Black Helicopters – by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Review)

Tinfoil Dossier #2

Horror, Scifi, Novella

Tor.com; May 1, 2018

202 pages (ebook)
4hr 11m (audiobook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

1 / 10 ✪

The idea of a “story” is to give an account or description of events, not randomly spout prose and leave it up to the reader to decide what the fuck you’re talking about. I mean, for Book #2 in a series, at the very least.

Enter Black Helicopters. I don’t understand what this is about. And I don’t understand why I don’t understand what this is about. In Agents of Dreamland, we learned that there was an an impending apocalypse, which only Ptolema might prevent, so I thought maybe this would be a continuation of that. And, yeah, Ptolema’s got a POV within, but it’s only one of three. The other two are SOMEONE, who lives in the post-apocalyptic city of Sanctuary (I think) and writes daily letters to her sister, and Johnson, who crews aboard the Argyle Shoelace, a ship at some pre-apocalyptic time that is probably important for some reason that’s not immediately clear. The Signalman makes an appearance, but even he can’t seem to tell us what the fuck is going on. Maybe he doesn’t know.

I realize that Ptolema is out to save the world, but I only know this entirely from the last book, as this one never makes any real sense whatsoever.

• Okay, so a quarter of the way through: I’ve no fucking idea what is going on in this stupid book. I know what it’s SUPPOSED to be—another entry in the Tinfoil Dossier, an alien invasion story happening in the future, unless Ptolema can stop it. But… so far, we just rambled on for 6 chapters (an hour and a half in), and I’ve no idea what’s happening.

• There’s something in the near-future that’s caused the end of the world, but we knew that in the last novella, so this isn’t super informative. There’s a place called Sanctuary, where someone and 66 live. And they hunt alien monsters.

And that’s it.

That could’ve been covered in a letter. Like the ones she writes her sister. Like ONE of the letters she writes.

• We just took 10 minutes and a full chapter saying that aliens landed somewhere at sometime because something and then ended it. The next chapter spouted a prophecy amidst a fountain of nonsense. And now we’re speaking in French (a lot of French) with no translation offered. Helpfully I never learned any French.

• So we’re on a ship—the Argyle Shoestring—that has what to do with what? I can’t make heads or tails of any of the threads of this story. Or what they have to do with the apocalypse and/or preventing it.

I could complain about this one all day, but instead I’ll leave off with a quote I feel sums up the consistency of the text.

“Gentlemen, we have arrived at the oneness of allness, a single cosmic flow. You would label disorder, unreality, inequilibrium, ugliness, discord, inconsistency.

“Checkmate. Because this is the meaning. Black queen white, white queen black. A game of chess played in the temples of Erss, the halls of Discordia. There will be murders on La Manzanna de la Discordia. You know, or may learn of, Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst—not his real name, but let that slide. The gods were not pleased, hence of course all were turned into birds. Even the birds will rain down upon the bay and upon the island. Erss tosses the golden apple and the sea heaves up her judgment upon us all. Watch for the Egyptian, and the arrival of the Twins, and my daughter’s daughter. Watch for Strife, who—warns Homer—is relentless. She is the sister and companion of murderous Ares. She, who was only a little thing at the first, but thereafter grows, until she strides on the earth with her head striking heaven. She then hurls down bitterness, equally between both sides, as she walks through the onslaught, making men’s pain heavier. The Calla Lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. Be still—the chaos reigns around you now.”

Normally, I do a summary, then put a quote, then discuss how I feel about the book, the plot, the characters, whatever. But since there’s no way I could’ve done a coherent summary of any plot—mostly because the “story” didn’t seem to have one—I guess I’ll just skip to the end.

TL;DR

If you didn’t read this review, I wouldn’t read the book. Yeah, it was that bad. Nope, it didn’t make any sense. Yup, it even got me to swear in my review of it. And it’s usually got to be pretty fucking bad to do that. The best part of Black Helicopters was the narration. Justine Eyre somehow managed to make parts of this sound pretty good, almost coherent. Too bad none of it was.

I’m actually planning on reading Book #3 of the Tinfoil Dossier, mostly because I can’t believe it can be any worse than #2.

Chosen – by Benedict Jacka (Review)

Alex Verus #4

Urban Fantasy

Ace Books; August 27, 2013

294 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

8.5 /10 ✪

Please beware minor spoilers for Alex Verus Books 1-3

By this point in the series, Alex Verus is beginning to earn a hard-fought reputation. He liberated the fateweaver and defeated its ancient guardian. He fought and defeated one of England’s foremost battle mages. He stopped an evil ritual, saved the girl, won the day. But mostly, he’s successfully pissed off many powerful mages, creatures, and made a whole lot of potential enemies. Though he’s also made himself some useful allies—and even a few lifelong friends.

