Top Novellas of 2022

I didn’t read a whole lot of novellas released this year, um, this year, but it was enough that I didn’t want to include them in my upcoming top books of the year list. Because I’m like that. As such, here are my Top 5 novellas of 2022, listed in descending order.

#5

The City Inside – by Samit Basu

ReviewGoodreads

No matter who’s in power, no matter who needs land or blood, no matter which country’s secretly running ours, there’s one thing all sides agree on—the children of the rich must be protected.

A mixed bag of mixed bags, maybe the City Inside is an allegory of life, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s a love story, or about the journey, or the destination, or a parable regarding racism, nationalism, technical advancement, achievement, or satisfaction. The thing is, it’s way too hard to tell just wtf this novella is about as there’s so much competing for your attention in such a small space.

#4

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy – by Becky Chambers

ReviewGoodreads

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

A continuation of the question-asking ability demonstrated in the preceding Monk & Robot—a Psalm for the Well-Built—A Prayer for the Crown-Shy may well ask the hard questions, but shies away from presenting much of an answer to them. While this may not sound terrible (and, it really isn’t at that), as someone who very much still struggles with these big, life-defining questions, it’d be nice to find a book that provides some answers (without trying to convert me to a new religion).

#3

A Mirror Mended – by Alix E. Harrow

ReviewGoodreads

Zinnia Grey has a problem. For someone who lives their life in grey-areas, in-between reality and fable, and in a constant state of will-I won’t-I succumb to my horrible deadly disease—having a problem isn’t ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. Usually. But when she goes on a princess-rescuing bender, Zinnia finds out an important lesson in just whom to rescue. And who really needs saving.

#2

To Blackfyre Keep – by Anthony Ryan

ReviewGoodreads

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

For something that does little more than continuing the overarching narrative, this addition to the Seven Swords was surprisingly good. Perhaps because that’s how it was advertised: another adventure, another sword, another step on Guyime’s quest to unite the demon blades. And so while this did very little beyond it’s brief, it certainly fulfilled it—and did so in a imaginative and immersive way! As such, Book #4 of the Seven Swords takes #2 on my list, just short of the inevitable Tchaikovsky novella.

#1

Ogres – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

ReviewGoodreads

“My fellows are really not happy with you, Torquell.”

It’s such an understatement that you blink. “Good?” you try.

In what I’m beginning to believe may be his preferred format for relation, we have another year-winning novella from one Adrian Tchaikovsky. While I may be hit-and-miss on his full-length stuff, his shorter fiction has proven good, surprisingly good for something that’s often overlooked due to its short stature. This year’s entry, Ogres, details a somewhat feudal, somewhat post-apocalyptic world ruled by ogres—humanity’s bigger, stronger, smarter, more vicious cousins. And Torquell’s ability to turn this world order on its head.

And this sums up the Top 5! Did you read any of these—and if so, what’d you think? Any I missed out on, or ranked waaaay higher than I should’ve? Stay tuned for my full-length novels of 2022 and yesteryear lists, coming soon!

Tread of Angels – by Rebecca Roanhorse (Review)

novella / standalone (?)

Fantasy, Mystery, Novella

Gallery / Saga Press; November 15, 2022

208 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

5 / 10 ✪

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

The year is 1883. Goetia is a boom town that draws the rich and poor, the ambitious and desperate, miners and prospectors, doves and demons alike in search of work, wealth, and a life to call their own. The town’s main source of income is not gold nor iron, silver nor lead, but Divinity. Goetia is a town gotten rich on mining the long dead corpses of angels and demons, fallen in the age old war that defined heaven and hell.

Celeste is a card sharp. Goetia’s native daughter, she grew up in the poorest slums but has since managed to make a name for herself, at least among some. She is also part Fallen herself, though she bears none of its marks. Something that would relieve Celeste, if not for their presence about her sister.

Mariel is a singer accused. Arrested and charged with the murder of a Virtue—law and morality enforcers who can trace their blood back to divinity as well, they despise the Fallen and their descendants purely on principle—Mariel is hauled off to a pit for execution, and it’s up to Celeste to save her. Something that may yet cost her more than just the life of her only sister.

Angels and demons, guns and dusters, corruption and ambition collide in Goetia—and it’s important to know: there are no innocents in this story.

