To Blackfyre Keep – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

The Seven Swords #4

Epic, High Fantasy

Subterranean Press; September 30, 2022

147 pages (hardcover)

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9 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Subterranean Press @SubPress for the lovely physical ARC! All opinions are my own.

Please beware minor spoilers for the Seven Swords Books #1-3!

Guyime, once named “The Ravager”, once famed king of the Northern Realms, carries on his search for the Seven Swords—for by uniting them as one he hopes to free himself from their curse, and save Seeker’s daughter while doing so.

Advised to aid the cause of a lovesick knight, the party ventures to Blackfyre Keep, a cursed ruin amidst the Northlands, where war and famine rage, and something even more dangerous lurks. This knight has been tasked with taking and holding the cursed keep for a year to win the hand of his lady love—a task that is thoroughly unfeasible even with the involvement of three of the demon blades.

But Guyime doesn’t plan on sticking around.

Only in finding and mastering the fourth sword can his quest continue, and he has a very strong suspicion that the blade he seeks is somewhere in the depths of Blackfyre Keep. They’ll just have to live long enough to claim it.

Cursed I am, but it was always a useful curse.

So, by Book #4 we pretty much know what we’re going to get from this series. There’ll be a demon-cursed sword, some amazing locale to house it—like a hidden tomb, a cursed keep, a stratified city, a god’s chamber—someone to wield it, and a competition to claim it. If you were expecting something different—well, you’re out of luck.

What you see is what you get. Though not everyone might survive to see it.

There’s something quite nice about that, if I’m honest. I don’t have to worry overly about my favorite characters dying, I don’t have to worry about catching every aspect of the plot, I can just sit back and take it all in. Because I absolutely adore the world of the Seven Swords, and would read pretty much any story set in it. With such a simple and straightforward plot that’s basically episodic by now, it frees up Anthony Ryan to dream up new and more fantastical elements of his world than ever before. If you’ve accompanied me to Book #4 then you’ll know what I mean.

So, we have an episodic book and the expectation of another sword by the end of it. What’s next?

I’d argue the adventure itself takes priority. And the adventure here is a good one. It’s not perfect, by any means (one can only bottle lightning so many times, after all), but it’s another entertaining episode, where our heroes journey to a cursed keep and confront an ancient evil. Again, there’s some travel time in the beginning, so we get yet another glimpse at the incredible world the author has dreamt up. There is mystery, there is tension, there are military and horror and supernatural elements threading through a wonderful fantasy tale.

As with the other Seven Swords installments, Blackfyre Keep is light on details (the review copy I received was only 147 pages), which—while you’d expect that from a novella—I found just a bit more shallow than the others in sequence. The title “To Blackfyre Keep” is telling, as that’s the destination. In the other installments our party spent time searching upon the way, but here (apart for a single brief exception) we head straight to the keep before the story really begins.

TL;DR

If you’ve arrived at this point in the Seven Swords, you should know how this works. A place, an enemy, a sword to claim. A challenge in claiming it. It’s pretty much that simple. While episodic, it’s another investing adventure with an entertaining story and interesting characters. Though the world doesn’t feel as interactive as in past installments, the world around remains as detailed and immersive as before, with wondrous locations and terrifying scenes. Not much more I can say about this. If you’ve reached this point of the series, you’re sure to enjoy this one. If you haven’t—I guess you won’t be reading it anyway. If you’re wondering whether it’s time to pick up the series—I’d say yes, but I guess you could always just wait it out and binge them all at once. Got another 2-4 years wait, in that case. Easier to just start now, eh?

Note: The Subterranean Press version is doubtless a work of art in itself, but the entry point is $40, which, if I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t pay for a novella, regardless of how good it is. Still though, if you fancy a piece of history, might I suggest the Lettered Edition? Preorders are up for this $300 book. Otherwise, perhaps the ebook version? It usually retails for $3-5.

Spells for Forgetting – by Adrienne Young (Review)

Standalone

Fantasy, Romance, Supernatural

Delacorte Press; September 27, 2022

352 pages (ebook)

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10 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Ballantine Books, Delacorte Press, and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

A mist-cloaked isle steeped in folklore and tradition, no one goes to Saiorse island to stay. Everyone who’s local already lives there, and the island doesn’t take well to outsiders. Despite this, hordes of tourists flock to the islet in fall to see the trees, to visit the Salt Orchard in all its autumn finery.

August Salt isn’t headed to Saiorse as a tourist, and he isn’t going there to stay. But it still feels like he’s headed home.

Decades before, August left Saiorse in the dead of night with his mother, never to return. The Orchard Fire—and the death of Lily Morgan—precipitated their departure, while another death results in August’s return. That of his mother, Eloise. No, August hasn’t come home to stay; he knows he isn’t welcome here, not after the night that provoked his departure. He’s come to bury his mother.

Emery Blackwood once dreamt of leaving the island, running away with August and exploring the world. But after the Orchard Fire, everything changed. Now Emery lives among the ashes of her former life. She runs a teahouse—as her mother did before her—and lives in her childhood home. It’s not the life she thought she wanted, but it is hers.

Now, fourteen years after that fateful day, Emery’s reality threatens to shatter once more. As August Salt once again walks Saiorse’s shores. She can’t look at him: his departure stole everything from her—her heart, her future, her best friend, almost her own father. But neither can she stay away: August is the only man she’s ever loved, and she’s dreamt of him ever since he left—his smell, his taste, his scent, his touch.

But August’s return affects more than just Emery, more than just the town—the island itself notices his arrival. And secrets that have remained buried for the last fourteen years will finally come to life.

There are spells for breaking and spells for mending. But there are no spells for forgetting.

I often mention how I’ll get so immersed in a book that literal hours pass without me noticing. I mean, it doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it’s both an amazing and surreal feeling—of belonging in a world that isn’t my own, but is one I can picture so vividly that I’m transported there.

I think you probably know where I’m going with this.

Spells for Forgetting is a story of true love—and, at the same time, a story of love unrequited. It is a book full of secrets and lies, of the possible and the impossible, of the supernatural and the unknown, of love and envy.

