Only four DNFs this month – one less than December! That’s good, right? Less-good: they were all ARCs.Bluebird by Ciel Pierlot
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Lesbian MC, F/F
Published on: 8th February 2022
Lesbian gunslinger fights spies in space!
Three factions vie for control of the galaxy. Rig, a gunslinging, thieving, rebel with a cause, doesn’t give a damn about them and she hasn’t looked back since abandoning her faction three years ago.
That is, until her former faction sends her a message: return what she stole from them, or they’ll kill her twin sister.
Rig embarks on a journey across the galaxy to save her sister – but for once she’s not alone. She has help from her network of resistance contacts, her taser-wielding librarian girlfriend, and a mysterious bounty hunter.
If Rig fails and her former faction finds what she stole from them, trillions of lives will be lost--including her sister's. But if she succeeds, she might just pull the whole damn faction system down around their ears. Either way, she’s going to do it with panache and pizzazz.
I think it says everything that needs saying that I had to pause and go look up the title of this book – I couldn’t remember it.
I wouldn’t call Bluebird a bad book, but it’s definitely not a me-book. I found it too simplistic – both in plot and in prose – even as it tried to delve deep into complicated and messy topics, like Rig’s past as a weapons-designer, or the awfulness of colonisation. Bluebird wants to be funny and wants to be serious, with the result that it doesn’t really manage either one.
I can see this being a good, fun read when you want something easy and fun that doesn’t ask you to think too hard, but it doesn’t have the escapism that I want from my easy-and-fun books, so. Alas, doesn’t work for me.Crowbones (The World of the Others, #3; The Others, #8) by Anne Bishop
Published on: 8th March 2022
In this engrossing and gripping fantasy set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Others series, an inn owner and her friends must find a killer—before it’s too late.…
Crowbones will gitcha if you don’t watch out!
Deep in the territory controlled by the Others—shape-shifters, vampires, and even deadlier paranormal beings—Vicki DeVine has made a new life for herself running The Jumble, a rustic resort. When she decides to host a gathering of friends and guests for Trickster Night, at first everything is going well between the humans and the Others.
But then someone arrives dressed as Crowbones, the Crowgard bogeyman. When the impostor is killed along with a shape-shifting Crow, and the deaths are clearly connected, everyone fears that the real Crowbones may have come to The Jumble—and that could mean serious trouble.
To “encourage” humans to help them find some answers, the Elders and Elementals close all the roads, locking in suspects and victims alike. Now Vicki, human police chief Grimshaw, vampire lawyer Ilya Sanguinati, and the rest of their friends have to figure out who is manipulating events designed to pit humans against Others—and who may have put Vicki DeVine in the crosshairs of a powerful hunter.
This one is definitely, completely on me – and one of the reasons I wish Netgalley had a ‘cancel request’ button! I love Bishop’s Black Jewels series (although I’m happy to dissect its flaws for hours) and I also really adore the Others series. But Lake Silence – the first in this spin-off series, and the first time we were introduced to Vicki and the Jumble and all the rest – was without question the book I enjoyed least of Bishop’s entire bibliography. I would even go so far as to say I actively hated it.
Which is a long-winded way of saying I was an idiot for requesting another book that featured Vicki, and the Jumble, and all the rest of it. But I was hoping it was just a one-off, and maybe I’d enjoy this one.
Reader, I did not.
Again, I wouldn’t call it a bad book. I know tons of people – including one of my best friends – loved Lake Silence and are really excited to get to see Vicki again. This is, once again, a case of me and the book just not vibing. And I should have known better, trusted my instincts and skipped over it.
If you enjoyed Lake Silence, you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy Crowbones too. If you didn’t enjoy Lake Silence, well – be smarter than I was and give this one a pass!A River Enchanted (Elements of Cadence, #1) by Rebecca Ross
Published on: 15th February 2022
House of Earth and Blood meets The Witch's Heart in Rebecca Ross’s brilliant first adult fantasy, set on the magical isle of Cadence where two childhood enemies must team up to discover why girls are going missing from their clan.
Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.
As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.
With unforgettable characters, a fast-paced plot, and compelling world building, A River Enchanted is a stirring story of duty, love, and the power of true partnership, and marks Rebecca Ross’s brilliant entry on the adult fantasy stage.
I freaking clawed my way through this one, okay? I wanted to love it so badly that I broke all my usual rules for it: I didn’t cut it off at 20%, the way I should have done – I made it all the way to 66%. Two-thirds of the book.
But I can’t keep making excuses when, at 66%, I still don’t care about how the book is going to end. Not because I could predict the ending – I absolutely can’t, I have a few theories but this is not a case of a book telegraphing the ending so loudly and obviously that it’s just not fun anymore.
