Sunday Soupçons #1

Posted 6th March 2022 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews, Sunday Soupçons / 0 Comments

soupçon/ˈsuːpsɒn,ˈsuːpsɒ̃/ noun
1. a very small quantity of something; a slight trace, as of a particular taste or flavor

Sunday Soupçons is where I scribble mini-reviews for books I don’t have the brainspace/eloquence/smarts to write about in depth – or if I just don’t have anything interesting to say beyond I LIKED IT AND YOU SHOULD READ IT TOO!

For my very first Sunday Soupçons, I scribbled about Chorus of Lies by Alexandra Rowland, By the Blood of Rowans by Xan Van Rooyan, and Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson!

A Choir of Lies (A Conspiracy of Truths, #2) by Alexandra Rowland
Genres: Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Gay MC, M/M, queernorm world, secondary nonbinary characters
ISBN: 1534412832
Goodreads
five-stars

A young storyteller must embrace his own skills—and the power of stories—to save a nation from economic ruin, in the standalone sequel to A Conspiracy of Truths.

Three years ago, Ylfing watched his master-Chant tear a nation apart with nothing but the words on his tongue. Now Ylfing is all alone in a new realm, brokenhearted and grieving—but a Chant in his own right, employed as a translator to a wealthy merchant of luxury goods, Sterre de Waeyer. But Ylfing has been struggling to come to terms with what his master did, with the audiences he’s been alienated from, and with the stories he can no longer trust himself to tell.

That is, until Ylfing’s employer finds out what he is, what he does, and what he knows. At Sterre’s command, Ylfing begins telling stories once more, fanning the city into a mania for a few shipments of an exotic flower. The prices skyrocket, but when disaster looms, Ylfing must face what he has done and decide who he wants to be: a man who walks away and lets the city shatter, as his master did? Or will he embrace the power of story to save ten thousand lives?

With a memorable cast of characters, starring a fan-favorite from A Conspiracy of Truths, and a timely message, Choir of Lies reminds us that the words we wield can bring destruction—or salvation.

(AO3/Fanfic tags for this book available here.)

A Choir of Lies is the sequel to A Conspiracy of Truths, but although Conspiracy offers context and some backstory I think Choir works as a standalone. So feel free to dive in even if you’ve skipped Conspiracy!

(Although you should definitely check out Conspiracy too, because it’s great as well!)

Basically, this is the story of a Chant – someone who travels the world collecting and selling stories – not so much settling in as washing up in fantasy!Holland, and using his storytelling powers to create a secondary-world equivalent of the Tulip Mania. He’s depressed, mostly because the events of Conspiracy of Truths scarred him, and his Master Chant emotionally abused him and then abandoned him.

And then another Chant appears. One who is the opposite of his Master – and everything he’s been taught about Chants – in every way.

Choir is one of those wonderful books that is peppered full of hilarious footnotes – the premise being that Ylfing has written all of this down himself, and now the other Chant – Mistress Chant – is reading it and scribbling very unimpressed notes in the margins. Quite a few of them go beyond funny and are genuinely meaningful; others are a good reminder that we trust first-person narration a little too much, as Mistress Chant challenges and corrects Ylfing’s portrayal of events (particularly any time the two of them interacted).

Stories about the power of stories get me every time, but it’s hard to put into words why I found Choir so compelling; partly because I really enjoyed both Ylfing and Mistress Chant as narrators, partly because I’m weirdly fond of fictional economics (watching the not-tulips Tulip Mania get more and more out of hand), and… There’s just so much heart in this book. There’s so much, not just about stories and storytelling, but about community and what it means to be good and how people are complicated and, when push comes to shove, there maybe isn’t a single objective truth, ever. I loved the growing shadow of magic getting stronger and stronger in the background; I loved the easy, casual queerness; I loved how many layers there were to the story. I loved the format, with us reading what’s effectively Ylfing’s diary, and Mistress Chant commenting on it from the future (from our perspective), giving us clues as to what was coming and also a lot more insight into what was going on, things Ylfing didn’t notice or understand.