It is also an amazing read.

Saiorse Island is a fictional islet hidden in the shadow of Seattle, in Puget Sound. But it legitimately feels like an entire world on its own, instead of an enclave on the world’s edge. Sometimes a setting like this feels cramped, claustrophobic—but I never noticed that with this. Instead, Saiorse feels cozy, comfortable, and—although I’ve never lived within 500 miles of the ocean—it feels like home.

But for all its comfort, the mystery at the heart of Saiorse burns bright. The past, hidden in lies and steeped in the supernatural, has yet to come out, though one can feel that it desperately wants to. All it needs is a little push.

One thing that bothered me was the tale of true love—and in particular the side-plot of love unrequited. Because I’ve been in that spot before, and so it was so hard to read about it. Yet at the same time… Adrienne Young nailed it. That feeling: that some things are just predetermined, fated, and while they were meant to be for some others will just never have them. Something you cannot fight, though you will anyway.

The way that this bothered me… did not ruin the story. In fact, I think it made it better. It made the story feel more real, more tangible—in a way that it truly did not need. From the setting to the mystery to its characters to true love—it was a tale that hit close to home. Parts of it might have been difficult to read, but all of it was incredible.

TL;DR

I’m honestly having trouble expressing just how much I loved this novel. From the story, the setting, the characters—everything seems so much more than I can put into words. I even loved the romance, even though sometimes the thought of it hurt worse than heartbreak ever has the right to. I can’t recommend Spells for Forgetting enough, not just for creating a world you can get lost in, but for giving you a reason to return once you do.

September 2022

Well, it’s September.

Huh, that happened quick.

I’ve had some digestive/stomach issues lately, (also insomnia, yay) so I haven’t done quite as much with my late summer as I’d’ve hoped. Did get a lot of reading done, though.

A reasonable haul this month—4 arcs, 3 of which I’ve already finished. So September will likely be used to prepare for the fall haul (yay, rhymes), catch up on overdue summer reads, and maybe finish some series! Or… not. Maybe September will be my burnout month, who knows?

Right, pessimism aside, let’s get into it:

ARCs

One Dark Window – by Rachel Gillig (9.27)

Unnamed Series #1

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Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom of Blunder—she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets.

But nothing comes for free, especially magic.

When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. And the highwayman? He just so happens to be the King’s nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.

Together they must gather twelve Providence Cards—the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.

Excited to start this one! The press release states that Orbit acquired the rights to this and its sequel, so presumably this will begin some sort of as-of-yet unnamed series.

Spells for Forgetting – by Adrienne Young (9.27)

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Emery Blackwood’s life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family’s business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings.

But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that the town has tried desperately to forget.

August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery.

The town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises spanning generations threaten to reveal the truth behind Lily’s mysterious death once and for all.

I had an issue with the premise of this one; it was a personal reason, nothing more—but you wouldn’t know it from my review. This was one of my favorite books thus far this year for so many reasons. Please come back to hear me gush about it! Review coming September 5th.

Friends Don’t Lie – by Nell Pattison (9.29)

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My name is Isabel Butterworth. Your name is Isabel Butterworth.

We’re around the same age. We live in the same town.

But your life is more exciting than mine, isn’t it? Richer, dramatic, more fulfilling.

Imagine if I’d never found out about you…

But I have. Because someone mistook me for you.

And now I can’t stop thinking about you because I know you’re in trouble. You need my help.

And I need a way to get to know you.

To save you.

To be you…

An all-consuming thriller with one problem—a twist that was too big! I know, right? If this has piqued your curiosity, be sure and check back for my review of Friends Don’t Lie, coming September 25th! Bonus points if your mind went to Stranger Things just like mine did:)

To Blackfyre Keep – by Anthony Ryan (9.30)

The Seven Swords #4

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GUYIME—DEMON CURSED WIELDER OF THE NAMELESS BLADE—FOLLOWS THE TRAIL OF THE FABLED SEVEN SWORDS INTO THE TROUBLED NORTHLANDS, A REALM WHERE HE WAS ONCE CALLED KING…AND RAVAGER.

Magically guided to enlist in the retinue of a lovesick knight, Guyime and his companions journey to the haunted ruin of Blackfyre Keep, a castle legend tells cannot be held. But a far deadlier threat than mere ghosts awaits. An ancient evil has been conjured and to defeat it Guyime may be forced to become the monster he used to be—the Ravager reborn.

Continuing the epic adventure of The Seven Swords, To Blackfyre Keep is an enthralling tale of creeping menace and pulse pounding action from New York Times bestselling author of the Raven’s Shadow and Draconis Memoria trilogies.

Another great entry to the series! If you enjoyed the first three up to this point, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t like this. A bit episodic, but there’s no reason that must mean “bad”. Check back for my review on September 22nd!

Additional Releases

The Godbreaker – by Mike Brooks (9.27)

The God-King Chronicles #3

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The triumphant third and final part of the God-King Chronicles. The Godbreaker is the unmissable culmination of the series, filled with war-dragons, armoured knights, sea-faring raiders, dangerous magic and battle scenes.

War comes to Narida and Nothing Will Be The Same Again. 

As the Black Keep Council prepares for war, journeying far to protect their lands and friend, The God-King and his sister try to keep Narida together in the face of betrayal while the Splinter King remains at large.

The Golden and his hordes of raiders press their advantage and sweep across the land with unholy powers.  

Sacrifices will be made, and not everyone will make it back to Black Keep alive… 

I’m only part-way through volume #2 of this (as in… 5%?), so no Godbreaking (Godbreakering?) for me yet! Had no idea this would be the end of the series, though. I could’ve sworn he said it’d be a large scale fantasy on par with GoT or Stormlight or such. Note: This is the US release. It’s been out in the UK/EU since the early summer, I believe.