Or maybe not.

When Alex’s past comes back to haunt him, he’s forced to confront some ugly memories, and even uglier ghosts. But the worst ghosts are those that just won’t stay dead and buried. Or those that were never dead at all.

One of these turns up in the form of an extremely pissed-off adept—one with a grudge against Alex. Will Traviss was just a kid the first time he ran across Alex, but it was a moment traumatic enough that he’ll never forget Verus’ face. He wasn’t strong enough to defeat Alex back then, but after a decade spent honing his magical talent—and letting his rage simmer—Will is back. And he’s brought a team.

And if Alex wants to live long enough to regret his past decisions, he must find a way to defeat Will, ideally without killing him. Otherwise, Alex may find those friends and allies a bit less than “lifelong”—leaving him alone with his memories and regrets.

And the rumors of his ex-master’s return.

Ja-Ja looked taken aback. He looked down at his palm, then up at Anne, then tried again. Again the lethal green-black light flickered from his hand and into Anne’s body. Again nothing happened.
“Please stop doing that,” Anne said.
“That should have worked,” Ja-Ja muttered.
“It’s okay,” I said brightly. “It happens to a lot of guys.”
“Shut up,” Ja-Ja snapped.
“I’m sure it doesn’t happen to you usually. Maybe you can take a rest and try again in a few minutes.”

Anne glanced at me. “Maybe you should stop taunting them.”

As with many other series, this one gets better with age. The first couple of books act as the author’s way of testing the waters, getting comfortable with their process and writing. The next few give them a chance to grow accustomed to their creations—particularly their characters. The author can get into a groove, and start to learn their creation as well as they know themselves. After that, the books pretty much write themselves.

Except for, you know, the words and stuff. Also the plot. Both the overarching and the episodic ones. And, well, the setting. And… okay okay. So the books will never really write themselves. But at least it should get easier (for a time, at least).

This is the point at which Chosen gets going. Alex has faced some trials and tribulations, but this is the point for me that his story really gets going. We’ve established his recent history—now it’s time to delve into his backstory. Starting with one Will Traviss.

Now, Will Traviss isn’t at the heart of the matter. That’s surely Alex’s relationship with Richard Drakh—his former master. But Traviss is close enough to those old memories, close enough to that old life that one thing leads to another and Alex can’t avoid facing down the darkness that lurks in his past. And this is why I was so excited to get into this part of the series. This is where his past and present collide. And Alex’s future self is born.

It’s not a perfect birth, as so few are. There are hiccups along the way: backstory that doesn’t line up perfectly with what has already been established, some rendering of events and memories outside the scope of what could’ve possibly happened (many of the memories Alex revisits in Chosen are seen from outside of himself—meaning that Alex can look at his younger self instead of watching through their eyes), and some are detailed in total recall instead of through the eye of the beholder. But having this backstory finally explained makes up for most of these. And as mistakes go, these are far from story-breaking.

From here, expect the series to get even better. I remember really enjoying books 5 and 7, and everything kicking off at a new level come Book 8—Bound. #6, Veiled, is a more self-contained adventure that does little to further the overarching story, but far from a poor read in its own right. But then I’ll have plenty of time to get into that later.

I wish that I could tell you that this is the place to start; pick up the series now, starting at Book #4 and you’ll not regret it! But the problem with this is that series like this—episodic, but tying in to an overarching plot—are nothing but a sum of their parts. Parts you really want to have in order to assemble the entire piece. Otherwise you’ll end up with a chair with no legs, or radio with no speaker. But if you’re just after a solid urban fantasy adventure with plenty of magic, action, and thrill—it’d be hard to do much better than Chosen.

The Wheel of Time – Rise of the Dragon (Beautiful World of Books)

Welcome to Week #3 of this Wheel of Time showcase, where I’m showing the covers of the epic fantasy series some much needed love. Well, actually I’m not sure that some of them deserve all that much hype, but we’ll get through that later.

In this week’s post, we’ll be looking at Books #5-9, namely—The Fires of Heaven, Lord of Chaos, A Crown of Swords, The Path of Daggers, and Winters’ Heart.