Sadly, the mystery wasn’t terribly mysterious. As a whodunnit, it never really gets off the ground. There’s really only one person it could be and even the lead doesn’t really try to spread the blame overly long. From then it’s less of a who and more of a why. Unfortunately, this too is cleared up rather easily. Honestly, I found what happened next more entertaining than the entire mystery.

Not enough world building. The set dressing is nice enough, but the world behind is might as well be a cardboard cutout. There’s very little depth, and I’m entirely lost on much of the history and rules. Everything we know is what is told on the fly, as there’s nothing granted up front. It’s not exactly that every term or concept worth knowing has its own info-dump, however. Some things we’re just expected to figure out—but mostly, yeah, everything has its own info-dump.

Goetia reminds me of Landfall (the Boy with the Porcelain Blade). Just as Landfall is covered in a dense fog, anything outside of immediate purview in Goetia is ignored as unimportant. The outside world may as well not exist. Certainly don’t remember it being mentioned, except as a vague concept like, “I’ve stayed here too long, there’s an entire world to see”—but that’s it. I’m not getting any kind of sense of either the city or the world as a concept. They’re simply ignored unless absolutely pertinent to the story. I understand keeping the novella on track, but occasionally you can do that while giving the slightest peeks into the world beyond.

I could do without some of the references to Jesus, such as Calvary or Golgotha. In a world still reeling from an open war between heaven and hell, where angels and demons live openly alongside the humans, well, surely Jesus wouldn’t be a thing? They’re only really mentioned as descriptions, place names, but still. The story is listed as taking place in 1883—in the blurb—though this seems more about setting up the western narrative more than anything else.

Despite my criticisms of this book, I would actually be interested in seeing more of this world. Not the characters from Tread, however. I’m a fan of the angels and demons, western aesthetic. Tread of Angels reminded me quite a bit of Golgotha (from R.S. Belcher), only with a more openly biblical presence. Anyway, same concept, different story, different cast?—sure, I’m on board, let’s do this.

TL;DR

While I feel Tread of Angels—as a concept, at least—has promise, the novella itself came off a bit half-cocked. Actually, instead of the concept itself being solid—I’d say the proof of concept has promise. That’s because the chosen setting of Goetia falls a bit flat. It needs more world-building. Like, anything outside the story’s immediate purview. The entire outside world is ignored. I’m honestly not sure if it was entirely destroyed or just not designed in the first place. The mystery isn’t terribly mysterious, as the whodunnit quickly devolves into a whydunnit more than anything. The best thing I can really say about this is that as a read, it wasn’t bad. I moderately enjoyed the majority of the time I spent in Goetia, and while there’ll have to be a number of improvements to lure me back in the future, it is a world I would consider revisiting. But it needs work.

The Midnight Circus – by Jane Yolen (Review)

Omnibus, Collection

Horror, Short Stories

Tachyon Publications; October 1, 2020

256 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

5 / 10 ✪

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

The thing I love about fantasy, science fiction, and adventure novels is the fantastical escapism. To be swept up in a story so different from one’s own; to experience something so different and unique and originating from someone else’s own imagination—I feel like it’s the very height of storytelling.

In a novel, you’re provided with one complete story (generally). There are details your imagination can fill in: the colors of the sunset, the random passersby, the foliage, the fauna, the sub stories not relevant to the plot, et cetera—but the majority of it (the vital, the long and the short) should be related to you. In an epic, less corners are cut; in a novella, more. Novellas often exclude less important pieces of the story, or details like the characters’ dress, their image, their backstory.

Short stories cut even more out. Often the introduction or conclusion. Sometimes both. Details beyond those most vital to the tale. Characters names, worldbuilding, history, dress, even any discernible plot.

Novels are hit-or-miss for me. Novellas are worse, though I find my imagination more than willing to fill in the blanks so long as I have a general story to follow. Short stories… are difficult. Some I enjoy, most I’m ambivalent to, while others I end up hating. Now, omnibuses—or collections of stories—are never going to be all one or the other. There’s always going to be a mix, some of each. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most collections (possibly excluding those all set within one shared, established universe) are going to always receive a bit of a ‘meh’ from me.

The Midnight Circus is one of the latter. In fact, it’s maybe even a bit worse.

The Midnight Circus is a collection of some of the works of Jane Yolen, with an emphasis on her shorter horror stories. There was one singular circus tale, but no more. While it’s not dry, exactly, neither is it the kind of thing to whet your appetite.