Purchases

Didn’t buy many books this month, but I picked up Black Heart: Part II: In the Coils of a Horned Serpent, and will hopefully get to it soon. I quite enjoyed Part I—though the pacing was a bit inconsistent—and I’ll post a quick summary of my thoughts sometime soon. It won’t be a full review; I’ll save that til I finish all three parts.

Currently Reading

Got an early start on Station Eternity, by Mur Lafferty. Early signs indicate that I probably won’t love this quite as much as Six Wakes, but it’s definitely interesting and entertaining thus far! Instead of the hard-boiled thriller, the author seems to have gone more light-hearted this time around, and I’m curious to see where it takes her.

Upcoming Posts

In addition to the ARCs listed above, I have a few reviews that I should be posting soon. Black Heart: Part I, The Straits of Galahesh, Alone in the Wild, City of Stairs, and more. Books that I read over the summer and didn’t review, along with more series stuff that I’ve been hoping to finish up; hopefully these reviews/summaries will serve as a recap for you and me both.

I’ve also some posts I’m hoping to get through—more stuff I wanted to have out this summer but delayed when I didn’t have the time or energy to get to them. Included in these are a TBR for Autumn, some of the strange DNFs I’ve had this year, and maybe even a couple outdoor/gardening things. We’ll see.

Music

I’m usually the kind of person that learns about music only after it’s already come out. Now in the past I’ve posted some of my anticipated albums of the month, but these usually result in me doing a 1-2 hour search through various band sources while writing said post. This month, I don’t even have to bother. There are several releases I’ve been waiting all summer for out in September, and I’m excited to share them!

We start with Rumble of Thunder courtesy of The Hu, out for streaming on September 2nd (though physical copies aren’t due for another two weeks). While I haven’t pre-ordered the entire album, I’ve picked up Black Thunder Extended which I’ll share here. Early indications are good, but I found their debut, The Gereg, a bit hit-and-miss, so we’ll have to wait and see. If you haven’t heard of them before, the Hu incorporates classic Mongolian music into their metal for a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Smash Into Pieces comes in next with their album, Disconnect, dropping on September 9th. Not a ton of info regarding this one yet, like number of tracks or included EPs, but the band has repeatedly assured that the album will come out as planned. While I like Smash Into Pieces, their albums have the issue of seeming a bit filler-y—with strong singles surrounded by weaker filler tracks. It helps that they seem to release something every year or two. Disconnect joins A New Horizon, Arcadia, and Evolver as the band marks their fourth consecutive year with an album. Smash Into Pieces is somewhere between electronic rock, hardcore, and alternative on the general scale (don’t ask me what all these things mean).

Band-Maid fills this next spot with their EP Unleash, due out on September 21. This 8-track release is set to include two recent singles and six new songs. Band-Maid albums have been pretty solid listens when compared to the other two bands on this list, as I can usually listen to an entire album on repeat for weeks before weeding out anything. Band-Maid is classed as rock, or J-Rock.

The Reckoning is the 5th album from alternative rock band Icon for Hire, legitimately one of my favorite bands. If you haven’t heard of them before, I’d definitely recommend checking them out—starting with their sophomore effort, the self-titled Icon for Hire, out since 2013. The Reckoning is set to release September 30th, and includes four previously released singles and nine brand-new tracks.

Gaming

Not much on the whole gaming front. My to-play list is still pretty long, but I just haven’t been in the mood lately. Earlier in August I finished Journey to the Savage Planet which was good fun despite it being somewhat repetitive and having an instantly forgettable story. Still, I enjoyed the idea of some random person being sent to a random planet with no training and just told: Have at it.

September (and late August) marks the release of I was a Teenage Exocolonist, a game I discovered from Caitlin at Realms of My Mind, which… I can’t play, because my computer is too old. Ah well.

Also supposedly Tunic releases on console.

Life

Not too much to say on the personal side of things. Autumn is usually my favorite time of year, but I’ve been having some health issues lately that have kept me from enjoying it quite as much. But hopefully I’ll get over this enough to do some of the things I’ve been wanting to all summer. Stay tuned, I guess.

At least the reading side of things is going well.

How was your August? What’re you excited for in September? Music/book/ game recommendations are always welcome!

The Oleander Sword – by Tasha Suri (Review)

The Burning Kingdoms #2

Fantasy, Romance

Orbit Books; August 16, 2022

480 pages (paperback)

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9 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit for the lovely physical ARC! All opinions are my own.

Once an exiled princess and maidservant met in the darkness, and love was born.

Now prophesied the nameless god’s heir to the throne, Malini comes to take her place as Empress of Parijatdvipa, a position her brother Chandra isn’t likely to relinquish without a fight. In fact, he’d much rather she his sister’s blood stain the grass than welcome her home. But while Malini continues to collect allies in her fight, her victory is far from assured. As long as Chandra still controls the imperial throne, the army will follow him. The priests of the mothers—dead set on Malini giving herself willingly to the flame—will never recognize her claim. And so, the closer she gets to the capital, the closer the Empire comes to all-out war.

A war Ahiranya wants no part of.

Scarcely a year after expelling Chandra’s forces from their borders, thrice-born Bhumika and Priya now rule the Hirana as Temple Elders. While Bhumika rules as the representative of the Yaksa, Priya remains on the periphery—attempting to combat and control the Rot. But between pressure from the former rebels and the creeping plague, they have their hands full. Even without a war on their doorstep.

Despite both their standings, Malini and Priya’s destinies are intertwined. So when her Empress eventually calls, Priya’s heart stutters at the very thought of a reunion. Yet a shadow lurks in the recesses of her heart. Has Malini called for her as her true love, or her greatest weapon—one to be used and cast aside when it is no longer needed?

But despite Priya’s best efforts, the Rot is spreading. And something moves in the deathless waters, something that she can sense, but cannot see. Something that will change the fate of the Ahiranya and Parijatdvipa forever.

He watched his sister walk around the ceremonial wedding fire, garbed in resplendent red, and thought, My country is dying.
He watched her bow for the garland, and thought, Our father is dying.
He watched her as she lowered her head for the wedding garland, and thought, My sister will die.
And there is nothing I can do.