Now, I have to admit that this section of the Wheel of Time is a bit of a flog. I liked the Fires of Heaven, but the three—well, three and a half—proceeding it were a bit of a bore. When Robert Jordan stopped carrying a full complement of characters as POVs (by this I mean mostly Rand, Mat, and Perrin), the story suffered for it. Now, they all have Rand. But Perrin and Mat appear only now and then, and, I can’t remember exactly, but I don’t think these latter two appear in the same book between Fires and Knife of Dreams? I’m not certain. It’s a long stretch, regardless.

Oh, and I dropped the third Tor version because it and the Orbit’s 2nd together were boring me. I’ve kept the other Orbit one for now… the colors are nice.

Tor Originals

Orbit Originals

Tor 2nd Version

Orbit 2nd Version

Little Brown Book Group

And that’s it for this week! What were your favorites? Personally, I don’t think you can really go wrong, but I especially like the newest covers, and the Tor 2nd issues. I mean, I still own the Tor 1st ones, but I may look into acquiring some of the others now…

Prison of Sleep – by Tim Pratt (Review) + Blog Tour!

I absolutely love the cover—especially that of the paperback version that I completely failed to illustrate above. Its glossy, black background and golden cage, overlaid with bright blue tentacles works in a way that this picture just can’t convey. Huge props to artist Kieryn Tyler for the design!

Journals of Zaxony Delatree #2

Scifi, WORMholes

Angry Robot; April 26, 2022

261 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

8.0 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot (#AngryRobot #AngryRobotBooks) for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

• Doors of Sleep Review •


“They invented multidimensional travel but they haven’t figured out how to make guns?”

At one time, Zaxony Delatree worked as a harmonizer in the Realm of Spheres and Harmonies. Then, following the death of a patient—who died in his arms, covering him in her blood—Zax fell asleep, only to awaken on another world.

About one month later, on his twentieth world, Zax met Ana. Less than a day later, he knew he never wanted to leave. Something that… could never be. So he fell asleep with Ana in his arms. And she travelled with him, through the place between, awake. Her mind couldn’t handle whatever she saw, and fled Zax immediately upon his waking. Though he searched for her, eventually Zax grew tired, and fell asleep—never to see her again.

On his 20th world Zax found love, only to lose it on the 21st.

Thirteen hundred worlds later, Zax found something impossible. He’d reunited with Vicki and Minna following the events of Doors of Sleep. The closest thing he’d ever had to a family was back together, even though he feared he’d never see them again. Shortly after, Zax found Ana.

Prison of Sleep skips forward a time from this meeting, so you’ll have to wait a bit to see how it went down. There are a pair of POVs within: Zax, who looks forward; and Ana, who looks back. We find Zax alone once more, traveling into the unknown. Only this time, while he may not have any idea where he’s going, Zax is following a specific path—a trail left by the Cult of the Worm.

The Cult worships the Prisoner: a god imprisoned in the place between worlds that can only whisper to its subjects as they traverse the place between. These followers it has gifted with the ability to Travel—done via a parasite injected into their bloodstream. It wants only two things from them: to Travel to new worlds and recruit further devotees who will do the same. The more Travelers, the more Wormholes in the ether. The more Wormholes, the weaker the stability of the Multiverse. Only when the Multiverse destabilizes completely can the Prisoner ever hope to escape.

When Ana found Zax she recruited him into a secret war against the Cult, one that he was only too willing to join. But now that he has, Zax is having second thoughts. Once more he’s lost Ana, Minna, and Vicki. He’s lost his new friends, his new home. But he has a plan—and while it may not reunite him with his friends, it may well save them all.



“What I’m hearing from you is that the Cult of the Worm is horrible and they suck.”

“They knew what they were getting into. When you declare war on everything, you have to be prepared for everything to fight back.”

Prison of Sleep explores one the biggest unanswered questions left by Doors of Sleep before it: what happened to Ana?

Ana, as it is known from the first few chapters of the first book, was Zax’s long lost love, first companion, and lost her mind after traversing the void while awake. When Zax and Ana are reunited at the end of Doors, we are promised the continuation of their story—but who would’ve guessed just how far the rabbit hole went?

While Doors was more of an adventure driven via exploration of its sole POV, Zax, Prison is more of a mystery, slow-paced thriller, and character driven title about the relationship between its two main protagonists: Zax and Ana. Now Doors does feature the same style of slow-paced thrill later on, so it shouldn’t be an entirely foreign concept. And… while I say it’s a “slow-paced” thriller, I guess it really isn’t. Both Doors and Prison are rather short books—running between two and three hundred pages—so once things start happening, they don’t have too long to lounge around before the story winds down. It’s more that these two stories feel more leisurely in their approach to telling. The stories were both good, immersive, interesting, highly entertaining, and no trouble to read whatsoever. It’s just that there… there aren’t a ton of heart-pounding thrills, pulse-racing action, or the like that you’d find in most good thrillers. Instead, it’s narrative driven; a tense, atmospheric adventure through the multiverse—on a mission to save the multiverse.