I can’t think of one tale that absolutely blew me away. There are a few I liked—mostly some of the longer ones, or a few of the fables. There are far more I didn’t care for. Even a few I was bored enough to skim, or even quit on entirely.

My favorites, few as they were, include Requiem Antarctica, a supernatural take on the South Pole expeditions; and… I guess the Fisherman’s Wife. Otherwise, they were pretty much worthless.

Now, this could just be me: I’ve already confessed to a distaste for short stories, I’m not a huge horror fan (which a majority of the tales were), and I’ve only ever read a few tales by Jane Yolen. That said, sometimes it shouldn’t matter. If you were after this to be your intro to the author and her works—don’t. If you wanted a nice, coherent story to read in your spare time—also don’t. In fact… well. If you’re a huge fan of the author, particularly her horror—this may work for you. Otherwise, maybe skip it.

To Blackfyre Keep – by Anthony Ryan (Review)

The Seven Swords #4

Epic, High Fantasy

Subterranean Press; September 30, 2022

147 pages (hardcover)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

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.

Perfect Shadow – by Brent Weeks (Review)

Night Angel #0.5

Fantasy, Novella

Orbit; November 7, 2017

131 pages (hardcover)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

7.5 / 10 ✪

Gaelan Starfire is a farmer, a husband, a father—and an immortal, a man who’s seen countless lifetimes, and is peerless in the arts of war. In past lifetimes he’s been a leader of men, a war hero, a villain, a rebel, a tyrant.

In this life he is no one.

Was. Was no one.

When his wife and daughter are killed, Gaelan takes an assignment assassinating assassins for the beautiful crimelord Gwinvere Kirena, in order to escape. But it turns out that this escape may cost him more than he bargained for.

Yet, it may also provide Gaelan with the answers he desperately seeks.

This was to be my first kill for hire. It’s good to start with the impossible. Make a name for myself. Enter with a splash.

A bit light on details, but a lot more depth than I’d expect out of the common backstory novella—no wonder it turned out longer than the author had planned. The tale of Gaelan Starfire includes twists and turns, ups and downs, but only the one lifetime (though there are glimpses of more beyond). If you liked the Night Angel trilogy—or even didn’t; I was on the fence, personally, and only ended up reading Book #1—this is a nice piece of lore to pick up, as it explains so much that is just taken for granted in Way of the Shadows.

I haven’t read a book in the series in several years, but had no trouble getting immersed in the world. In fact, even after finishing Perfect Shadow (which took me about a day), I still only remember glimpses of Book #1: the world, the ending, and… that’s about it. The point is that this novella can be enjoyed without any prior knowledge of the series, though if you have read some of it, this adds a bit more depth to your understanding.

There’s also a short story included: I, Nightangel—which fills in… not much, honestly. I found it a bit worthless and ended up skimming it. So, the novella itself I’d rate at 8/10 ✪—while the short story maybe 4ish. Luckily, the main event is the novella itself, so I only ended up docking half a star for this, as the reason you buy the novella is for the, you know, novella.

TL;DR

If you’ve read any of the Night Angel trilogy, or are curious to do so, I’d definitely recommend Perfect Shadow. It’s a good judge of whether or not the trilogy would be right for you. I’m not certain that the short story is included in the ebook version—according to the Amazon page, it is, but the hardcover edition claims it isn’t supposed to be.

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)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
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!

A Mirror Mended – by Alix E. Harrow (Review)

Fractured Fables #2

Fantasy, Retelling

Tor.com; June 14, 2022
Macmillan Audio; June 14, 2022

176 pages (ebook)
3hr 48m (audiobook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocial

8 / 10 ✪

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

• Review of A Spindle Splintered •

Zinnia Grey—professional fairy-taler and knight in shining armor—has a problem. The problem is not that there aren’t enough princesses to rescue, but too many. Once you’ve made out with 20 princesses, offed 40 evil stepmothers, or gotten drunk with two or three huntsmen and dwarves, everything just starts to run together. So much so that Zinnia is beginning to wish some of the princesses might take initiative and solve their own problems.

The next mirror Zinnia looks in has a face looking right back at her.

Only this face isn’t the young, naïve visage of a princess, but a more mature evil staring back. The more mature, ATTRACTIVE, GORGEOUS, face of evil. But this evil queen isn’t looking to stop Zinnia, she’s after her help. Because she’s learned how her story ends and wants to escape it before the inevitable comes to pass. But should Zinnia decide to help her, the lines of good and evil may blur, and narratives may become irrevocably damaged. Plus, she might just fall in love.