I mean, the beginning wasn’t great, but it could’ve been worse. I think a recap would’ve helped ease us in to the absolutely rough high-school-worthy romance told through the passing of notes behind the teacher’s back.

Ooof, that ending though.

In terms of a start to a fantasy epic, it’s not the best. But far from the worst. Leans into the sapphic romance, so if that’s your thing you’ll probably not mind. If you’re not a romance buff, it’s a bit of a slow burn, which thankfully takes off as we reach the plot in earnest (shortly before hitting the hundred-page mark). Not that the romance ends here, just it takes a back seat to the war on Chandra—the villain throughout most of the text.

If you were hoping for a new villain to despise, don’t worry, as Chandra isn’t alone. Though he will command most of your attention of the nearly five hundred pages. But muttering gives way to rumor around the halfway point; you begin to get a glimpse of where the series might be heading in the future. And Chandra—while still the main focus, the center of attention—isn’t alone anymore. Don’t get me wrong, this is still his book; if you’re not a fan of his Vaas-style villainy, it may be a long grind to the end.

…which is where we’re going next. Because… well, I’m not totally on board with it. The end, that is. It’s not bad per say, just—a bit of a cliffhanger that makes you remember it’ll take Tasha Suri at least eight months to write the final installment. Plus publishing and all… well, we’ll just be stuck on this for another year. Also, I’m not 100% clear with the motivations here, but we won’t get into that. Spoilers and all.

Now that I’m done with my minor concerns regarding the beginning and end, let me rave about that middle bit. Now, I’m not the fastest reader, but I read it in a day (from about the 150 page mark on). And it kills.

I mean, I have no criticisms or notes. None. For around four hundred pages the story was wholly immersive, thoroughly entertaining, almost an obsession in itself. Maybe more than “almost”. I enjoyed the first book but this one blew me away.

It’s really hard on its characters, though. Tasha Suri really owes her characters a break. But if she did that, Book #3 would just be a polite discussion over tea, so… well, maybe there’ll be a happy ending and everyone will live happily ever after?

Yeah, or maybe not.

The Warrior – by Stephen Aryan (Review)

Quest for Heroes #2

Fantasy

Angry Robot; August 9, 2022

379 pages (paperback)

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8 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many, many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me a lovely physical ARC, even after the first two got lost in the mail (and I told them not to worry about it)! It was so very nice of them. They are quite nice people, after all! Um and… all opinions are my own.

Kell Kresia, two time Hero of the Four Kingdoms, King of Algany, most famous man alive—is trapped. Trapped in a grand design as the “king” of one of the four kingdoms, a position he fills mostly as a figurehead. Trapped in a loveless marriage, his wife Sigrid was born to rule but for the nature of being a woman, something she has never forgiven the world for. Trapped and surrounded by people and fame, he can’t find any alone time or anonymity among the commonfolk.

So when his old friend Willow shows up requesting for her homeland, Kell can’t wait to leave.

But this isn’t something as simple as a quest north to defeat the Ice Lich. The land of the Alfár is remote and hidden—somewhere humans have rarely tread. More importantly, it is a land out of time; both literally and figuratively, as the passage of time moves differently in this realm, meaning that for every week that passes within, a year or more might pass in the outside world. Then there is the Malice, the strange and terrible affliction that poisons the land.

Meanwhile life in the Four Kingdoms goes on, with Sigrid (and her infant son) ruling alone. Day to day politicking aside, the continent inches ever closer to war, divided on the worship of the Shepherd, the religion that one Reverend Mother Britak would use to create a theocracy. Despite its very nature being based on a lie, the faith continues to push into Algany, its devotees purging any other beliefs in their way. And without Kell’s legend to dissuade her, there may be nothing holding Britak back from the future she desires. Nothing but Sigrid.

Only upon reaching the Alfár homeland of Gilial do Kell and his party realize just how far gone the place truly is. The trees have withered and died, or turned to monsters of bark and branch. The animals have become mindless beasts only sated by blood and meat. The other races of Gilial have fallen into ruin, and are only rumored to exist in any form. While the Alfár are just a shadow of their former glory—a dying, infected species, day by day more and more fall victim to the Malice.

There exists a plan to save Gilial but it is dark and desperate, despicable and deranged. Willow seeks to stop it, something which Kell and his companions—members of his personal guard: Odd, a loner harboring a terrible secret; and Yarra, harboring deep regret—are instrumental to, as humans may resist the Malice better than their Alfár counterparts.

Only upon seeing the state of the land they might wonder—how could the cure possible be any worse than the affliction?

For it to be precious, life has to end. If I live forever and do nothing, then what was the point?

While the first quest broke Kell, the second made him whole. What will this third one do?

Well, at least he won’t have to face the Ice Lich. Or WILL he?

No. He won’t. Instead he’ll face a world unseen by most of humanity, full of vibrant locales and ruined cities and creatures never seen before—all corrupted by the Malice’s influence. It was quite the tale, one that left me wanting to see more of this new world, yearning to see it before it had been devastated by the Malice. What we see in the Warrior is a world laid to waste. Oh, to see it before!

But anyway, the story is a good one. Kell’s is, at least. Full of twists and turns. Challenge and peril. A land full of surprise and opportunity. The story winds its way through this strange land, eventually leading to the heart of the Malice—and to the big reveal. As big reveals go, this may not have been anything game-changing, but it was at least interesting. And the conclusion and aftermath more than make up for any letdown in the mystery department.

The issue I have is not with Kell’s story, but Sigrid’s. Even in the first few pages of her first chapter, you knew where it was going to lead. Well, you knew where Kell’s was leading too. But where Kell’s was interesting, immersive, and exciting throughout—and even sprinkled with a seed of doubt—Sigrid’s only started this way. But at the 3/4 mark, it takes a turn. Everything afterwards seems like a foregone conclusion.