Prison of Sleep features a back-and-forth, alternating POV structure that I’ve seen before in books like the Boy With the Porcelain Blade, where the first perspective takes place in the present and the second takes place in the past—1, 2, 1, 2, in that order, until the end. Now, I have some qualms about this approach—as I’m not sure I’ve really read anything that deploys it very successfully. At a certain point what has happened in the past becomes clear in the present long before it’s time for the big reveal. Prison can’t escape this particular issue, as long before the end I had figured out what happened when Ana finally caught up to Zax, along with the aftermath. What I had NOT figured out, however, was that while I’d assumed this to be the big reveal, it um wasn’t. Instead, there’s a twist come Ana’s final chapter—one that caught me completely by surprise.

Otherwise, it’s more of the same exciting adventure from Doors of Sleep. Only Zax knows he’s not alone anymore. And instead of wandering aimlessly, he’s a man on a mission. While the mission itself feels a little forced, a little cliché—it’s still a great read. I really can’t object to anything too strongly or find much of a problem with any of this. If you enjoyed the first book, I’m fairly certain you’ll enjoy the second. If you were bothered by cliff-hangers, or empty threads in Book #1—well, #2 ties everything up quite nicely. No major issues, no problems getting through it, or getting immersed in the tale. I’d certainly recommend checking it out!

The Wheel of Time – Early Special Editions

Welcome to Week #3 of this Wheel of Time showcase, where I’m showing the covers of the epic fantasy series some much needed love. Last week I showcased Books #0-4 (New Spring through the Dragon Reborn), and in this week’s segment we’ll feature special editions of the first two books, which—somehow—were the only ones I could find that HAD special editions.

While both Eye of the World and the Greant Hunt had hardback special editions (complete with sleeves), I could only find one rather poor picture of the outside of Eye of the World, I could also only find one photo of the inside of cover of the Great Hunt. And while one’s a bit disappointing, the inset is incredible.

Weirdly, I couldn’t find any other editions of this, though I’m sure they must exist. Right?

The next two editions are of Eye of the World—both its Amazon Edition (promoting the new TV series—which I haven’t seen and won’t be watching) (and is rather boring in my opinion)—and the 30th anniversary edition (which is just the cover from the first printing, only featuring the image of Lan and Morraine in the middle, surrounded by white, glossy and foil).

And finally, we have the editions of Eye of the World and the Great Hunt that split their books in two, thus turning the first two books into four. I think the idea was to appeal to younger readers that may not see the appeal of a thousand-page brick. So, instead, welcome to the new and improved and even longer Wheel of Time series, beginning with From the Two Rivers, continuing with To the Blight, The Hunt Begins, and finally New Threads in the Pattern.

Next week, come back for Books 4-8 of the Wheel of Time! Hope you enjoyed these special editions! Now go out and buy them all!!

Agents of Dreamland – by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Review)

Tinfoil Dossier #1

Scifi, Horror, Novella

Tor.com; February 28, 2017

125 pages (paperback)
2hr 39m (audiobook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

6.5 / 10 ✪

Winslow, Arizona
2015

The events of the earlier week in Riverside still haunt the faceless agent known only as “the Signalman”, but he’s more worried about the woman he’s set to meet than any memories he could ever suffer. Still, the ranch house comes close.

Meanwhile, the disappearance of an interplanetary probe just beyond the orbit of Pluto hints at something more worrying. If the Signalman is lucky, the two are isolated incidents. Coincidence. But the government doesn’t believe in coincidence. And the Signalman wouldn’t consider himself lucky. Hence his presence at the meeting in the first place.

And with the two coincidences comes a third: a mysterious, pallid woman outside of time and place. With her, comes the Signalman’s greatest worry. But also—humanity’s last hope.

A confusing start eventually gives way to an intricate science fiction tale of spores, zombie fungus, invading aliens, but ultimately presents its reader a conclusion featuring more questions to ask than it deigns answer, at least before the second installment.

While I ended up relatively enjoying this title, it certainly did not start out this way. In fact, the first time I picked up Agents of Dreamland, I ended up DNFing it due to lack of interest: I couldn’t figure out what was going on, where the story was headed, WHAT the story was at all, and why I was supposed to care. In the audio version, while these were still very real concerns, I could focus on something else (in this case Cyberpunk 2077), while I waited for the plot to come together.

