Sisters of Shadow – by Katherine Livesey (Review)

Sisters of Shadow #1

YA, Fantasy

HarperCollins; September 30, 2021

368 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

3.5 / 10 ✪

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

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

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

Anyway, the book. The read.

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

In the prologue, Alice is kidnapped.

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

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

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

Nothing happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Legacy – by Adrienne Young (Review)

Fable #3

Fantasy, YA, Romance

Wednesday Books; September 7, 2021 (US)
Titan; January 18, 2022 (UK)

327 pages (ebook)
8hr 16m (audiobook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph

Author Website

4.0 / 5 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my bias. Many thanks to Titan for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

When Bryn Roth relocates from her childhood home of Nimsmire to the port of Bastian, she does it to take her place in the Roth Household, on the expectation that not only will she be welcomed with open arms, but these people—her kin—will soon become the family she never knew. After all, it’s everything she was raised to believe. And, when Henrik summoned her via letter on her eighteenth birthday, it all but confirmed this. Bastian, the Roth household were her destiny, her birthright. One that Bryn is prepared to prove she is due.

But life—as it so often does—fails to live up to Bryn’s dreams.

While Henrik now holds a Merchant’s Ring, it doesn’t take Bryn long to learn that the family is still embroiled in the underworld, still cloaked in shadow. But with Bryn on board, the family is at last trying to legitimize. And Henrik needs Bryn to do so.

This is Bryn’s chance to achieve everything she’s ever dreamed, and she’ll do almost anything to see it through.

Almost. For what Henrik has in mind not only banks on skills she doesn’t possess, but also twists her sense of morality. And that’s just to begin with. For it turns out what Bryn thinks is the entire plan for her is just the start. Henrik has much more in store for her, and Bryn is forced to ask herself an important question: are her dreams worth so much that she’s willing to sacrifice everything, even her own life and freedom to achieve them?

But there’s also a footnote. One in the form of a mysterious and often brusque silversmith. Even after a few days in Bastian Bryn can’t stand looking at him. Though once she does… she can’t look away. But the silversmith isn’t family, and is the one thing that’s off limits to her. As if that was ever something to have stopped a Roth.

The Last Legacy is the third installment in the Fable series, but can easily be read as a standalone. While some of the characters are shared, the narrator changes from the first two entries (Fable to Bryn), and there are only very minor spoilers to the rest of the sequence. Bryn’s own story is set after Fable’s own, after the events at the end of Namesake. Some things will be clearer if you read those others first, but there’s nothing (much) earthshaking that you’ll miss should you decide to skip ahead. Nothing that will spoil Fable’s own story, at least.

With a plot that was better than that of the first two books, and a message that was much, more clearer, the Last Legacy was born to be a much better read. True, the romance isn’t as good, so if you read a story just for the romance you may be disappointed. Seeing as how I don’t, it wasn’t too big a deal, but whatever “romance” is in this seems to be just explained away with the old adage: “love is blind; it doesn’t have to make sense”. Which is good, because it very much doesn’t, especially at first.

I think my favorite character in the Last Legacy is Henrik. It’s not because I relate to or admire him—the man’s an ass. But he’s so complicated; it’s hard not to be fascinated by him. The man will do anything to protect and guide his family to success, but he will also allow none to cross him, including his blood. He has a hard but bleeding heart, and will go to the ends of the earth for his family—even for Bryn, whom he has not seen since she was a child. But then he’ll turn around and sacrifice anyone in order to achieve his goals, blood be damned. It’s this split personality, this seemingly contradicting nature that makes him so fascinating!

At first, I actually took it for bad writing. But he’s written so consistently—flipping between the two extremes often at the drop of a pin. Above everything, Henrik is ambitious. He’s willing to do anything, sacrifice anyone in order to achieve this ambition. But under it all, he has the desire to be loved by his kin, and often looks after them with the care and love of a doting parent—so long as it does not clash with his ambition. I’m not sure you’ll have met anyone like this before, but I have, and Henrik’s portrayal is spot on. So spot on that it’s both mesmerizing and incredibly unnerving.

I’m just going to skirt the edge of the romance here as I don’t want to complain about it constantly. Bryn shows up. She and Ezra butt heads. Then she can’t get enough of him and vice versa. And by unspoken consent they’re destined to fall head over heels—with little to no actual contact. Yes, I’ve heard of love at first sight. This isn’t it. It’s more… loathing at first sight, then love at fifth or sixth. The 180˚ isn’t gradual, but it’s not instantaneous either. It’s just abrupt—and annoying.