Okay, so it’s $11 for the ebook, or $7.30 for the audiobook version. Please tell me how that makes sense. Normally, I’d just say that the ebook is too expensive and leave it at that. But I’m legitimately confused. I understand that recorded books are more expensive because the author, the narrator, and the publisher all need their cut instead of just the two—but how does it work the other way around?

Anyway, the story. The story is good. I even enjoyed it more than the first one.

See, Zinnia is on a princess-rescuing-bender. It’s been too much, too fast, too long. She has a problem, and the path between right and wrong has begun to blur a little. In the beginning, there’s no way that she’d have considered doing this, but after dozens of weeping princesses and blushing brides she is just looking for a bit of backbone. Or an attractive evil queen that shows some spine (and maybe a hint of cleavage).

No problem with the characters or romance this time around—even I found it a bit refreshing. It did take me a bit to get into, and experienced a bit of a lag in the middle (which was disconcerting since it’s only three hours), though that could’ve boiled down to what I had going on versus how well the narrative was selling itself. So am I really going to criticize this for failing to blow me away? Apparently so, but not much.

The simple fact is that there’s a really good story here, or retelling, at and above the level of what we were previously presented. It’s certainly a good read—or listen, if that’s what you’re into. I quite enjoyed the audio version, as once again Amy Landon brings Zinnia Grey to life in a way I failed to experience from just the text. I’d whole-heartedly recommend A Mirror Mended, particularly as an audiobook—and not just because it’s less expensive.

Now, will there be another, or is this the last we’ve seen of Zinnia Grey? Obviously I can’t get too much into this because of spoilers, but sufficient to say that the conclusion is adequately open-ended to allow for more adventures, but the ending itself was magical enough in its own right to provide the series a proper ending. So… I dunno? Maybe? Either way it was a good ending, one that you’re sure to love whether or not it’s the end of the line for Zinnia.

The City Inside – by Samit Basu (Review)

Standalone

Scifi, Dystopian

Tor.com; June 7, 2022

256 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

6.5 / 10 ✪

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

“I always know where you are, “ Rohit says. “I’ve always known, ever since you left. We’re family. I assumed you would come to me when you were ready. But you’ve never claimed your blood was thicker than it is. The fault is mine.”
“You’re being even weirder than usual,” Rudra says. “What do you want?”
“Calm down and watch your tone. We are the city’s elite in a place of power, where we may speak freely, but remember there are always eyes on us.”

The City Inside provides a look into a tech-rich, restrictive, dystopian India that very well could come to pass. Inspired by recent events, the story takes place in the not-so-distant future. At the moment, the government is focused on turning the country from a secular to a Hindu state, valuing some citizens over others, while even evicting other minorities—particularly Muslims—from the country. By the time our story starts, the mass exodus has already ended. The popular movement supporting secularism has failed, and dissent is no longer tolerated by the government. There is a migrant crisis; religious discrimination, racism, bigotry, and caste hierarchy are rampant. Freedom is no longer free. The government keeps a close eye on its citizens, particularly those that rise above the rest. And yet life goes on.

Joey is a reality controller. She acts as the manager of Indi, up and coming Idol and reality star. While the two have a complicated past, they work together quite well, to the point that Indi is one of Southeast Asia’s most popular online celebrities, primed for a jump to the country’s main stage. While his feeds and livestreams focus on the fast lifestyle of the rich and famous—popular feuds, fast cars, sex with models and actresses and royalty, everything and more within the grasp of India’s elite—the world of politics and power is only a step away. Indeed, Indi is at the height of his power: millions of fans follow his feeds daily, hourly; he can’t appear in public without causing riots; everything he says or does is dissected, obsessed over, eaten up. Thus Joey has her hands full. But while she’s busy running Indi’s life, she still hasn’t figured out what she wants for her own.

Rudra is a recluse. Youngest son of one of the most powerful family’s in India, he returns home following the death of his father only to get stuck once more in his family’s orbit—a place he’d rather die than remain. Rescued by Joey, he goes to work for Indi, but quickly gets more than he bargained for, immediately becoming embroiled in the Idol’s reality lifestyle. But as both he and Joey are confronted with plots and conspiracies, the two are left with few options. Each must choose their own road—whatever it may be.