I had to hug my e-reader to my chest after I finished reading this one. I adored it.

By the Blood of Rowans by Xan van Rooyen
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Nonbinary MC, bi/pansexual MC, M/NB
Goodreads
three-half-stars

The Sheehy witches are the most feared and detested family on the island of Inisliath, and none more so than Rowan.

As a deathwalker, Rowan ferries island souls to the Otherworld, experiencing their deaths and carrying their memories like ghosts within him. It's a fated role he accepts even as it inexorably destroys him.
When the magic on the island starts to seep away from the other founding families, everyone blames the Sheehys—especially when islanders start dying.

Ash is sick of their father's fists and constantly having to apologize for who they are. Life on Inisliath might be the fresh start Ash and their mum need, and meeting soft-spoken, curly-haired Rowan feels like the ray of sunshine Ash has desperately needed—but everything goes sideways when Ash's mum becomes lead detective on a series of ritualistic murders allegedly tied to island magic, and Ash's family history.

The islanders are convinced Rowan is guilty, but Ash refuses to believe it. When Ash does some investigating of their own, they discover Rowan is far more likely to be the next victim. With time running out to save Rowan, Ash will have to choose between a life free of their father or the boy they’re starting to love. Meanwhile Rowan will have to decide just how much he's willing to sacrifice to save his family from the darkness about to be unleashed on the island.

By the Blood of Rowans was eerie and lovely and fairly dark, and wow I wanted to push most of the characters off a cliff (not the MCs, who are sweethearts, but…pretty much everybody else). For a murder-mystery it wasn’t very investigative, which I appreciated because murder mysteries are not actually my thing; instead it’s quite…introspective might be the word? It felt slow and quiet, even though it’s packed full of so many different flavours of hate. I did think a few things came together a bit too neatly, but the twist-reveal of the motive for the murders was excellent, and I really did like the relationship between Ash and Rowan.

Ash’s sperm-donor still needs to be pushed off a cliff, though.

It’s more than enough to make me extremely excited for Rooyen’s upcoming Finnish magic school book, My Name Is Magic, which I literally cannot wait for. !!!

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Representation: Black MCs, Indian MC, Indigenous American secondary character
ISBN: 125017533X
Goodreads
five-stars

The dangerous magic of The Night Circus meets the powerful historical exploration of The Underground Railroad in this timely and unsettling novel, set against the darkly glamorous backdrop of New York City at the dawn of WWII.

Amidst the whir of city life, a girl from Harlem is drawn into the glittering underworld of Manhattan, where she’s hired to use her knives to strike fear amongst its most dangerous denizens.

But the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she loves most.

Can one woman ever sacrifice enough to save an entire community?

Trouble the Saints is a dazzling, daring novel—a magical love story, a compelling chronicle of interracial tension, and an altogether brilliant and deeply American saga.

I CAN SEE WHY THIS WON THE WORLD FANTASY AWARD. I mean. Freaking wow. I’ve loved Johnson’s books in the past, so I’m not sure why I took so long to read this one, but once I started I just could not put it down.

I’m not sure it was so much about the story – which if I try to describe, does not sound at all like anything I’d enjoy – as it was Johnson’s writing, which is beautiful and sharp and electric, and her incredibly compelling cast: Phyllis, Dev, and Tamara, each of whom narrate a third of the book, each of whom is a person of colour in an alternate New York where WWII is a tidal wave just about to break.

This is exactly the kind of book I decided to create Sunday Soupçons for, because I have no idea what to say about it beyond it’s freaking amazing! I’m not smart enough to take apart all the incredible things it says and does with and about racial identity and racial trauma, how it weaves spec fic around real issues and events, the questions it asks of its characters and the reader. It’s a love story and a justice story with a very nontraditional, non-standard take on both love and justice, and I tell head-over-heels for every single page.

Three soupçons of three excellent books! Hope you enjoyed!

five-stars

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