The Last Legacy is very much a book about dreams; what Bryn wants, what she’ll accept instead, how her dreams change and grow when confronted with reality, and at last of what achieving these dreams will cost her. For in life it’s so rare to have one concrete, consistent, never-changing dream. So often to be human is to waffle; to question what one wants, to wrestle with the consequences of achieving it. This is the real plot of the Last Legacy—and it changes with the development of Bryn’s own character. But what does she want, and what will she accept? Whether Bryn wants something she can’t have is a ridiculous question; we all want something that we can’t have, that will never come to pass. Just some of us accept this, while others don’t. Will Bryn accept what she can’t have and move on, or persist in achieving something that will never happen, even as her world crumbles around her?

Audio Note: As usual, Suzy Jackson does an excellent job in her portrayal of Bryn. It was so easy to imagine Bryn’s closeted, often sheltered upbringing and her subsequent transformation upon the streets of Bastian. Should you read this as an ebook or physical book, or an audiobook instead, I doubt it’ll make much difference. No matter your preference, the world comes to life quite well!

Namesake – by Adrienne Young (Review)

Fable #2

YA, Fantasy, Romance

Wednesday Books; March 16, 2021 (US)
Titan Books; June 22, 2021 (UK)

363 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

Beware minor spoilers for Fable, Book #1! Or, check out my review of Fable first!

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Titan Books, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley, for providing me an ARC! All opinions are my own.

The exciting conclusion to the duology takes no time to get moving, picking up right where Fable left off. It has no trouble entertaining throughout until some frankly odd choices derail it approaching the end.

Ever since she was little, Fable has desired one thing over every other: her father’s love and affection. But that is one thing Saint never gives. And so after her escape from Jevali, everything she has done has been in order to cut ties with the man. Now Fable has her own crew, a man she loves, a place on a ship of her own—having recently bought her way free of Saint’s influence.

But when she is kidnapped by Zola, Fable’s freedom will once again be out of her hands. Confined to his ship, surrounded by enemies and strangers, Fable feels more alone than she ever has before. And it would almost be tolerable, except for one thing.

Clove.

Her father’s navigator and the man that had been more a father to her than Saint ever was. He now heads Zola’s ship, and surely had a hand in her kidnapping. Worse still, he’s one of only a handful that knows of her true parentage—something it seems he’s shared with his new master. Which is undoubtedly the reason she now finds herself confined aboard her enemy’s deck.

But Zola has more on his mind than her father. He needs something from Fable, something that she must help him with if she ever wants to see West and the Marigold again. But it seems that Fable isn’t the only one harboring secrets, and this secret will change her life forever.

Namesake marks the return to Adrienne Young’s sea-soaked Fable, and one young woman’s journey to find her place amongst the waves. Fable has been through a lot in her short life, rising from the shores of Jeval to the Marigold with a man she loves and a tight-knit crew that’s almost family. For the first time since her mother died, Fable has found happiness. But Namesake takes that happiness and shreds it.

Kidnapped and surrounded by enemies, the adventure begins and is automatically immersive. The world itself is unchanged, with the Narrows proving just as interesting as it did in the first book. A sea speckled with islands, ports, and reefs to be dredged. And that’s where Namesake excels, just like Fable before it. On the bottom of the sea. In a land of water and reefs, on the constant hunt for minerals. But there is more to it than that. The mystery of whatever Zola wants with her looms over her head, as does the price the Marigold will have to pay to get her back. We’ll find out much more about West and his crew in this book, but also Fable herself.

I didn’t get the romance at all in this. Yes, I realize that the heart wants what it wants and that love is blind and can’t be reasoned with. Still, Fable spends a majority of the text worrying over it anyway. How she can’t trust West; how there’s a darkness within him that scares her; how he reminds her of Saint in all the bad ways. And predictably, nothing comes of it. I mean, it’s not much of a spoiler who Fable romances—there isn’t a love-triangle in Namesake. It’s Fable trying to rationalize and justify West, something that she never really does. But she keeps at it, right up until the end, where it’s almost magically resolved as a darkness they share (even though there’s really no darkness to Fable, at least not in the same way).

