Four DNFs this month – and only one of them an ARC, this time!
Representation: Brown MC
A world on the brink of war and a mother and daughter on the run, in a thrilling novel of swashbuckling adventure, culinary magic, and just desserts.
Adamantine “Ada” Garland has an empathic connection to food and wine, a magical perception of aromas, flavors, and ingredients. Invaluable property of the royal court, Ada was in service to the Five Gods and to the Gods-ordained rulers of Verdania—until she had enough of injustice and bloodshed and deserted, seeking to chart her own destiny. When mysterious assassins ferret her out after sixteen years in hiding, Ada, now a rogue Chef, and her beloved Grand-mère run for their lives, only to find themselves on a path toward an unexpected ally.
A foreign princess in a strange court, Solenn unknowingly shares more with Ada than an epicurean gift. They share blood. With her newfound magical perception, she becomes aware of a plot to kill her fiancé, the prince. It’s part of a ploy by adversarial forces in the rival country of Albion to sow conflict, and Solenn is set up to take the blame.
As Ada’s and Solenn’s paths converge, a mother and her long-lost daughter reunite toward a common goal, and against a shadowy enemy from Ada’s past who is out for revenge. But what sacrifices must be made? What hope is there when powerful Gods pick sides in a war simmering to eruption?
I made it two chapters in. So it’s possible this got immensely better after that!
But I don’t think so.
Cato has come up with what looked at first like an interesting world: we have a pantheon of five gods all related in some way to food, cooking, and/or homemaking, and capital-c Chefs, who have…there’s no clever way to say this: they have magic tongues. They can, and are almost compelled to, cook everything they touch perfectly; if I understood correctly, they’re also the ones who can best utilise magical ingredients, which can be, as you might expect, hard to do. Very gifted Chefs are also taste-empathic: they can psychically/magically sense a person’s tastes and cater a meal to those tastes.
I love the idea of food-magic, and pounce on it wherever I see it. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, at least in the country that is the book’s main setting, Chefs have mandatory military service and are thus kind of ridiculously badass. I confess, this made no sense to me – presumably it would have been explained later in the novel. If I still have questions after only reading two chapters, that’s on me, not the author.
But very rapidly, it became clear that Cato was utilising a lot of – tropes seems the wrong word – that I am heartily sick of: Verdania, the main setting, is overtly racist and sexist, and I’m just fucking tired of this shit. I do not want to read about girls and women having to fight to have even the crumbs of respect; I do not want to read about mindlessly racist assholes looking down on a) anyone who isn’t white and b) anyone who isn’t [insert their own nationality here]. This obviously doesn’t make the book bad, because this is a personal taste thing; I am fucking TiredTM of reading about fantasy worlds that thoughtlessly mimic our world’s issues. I want fantasy worlds that have other problems, okay? I want queernorm, gender-blind settings where everyone’s skin colour and ethnicity are respected. I realise that is Not Realistic or whatever, but since I want to read fucking fantasy, I do not see why it should be a problem.
Irrespective of my own personal tastes, though, the writing is just plain bad. Or at least not-good. The language is kept very simple, and the rhythm of the prose coughs and jerks and stutters like a dying car. The dialogue had me rolling my eyes or cringing, and there was a lot of info-dumping – although to be fair, that may well be another thing that smoothed out as the book went on; the info-dumping might just have been to get the story started.
I had to put it down for good after two chapters. I didn’t even make it to my usual 20% cut-off point, that’s how much this was like nails on a chalkboard for me. So: hard nope.
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Where there is light, there must always be shadow… The fifth volume in Janny Wurts’s spectacular epic fantasy, now re-released with a striking new cover design along with the rest of the series.
The wars began when two half-brothers, gifted of light and shadow, stood shoulder to shoulder to defeat the Mistwraith. Their foe cast a lifelong curse of enmity between them that has so far woven three bitter conflicts and uncounted deadly intrigues.
It is a time of political upheaval, fanaticism and rampaging armies. Distrust of sorcery has set off a purge of the talented mageborn – none reviled more than Arithon, Master of Shadow. Through clever manipulation of events at the hands of his half-brother Lysaer, Lord of Light, Arithon’s very name has become anathema. Now the volatile hatreds that spearheaded the campaign against Shadow have overtaken all reason.
Those that still stand in Arithon’s desperate defence are downtrodden, in retreat and close to annihilation. The stage is set for the ultimate betrayal.
FUCK THIS FUCKING SERIES.
That’s it; I can’t put up with this shite any longer. Four and a bit-more-than-half is my limit with this series. I can’t even hate-read my way to the end of book five. If I were reading paper copies instead of ebooks, I swear to the gods I would dump them in a trashcan and set them on fire. Because rehoming them would mean subjecting someone else to their honestly impressive levels of FUCKING SUCK, and that would just be cruel and inhumane.
FUCK YOUR FATPHOBIA.
FUCK YOUR OBSESSION WITH THE LETTER A.
FUCK YOUR PETTY, POWERLESS [IN COMPARISON] SORCERESSES.
FUCK YOUR UNTHINKING PATRIARCHY.
FUCK YOUR ALL-POWERFUL BUT UTTERLY POINTLESS SORCERERS.
FUCK YOUR TWELVE YEAR TIMESKIPS.
FUCK YOUR ASSHOLE HERO AND YOUR EMO OTHER-HERO.
FUCK YOUR LAZY HOMOPHOBIA.
FUCK YOUR ‘SOULMATES AFTER THREE MINUTES IN AN ATTIC THREE FUCKING DECADES AGO’.
FUCK YOUR SIX WAYS OF REFERRING TO EVERY CHARACTER INSTEAD OF USING THEIR FUCKING NAMES.