No matter who’s in power, no matter who needs land or blood, no matter which country’s secretly running ours, there’s one thing all sides agree on—the children of the rich must be protected.

Before starting this, I only had an inkling of what was going on behind India’s borders. The current administration—led by Narendra Modi—is pushing hard for the country to relinquish secularism (religious freedom) and become a Hindu state. As such they are attempting to depopulate the country of religious minorities (particularly Muslims) through a variety of means—most recently, by stripping their citizenship and deporting them. The book itself proved just the tip of the iceberg for me as I fell down the rabbit hole. There’s so much more I could tell you about the situation—but I won’t. Partly because it’s not really applicable to the text; partly because since I’m watching it from without, I may not have the most unbiased view. But should you read the book and find the dystopian society interesting, I’d recommend checking it out. Because—for a dystopian—it’s not much of a leap.

The story itself was, well… a bit of a mixed bag.

I’m pretty sure the whole main story with Indi is an allegory for something, though I couldn’t tell you what it is. There were several clues, though I won’t spill them here. Without reading anything into it however, the main story was worth the price of admission. The interactions between the leads (Joey and Rudra), and their subsequent relationships to the rest of the cast were quite well done, so much so that I’d hesitate to name a book twice the length of this that has deeper or more complex characters. And that’s really saying something.

It’s a shame then, that the rest of it is so riddled with issues.

All in all, this is a tale about nationalism. Except it isn’t. It’s a story about love. No, no, that’s not it either. It’s a warning for the future? Maybe, but not entirely. I mean, it’s more about nationalism. Or is it sexism? From the outset, I had trouble making out what this was actually about. I mean, it’s about many, many things, but when it boils right down to it… I’m not sure what several of those are. And that’s because while the City Inside sets out to tackle a whole bunch of issues and themes, I’m not convinced it does any of these too well. At least, upon finishing the story—in spite of it’s many, many endings—I didn’t feel very much resolution. To any of the storylines. The dystopian “the government is watching you” seemed like a big theme at first, only to vanish for most of the story. The rise of nationalism, anti-secularism, and the fight for the future fade in and out, but always seems to turn up at the dramatic bits. The characters’ personal threads are just as varied. Though, to be honest, no one really gets a concrete ending. Joey gets kind of a vaguely satisfying conclusion, while Rudra (the other main lead) has no resolution whatsoever. Just don’t expect any of the characters to have any satisfying settlement come the end, and you’ll be okay (yes, I know how that sounds—and yes, that’s definitely sarcasm).

That being said, though the ending definitely soured me on it, I really did enjoy the journey. Sure, it was a twisting, turning, often confusing journey—one where I never really knew what to expect and was never quite certain about what the author was talking about (this is the kind of story that just screamed “packed with hidden meaning, subtlety, and undercurrent)—but it was quite immersive at the same time. The technical aspect of it suffered some lag from the language, as the author often spammed the term ‘Flow’—even going so far as to use several different iterations of the term in each’s definition. In back-to-back sentences I counted as many as six, which is objectively too many made up words.

And still, this gripped me. It was not an easy read, but one I kept coming back to, without so much as a thought of DNFing it. I know that so far I’ve pretty much just complained about it, only offering “but I promise it’s really quite good”, but that’s how I feel about it. There are some problems, yes. Okay, a LOT of problems, but somewhere within is a good story. A story of a lost son and a voracious daughter. The story of two very different people who are at the same time very much alike. A story of hope, disappointment, life, love, happiness, loss, politics, acceptance—all tied together with an open-ended bow.

All this aside, this 250ish pager is $15 for an ebook. That’s quite steep, especially for all that I had to say…

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – by P. Djèlí Clark (Review)

Dead Djinn Universe #0.3

Steampunk, Fantasy, Novella

Tor.com; February 19, 2019

96 pages (ebook)
3hr 22m (audiobook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocial

7 / 10 ✪

Cairo, 1912

The case seemed simple enough at first: simply handling the exorcism of a possessed tram car. Only… why would anything want to possess a tram car? Agent Hamed Nasr can’t remember such a thing ever happening before. Yet upon visiting the scene, he cannot argue with the facts. The tram car is certainly possessed.

So he and his new partner Onsi Youssef set out to clear up the whole mess. Though of course it’s never that simple.