While a great tale and quest, the Warrior ain’t exactly innovative. It’s strongly reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings, albeit an abbreviated, poor man’s version. It’s entertaining, sure; almost everything that it does, this book does well (excluding, of course, the conclusion at home). It isn’t a retelling of LotR, or a fanfic, although the quest is rife with similarities. That said, there’s nothing wrong with doing a little LotR impersonation every now and then. Impression is the highest form of flattery. And LotR is (no matter your opinion on it) the most popular fantasy tale. It would be impossible not to draw similarities between the two. And that’s okay. Because it’s not a clone, a rip-off, or a retelling. The Warrior tells an amazing story with just a little bit of a letdown towards the end.

TL;DR

The Warrior isn’t a game-changer. It tells of a quest—a fellowship, if you will—through a land devastated and barren, to reach some peril at the end and vanquish it. I mean, just stop me here if this reminds you of anything. Or just keep reading. Because while the initial plot is hardly innovative, once you get into it it’s sure immersive. A plague destroying a previously forgotten land. A race against time. A legend with nothing to prove, hunting the Malice that threatens his friends. A new world to explore. An old world to remember. I mean, it’s all quite good. And a worthy conclusion to a fabulous duology!

Ymir – by Rich Larson (Review)

Standalone

Science Fiction

Orbit Books; July 12, 2022

391 pages (paperback)

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7 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit for the lovely physical ARC! All opinions are my own.

A dark, otherworldly retelling of Beowulf takes place on a dystopian ice-world where the company owns and tells all. A tale of two brothers separated by time, space, and bad blood. Yorick hunts monsters—specifically the eyeless grey terror known as the grendel, that lurk beneath the earth on many company worlds. He left home early, after a spat with his brother that cost him his jaw.

And now he’s back in the one place he hoped never to be again: the ice-world Ymir.

Thello is a mystery. In Yorick’s mind, his homecoming would coincide with his brother’s apology—that or a fight to the death—but upon landing Yorick finds neither. In fact, he hasn’t seen Thello at all, instead greeted by a company man Dam Gausta, his former mentor, the woman who ushered him into the company; and a hulking red clanswoman, Fen, who clearly wants to gut him at first sight. At first Yorick thinks that she must know him—but no, he’s been gone decades, and the Butcher that Cooked the Cradle must be assumed to be well and truly dead by now.

Without his brother, there is only the hunt that matters now.

But this grendel is different than the mindless killing-machines Yorick has dispatched in the past. Beneath that cold, clammy skin there is definitely a very alien mind at work, but there is also something disturbingly human to it as well, something Yorick recognizes and knows all too well.

Thello.

Written in the style of Takeshi Kovacs, Ymir takes a fast-paced, minimalist story designs of Richard K. Morgan and applies them to a Beowulf inspired tale, complete with nordic themes and terrifying grendels. A dark, gritty tale takes place on both sides of the ice of Ymir, even plunging deep underground in pitch-black tunnels where only those desperate or alien live.

The pacing itself is strange, but it is what the story makes it. It’s the way the story is told; in glimpses—with chapters so short we might as well be visiting the story as opposed to spending a book’s length with it. We jump from action to action, spending just enough time to progress the plot—but no more.

While I loved the dark, gritty feel of the ice-world Ymir, there was never enough of it to go around. When you’re only spending one to five pages in the same place, it’s hard to get a real sense of worth from it. Thus, instead of a full-body immersion, this was like a bath taken in quick dips, where you get a shock of cold that eventually builds up into a deep freeze, but only after a long period. It was an interesting way to tell a story—and not one I entirely enjoyed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative between the two brothers, though it didn’t last as long as I’d’ve expected, coming to a cliffhanger well before the close that felt like a foregone conclusion rather than a mystery by the time it was resolved at the end.

TL;DR

While there was more than enough to like about Ymir, very little about the tale wowed me. It did prove a great read and a good story besides, as well as an interesting and unique retelling/tale based heavily on the epic Beowulf. But there was just too little there: too little time spent in any one place; too little depth on any of the supporting characters; too little backstory on the company, the grendels, Ymir itself, anything of the world to make it feel real. Overall, while I enjoyed pretty much everything I saw from Ymir, I’d’ve liked to have seen more of… pretty much all of it. For what is a tale told in glimpses than no tale at all?

August 2022

ARC

Eversion – by Alastair Reynolds (8/02)

Standalone

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From the master of the space opera, Alastair Reynolds, comes a dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it’s happened.

In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it’s up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

The Warrior – by Stephen Aryan (8/09)

Quest for Heroes #2

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The story of Kell Kressia continues in Book II of the gripping fantasy duology. Kell, two time saviour of the Five Kingdoms, is now the King of Algany. He has fame, power, respect, and has never been more miserable…

Bound, by duty and responsibility, Kell is King only in name. Trapped in a loveless marriage, he leaves affairs of state to his wife, Sigrid. When his old friend, Willow, turns up asking him to go on a journey to her homeland he can’t wait to leave.

The Malice, a malevolent poison that alters everything it infects, runs rampant across Willow’s homeland. Desperate to find a cure her cousin, Ravvi, is willing to try a dark ritual which could damn her people forever. Journeying to a distant land, Kell and his companions must stop Ravvi before it’s too late. While Kell is away Reverend Mother Britak’s plans come to a head. Queen Sigrid must find a way to protect her family and her nation, but against such a ruthless opponent, something has to give…

The Oleander Sword – by Tasha Suri (8/16)

Burning Kingdoms #2

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The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.

Babel: An Arcane History – by R.F. Kuang (8/23)

Standalone

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1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?

Other Releases

The Surf – by Kwaku Osei-Afrifa (8/17)

Solar Satellites / Novella

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Elerie Astrada is hanging in almost-space, awaiting launch.

Ultsurf is a popular, high-stakes relay race contested at the edge of a planet’s atmosphere. It’s fast, hard and dangerous: it isn’t a bloodsport, but blood is often spilled. It is also highly illegal. And Ele is at the top of her game, just a few wins away from the major leagues.