Fortunately, everything did gradually converge, as the two very different story threads were eventually tied together with a third POV joining the mix. I’ve seen this approach work before—quite well, even—but it was an interesting choice for this particular format. A full-length novel, or one longer, would be a good choice, because it allows ample time for world-building and/or character development. A novella, on the other hand… never has much of either. So, when the story finally comes together, not only is there only 30% or so of an already undersized book left, but neither does it really feel like we’ve accomplished much more than subtle hints at the greater whole.

I guess that it’s a good thing that when the plot comes together, it actually hints at something so promising, so interesting. I’ve mentioned that nothing really comes out of this story, but it sets the stage for something greater come Book #2. That it begs more questions than it answers. Obviously I can’t get much into what this is because of spoilers, but sufficient to say that it involves zombie fungus, aliens, and a world that has not yet come to pass. Between the subtlety and vagueness, there’s not much of substance in Agents of Dreamland. But the world that it hints at—I want to see. I NEED to see. Something on par with the Last of Us or The Last Man with its detail or immersion or depth of field.

Another point in Dreamland’s favor is the ambience of the story. Even from the first—a dust-choked town, a 2015 diner with 1940’s vibes, a mysterious lead known only as “the Signalman”—it’s all so atmospheric. Say what you want about the story or its characters, from the very first scene I connected with this world. I could feel the dust in my eyes and on my skin, the sweat drying on my back and armpits. I could taste the stale, tepid Dr. Pepper. I could hear the relative quiet of the desert, the click-clack of the train. I could picture the lit cigarette, dirty suit, 40’s diner, hazy twilight. I’m not sure what I have to say about the world-building of Agents of Dreamland, but it has nothing on Caitlin R. Kiernan’s ability to illustrate a scene. All the places we spent time in were as vivid as they were intricate and detailed. While I didn’t necessarily connect with the story, I connected so much with the world around it that it almost made up for it in the end.

TL;DR

Overall, Agents of Dreamland was an interesting, if not exciting beginning to the Tinfoil Dossier. The world itself is beautifully rendered, and hints at a deep, thoroughly thought-out plan for what’s to come in the series. Which is good, because the story of Dreamland itself fails to wow in any meaningful way. Only materializing with about a quarter of the text left, it does little more than introduce the reader to the world, before snapping the book closed on it. Despite this, I’m interested to see where the story goes from here. There’s promise of aliens, brain-fungus, and some sort of apocalypse in the future entry, Black Helicopters. That said, the reviews of Book #2 that I’ve seen are less than flattering, so it might well be all for nothing. Guess we’ll see.

When I bought the novella, it had the reasonable price of $4 for the ebook of a novella—though that’s now risen to $8. Which… ehhh. Not so great. I got the audiobook free, so that’s what I’d recommend doing if I were you. The 2nd entry in the series, Black Helicopters, is currently $7 for an ebook, which isn’t a lot better—though it IS about twice as long.

Wheel of Time – From the Two Rivers (Beautiful World of Books)

So, here it is. Our great undertaking. Well, mine, mostly. But welcome anyway!

So today’s schedule calls for the first four books of the Wheel of Time series—Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, and Shadow Rising—plus the prequel, New Spring. While I know New Spring is technically the first chronological entry, I figured I’d start with the first two written, EotW and tGH, then go to New Spring, then the rest.

Incidentally, the beginning of the series collects three of my favorite books of all time—Eye of the World, the Great Hunt, and Shadow Rising. Combined, I think I’ve read these three 16 times; Shadow four, Hunt five, and Eye seven. Now I’ll be the first to admit that they’re not perfect, but I still love them. You see, back in the mid-2000’s I was struggling with intense anxiety and depression, one of the darkest periods of my life. It’s not like this series single-handedly saved me, or anything. But it definitely helped. And—I’m not exactly sure how this is going to sound but—it gave me a reason for living.

Suicide is a major side-effect of depression, which I’m not going to get into much here. Let’s just say that back then my thoughts were often quite bleak. And with the feelings of worthlessness and blackness, came thoughts of suicide. As they do. Any reason to keep living, however tenuous, however small, were important. And back then, the Wheel of Time only spanned 11 or 12 books. Robert Jordan (James Oliver Rigney Jr.) was struggling with the disease that ultimately cost him his life. And I was thoroughly entranced with his series. In no small way, it gave me a reason for living.

So.

