Some Recent Reads (and mini-reviews)

Posted 25th October 2020 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 2 Comments

I have read some seriously amazing books lately, but I don’t have a whole lot to add to the already excellent discussion around them – which is why I’m not reviewing them properly. But here are a few points about some of my recent reads!

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire, #1) by Andrea Stewart
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: F/F or wlw, cast of colour
Published on: 8th September 2020

In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne. The Bone Shard Daughter marks the debut of a major new voice in epic fantasy.

The emperor's reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire's many islands.

Lin is the emperor's daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright - and save her people.

This one played me like a yo-yo before it came out; I was super excited for it, then I wasn’t, and then I was again. I’m glad I gave it a chance, because it’s absolutely wonderful and turned out to be one of my faves of the year. A magic system very reminiscent of coding but fuelled by the life-force of the empire’s citizens; casual queerness and nobles learning to see their privilege; fantastic magical creatures and a twisty, terrifying conspiracy. It’s also one of the few books I’ve ever read that switched between first and third person for the different PoV characters, which worked really well here.

I’m also in the rare position of not having a clue about where this series is going – Stewart seems to love keeping her readers on her toes, which I have no objections to! It just makes me more eager for the sequel. Usually by the end of book one, you have a decent idea of the shape the series is going to take, even if the details are still up in the air. But this time, I’ve got nothing, and I find that really exciting.

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1) by Naomi Novik
Genres: Fantasy
Representation: Biracial MC, secondary characters of colour, economic disparity
Published on: 29th September 2020

From the New York Times bestselling author of Uprooted and Spinning Silver comes the story of an unwilling dark sorceress who is destined to rewrite the rules of magic.

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects me to do. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school itself certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

With flawless mastery, Naomi Novik creates a heroine for the ages—a character so sharply realized and so richly nuanced that she will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.

I’ve loved all of Novik’s books, bar a few rough spots in the Temeraire series – and who didn’t sit up and cheer when the announcement of a dark, feminist witch-school story came right on the heels of R*wling being such an irredeemable git? I absolutely loved Deadly Education, even though the premise was so dark and horrifying; that these kid-mages have to survive alone in a school packed full of monsters, because there’s even more monsters outside. A lot of thought went into the worldbuilding, which is just complicated enough to feel very real and justify this system of schooling, and which all fits together perfectly. The characters are all brilliant, especially the narrator El, whose destiny seems determined to make her a supervillain even as she grumpily refuses to go all Dark Lady on assholes who would totally deserve it (it is so very appropriate that her full name is Galadriel, who also had to resist the temptation of becoming a Dark Lady in LotR), and the school itself is basically a character too in some very cool ways. The book has a lot to say about classism and economic disparity and privilege, specifically the privilege of wealth, without really shoving it down your throat, but beautifully illustrating its points nonetheless. There’s no getting away from the fact that the situation these kids are in is horrifying, but Novik manages to balance it out pretty well with unexpected wryness and poignancy, and it’s perfectly addictive. I’ve already preordered book two!

(There’s a very, very good reason no heterosexual sex is happening inside the school, but I hope Novik’s aware that in the scenario she’s set up, there ought to realistically be a rife of queer sex going on. I’d like to believe that’ll get a mention at some point, but if not I guess that leaves plenty of room for fanfic to fill in the blanks.)

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Pansexual MC, pansexual love interest, gay and lesbian side characters
Published on: 6th October 2020

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever-and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore, and he remembers her name.
In the vein of The Time Traveler's Wife and Life After Life, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is New York Times bestselling author V. E. Schwab's #1 New York Times Bestselling Author genre-defying tour de force.

Sorry-not-sorry: I’ve never been able to finish a Schwab book before. I’ve bounced off them all. But this one I managed to get through, and I enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t quite love it, but since I’ve always thought immortality would be wonderful because there’s always something new to learn and see, it was great to see a take on immortality which was all about that – I’m so bored of immortals who are tired of life and all cynical and ennui and whatever. Addie’s version of immortality is pretty miserable, though, and Schwab tread a very careful line between getting that across and making the story terribly depressing. It was a hopeful book instead, without being trite. I’m not sure I’ll try Schwab’s other books again (since I’ve tried them all multiple times already) but I’ll be keeping an eye out for what she writes in the future.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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2 responses to “Some Recent Reads (and mini-reviews)

  1. I have a similar attitude towards Schwab’s books – I’ve read a few and found them fine, but nothing that really excited me. I don’t have plans to read Addie. I am excited about The Bone Shard Daugther, though! My TBR for the rest of the year is also maxed out, so maybe I’ll get to it in a few months…

    • Like I said, Addie was the first I managed to finish…and it’s lovely, but I wouldn’t push it on anyone. Bone Shard’s Daughter I loved, and I keep checking online for preorder links for the sequel! (Too soon, I know, buuuuuut…) I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it! When you get to it XD

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