But making the fastest Split isn’t Ele’s biggest challenge. When her childhood friend India blackmails her with knowledge of her Ultsurfing career, Ele’s thrown into the politics of money and power, and way over her head. As a pawn in India’s scheme, Ele digs up everything she can on her Ultsurf rivals, the Royals—through drugs, espionage and violence—to ensure her team’s victory.

It’s brought her to this moment. Everything is in place, every deal done. Then the starter whistle blows…

All of Our Demise – by Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman (8/30)

All of Us Villains #2

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For the first time in this ancient, bloodstained story, the tournament is breaking. The boundaries between the city of Ilvernath and the arena have fallen. Reporters swarm the historic battlegrounds. A dead boy now lives again. And a new champion has entered the fray, one who seeks to break the curse for good… no matter how many lives are sacrificed in the process.

As the curse teeters closer and closer to collapse, the surviving champions each face a choice: dismantle the tournament piece by piece, or fight to the death as this story was always intended.

Long-held alliances will be severed. Hearts will break. Lives will end. Because a tale as wicked as this one was never destined for happily ever after.

Purchases

The Winter Road – by Adrian Selby (2018)

Standalone

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The greatest empire of them all began with a road.

The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.

With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet…

Brother Red – by Adrian Selby (2021)

Standalone

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When the trade caravan Driwna Marghoster was hired to protect is attacked, she discovers a dead body hidden inside a barrel. Born of the powerful but elusive Oskoro people, the body is a rare and priceless find, the centre of a tragic tale and the key to a larger mystery…

For when Driwna investigates who the body was meant for, she will find a trail of deceit and corruption which could bring down a kingdom, and an evil more powerful than she can imagine.

Black Heart: Words on Wind, Adrift on Dreams of Splendor (Book 1) – by Mark Smylie (2022)

Artesia #2 / Black Heart #1 (of 3)

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The last survivors of the raid on the Barrow of Azharad have scattered to the four winds, each walking a separate path. For some, it is the path of noble service, as the households of great kings and warlords beckon, offering a chance to enter the fray of politics with the fate of nations on the line. For others, it is the path of secrets and magic, as the veil of the world parts to reveal the hidden truths that dwell in shadow and spirit.

And for Stjepan Black-Heart, royal cartographer and suspected murderer, it is the path of battle and sacrifice, as he is summoned to attend the household of the Grand Duke Owen Lis Red, the Earl Marshal to the High King of the Middle Kingdoms, on his latest campaign to find and kill Porloss, the Rebel Earl: an elusive quarry lurking behind an army of ruthless renegade knights in the wild hills of the Manon Mole, a land where every step could be your last, and where lie secrets best left undisturbed.

Leviathan Wakes – by James S.A. Corey (Special 10th Anniversary Edition)

The Expanse #1

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This 10th anniversary edition hardcover includes: 

A striking new cover
Stained edges and illustrated endpapers
A black and magenta foil case
A reversible cover that features the full, uncropped artwork of the original cover art
A new introduction from the authors
From New York Times-bestselling and Hugo award-winning author James S. A. Corey comes the first book in the genre-defining space opera series, The Expanse, introducing a captain, his crew, and a detective as they unravel a horrifying solar system wide conspiracy that begins with a single missing girl.

Humanity has colonized the solar system—Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond—but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for—and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations—and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

I’ve had my eye on this one since it released! While I’m not much of a Special Edition kinda guy, this one is just lovely. And shiny. Veeerry shiny. Plus it’s the beginning of one of my favorite ever science fiction series. I mean, yeah, I may have got it on sale, but I still bought it when I already own an ebook copy, so…

Currently Reading

Don’t have much to say about this yet, as I’m only about a quarter through it. So far, so good! Can’t wait/bummed for the series to be done—you know how it is.

Gaming

Big month for indie games. I completed three: Kim, a retelling of Kipling’s historic novel; Hyper Light Drifter, a hack n’ slash done in a lovely pixelly style; Death’s Door, a souls-born-esque game where you play a reaper ushering souls into the afterlife. Kim was a bit meh, but the other two I’d recommend. Each were rather short to complete the story, but Death’s Door took me 20 hours to 100%. I’ll include some links and previews, and some of my favorite shots from Hyper Light Drifter.

Life

A couple of new things. Quit my second job (because I hated it), and I’m a little lacking for hours from just the one, but I’m fine for funds right now so I figured I’d take it easy a bit and enjoy the last month of summer before I start looking in full. Got a camping/backpacking trip coming up next week (haven’t decided which to do), which will hopefully be fun. Was supposed to go this last week, but it’s been 100˚F each of the last 6 days, with under 20% humidity. Feels a bit oveny, but that’s to be expected for Montana summer. In fact, it’s probably the nicest summer in years. It’s the start of August now, and there’re no huge fires in the state yet. Our smoke levels are also not bad. Moisture and precipitation levels are around average. Mosquitos are really the only thing to complain about. Well, I guess that and prices. If it wasn’t for the need to eat, I wouldn’t even have to get a 2nd job. But well, kinda hard to stop eating.

I should have the reviews to at least some of the ARCs above out this month. Also, Ymir from July. Might even have a blurb about Kim out too.

Hope everything’s going well for everyone else! What are y’all excited for? Got any interesting plans for the rest of the summer? And what books are you looking forward to—any that we share?

The Martyr – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

Covenant of Steel #2

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit; June 28, 2022

526 pages (paperback)

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9.0 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Orbit for the lovely ARC! All opinions are my own.

Devotion is inherently nonsensical

Once an outlaw and vagabond, Alwyn Scribe has moved up in the world. Former scribe of the Covenant Company, he now serves as spymaster and sworn protector of Lady Evadine Courlain, the Risen Martyr, whose visions of the apocalypse—called the Second Surge—have divided the kingdom around her.

Evadine’s status as a living martyr has put her at odds with both the Crown and the Faith. Though behind her stand rank upon rank of her converts; barely fed, untrained, fanatics. The Crown and Covenant possess enough of a standing army to make a bloody fight of it, should it come to blows.