Say what you want about the romance, but the story rolled right along right up to the end and took no effort to read. Which made the ending itself all the more confusing. Yes, I realize that there is another story set in the same world, and the plot choices at the end of Namesake are likely an attempt to set up this next story. But that’s the only reason some of them make sense. There’s one moment in particular. It’s hard to explain without any spoilers, but sufficient to say that if the moment DOESN’T come up in the future stories, then I can’t figure out a single reason why it was included. It makes literally zero sense, and contradicts the entirety of the story that led to it.

TL;DR

Namesake marks the end of the duology, and our introduction to the world of the Narrow Sea. While there is now another book—The Last Legacy—set in this world, Namesake marks the end of Fable’s journey, and her journey to discover what kind of woman she’ll become. As coming-of-age tales go, this was an interesting adventure, with mystery and thrill, emotion and passion, deception and betrayal. I never had any trouble with the story, and was immediately immersed back into the world from the outset. Yes, there’s a lot to love as Fable’s journey comes to a close, but the romance itself was not one of them. It was more of a mystifying tale of contradictions, worry, secrets, and strange, almost contradicting choices. I mean, one could argue that that’s what love is all about, but it’s not something I’m used to seeing in these YA books. Had it been a grimdark romance where everyone is secretly trying to murder and/or seduce each other—that would be another story. But on the whole, I’d recommend it—particularly if you enjoyed the first book before it.

The Last Legacy—out since September 7, 2021—expands on the Narrow Sea, albeit with a new lead.

Legendborn – by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn Cycle #1

Fantasy, YA

Simon & Schuster; September 15, 2020

503 pages (format)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

—A review by KK—

Hey, so this is Will, just a quick note here. This is the review of a friend of mine, essentially a trial for this site. If she likes doing it, if it’s not too much a strain on her time—then you might be seeing more of these! Albeit with her tag rather than my own. Pretty much I just asked her to rant about some book and I’d post it and we could take it from there. Hopefully it works out, because I absolutely loved this review!

Recap

Sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews choses a school, argues with her mom about that choice, and then finds out her mom died in an accident. With grief still fresh and heavy, she rushes off to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, an institution for bright scholars and also the setting of the argument with her mom. It’s supposed to be a new and exciting place where she and her best friend, Alice Chen, can learn and grow (and most importantly not be surrounded with her mother’s death). However, her first night there leads to an encounter with magic and a secret society of “Legendborn” who protect the unsuspecting population from demons and their like. That fateful moment unlocks a memory from the day her mother died, and suddenly there are unknowns surrounding her loved one’s death that Bree must solve. And this secret society holds the key to the truth she seeks. The question is, does she join their fight? Or take them down from the inside?  

Rambling Review (unspecific spoilers ahead)

Before I ever read a book, I view the cover, and the cover for Legendborn is fantastic. I love the colors, the prominence of the main character, and the font. As I took it in, I remember asking myself, what is the significance of the red and blue covering her arms? The answer is “Both…and…” I was then pulled into the book through a famous story “that everyone knows”. What I especially enjoyed was the book does this remarkable job of weaving in a second extraordinary component that, I’d argue, is even more compelling than the familiar fairy tale. Tell me more about that in the second book.

Having recently lost a close family member, the struggles of wanting everything to be normal and not dealing with the grief felt extremely real to me. There’s a moment in the book where another character makes a poignant observation to Bree and while she tries to deny it, ultimately realizes what this other character is saying might be true. I realized that I might share this denial with Bree. Death of a loved one is hard, and the entire book felt like a voice for my own loved one’s passing. I was empathetic to the emotions Bree goes through as she navigates knowing that her mother is no longer in this world.

I get that YA novels tend to have this “Oh they’re cute” moment followed by almost instant attraction/getting together, and I’m more and more finding that these whirlwind romances take away something from the story for me. You’re telling me that a 16 year-old can find someone attractive, hang out with them, begin a relationship AND find feelings that strong for them?!? So, if I have an issue with this title, it’s Bree’s romance and the romantic moments she has. Perhaps that’s unfair and it’s the ol’ curmudgeon in me poking through. Boo young love! But also… might be shipping a different couple…

Representation in stories is so important. Bree is a young Black woman. Her best friend, Alice, is a lesbian Asian-American. The initial lure of the book may be the well-known fairy tale, but the strength is Bree and the secondary power she discovers about herself. I really enjoyed how Bree smashes through the gatekeepers of the fairy tale in both specific and unintentional ways.

