds are mentioned, even encountered, but not described, so I had no idea what I was supposed to be picturing. In general I had a really hard time figuring out what was going on – at several points a character is described as going into a bird, but in what sense is unclear. Something psychic? Is it something unique about the bird? Or at another point, a character is described as flying around the city, and it seems to be literal flying, but again – is she in spirit-form, or is this something she can literally do in her physical body? When she breaks into houses, is it astral projection or really happening???

But my biggest problem was just…how dark it is. And that’s not a flaw, really, it’s a matter of taste. When Born Equal Only says it’s going to be dealing with gender politics, it means it – in the sense that literally everything is misogyny and abuse and rape. That wasn’t what I thought this book was going to be doing (I thought we’d moved past that point in the conversation by now?) and sorry not sorry, I can’t handle it. I don’t want to read about raperaperape, or how all men are evil, or how apparently even in some far-off future women are still men’s playthings. I’m pretty sure the book or series plans on eventually evening the score, either flipping around the power structure or giving women a more equal place, but I’m not willing to swim through all that awfulness to get there. Got enough of that in the real world, thanks.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading amazing books, because I have, and hopefully I can write something up about them soon!


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