Which it has not—yet—as Evadine remains a loyal subject. It seems there exists a plan to see her dead without a bloody revolution, as soon Alwyn and the company are dispatched to Alundia to quash a rebellion; a faith that sees Evadine as more of a whore and heretic than her own. Here they are set up in a ruin and commanded to raise the King’s banner, distribute a list of traitors for deliverance, and hold until the King arrives with his army. Such is basically a death-sentence and all know it. But what choice do they have?

Here Alwyn finds more than just a war for the faith, a division of kingdoms. While he’s never been sure what to think of Evadine—whether she is a sycophant or insane—he knows she remains sworn to a better future. Despite their link, (or because of it) maybe that is something he can follow, to the end.

A man who isn’t truly a king stands ready to greet a woman who isn’t truly a martyr.

I have often reflected upon the notion that the worst thing about having true friends is missing all of them when they’re gone.

The Pariah was one of my favorite books of 2021, an introduction to Alwyn Scribe: outlaw, pariah, prisoner, scribe, liar. The Martyr takes Alwyn in a different direction. Heck, it opens with him as a knight. Well, kind of a knight. In fact, it actually opens with him laid up with a cracked skull and a hallucination taken up residence in his head. It’s quite an up and down for old Alwyn, beginning at the outset of the Pariah, and I am happy to report that it carries on throughout the second book. Never a dull moment.

A nicely paced novel cobbled together with solid world-building, fascinating characters, and an interesting premise—yeah, it ticks all the boxes for me. There is a slight pacing issue over the second half, and the story took me a good while longer to get into this time around, so I didn’t love it quite as much as its predecessor—but all in all it’s another marvel. The mystery of the Sack Witch grows to another level, as does Evadine’s status and what it means for the continent. Alwyn’s status, on the other hand, often changes chapter to chapter. Never a dull moment, as I said.

And… yeah. I’m not really sure what else to say about this. It’s good. Read it? I mean, that’s pretty much my recommendation, especially if you enjoyed the previous one. And if you didn’t enjoy the previous one… why not? Read it again and enjoy it this time. Then read the Martyr. I cannot wait to see where the story goes from here!

The Half Life of Valery K – by Natasha Pulley (Review)

Standalone

Mystery, Historical Fiction

Bloomsbury Publishing; July 26, 2022

384 pages (ebook)

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7.75 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Bloomsbury & NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

In Soviet Russia, the government monitored everything, but especially its own citizens. In 1937, Valery Kolkhanov was sent to Germany by the government to study biochemistry and radiology so that he could use what he learned for the benefit of his motherland. It was an educational and cultural experience that Valery never forgot, though it exposed him to more than he bargained for.

And then, in 1956, it got him arrested.

Jump forward to 1963, where we find Valery in a Siberian gulag, a Zek (a political prisoner) interred for that fateful time spent abroad. Time, if you remember, that the government sponsored. Serving his sixth year of a ten-year sentence, Valery’s priorities are food, warmth, avoiding frostbite, and keeping his head down—though he’s under no illusions regarding his future. He will die here; it’s just a matter of when.

Only the government still has use for him, it seems. Scooped up from Siberia, Valery is transported thousands of kilometers only to be dropped in another site, albeit a much different one. There are townsfolk and apartments, a lake and a reactor, scientists and guards. This, is Chelyabinsk 40.

Chelyabinsk 40, or simply City 40, is a radioecological research facility established to study the longterm effects of radiation on the environment, so that it might one day benefit humanity (i.e. the Soviet Union). Valery is but one of a growing population of scientists stationed at the Lighthouse, a scientific facility built to study the effects of the Event that occurred in the Techa River basin in 1957. An event that is never spoken of, but that left the lake and forest in a 40km radius heavily irradiated. But from what, no one is saying.

Even as Valery begins his research, he’s struck by so many more questions than solutions. In part due to the faulty data he’s been provided. Intentionally faulty, it seems. More than that, why is there so much radiation in the region? Or even, how?

Even more mysteries emerge the more he looks into it. Where is the radiation coming from, and why aren’t the citizens informed about it? Who are the mysterious people living in the forest, and why are they disappearing? What happened in 1957, and how does it relate to the present?

And if he’s to go fishing for answers to these questions Valery might not even live as long as he had had they just left him in Siberia.

That peculiar thing was happening, the one that had happened in Leningrad when Valery was young; everyone knew one thing to be true, but everyone was obliged to keep insisting it wasn’t. Gosh, of course everyone who’s arrested is guilty. Of course Truth only prints the honest-to-god truth, it’s in the name.

Of course the radiation is fine.

It was Sunday, and Valery was still curled up in a ball in bed, watching Albert turn his tank heater right up. On the reasoning that an octopus was the best person to know how warm or cold an octopus wanted to be, Valery had shown him how to use it and put an octopus-friendly lever on the dish, in case dripping shorted the electronics. It seemed to work, and it saved him from worrying that Albert would freeze in the night.

I’ll admit that I mostly just skimmed the prompt for this one before requesting it. An epic from the Cold War set in a mysterious town in the USSR. It got classed as science fiction and fantasy, so it was a shoe-in. Vibes of Wayward Pines and various Cold War spy thrillers. Therefore upon starting it I was curious about exactly how fast and loose it was going to play with history.

It turns out not very much.

Before reading this I was at least familiar with the Malak incident in Russia, which was at the time the worst nuclear disaster in history (it has since been moved to third—behind Chernobyl and Fukushima), despite the wider world not knowing much about it. Like, for example, what the hell happened, or how. Or why. But this book—despite being a work of fiction—fills in many of the blanks. Now, the story is still fantasy; Valery and Shenkov, Resovskaya, the octopus, pretty much the entire plot. But that doesn’t mean that a lot of what happened in it was real. The gulag may not have homed a chemist named Valery Kolkhanov, but it held thousands of political prisoners (and millions more), sent for the very real crimes of speaking English, have visited Europe, getting drunk and vocally disagreeing with the government, or getting outed by people they’d never met on charges that couldn’t possibly have been real. City 40 may not have been the scene of a thrilling plot like this, but it was the scene of a very real and very secretive nuclear incident, a radioecological research zone, and a real laboratory know as “the Lighthouse”. Sufficient that I was wondering how much would be real and how much would be fiction: the setting was entirely real; the history was entirely real; the plot was entirely plausible, but just as much fiction.