Let’s see the covers, yeah?

I’ve collected SIX sets of covers here:

  1. Tom Doherty Tor Originals (the original Tor/Forge covers, my favorites)
  2. Original Orbit Covers (from the early 90’s)
  3. Tor Reissues (from the mid-2000’s)
  4. Orbit Repubs (from the mid-2010’s)
  5. Tor 20’s (from the 2020’s)
  6. UK’s Little Brown (from the 2020’s)

Original Tor Covers

Original Orbit Covers

Tor Reissues

Orbit Repubs

Tor/Forge 2020’s

Little Brown Book Group

So, now that I’ve taken you on a trip down memory lane (or not, depending), what do you think? What’re your favorites? I’ve got to be honest, while I’m most familiar with the Tor and Orbit originals (and the Tom Doherty ones are what I own), seeing them all together—for perhaps the first time—I quite like the Tor Reissues from the mid-2000’s. I mean, I hate the first one (and as such, mixed them up a bit), but otherwise. In gathering my five selected sets, I even ended up adding a sixth one! These Orbit/Little Brown covers are possibly my favorites because they do more than picture, well, the nothing that the newest repubs have been showcasing for some reason. I mean, they’re just lovely (again especially compared with the last two reissues which I found somewhat bland and boring)—hope you like them all!

Beautiful World of Books – Special

Welcome to a special month-long edition of the Beautiful World of Books, where I showcase one of my favorite series of all time! Now I know that some of the rest of you have your own opinions on whether or not this series is all that great or not (but it is, and that’s that;) —but hopefully you’ll be okay as we spend a few weeks examining the covers that we’ve seen over the course of this 15 book series!

As this is such an expansive and world-renowned series, I’ll be covering it in quite a few posts, starting with the first four books—Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, and Shadow Rising—along with the prequel, New Spring. After that I’ve a tentative schedule I’ll be looking to follow, but if you know anything about me it’s that schedules and I often have… an issue.

  • From the Two Rivers (Books #0-4) – Thursday, April 14th
  • Early Special Editions (Books #1-2, mostly) – Thursday, April 21st
  • The Rise of the Dragon (Books #5-9) – Thursday, April 28th
  • The Art and Lore of the Wheel of Time – Thursday, May 12th
  • The Breaking of the World (Books #10-14) – Thursday, May 19th
  • Recap and All together (Books #0-14) – Thursday, May 26th

So, please come back tomorrow for the start, or stay away while I rant about how much nostalgia I get from this series. Haha kidding—I promise I won’t do that, like, too much…

Also, just a note, I won’t be talking about the Amazon series at all, mostly because I haven’t seen it. And don’t plan to. You see, I have it all imagined and pictured a certain way in my mind, and I’m not interested in seeing it done up any other way. But if you want to tell me about it, that’s cool. I’m just not going to watch it.

Sisters of Shadow – by Katherine Livesey (Review)

Sisters of Shadow #1

YA, Fantasy

HarperCollins; September 30, 2021

368 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

3.5 / 10 ✪

Beware minor spoilers for the story. Mostly it’s for the romance though, and I kept them vague.

Sisters of Shadow is tagged as an “unforgettable teen fantasy perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone”. Now, while I’ve not read Shadow and Bone (yes, I know, I know), I’m skeptical of this. First about the “unforgettable” part. I found the whole thing very forgettable, thank you. But I really want to focus on the “teen” part. Because other than the whole ’sapphic love’ thing, I’d argue that nothing in here seems very “teen”.

And that’s just a personal preference thing, really. If you’re the type of person that thinks homosexuality is wrong—be it religious, or culture, or personal, or whatever—that’s your call, yeah? I don’t want to debate anyone over this. If you’re that kind of person, you’re probably not going to tell your child about it until you absolutely have to, and when you do, just say that it’s wrong and leave it there. Otherwise, I don’t know what the appropriate age to hear about this is. Puberty, I guess? But, see, the ‘sapphic romance’ within… there’s no sex, or anything. Nothing like that at all. Two of the characters do fall for one another, but they don’t do anything more than cuddle. And maybe kiss. It’s implied that they’re together together, and that’s about it. It’s not very heavy or adult, as these things go.

Anyway, the book. The read.

I found it quite boring. But also quite maddening. You’ll see why. At this point, I’ll say the two best things I can about Sisters of Shadow. One—I didn’t hate it. And two—it was a pretty quick read. Now, I realize none of those things are all that flattering. And from the above rating, you probably know there’s a bit of a rant incoming. So. Um I guess. Read on to find out more?