Overall, I would recommend this book for readers of YA and urban fantasy and I’m definitely excited for the sequel. 

Reader Remarks

I read quite fast. To the point where I will miss important points hidden in long paragraphs because I don’t feel compelled to read the entire section. If it takes more than an inexplicable amount of time to get through a paragraph, or the flow of the sentences is wordy and unexciting, I’m likely skimming it. Also if I’m really looking forward to some character interactions, I read fast to get to that part. I think my reading style does affect my enjoyment of books and should be mentioned to other readers who peruse this summary.

5 Stars!

Phoenix Flame – by Sara Holland (Review)

Havenfall #2

Fantasy, YA, Romance

Bloomsbury YA; March 2, 2021

320 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Bloomsbury Young Adult and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

In many ways, Phoenix Flame manages to improve upon the mistakes made by its predecessor, shaping up both the interactions and the character development, while also maintaining the elements that I most enjoyed. Namely (somehow) the romance.

It was quite a summer for Maddie Morrow. After taking over temporary management of the Inn at Havenfall, she was able to disrupt the soul trade, humanize the Solarians, and prevent a coup. Now, with Marcus awake and back in charge, Maddie has been demoted back to #2—an move that she was equal parts crushed and relieved by. Yet with her uncle still recovering, her input is now more important than ever before. And she must do what’s best for Havenfall—no matter the cost.

And yet it’s a price she may not be willing to pay. After all, Maddie is in love with a Fiorden soldier. Mostly. There was a certain girl that made her heart skip a beat…—but she’s gone, locked away behind the Solarian gate. And Brekken is at Havenfall. Brekken, the boy that Maddie grew up and played with. Brekken, the boy that has become a man, one whom has expressed his interest in being with her. If the Inn falls between her and Brekken, what will Maddie do?

But more pressing concerns highlight the end of Maddie’s summer. The black-market trade of soul-bound silver has been disrupted, but is far from over. But now she has a lead on the illicit trade network, one that requires her to go undercover inside Fiordenkill, a winter wonderland that she’s always wanted to visit. But this visit will be rife with danger—despite the presence of a particularly distracting soldier—and Maddie must use all her cunning if she’s to end the trade, once and for all.

Too bad Maddie doesn’t have any cunning.

Seriously, it might’ve been a more interesting read if Maddie was a bit brighter, a bit more cunning, a bit darker, a bit more riské. But she’s not, and that’s that. But she’s still a teenager—young, immature, immortality-complex, dumb, all the realistic stuff. Phoenix Flame highlights a coming-of-age series, and part of growing up is learning to fail and overcome your mistakes. And Maddie makes a lot of mistakes. And that’s fine.

The story is a decent enough adventure; containing enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, yet it never blew me away or surprised me with its choices. As I’ve said before, Maddie’s maybe not the best narrator, but she’s what we’ve got, and tells the story well enough. I enjoyed the glimpses we got of Fiordenkill, but ultimately found them too few and lacking in any interesting detail. Literally all I can remember now is that the land was snowy and cold—the description and world-building really could’ve delivered more of a punch.

The magic system of Havenfall is… a letdown. To be honest, I forgot that magic was a thing for a great portion of the text, only for Maddie to use it once near the end and immediately drop the subject. I remember in the first book how she discovers her ability and uses it to overcome the Silver Prince. It was a surprise and a joy to her. Not so much in Phoenix Flame. No “she practiced to improve her skill” or “she still marveled in her use of magic”. Not even “oh, she had magic, too”. It’s just not mentioned. As for what and how it works… I dunno. That’s never explained, either. It’s just another missing piece in what could’ve turned out to be a great story.

The romance continues to be the main draw of the series, a phrase that continues to baffle me. Young love burns bright—and Maddie’s love life is achingly familiar, in an awkward teenage sort of way. It reminded me of my first love: the prickle of heat surrounding every stolen moment; the burning embarrassment of pretty much anything else; the indecision, the constant turmoil of emotions, the lack of anything approaching experience akin to being tossed in the ocean with a tiger strapped to your chest. Instead of the gawky, awkward, cringey, will-they won’t-they of normal YA romances, so far Sara Holland has managed to capture the nostalgia that comes with your first crush, your first love (at least, for me). There’s still plenty of awkwardness, but it’s all on a learning curve. And both Brekken and Taya create plenty of opportunities to learn, though each in different ways.

