September DNFs

Posted 29th September 2023 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews, Sci-Fi Reviews / 0 Comments

Just four DNFs this month – MUCH better than in August!

Silver Helix by Xan van Rooyen
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
Representation: Nonbinary MC

On the surface, the city of HelsInc appears to have recovered from the war waged between humans and Ethereals, but beneath the scars, the city seethes. The remains of magic festers, causing mutations in human DNA which could give humans Ethereal power—not that the HelsInc government would ever let that happen. The Legion resists, ripping out their neurochips and protesting the mandatory gene therapy for humans with cryptomine in their DNA.

At only 19 years old, Omyn Talvinen isn’t ready to play parent to her kid brother, but with her mom in prison on trumped up charges and her deadbeat dad AWOL, she’s left with little choice. Forced to risk her freedom to pay the rent, Omyn finds herself at the mercy of a pair of cyborg soldiers when they catch her red-handed stealing nanites from a cyberware Salon. But the synths’ powers don’t work on Omyn, and they discover they all share a common memory that they must get to the root of.

Wanted dead by the government, Omyn and the renegade soldiers turn to a rebel Legion group with dreams of resuscitating dead magic for help. With the clock-ticking for the synths, Zee-Five and Omyn are forced to confront the secrets of their past and a dark conspiracy that’ll shake the blood-soaked foundations of the city.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sometimes a book just isn’t for you, and I think that was the case here. The premise is amazing, but I found the writing really dry and the setting impossibly bleak – and 20% in, I still hadn’t learned much about the Ethereals, which were definitely the big draw for this one. It was clear to me that I was tapping out just as the story was properly getting started, but the problem was I had no interest in the characters or world by then, so I didn’t really care about what their story was going to be. Plus, I found the whole mystery around the shared memory really confusing – not in the ‘obviously this will be explained as the story goes on’ kind of way, but in the ‘I have no idea what they’re all going on about’ way.

Fans of dystopias should give this one a try, though – especially if you’d like to see magic in your cyberpunk dystopia for once.

Him by Geoff Ryman
Genres: Sci Fi
Representation: Nonbinary/trans MC
Published on: 5th December 2023

“Women, of course, can not be sons of God.”

In the village of Nazareth, virgin Maryam and the wife of Yosef barLevi gives birth to a miracle: a little girl. She is named Avigayil, after her grandmother. But as Avigayil grows, it’s clear she believes that she is destined to be someone greater than just the daughter of Maryam. From fighting with the village boys to challenging the priests in the temple, Avigayil is determined to find her way.

And then comes the day when Avigayil declares that not only is she a boy, but she is also the Son of God.

A gripping, thoughtful sci-fi novel, tackling family, the multiverse and the survival of love through immense change and crisis.

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 don’t know whether this is any good or not, because the arc is full of formatting errors, which means trying to read it stresses me out, which means I’m not going to. I’ll pick up a finished copy on release day and give it a proper try then.

Didn’t love how we were dropped into the religious-political scene with no explanation of who/what everyone was, though.

Sounding Dark (The Calpurnian Wars, #1) by Jo Graham
Genres: Sci Fi

Sounding Dark is a legend, a ghost ship missing two hundred years. Now it may be the only hope for the pirate republic of Eresh to stand against the mighty Calpurnian Navy. In the wake of a terrible defeat, Adelita Massacre, the Steel Captain, knows that their days are numbered without a miracle.

Bister is the only survivor of the defeat, a Tainted smuggler and fixer from the interdicted world of Inanna. Found alive, adrift in a spacesuit hours after its air supply should have run out, her survival is a literal miracle. Has the Lady of the Void herself chosen Bister to free her from imprisonment?

Now Adelita, Bister, Bister’s lover Griffin, and the mysterious Navigator must find Sounding Dark and her ancient weaponry if they hope to protect Eresh from the Calpurnian attack. But Sounding Dark will not give up her secrets easily….

This is my second attempt at reading this, and I made it to 40% this time (way past my usual cut-off point of 20%!) But I can’t pretend I’m not incredibly bored. I picked this up again after seeing the series described thusly; ‘The series illuminates conflicts of human cultures flung among the stars that awaken potent mythic avatars of advanced technology that have become indistinguishable from magic.’ I mean, that sounds fabulous. But Sounding Dark just feels like a chore to get through, despite some interesting worldbuilding; it doesn’t help that there’s a beautiful passage near the beginning where the Lady of Void describes humans first leaving Earth – it’s my favourite part of the book, but the problem is, it really highlights the fact that the rest of the book is not written like that. And the rationale behind the main plot – a small team setting out to find a semi-mythical lost spaceship – is pretty weak; even the characters themselves comment on this, but it’s kind of handwaved away by ‘instinct’ and ‘faith in the will of the gods’. Which doesn’t really cut it for me.

I’ll probably force myself to try this again at some point – I really want to see those mythic avatars – but it probably won’t be any time soon.

Tea Leaves by Jacob Budenz
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Queer MCs
ISBN: 1612942768

Tea Leaves is an astonishing collection of fables for our time by a young writer of tremendous power and promise.Tea Leaves presents 16 speculative short stories that place queer characters in larger-than-life situations to emphasize the surreal experience of marginalization. A queer romance spans multiple incarnations, but only in doomed cities. A gay medieval scholar must testify for his life to the otherworldly octopus who traps him in a cafe bathroom. Ignoring their better judgment, a witch brings their mortal partner on a hunt for a dangerous sorcerer and must cope with the dire consequences.Each of the stories within Tea Leaves explores the urgency of modern queer life in encounters between the otherworldly and the queer other. In juxtaposing queer narratives with new, larger-than-life myths, Tea Leaves both exalts and lampoons the queer experience while examining the sometimes surreal obstacles of marginalization. 

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 don’t know if these stories are bad, but they are very, very boring. Budenz uses the magical to talk about, or around, the mundane, and in the process takes the magic out of the magic. I think this collection might appeal more to readers who are looking for stories about Being Queer In Real Life, because the stories I read (not all of them, or I wouldn’t be including Tea Leaves in my DNF roundup) seem to be a lot more about that, about the reality of being queer in the real world, without the fetishization or the glossy shine often applied by wannabe-allies. The magic is kind of window dressing – it’s not the point. And I read fantasy for the magic, so this just doesn’t work for me.

Let’s hope for four or fewer DNFs next month!

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