Sunday Soupçons #6

Posted 10th April 2022 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews, Sci-Fi Reviews, Sunday Soupçons / 2 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!

Waiting on a Bright Moon by J.Y. Yang
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
Representation: Chinese-coded cast, sapphic MCs, F/F
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Xin is an ansible, using her song magic to connect the originworld of the Imperial Authority and its far-flung colonies— a role that is forced upon magically-gifted women “of a certain closeness”. When a dead body comes through her portal at a time of growing rebellion, Xin is drawn deep into a station-wide conspiracy along with Ouyang Suqing, one of the station’s mysterious, high-ranking starmages.

I think what impresses me most about Waiting on a Bright Moon is how perfectly it fits its length. I’m not always a fan of short stories, or novellas, because I am greedy and always want more of stories I enjoy, but every now and then I come across one where I have to grudgingly concede that, even if I would enjoy more, the author has completely justified the choice to write the story as a short story rather than a novel. And Yang has absolutely done that here. Kudos!

But I was also impressed by how quickly and deftly Yang immersed us in this new and reasonably strange world, and made us care about it. I guess that’s a necessary skill for someone who writes short stories or novellas, but that doesn’t make it less impressive!

The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms, #1) by Elizabeth Bear
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Third-gender/trans MC
Goodreads
three-half-stars

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

This was my third time reading Stone in the Skull, and I remember adoring it the previous two times, so I’m assuming the problem is me. Because the overwhelming impression I was left with this time around was heaviness. Reading it was just exhausting, even with the wonderful worldbuilding and decadent description. (… I actually didn’t mean to alliterate there, but sure, let’s roll with it.) It also struck me as very slow, which is not something that usually bothers me, and only occurred to me after I finished reading – probably because it ends just as things start to really happen.

I do really adore this world of Bear’s, and I’m surprised I struggled so much with this reread. Even with all the beautiful descriptions of beautiful clothes and jewelry, which I, shallow Sia that I am, always enjoy very much.

I’m putting this one down to the fact that I was reading it while on new meds that were messing me up, and which I’m no longer taking. Fingers crossed the reread of book two goes much better!

The Thousand Eyes (The Serpent Gates, #2) by A.K. Larkwood
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: F/F, M/M, major nonbinary character, queernorm world
ISBN: 1250238935
Goodreads
five-stars

The sequel to A. K. Larkwood's stunning debut fantasy, The Unspoken Name. The Thousand Eyes continues The Serpent Gates series—perfect for fans of Jenn Lyons, Joe Abercrombie, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Just when they thought they were out...

Two years after defying the wizard Belthandros Sethennai and escaping into the great unknown, Csorwe and Shuthmili have made a new life for themselves, hunting for secrets among the ruins of an ancient snake empire.

Along for the ride is Tal Charossa, determined to leave the humiliation and heartbreak of his hometown far behind him, even if it means enduring the company of his old rival and her insufferable girlfriend.

All three of them would be quite happy never to see Sethennai again. But when a routine expedition goes off the rails and a terrifying imperial relic awakens, they find that a common enemy may be all it takes to bring them back into his orbit.

"I cannot recommend this series enough." -- Tamsyn Muir, New York Times bestselling author of Gideon the Ninth

I loved this so much!!! I always thought The Unspoken One, the first book, was meant to be a standalone, but I’m so glad Larkwood wrote a sequel because it’s even better then the first one! No second-book syndrome here, my friends!

Larkwood subverted absolutely every expectation I had, and I love her for it. This felt like very Grownup Fantasy, too – the story set after the story, the tale of what happens when the adventure is over. (The tale being, in this case, another series of adventures oh fuck this isn’t fun any more HOW DARE)

(I’m kidding, it’s a lot of fun. But I did also shriek a few times because I couldn’t believe Larkwood went there.

Repeatedly!)

It’s not that The Unspoken One was simplistic (because it wasn’t) but Thousand Eyes somehow felt more complex and adult – maybe because it went hard on OH NO YOU DIDN’T plot twists, but also in facing some of the more grim realities of adventuring and growing up, getting your heart broken and your hands dirty, the costs of oppression and doing what’s necessary and gathering power.

Which is not, either, to say that it’s grimdark or anything – although I do think a big chunk of it is somewhat heavier in tone than a lot of The Unspoken One. But it doesn’t go near grimdark, in my opinion. Because there’s also a lot of hope, and a lot of humour, and a lot of love (all different kinds of love) and it’s pretty damn wonderful.

If you enjoyed Unspoken One, you definitely can’t miss Thousand Eyes! And if you haven’t read Unspoken One at all, I very much recommend it.

What have you been reading this week?

three-half-stars

2 responses to “Sunday Soupçons #6

  1. I have been reading a bunch of collections and anthologies, but OH SIA! You MUST read (if you haven’t already) Angela Slatter’s THE TALLOW WIFE AND OTHER STORIES. But… maybe read her SOURDOUGH collection first? She kind of writes short stories, but they’re ALL LINKED, so one is really reading a NOVEL IN STORIES, and they’re just so damned GOOD! Ah! AAUGHH!

    • I’ve had her on my list for a LONG time (and loved her book The Murmuring Bones) but if you’re reccing them I’m definitely bumping these to the top of my tbr! Thank you!!!

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