TL;DR

Phoenix Flame is the second book in the Havenfall series, and manages to build on the relative successes of Havenfall, while simultaneously correcting some of its mistakes. The story is solid but won’t blow you away with its inventiveness. The plot is interesting, with a few twists and turns and decent character development. The world-building and description continues to leave something to be desired, and the whole fantasy aspect of this fantasy book needs some serious work. As in Book #1, the main allure of Phoenix Flame lies in its romance. A bundle of emotions and no idea what to do with them made me nostalgic for my youth—but unlike the cringe-worthy, awkward, fumbling experience I’m used to seeing in YA lit, this provided something more thoughtful, more delicate, more unique. And I’m completely surprised that I continue to recommend this serious for its romance. While the story and description and characters still could use some improvement—young love continues to impress.

The Rush’s Edge – by Ginger Smith (Review)

Cover by Kieryn Taylor

Untitled #1 / Standalone

Scifi, Romance

Angry Robot; November 10, 2020

297 pages (Paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.2 / 5 ✪

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Halvor Cullen was not born but made—grown in a tank until the age of twelve, then trained to fight and kill and die for those that made him, the ACAS. After his seven years of mandatory military service, Hal washed out, as all VATs do. For there he was expected to continue fighting and kill up until he bit it, while trying to fill the void within, mostly with drugs. Instead Hal joined up with his old CO, taking off to salvage the edge of the galaxy for advanced tech.

During one of his layovers in central space, Hal meets Vivian Valjean, a tecker trying to escape her old life and her old mistakes—most recently a man named Noah. Through a series of circumstances, Vivi ends up accompanying the crew on a mission—and the rest is history. But between the discovery of an alien sphere, trouble with the ACAS, and a deadly assassin, possibly the most interesting development is between Hal and Vivi. For what happens when a natural born human and a VAT super-soldier fall in love? I guess we’ll find out—that is, if either of them live long enough.

The Rush’s Edge is the debut novel from author Ginger Smith, part science fiction, part romance with action, adventure, space opera, and cyberpunk elements all thrown in. If this sounds like a lot—that’s because it is. If it sounds too good to be true—again, yeah. The Rush’s Edge tries too hard to be too much, and ultimately topples beneath its own grand desire.

My main problem with the Rush’s Edge, was how it was sold to me. I was sold an epic space adventure with “a little bit of romance, a smudge of aliens, and a whole lot of butt-kicking”. And to be fair—we got all of that. What I expected though, was a complete story. And didn’t necessarily get this.

The Rush’s Edge IS a complete story in the way that The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a complete story. Just where the latter tells you up front that this is a tale of how people become a family with some space-exploration-y elements, the former kinda makes you find that out on your own. Now, if I’d been sold “it’s basically like the Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet”, that’d’ve been great! While Becky Chamber’s first book wasn’t a masterpiece, it was quite a good read. But between wondering if it was setting me up for a sequel or cliffhanger and then reaching the end with none of these questions actually answered… the Rush’s Edge didn’t captivate me in quite the same manner.

The conclusion also drew on quite a few overused clichés, which I really would’ve ditched. And I DO understand that when you’re writing something and decide to throw in a few classic plot twists you never want to think they’re cliché. But sometimes they are. Instead I would’ve liked to see the author try something different—maybe it’d work, maybe it wouldn’t—because, as they say, “nothing ventured, nothing gained” or “you’ll never succeed if you don’t try”.

The POV can change from paragraph to paragraph, so sometimes it’s difficult to tell who is talking/thinking, unless it’s explicitly mentioned. While this does allow the author to include several characters’ perspectives on any situation at almost any time (so long as they’re present), I’ve always found it incredibly frustrating to switch back and forward without knowing exactly when.

It’s really kinda science light fiction. There’re spaceships, yes, but there’s no explanation on how they travel between the stars. Do they use a hyperdrive? Faster than light travel? Wormholes? Instant transmission? We don’t know—it’s not explained, or mentioned. They just leave and… then they’re somewhere else. It must be some kinda faster than light travel, but we’re not told, which is a disappointment. While I realize not every science fiction tale is heavy on science, I would’ve liked to see more—but I’m like that.