I just. Didn’t. Care.
Ross has created a lovely little island here, with enchanted plaids and spirits in the water, earth, and air. The various magics manage to feel both magical and homey; not mundane, not boring, but sort of quietly normalised into the setting.
The prose jerks back and forth between poetic and blunt, in a way that just did not work for me: every time I started to be hypnotised by the rhythym of the writing, I was slapped out of it – usually by dialogue, where everyone is constantly using the name of the person they’re talking to, even though real people don’t talk like that. There is a surprising amount of clumsy into-dumping, Ross telling us things about the characters rather than showing them through the actions of said characters. And the characters in question didn’t impress me; Sidra, the healer with a non-traditional marriage, is definitely the most interesting, but her parts had a weird childish aspect to then that I didn’t understand at all. I didn’t buy into the romance plotline, nor the ancestral enemy who we never actually see do anything but make a bid for peace – another plotline I didn’t care about, since there was no tension or build-up, no reason for me to not like or distrust the Enemy. If you want me to hate them, and thus have some kind of feelings about an alliance, you kind of need to give me a reason. Just telling me they’re bad ain’t gonna cut it. Show me!
And the writing, even when it is pretty, is not pretty enough to distract from the fact that in the first two thirds of the book, almost nothing happens. There are brief spikes of action separated by long plateaus of rambling introspection. Which I can definitely enjoy when you’ve got really gorgeous, decadent prose for me, but without that?
I suspect a lot of people are going to love this, but for me, it doesn’t quite achieve what it’s trying to, and the effect is reminiscent of the Uncanny Valley; the closer you get without managing it, the worse the sense of Nope!!!Azura Ghost (The Graven, #2) by Essa Hansen
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Published on: 1st February 2022
Following Nophek Gloss comes the second book in this highly imaginative new space opera trilogy by debut author Essa Hansen - an action-packed adventure perfect for fans of Star Wars, Children of Time and A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.
Caiden has been on the run for ten years with his unique starship in order to keep his adversary, Threi, imprisoned. But when an old friend he'd once thought dead reappears, he is lured into a game of cat and mouse with the one person whose powers rival Threi's: Threi's sister Abriss.
Now with both siblings on the hunt for Caiden and his ship, Caiden must rescue his long-lost friend from their clutches and uncover the source of both his ship's power and his own origins in order to stop Abriss's plan to collapse the multiverse.
A confession: when I reread Nophek Gloss, book one in this trilogy, so I would be all refreshed and ready for Azura Ghost…I skipped the last 40%. At my husband’s suggestion, because I’d been struggling with it for weeks.
I didn’t mention that when I reviewed it earlier this month, because I thought it was just a reread thing – that’s the darkest chunk of the book, and I already knew how it all went down, I just didn’t want to read it again. Right???
Except that I started feeling frustrated with Azura Ghost just a few pages in, and now I’m wondering if it wasn’t a reread problem, but a problem with these books.
Look: it’s heavily implied that Laythan’s crew – the group who discover, rescue, and adopt Caiden in Gloss – have been together for a long time. I went back through the book, highlighting passages as evidence, and I’ll admit they never specifically say how many years it’s been, but they call each other family; joke about the fact that Lathan doesn’t do rehoming of strays, only adopts them; talk about in which order they joined the group as if it all happened a good while back.
And yet one of the first things Ghost tells us – tells us, not shows us – is that the band has broken up.
Laythan’s crew hadn’t stayed together. Caiden had been their temporary glue, as children often were.
Hold on one gods’ damn second: all in all, Lathan’s crew spent maybe a WEEK with Caiden, total! They picked him up from his homeworld and took him to Unity! And that was it, apart from [spoilers]! Now you’re telling me he was all that was holding them together?!
Then there’s stuff like this
“Threi said he had a secret the Dynast must never know about, and the Dynast are obsessed with Graven things. My origin has to be that same thing
How in the multiverse do you figure that one, kiddo??? You have Point A, Point B, and then you jumped right to the end of the alphabet without explanation or evidence. What???
I still love Hansen’s imagination when it comes to alien flora and fauna, and I love her insistence on making sci fi beautiful, but I just Cannot. The internal logic doesn’t hold together, there’s too much telling and way too much handwaving. It rapidly got to the point where I dreaded having to open it up and continue reading, and I don’t stick with books that make reading feel like a chore. No thank you!
This was super disappointing, since this was one of my most-anticipated books of the year. Sigh.
Hopefully there’ll be even fewer DNFs last month!