FUCK YOUR ‘WHY USE ONE WORD WHEN TEN WILL DO’.
FUCK YOUR USING THE SAME SIMILES OVER AND OVER AND FUCKING OVER.
FUCK YOUR CONSTANT REMINDING US OF EVENTS THAT WERE LITERALLY ONE CHAPTER AGO.
FUCK YOUR WISHY-WASHY ‘NATURE > CIVILISATION’.
FUCK YOUR DOMESTIC ABUSE JOKES.
FUCK YOUR OBSESSION WITH SHIPS AND SAILING JARGON.
FUCK YOUR LONG-WINDED SENTENCES THAT MAKE NO FUCKING SENSE.
FUCK YOUR COMPLETE LACK OF UNICORNS DESPITE YOUR CONSTANTLY TEASING THEM.
FUCK YOUR HAVING DRAGONS BUT THEY’RE ALL DEAD.
FUCK YOUR TEA IN A WORLD WITHOUT A CHINA.
FUCK YOUR DARK SKIN = SAVAGES RACIST BS.
FUCK YOUR REFUSAL TO JUST USE THE WORD ‘SAID’ LIKE A NORMAL PERSON.
FUCK OFF AND NEVER COME BACK.
Published on: 24th October 2023
The prison-city of Osylum floats in the midst of an endless abyss. The reclusive Lady rules it; distant, inscrutable, and never seen. Her will is imposed by the Wardens, eldritch creatures who tend to the convicts’ needs but also ruthlessly purge anyone who tries to escape.
Osylum’s newest inmate, the witch Oneirotheria, has no memory of who she is, where she came from, or why she is imprisoned. Instead, her mind is a mess of spells and lore and other people’s voices. The city mirrors her internal confusion; a jumble of broken buildings covered in hundreds of snippets of graffiti.
As Oneirotheria re-assembles her own shattered past (aided by a few inmates of dubious intent), she learns she may hold not just the key to escape, but the intertwined secrets of the city’s origin and a lost love that transcends countless lives.
For readers of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi and Madeline Miller’s Circe, The Witch & The City introduces a lyrical and baroque fantasy world, where an ocean lurks behind every mirror, puppets pull the strings of the living, and even the skulls have secrets to tell... if a witch knows how to listen.
I think the blurb of this book is a bit misleading, or else I misunderstood it. ‘For readers of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi and Madeline Miller’s Circe, The Witch & The City introduces a lyrical and baroque fantasy world’ – for one thing, that’s a huge promise to be making, and for another, that’s a very particular image you’re painting for the potential reader – and not only does it not deliver on the promise, the image it’s painted in the blurb doesn’t match the reality at all. The Witch & The City is strange and confusing, which I guess is a similarity to Piranesi – but it doesn’t have Piranesi‘s almost-cosy whimsy. The main character is a witch, which is something it shares with Circe, but the deep richness of Miller’s prose is missing here.
And I was hoping ‘lyrical and baroque’ referred to the writing style, but it doesn’t seem to be so.
I don’t think The Witch & The City is bad; I don’t even think the prose is bad. But the strange aesthetic isn’t backed by really beautiful writing, which means that you’re thrust head-first into a lot of confusion with nothing to grip on to. Piranesi can be as confusing as it is because the writing is appealing and beautiful, so there’s something to enjoy until we start piecing the world and plot together. The Witch & The City doesn’t have that kind of writing, so all I am is confused. There’s nothing to hold me while I wait for things to start making some kind of sense. Plenty of mysteries are introduced very quickly, and for some readers the desire for answers to those mysteries will be enough – and the book does move along at a good pace. There’s definitely going to be people who enjoy this.
But I was hoping for something very different, so alas, a DNF from me.
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I-- the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni--Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.
Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, who can hear the thoughts and longings of those around her and feels compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a restless creature of fire, once free to roam the desert but now imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they'll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and try to pass as human--just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Brought together under calamitous circumstances, their lives are now entwined--but they're not yet certain of what they mean to each other.
Both Chava and Ahmad have changed the lives of the people around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets Dima, a tempestuous female jinni who's been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele--not knowing that she's about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.
Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart--especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?
I remember being extremely in love with The Golem and the Jinni when I first read it – over a decade ago! – but rereading it just before the release of The Hidden Palace didn’t fill me the same adoration, and I have yet to be able to get through The Hidden Palace.
I think this was my third or fourth attempt at reading it. I was actually trying it out as a bedtime book – something to read aloud to get my husband to sleep and my own brain to calm down so I can sleep. And for that, The Hidden Palace isn’t so bad – it has a kind of soft, rolling rhythm to the prose that works really well to calm and soothe; I can imagine curling up in a comfy chair on a rainy day and whiling away the hours with this book.
But I also found it really dull. I’m pretty sure if I pushed on with it, the magical elements would come more and more to the fore – Wecker is clearly getting her ducks in a row for a few different magical plotlines, including another golem and another jinni – but so much of the beginning just drags with this kind of…historical mundanity? And it feels like the story is skimming over time, like what you’re reading is more a summary of events than following the events themselves – a necessity, because Wecker needs several characters to grow up and get older, and better than an outright timeskip, but it didn’t quite work for me. It was the same when our golem and jinni changed their relationship from friendship to romance; it felt very underwhelming, when I thought it ought to be fireworks. I really couldn’t feel their passion for each other – or really any passion at all, from any of the characters we encountered.
It’s possible I might come back to this one for a fourth or fifth try someday, but for now, it’s going back on the shelf.
Fingers crossed for fewer DNFs in July!