In the prologue, Alice is kidnapped.

Shortly after, we meet Lily Knight. The adventure starts when her uncle, Alf—who seems like a fantastically nice human the entire time we see him—just tells her that she alone has to go rescue her friend (yes, alone; no one can go with her), because Alice is her responsibility. Serious, wtf. I don’t even remotely understand this. Much less how Alice is somehow Lily’s responsibility. They’re friends, not lovers.They’re both humans. They’re not related. Alice isn’t a pet.

At first I suspected it was poorly worded. Then it was reiterated. “Alice is your responsibility”. Because.

And so the journey begins. And it’s… not great. And here we come to my main problem with Sisters of Shadow.

Nothing happens.

Okay, okay, stuff DOES happen. It just never feels important. It never feels epic. It never feels REAL.

Adventures and journeys aren’t always fun. That’s kind of their thing. There’s always a problem, somewhere. No matter how well you play it. And when you don’t plan it, one would think that there’d be problems all around. That’s the whole allure of reading about epic quests and adventures, especially spontaneous ones; stuff goes wrong all the time, and it’s up to the characters to deal with these, frequently in creative or inventive or roundabout ways.

Every problem has an immediate solution, one she never has to do anything about. When Lily finds out how far it is to the ocean she gets dejected about the walk—and a horse appears. It just wanders up, pre-saddled and ready to ride. No further explanation. People go out of their way to help her through her journey, for no reason. (Yes, I realize this is a thing that some real people do. But everyone that helps her does so immediately and for nothing. Everyone.) Later, when Lily reaches the ocean, there’s a boat handy. When she reaches the lighthouse, there’s a dark-eyed boy who takes her in and feeds and waits on her. He’s even her own age and—yes, this is the actual romance. At least it takes Lily some time, if not any actual effort. Alice’s romantic other is literally the first person she meets.

Now, I will say that the ending is decent. Things almost feel real, consequential—and maybe that’s reason enough to read the sequel. Not for me, though.

Billed as a coming of age fantasy, Sisters of Shadow features two young women around the age of adulthood (Alice is 17, I presume Lily’s about the same). They just never act like it. Lily never acts any older than 13 or so. In the beginning, honestly it’s a bit younger. Alice is a little better, though not much. None of the others they meet around their own age are any better either. So. If this had been written as a late Middle Grade fantasy—I think it would work out great. For teens or middle-grade. Other than the same-sex romance (which I’ve already gone over), there’s nothing explicit or adult about this.

There might be a good story in here, somewhere. Heck, you might well have found it already, and are reading this review—shocked, annoyed, incredulous—that I didn’t see it too. But I did do my homework on this one. I checked the ratings, I skimmed reviews. Some people loved Sisters of Shadow. Some hated it. But most people thought it was meh. Not terrible, not great. That’s about the size of it. This wasn’t a terrible book, though it also wasn’t good. I’d even say it was meh if it hadn’t been so boring. If something had ever happened to change my mind about it. If anything had ever made me want to continue it, or the series. It did read quick, though I never felt invested. I did finish it, but I skipped around a bunch. But this definitely wasn’t for me. You might like this, or not. It’s $3 for an ebook, if you’d like to take a chance on it. Maybe you’ll love it. Maybe you’ll hate it. Or maybe, like the majority of reviews I’ve seen, you’ll think it was all a bit bland, a bit forgettable.

The story will continue in Sisters of Moonlight, due April 14th, 2022.

The Harbor – by Katrine Engberg (Review)

Kørner & Werner #3

Mystery, Nordic Noir

Gallery/Scout Press; February 22, 2022

352 pages (ebook)
9hr 38m (audiobook)

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8 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Scout/Gallery Books for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

He looked around and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward. He had cleaned it many times, till there was no stain left upon it. It was bright and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter’s work, and all that that meant. It would kill the past, and when that was dead, he would be free.

So ends the first and only clue in the disappearance of fifteen year-old Oscar Dreyer-Hoff. As clues go, this one’s shit, but Anette Werner and Jeppe Kørner are used to much worse. Odds are the missing teen is no more than a runaway, but as he’s from an influential family—one used to kidnapping and threats before—the Copenhagen Police are taking it seriously. Thus the inclusion of detectives Kørner and Werner.

But as each hour passes, and the potential for finding the boy alive grows ever more slim, the case itself changes to match. Patterns form and fade, relationships appear and vanish, and the mindset of a trouble teen slowly begins to reveal itself. But rather than helping the case, these revelations instead push the search into murkier waters still.