For while Cairo is the center of the civilized world, the society is not as placid as one might believe. A burgeoning suffrage movement led by the city’s women; the idea that machines are sentient beings held as slaves; secret societies worshipping forgotten gods—magic and society have coexisted til now due to necessity, but any one of these issues threatens to tear the city apart. All of them at once… Hamed and Onsi need to exorcise this entity as quickly as possible, or else.

This was my first peek at P. Djèlí Clark—and it was pretty good. Interesting, entertaining. Not too heavy, not too light. The detective angle works (mostly), until it doesn’t. It begins well, but eventually feels like its bitten off more than it can chew. So when it wraps up, it feels very sudden. And then it’s over. And… doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression.

The best thing about a good novella is that it can make you want to explore the entire world to the fullest. Just a glimpse is often enough to make me go and binge the entire series. While the Haunting of Tram Car 015 was interesting and entertaining, it didn’t leave me needing more. I’m not saying that it instantly forgettable, nor did it leave a bad aftertaste, just… it doesn’t leave much of an impression. Not a lasting one, at least. It was a good read, and I remember that it was a decently good read—just no specifics. Nothing that I especially liked or disliked. It was just a little… thin, like someone stuck up some cardboard cutouts to set the scene and called it a day. Again, it’s quite a good read—so long as you don’t dig too deep.

For a one hundred page novella, this is kinda steep. Which fits the Tor.com model, I guess. Rather than complain about it (again), I’ll just note that it’s $8 for an ebook / $10 for an audiobook and (in my opinion) probably not good enough to warrant the cost. So, find this on sale, from the library, or some streaming service. Heck, if you’re a fan of the series you might not care about the cost at all. Generally I’d recommend it, but not at full price.

The Tindalos Asset – by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Review)

Tinfoil Dossier #3

Horror, Novella, Scifi

Tor.com; October 13, 2020

176 pages (ebook)
4hr 35m (audiobook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

3.0 / 10 ✪

Please beware spoilers for… actually, amazingly I don’t think there are any spoilers for the previous books in the series. Take from that what you will.

The Signalman reprises his role from Agents of Dreamland. He’s joined by a fresh-faced partner. Ellison Nicodemo also returns in what just may be her swan song. But I suppose the same could be said of mankind.

A series of paranormal events plagues the Earth, portent of the looming apocalypse. Squid are born to human mothers. Planes fill with water while in flight. Whales are discovered beached thousands of miles inland.

The time has come for this motley team to face the end of the world.

…I think. It’s kinda hard to tell.

The Tindalos Asset gets excellent ratings and reviews on Goodreads, but I think I know why. Anyone that made it through Black Helicopters and was excited to continue the series is bound to love the Book #3 more. I mean, even I loved the Tindalos Asset waaay more than the one that came before it. Though that’s not to say it’s any good. I’m the kind of person that made it through Black Helicopters and thought “well, #3 can’t possibly be any worse”—which isn’t really the best reason to continue a series, I know.

The Tindalos Asset is like Fringe meets… whatever Book #2 was about. I’d say it’s a motley start to a new series, but unfortunately it’s the final one. So, as the conclusion to a series, well, it sucks. Bonus points for the Fringe connection though. I know what happened at the end. It just didn’t make any sense why or how.

There’s a romance, kinda. But it doesn’t make any more sense than anything else in this series. I mean, weren’t there aliens at some point? What happened to them? They’re… really not in this installment. There are hints, yes—but nothing concrete; nothing even remotely approaching clear. Of the romance however: no hints. There’s some sex between the Signalman and his partner, but it’s more raw, less romantic. Does little more than peg him as human—something the other entries just left as a open question. As a romance it’s really lacking, but the only thing I felt indicative of the term. That said, this isn’t who the romance is really between (the Signalman and his partner, I mean), so I don’t know what to tell you. I really hope that this isn’t how the author thinks people flirt.

So, do I recommend this? Nope. I mean, it’s better than Black Helicopters, but that’s a really low bar. The ending was an adequate conclusion to the series, but I’ve no idea how we got to that point, and I read the damned things. But again, it’s better than what directly preceded it. There’s a (mostly) coherent plot. It actually connects to events and characters from Agents of Dreamland. There’s actually some character development, which was a complete surprise. Some of it even makes sense. But yeah, there is no lasting sense of completion or achievement. Sad to say, but the best part of this book—no, this entire series—is likely the end. When it ended.

By the way, did I mention this is $8 for an ebook? Totally not worth it.