July DNFs

Posted 30th July 2023 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews, Spec-Fic Reviews / 0 Comments

Six DNFs this month, but I’m happy to say that none of them struck me as bad books – they just weren’t quite for me, or I wasn’t in the right place for them right now. So don’t take their inclusion here as condemnation!

The Princess of Thornwood Drive by Khalia Moreau
Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy
Representation: Biracial Afro-Caribbean MCs
Published on: 19th September 2023

One year ago, a tragic car accident killed 22-year-old Laine’s parents and left her 18-year-old sister, Alyssa, mentally and physically different. Now—instead of studying animal nutrition or competing as one of the few equestrians of color—Laine is struggling with predatory banks, unscrupulous health care organizations, and rude customers at the coffee shop. That’s why when Lake Forest Adult Day Center offers to take care of Alyssa, free of charge, as long as she’s picked up by four, Laine is nothing but ecstatic.

Alyssa isn’t ecstatic, though. After all, in her mind, there was never a car accident. Instead, she and her parents—the king and queen of Mirendal—were attacked one year ago in the forest. Her parents were subsequently kidnapped and she was cursed. And cursed means she must make do with Laine sending her to Lake Forest’s Home for Changels—a temple caring for mortals such as herself. Perhaps there, she could meet other changels who show her how to embrace her new life.

However, there is a dark prince at Lake Forest, one that has taken a peculiar interest in not only Alyssa but her sister as well. And while Laine finds herself grappling in court after a worker is suspected of serious malpractice, Alyssa finds herself fore-fronting a battle that threatens to destroy not only her and her sister but their entire kingdom.

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 think it would be wrong to say this is a BAD book, but wow it is not for me. I do not usually get along with first-person narration, and I really, really did not enjoy the voices of these characters at all. The writing style is very blunt and direct, which is not a bad thing, it’s just something I don’t enjoy. The rich colours in the cover had me expecting really lush, rich prose, and I didn’t get it, alas. I kind of felt like everything was dumped on me at once, with no time to get to know the characters or the situation – again, not inherently a bad thing, just not a stylistic choice I enjoy.

Lots of readers are going to love this, and they’re not wrong to. This is very much an it’s-not-you-it’s-me situation.

The Hexologists by Josiah Bancroft
Genres: Fantasy
Published on: 26th September 2023

The first book in a wildly entertaining new fantasy series from acclaimed author Josiah Bancroft where a married couple team up to solve magical, and often quite odd, mysteries.

The Hexologists, Iz and Warren Wilby, are quite accustomed to helping desperate clients with the bugbears of city life. Aided by hexes and a bag of charmed relics, the Wilbies have recovered children abducted by chimney-wraiths, removed infestations of barb-nosed incubi, and ventured into the Gray Plains of the Unmade to soothe a troubled ghost. Well-acquainted with the weird, they never shy away from a challenging case.
But when they are approached by the royal secretary and told the king pleads to be baked into a cake--going so far as to wedge himself inside a lit oven--the Wilbies soon find themselves embroiled in a mystery that could very well see the nation turned on its head. Their effort to expose a royal secret buried under forty years of lies brings them nose to nose with a violent antiroyalist gang, avaricious ghouls, alchemists who draw their power from a hell-like dimension, and a bookish dragon who only occasionally eats people.

Armed with a love toughened by adversity and a stick of chalk that can conjure light from the darkness, hope from the hopeless, Iz and Warren Wilby are ready for whatever springs from the alleys, graves, and shadows next.

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 27% before I called it quits, but this was actually a very interesting reading experience – because I could tell that Hexologists is really quite an excellent book; it’s just not for me. Holding both those truths in your mind at once feels a bit odd.

The sense of humour here doesn’t quite fit with mine, even though I could still mostly appreciate it, and I was hoping for a very different dynamic between the married main characters. But Hexologists is one of those rare books that is exactly what it’s trying to be; tonally, prose-wise, down to all the neat little details, Bancroft has crafted a tongue-in-cheek investigative magical mystery with all sorts of wry and interesting bits woven in. If a quasi-historical setting combined with magical investigations sounds good to you, then I think the odds are high you’ll enjoy yourself with Hexologists.

I may even come back to this eventually – it really is objectively pretty great! – but for now, it’s just not holding my attention and I’m not very interested in seeing where the story goes.

Unwieldy Creatures by Addie Brook Tsai
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Speculative Fiction
Representation: QBIPOC cast

A tale of doom and ambition, loss and revenge, love and murder.

Unwieldy Creatures, a biracial queer, nonbinary retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, follows the story of three beings who all navigate life from the margins: Plum (she/her), a queer biracial Chinese intern at one of the world’s top embryology labs, who runs away from home to openly be with her girlfriend only to be left on her own; Dr. Frank (she/her), a queer biracial Indonesian scientist who compromises everything she claims to love in the name of science and ambition when she sets out to procreate without sperm or egg; and Dr. Frank’s nonbinary creation, painstakingly brought into the world due to complications at birth that result from a cruel twist of revenge, only to be abandoned. Plum struggles to determine the limits of her own ambition when Dr. Frank offers her a chance to assist with her next project. How far will Plum go in the name of scientific advancement and what is she willing to risk?