Even if the action falls a bit flat, it’s the story that steals the show—specifically the romance between Hal and Vivi. One a natural born human, the other a vat grown super-solider; while it sounds kinda silly, it’s difficult to put into words just how much it’ll pull at your heartstrings. My main problem with the romance is that I don’t really read a book specifically FOR the romance, so when it’s the most entertaining element, there’s probably some things wrong. That being said (again), if this had been pitched as a becoming-a-family, Wayfarers-type story: I’m pretty sure I’d’ve been sold. Just leave off the (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) action-elements, the fights, the mysterious conflicts and battles that I can’t get into without spoilers. The alien presence can stay as it (minor spoilers) isn’t really the focus of the story. The romance isn’t really all that romance-y, even. It’s a bit as if the author didn’t want to sell out on romance, but then sold out on action instead. So now there’s not even enough of a romantic element to carry the story entirely on its own.

While overall I enjoyed the Rush’s Edge, there were definitely some issues with it. But it WAS a debut after all, so some of these an be forgiven. If I was to offer the author some advice: leave off on some of the overused tropes—they don’t add anything. Tell your own story—if it’s a thriller, then go action; if it’s a romance, then go romance. The Rush’s Edge is like a romance that tries to go all in on action—and just fails.

TL;DR

The Rush’s Edge is a debut that blends science fiction with romance, attempting to weave the tale of an unlikely romance between a natural born victimized woman and a vat grown super-soldier. It reads kind of like a Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet—where it’s more about the voyage than the destination, how the ending doesn’t matter as much as how we got there, and the ideals of family, love, and hope steal the show. As a heartwarming romance, it kinda works. As an action-adventure, it doesn’t. The action is overused and the adventure is incomplete. The science fiction is mostly fiction, with just the occasional science cameo. For a debut—it’s okay. Tries too hard to be too many things, play too many hands. Uses far too many cliché tropes. But these are to be expected. I just wish they weren’t.

Scifi Month ARTWORK by Tithi Luadthong from 123RF.com

Havenfall – by Sara Holland (Review)

Havenfall #1

Fantasy, YA, Romance

Bloomsbury YA; March 3, 2020

320 pages (ebook) 12 hr 17 min (audio)

3.2 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Deep within the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall. Havenfall is a crossroads between worlds—and serves as a meeting place and sanctuary for the delegates from any number of worlds. Nowadays there are only two gates open: one to Fiordenkill, the other Byrn.

Maddie Morrow, the niece of the Innkeeper of Havenfall, has always spent her summers working at the Inn. She even has hopes of taking over for her Uncle, Marcus, someday. But soon after she arrives at the Inn for the summer of her 18th birthday, those dreams quickly become a reality.

Marcus has been attacked and survives in a coma. Maddie is in charge of the Inn. And the trouble doesn’t stop there.

For a being has slipped through one of the dormant gates—one to the world of Solaria. The Solarians are shapeshifting monsters that prey upon humans and have been banned from Earth for a generation. But now one is loose. And the Solarian door is stuck open.

Now Maddie, with little help and less clue of what to do, must take charge, run the Inn in place of her uncle, prevent any more Solarians from entering via the door while hunting down the one that has already come through. But it may already be too late.

So, at Colorado Mountain there is a door that opens to many worlds. This door is known as the Stargate, and through it… wait no. Um. Colorado, mountains, Havenfall. Right, right.

Havenfall is equal parts adventure, fantasy, romance, and mystery. While it’s a decent fantasy adventure, the romance within the story is actually what captured my interest. I mean, the fantasy is alright—an interesting enough premise and world-building, decent execution and plot, but with underwhelming extraplanar beings, magic system, and character development. The romance somehow drew my attention, which is usually not a good thing. But here it surprised me. Maddie is bi—having fallen in love with Fiorden soldier Brekken, whom she first met at the Inn, but also seasonal worker Taya, who is a mystery that Maddie just can’t seem to solve. Instead of the cringe-worthy, awkward teen romance I was expecting, Havenfall proves to be a soul-searching, confusing story of teenage attraction that—while still awkward—seemed more real than the faerie tale romance you’d expect. Now while Maddie isn’t the best gumshoe (we’ll get to that), she is young and naïve, but also skeptical, making her an excellent target for romance.

A detective, however, she is not. Maddie is young and (apparently) not very bright. She is continually pelted in the face by evidence that she somehow ignores. At first I chalked this up to her being young. Then not terribly smart. And at last… just because. Maddie doesn’t seem to learn from experience. Or make any deductive leaps. Or really even pay much attention to any kind of detail. Yeah, she’s 18, but throughout the story her character doesn’t develop and learn from experience. The mystery is rather basic, and it takes her over twelve hours of story-time to wrap her head around it.