A possible sexual relationship between Oscar’s brother Viktor and his only real friend, Iben. A family bed. Something shared between Oscar and his teacher. A banished sister, a middle child, a shared secret. Another disappearance. A love of boating, of the water. Everyone has something to hide, everyone has something to lose—though some more than others. Clues come and go—but which relate to the disappearance and which are just there to distract? Will Kørner and Werner be able to locate the missing teen while he yet lives, or will the inevitable finally come to pass?


Eroticism has many faces.

This was an intricate, murky case set on the Øresund between Zealand and Scania, between Copenhagen and Sweden. The Sound gives the whole book an overcast, grey feel—much like the cover itself. Though not all the case and its avenues take place or have anything to do with the waters, they certainly feel like the focus for the book.

I want to make this clear up front: I really enjoyed this one. The murky, grey, confusing feel to the case, with all the clues that may or may not relate, the leads that sped off on tangents or eventually wormed their way back to the heart of it all—it all worked quite well for me. And when everything came together in the end: oh, it was magnificent! The thing is, however, that when you have a story with so many false-starts, with so much deception, it doesn’t help to add other, less… related aspects to an already twisting tale.

While I enjoyed the initial release, the Tenant, I definitely liked the second book better due in no small part to its inclusion of the detectives’ lives. Anette and her baby; Jeppe and his search for love. Both main characters return in the Harbor and once again their personal lives take center stage, but this time it’s all about love. Jeppe and Sarah have taken their relationship to the next level (Sarah has introduced her boyfriend to her daughters, Jeppe has pretty much moved in with the three), but things could be going better. Anette is having problems of her own at home, as her husband Sven hasn’t appeared interested in her anymore. And so she’s been letting her mind wander at work, envisioning sex with all kinds—colleague or suspect alike. Jeppe’s best friend Johannes returns to play a bit part, and while I loved having him (after not seeing him at all in the Butterfly House), I would’ve liked even more from him still. Well, maybe next time. The thing I still cannot fathom is Esther de Laurenti’s (and Gregor’s) inclusion. I complained about it in Book #2—as it didn’t really feel tied to any part of the story, or the main characters within—and I’m going to roast it even more now. Esther, a literature major, is consulted briefly about the opening quote, which is apparently a passage by Oscar Wilde. Full stop. Nevertheless, despite being out of the story after this brief interlude, we continue to share her POVs. In a book of false-leads and tangents, where the story toes an ever-murky line, her inclusion does little other than to distract from an already confusing story, something that is as nonsensical as it is infuriating. “So, we’re going to take a break from this twisting, confusing, but immersive case to go check in on Esther, who really has nothing to do with anything.” While I love developing more backstory on the leads, visiting their lives and seeing their problems and how it all affects their jobs—I don’t understand checking in on someone who barely relates at all to the case, to the detectives, or to the story at all.

As with other Engberg mysteries, or some Nordic Noir, don’t expect a happy ending. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t one. Just that Nordic Noir is so-named for a reason. It’s not grimdark, but it’s not “and they all lived happily ever after”. I mean, there’s certainly a conclusion—which I quite liked, in fact—and it’s definitely enjoyable to the reader, as it ties up any loose ends quite nicely, just: it might not be the happiest. Think of it as “some of them lived, some were happy, and there was some measure of after”.

TL;DR

All in all, the Harbor is probably Katrine Engberg’s most ambitious mystery to date. It’s certainly the most intricate, thrilling, and entirely plausible one. Reality aside, not every mystery can end with a mountain of corpses and a serial killer behind bars. A murky, twisting tale set out over the Øresund and its isles in the Copenhagen harbor, the Harbor chooses an already dark and overcast setting to stage its latest tale, one that replaces a world of greys with that of blues instead. And while it delves even more into the lives of its characters than any release before it, the inclusion of previous characters and their lives—which don’t seem to relate to the case at all—is a mystifying choice, and one that holds the story back from being something truly special. Because at no time during your already twisting and intricate, highly immersive investigation should you take a break to visit someone who has nothing to do with anything, and talk for a while about their lives. This aside, I’d thoroughly recommend the Harbor, and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for Kørner and Werner, and where the series goes from here!

Audio Note: Once again, I loved Graeme Malcolm’s narration! It brought the story to life and helped sell the characters not just as individuals, but as part of a whole, interconnected to each other and the world around them A great read, all around. Thoroughly recommended!

Review of The Tenant (Kørner & Werner #1)

Review of the Butterfly House (Kørner & Werner #2)