This one’s a simple case of me not enjoying the prose, and the book taking far too long (imo) to get anywhere really interesting. I made it to 35% and just didn’t have the patience or interest to keep waiting for the story.

But if you like your SF a bit more literary-fic flavoured, Unwieldy Creatures might be worth checking out. There’s a lot of interesting thoughts and talking about genderqueerness and nonbinary identities and gender in general, and how all those things interact with being a person of colour, especially a biracial one.

The Tropic of Serpents (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #2) by Marie Brennan, Todd Lockwood
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Representation: Secondary asexual+aromantic-coded character
ISBN: 1429956356

The thrilling adventure of Lady Trent continues in Marie Brennan's The Tropic of Serpents . . .

Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career.

Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics.

The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.

I picked this up as a Bedtime Book for the hubby and I – I read the first book years back and hated it, but I want to love this series so badly, you know? A naturalist studying dragons! Everything about that premise sounds amazing – but Brennan’s prose always puts me to sleep, no matter how many times I try. Tropic of Serpents was no different, alas, and reading it aloud at bedtime was just pissing me off with how much I didn’t care.


I am vastly in the minority on this one, though – most people I know adore these books, so I wouldn’t take my grumbling as a sign you shouldn’t try this series out for yourself if you’re interested.

Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bisexual MC
ISBN: 1481448994

In this gorgeous, dark fantasy in the spirit of Jacqueline Carey, a princess and a duke must protect the people of their nations when a terrible threat leaves everyone in danger.

With the Mad King of Emmer in the north and the vicious King of Pohorir in the east, Kehara Raehema knows her country is in a vulnerable position. She never expected to give up everything she loves to save her people, but when the Mad King’s fury leaves her land in danger, she has no choice but to try any stratagem that might buy time for her people to prepare for war—no matter the personal cost.

Hundreds of miles away, the pitiless Wolf Duke of Pohorir, Innisth Eanete, dreams of breaking his people and his province free of the king he despises. But he has no way to make that happen—until chance unexpectedly leaves Kehara on his doorstep and at his mercy.

Yet in a land where immanent spirits inhabit the earth, political disaster is not the greatest peril one can face. Now, as the year rushes toward the dangerous midwinter, Kehera and Innisth find themselves unwilling allies, and their joined strength is all that stands between the peoples of the Four Kingdoms and utter catastrophe.

This happens to me so often with Neumeier’s books; I was absolutely obsessed with Winter of Ice and Iron – and then abruptly lost all interest. It’s not a reflection on her writing; it’s just that, as I’ve noted before, I need to be in a very particular headspace to enjoy (most of) her books, and I guess I fell out of that headspace and now am terribly bored – despite there being so many reasons not to be!

Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t anything like anything of Carey’s, and I have no idea what that comp is doing in the blurb. But the worldbuilding here is very cool, with kings and dukes etc having a bond to the spirit of their land – spirits that can eventually grow into gods! And it’s not just a worldbuilding detail, but something the whole plot revolves around.

Very much planning to come back to this the next time I’m in the mood for Neumeier.

I do wish Neumeier would give us a queer character who isn’t a villain or a sadist, though. So far those are the only kinds of queer characters I’ve seen in her books, and it’s getting old.

Nettleblack by Nat Reeve
Genres: Queer Protagonists
Representation: Nonbinary/genderqueer MC, Black secondary characters

Subversive and playful, Nettleblack is a neo-Victorian queer farce that follows a runaway heir/ess and an organisation of crime-fighting misfits as they struggle with the misdeeds besieging a rural English town.
The year is 1893. Having run away from her family home to escape an arranged marriage, Welsh heiress Henry Nettleblack finds herself ambushed, robbed, and then saved by the mysterious Dallyangle Division - part detective agency, part neighbourhood watch. Desperate to hide from her older sisters, Henry disguises herself and enlists. But the Division soon finds itself under siege from a spate of crimes and must fight for its very survival. Assailed by strange feelings for her new colleague - the tomboyish, moody Septimus - Henry quickly sees that she’s lost in a small rural town with surprisingly big problems. And to make things worse, sinister forces threaten to expose her as the missing Nettleblack sister. As the net starts to close around Henry, the new people in her life seem to offer her a way out, and a way forward. Is the world she’s lost in also a place she can find herself?
Told through journal entries and letters, Nettleblack is a picaresque ride through the perils and joys of finding your place in the world, challenging myths about queerness – particularly transness – as a modern phenomenon, while exploring the practicalities of articulating queer perspectives when you’re struggling for words.

I think I’ll end up coming back to Nettleblack at some point, because it’s a very light-hearted romp, with a kind of adorable silliness to it (the MC uses the names of fruits as cursewords!) It’s written in the form of letters and journal entries from a variety of colourful characters, which I quite like. But even with a missing head on the loose, I’ve felt very bored with it for a while; I set it down a while back and have no interest in picking it up again – not right now.

I suspect readers who enjoy non-SFF stories more often than I are more likely to enjoy themselves here. As much as I want to love Nettleblack, it just left me craving some magic or spaceships! But it’s not objectively bad, at all – just not for me, at this moment in time.

Hopefully there’ll be fewer DNFs in August!

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