Natasha Pulley totally nailed the USSR vibe. Pretending everything’s fine even when everything points to the contrary. Paranoia is rampant. Everyone overanalyzing everything they say with the fear of being sent off to Siberia. Optimism also being a trip to Siberia rather than a bullet in the head. Women actually being contributing members of society, except where science is concerned. Communism and Russia seem to go hand in hand, except that the two together is almost completely nonsensical.

This was a slow build, one that took me longer than I’d’ve liked to get into. For the first third/half of it I had it pegged as a six star (out of 10) read. But as the mystery stretched, the story dug its hooks into me, and there was an octopus introduced—it gradually ranked higher and higher. So much so that I’d class this at about an 8—quite enjoyable and entertaining, but just ever so unfeasible.

This part, however, was easy for me to peg. For as much as I appreciated the romance, it was just hard to sell as anything more than a friendship. Yes, it was plausible, but not in a way that felt very real to me. Now, this might’ve been because I’d been immersed in the plot and the romance felt like a distraction from it, or it might have been that it felt like something inane—a budding friendship that just kept pushing the bounds of belief. Whatever the case, it was mostly this that I objected to. Sure, there were a few little things in the story as well—some of the language, the flashbacks—but the science seemed on point (I’m a physicist, not a chemist), and the story was wickedly entertaining, so who am I to argue?

TL;DR

A story set around the mysterious Malak incident in Russian USSR, the Half Life of Valery K takes place in a secret Soviet city where everyone is expendable and no one is safe. Radiation has crippled the countryside and permeated its citizens. And it’s up to the scientists of City 40 to stop it from happening again. An entertaining and immersive mystery once it gets going, the Half Life features strong characters and an interesting story, if a weak romance that only really takes over on its back half—like it was added as an afterthought to everything else. With vibes of Wayward Pines and every spy thriller set in the Cold War, this was definitely a book I’ve no trouble recommending, and an author I’d very much like to see more of!

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy – by Becky Chambers (Review)

Monk & Robot #2

Scifi, Novella

Tor.com; July 12, 2022

160 pages (ebook)
3hr 53m (audiobook)

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Author Website

7.5 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Tor.com, MacMillan & NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

The second installment of Monk & Robot finds Sibling Dex and Mosscap wrapping up their tour of rural Panga, before setting their collective sights on the city. While Mosscap has been sent as an envoy from the robots, carrying a very important question to the humans, Sibling Dex is after something more. Right now, they have their wagon, their tea set, and a traveling companion, but once Mosscap has finished its mission—well, what will they be left with.

Tea?

Sibling Dex isn’t sure they want more tea just yet.

Mosscap is struggling with a problem of its own. It has carried its question to the humans—and has asked many of them what they need, and how it can help, but has begun to notice a trend. These people don’t want for much, and what they do want can generally be easily provided. So then, what should Mosscap do now?

In a world where people have what they want, what more can it offer them?

I generally enjoyed the first Monk & Robot—A Psalm for the Well-Built—as it seemed to deliver the questions (and occasionally even answers) lacking in a post-Wayfarers world, while not getting quite as in-depth or existential as that same world turned out to be in its first several installments (pretty much every one but four). A light, interesting read that nonetheless raised questions about sentience, worth, and humanity—confronting the tough questions while still maintaining an air of lightheartedness and humor.

While I’m glad to report that Book #2 continues this theme, it doesn’t try much anything else, leaving the series still a bit short of perfection.

The questions are still there. Within Mosscap and Sibling Dex’s own can we find ourselves. Maybe we’re unsure. Lost. Questioning. Or even just struggling to understand. Regardless of the cause, the reason, these questions find us—as they find our protagonists in the tale. It is thus that Becky Chambers confronts these questions: by raising them as part of a story, a tale with a very clear (and yet very unclear) message. What do you want?

The main problem with this story is, well, the whole “story” part. There’s not a lot going on. In terms of the overarching plot. Sibling Dex and Mosscap are just wandering on their way, tackling themselves as much as they do their rather vague quest. Such was the way in the first story (the wandering, at least), though it certainly had a discernible plot: robots haven’t been seen in centuries, now one is, and they come with a question for humanity. A Prayer for the Crown-Shy simply carries this over from the previous story, adding nothing of note on its own. While this runs its course, the plot is content to wander amiably along, letting the protagonists guide it as they may. This strategy has worked quite well for Chambers before—as she’s really very good at it—and this time is no different. Except.

Except that this format doesn’t really relate very well to a wandering adventure. I’m not sure why a novel-length story of the same type works better—it just does. Maybe it’s because there’s more space to grow, more time to ask, more room to fit everything in. This novella doesn’t have much time to spare. At 160 pages, it can’t bring up the important questions, issues, and possible solutions, while still providing a complete adventure. Instead, it just ends up feeling… incomplete.

Still, there’s more than enough here for me to recommend. For the questions she raises; the real sense of being, of living, of wondering and wandering she instills—I’d pretty much read anything Becky Chambers wants to write on the matter, be it in a full-length science fiction novel or a haiku scrawled on a restaurant napkin. And everything in-between. It’s not the perfection that I found from Closed and Common Orbit or Spaceborn Few, but neither is it of the quality as Galaxy and the Ground Within. A Prayer for the Crown-Shy is something else entirely, while retaining the format that you know and love. Just don’t expect it to be something it’s not—nor to have all the answers. It’s just a scifi novel, not a sentient grimoire of power.

As before, I thought Em Grosland did an exceptional job bringing this story to life. In fact, even better than in the first installment! They nailed the intonation and tone, while still imparting a certain worth and substance into their narration. While I’m not entirely sold that they’d make any book more enjoyable, I’d listen to any Chambers book they decided to read in a heartbeat!