Sunday Soupçons #23

Posted 20th August 2023 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Reviews, Sci-Fi 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!

I’ve reread both these books – which both qualify as Crescent Classics – so many times, but I still adore them!

Hunting by Andrea K. Höst
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Representation: Minor gay character
PoV: Third-person, past-tense

Ash Lenthard doesn’t call herself a vigilante. She’s merely prone to random acts of derring-do, and occasional exhibitions of tomfoolery. Her friends, the Huntsmen, have never stepped over the line while patrolling the streets of Luinhall.

That was before the murder of Ash’s beloved guardian, Genevieve.

Now, Ash Lenthard is out for blood and even when the hunt sends her to the palace, on a collision course with a past identity she would do anything to forget, Ash cannot, will not, back down.

Andrea K Höst is one of my all-time favourite authors, and is frankly a CRIME that she is not queen of the bestseller lists! Hunting is probably one of her more escapist standalones, although it definitely has some Properly Scary Villains. The worldbuilding here – wherein every landowner, from those who own just a house all the way up to monarchs, have to be confirmed in their ownership by the gods – is amazing without being overwhelming; Höst never infodumps, and the setting remains close enough to Generic Fantasy that it’s easy to absorb the unique aspects. There’s also a definite element of competence porn, since Ash and the lord who half-adopts her (with no idea that Ash isn’t the boy she pretends to be!) are both very good at what they do – although their skillsets are more complimentary than overlapping.

Ash is my favourite kind of lead: one who doesn’t care about pride, about being seen as The Best, while going ahead and doing her best – which is pretty damn good. She sees things clearly, including herself, and is ruthless about looking the truth in the eye, even when it’s painful. She also has an amazing sense of wry humour, and isn’t afraid to show it; she can be polite, but she’s never cowed, and she doesn’t act any differently for the heir to the throne than she does with anyone else. Following along as she digs into the murder of her guardian is a delight, not least because she manages to get herself entangled in a few other plots as well.

There’s a romance, which I actually loved (I rarely care much one way or another for romance plotlines, but I shipped these two hard) and no matter how many times I reread Hunting (this was my fourth time reading it) I’ll never stop being impressed with what the evil, wide-scale plan of the villains turns out to be. I mean, it’s awful, but it’s so…so well-built. You know?

Hunting is a massively satisfying standalone, the kind where you wouldn’t mind revisting the world of the book, but you definitely don’t need to. Stretching the story out to be a duology or, gods forbid, a trilogy, would have been a disservice to it; it’s exactly as long as it needs to be, and every single thread is wrapped up beautifully.

Also: rooftop free-running.

*chef’s kiss*

I love it; you’ll love it; go read it!

Stranger (The Change, #1) by Rachel Manija Brown, Sherwood Smith
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Brown disabled MC, brown MC, Korean-descent demisexual MC, gay Japanese PoV character, M/M, minor F/F, polyamory
PoV: Third-person, past-tense, multiple PoVs
ISBN: 9781101615393

Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

Allllll the way back in 2011, Brown and Smith went public with the fact that, in trying to get Stranger published, they had offers for the book contingent on their rewriting a gay character to be straight. (The original post is 404ed, but that’s what the Wayback Machine is for!) It kicked off a lot of great discussion, and a push for more queer rep in books (in YA in particular) that we then started to get. It was a gamechanger.

What I’m saying is that this little book had a big ripple effect on the world before it was even published.

Setting all that aside, though – it’s also just a freaking excellent book. This was my third time reading it, and I loved it just as much as I did the first time. It’s the (imo, best) kind of YA that can be read by adults as easily as teenagers, with plenty for both groups to enjoy and think about. The world Brown and Smith have created together is a really FUN one, even if not all the Changes are good – it’s a world where rabbits project (terrible) illusions to hide themselves from prey, squirrels teleport food out of your hands and run off with it, and crystal trees are pretty but one of the scariest things out there. Las Anclas itself isn’t a utopia by any means – the conflict between those prejudiced against the Changed and everyone else simmers away under everything – but it’s pretty wonderful, massively diverse with so many people who’ve managed to hold on to their cultures despite whatever cataclysm rocked the world generations ago. Prepare yourself for extremely delicious descriptions of all kinds of food (and the sometimes very weird, only technically edible creations of the town’s doctor!)

The characters are fantastic; you have Ross, who’s been surviving on his own for so long that he’s terrified of crowds and closed-in spaces; Mia, the sweetheart mechanic/engineer/gadget inventor who’s never had a crush; Jennie, the town teacher who is also one of the elite Rangers, wonderfully comfortable in her body; Yuki, last survivor of his parents’ ship-kingdom, and desperate to become a prospector like Ross; and Felicité, the daughter of the town’s mayor, superficially all sweetness and light, but manipulative and bigoted underneath. Those five are the PoV characters – though the book focuses mostly on Ross, Mia, and Jennie – and every one of them reads as unique and compelling (even Felicité, much as I dislike her as a person), with their own hopes and desires and motivations behind everything they do.

To say nothing of the equally incredible cast of secondary and minor characters. Seriously, the character-work in Stranger is superb.

Story-wise, things are a little bit small-town vibes for most of the book – everyone in Las Anclas has an opinion on whether or not Ross should be allowed to stay, but they also all have jobs to do and relationships with each other to tend. A lot of it’s quite cosy-feeling, with small little dramas like Jennie’s tension with her boyfriend and Felicité trying to organise a town-wise party. (Plus: Princess Snowflake. Yikes!) You have time to sort of…sink into Las Anclas, until it feels like somewhere you live, flawed but home.

Things do get more high-stakes as the ripples spread from Ross’ discovery; there are plenty of people who want a piece of it, or all of it, and/or a piece of Ross – including Voske, the ‘king’ of a nearby ’empire’, who has attacked Las Anclas once before and is definitely not someone to mess with.

Also: the beginnings of a happy polyamorous relationship, which includes the demisexual character. YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU!

I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job of selling Stranger to you, so suffice to say, it’s awesome and I love it, and I’m always so happy to come back to it. And since book 4 is in sight, it’s a great time for newcomers to jump into the series!

Do either of these appeal to you? Let me know!

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