Audio Note: Kate Handford was an excellent narrator that really brought Maddie Morrow to life. And while it didn’t do anything for her mystery-solving ability, I really enjoyed the angst and confusion and naïvety the narrator put into her performance that brought across Maddie as the awkward teenage outcast she truly was.

TL;DR

Havenfall represents (in my opinion) awkward teenage romance done right. While there are faerie tale elements, it’s not a storybook romance, and actually feels somewhat real, not ridiculous and cringe-worthy, if still awkward. In terms of plot, world-building, and adventure, the story is your run-of-the-mill YA fantasy—with an interesting premise and decent execution, but little more. The mystery is just pathetic, honestly. And Maddie isn’t the best narrator, despite being intensely romanceable. Havenfall is a decent enough series debut—though I expect better from its sequel.

The series will continue with Phoenix Flame, out March 4th, 2021.

Automatic Reload – by Ferrett Steinmetz (Review)

Standalone / Noob #1

Cyberpunk, Scifi, Romance

Tor Books; July 28, 2020

304 pages (ebook)

5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Tor/Forge and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

A cyborg with a conscience. A genetically enhanced assassin who suffers panic attacks. A love story for the ages—albeit kind of an odd one. A cyberpunk-romance about two heavily augmented badasses who take on the world, and have a breakdown when it gets to be too much. A couple that is more machine than man, but turn out to be more human than most of us.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

Mat is one the best at what he does—a black-market merc with a heart of silver (not quite gold, but close). A killing machine that would rather not have to, and manages to do his job without as much as possible. And does it far better than most humans. That’s because Mat is more than your average human. He’s post-human: a cybernetically enhanced body-hacker who uses his deadly, deadly augmentations to save innocent lives.

He’s the best at what he does for two reasons. One, because he maintains his equipment and preps for his missions with an OCD mentality. He lives and breathes cybernetics—always tweaking his limbs to improve performance and firepower, to minimize casualties rather than increase them, obsessively watching and rewatching video of his previous assignments to learn what he could’ve done better, who he could’ve saved. He takes posthumanism to the next level—a search for perfection.

And two, he never strays into the light of day. Mat is the big fish in his stretch of river, and he likes it that way. As such, he makes a point never to draw too much attention to himself. If any of the bigger fish from downstream noticed, they might fancy a trip up. And if any fishermen caught wind of him, they might stop by. But behind both the fish and fishermen, there’s a larger threat. The IAC—called the “Yak”. They’re the shark-man in this scenario. The uh… landshark. The government agency that makes body-hackers disappear forever. And Mat would do anything to keep off there radar. But, like everyone else, it appears this self-preservation has a price.

And that’s $3 million for two hours.

With the biggest score of his life on the line, Mat accepts a mission he knows is trouble from the outset. And it all snowballs not an hour in. When an unknown power attacks his convoy, Mat learns that the shipment he’s been contracted to protect isn’t a package at all. It’s a woman.

Enter Silvia: genetically engineered assassin and ultimate badass. And current prisoner of the IAC. The organization that no one wants to be at war with. The shadow cabal that Mat has done his best to avoid, his entire life. And two minutes after meeting Silvia he decides to throw it all away. And frees her.

But when the biggest score of his life turns into its biggest fight, Mat learns three things surprisingly quickly—one, he’s not the big fish anymore. Even with the IAC, the police and other body-hackers out to get him, it becomes clear that Silvia is the biggest fish. She’s Jaws and this is her movie. Two—whatever else Silvia may look like, the woman beneath the mask is ultimately more interesting than the assassin itself. With reflexes Mat would kill for but a self-confidence that provokes a panic attack every other action, Silvia is definitely more than meets the eye. And three—whatever else you might say about their issues, the two are infinitely better together than apart.

But will they be allowed to explore this budding romance in full, or will Jaws end like the movie—with the shark dead, the romance over, no chance of a sequel, and not a dry eye in the theater?

Automatic Reload is a cyberpunk-romance thriller—it’s what would’ve happened if Nicholas Sparks had authored Altered Carbon, only with more explosions and panic attacks. Written by ‘Mancer author Ferrett Steinmetz, it’s the action-adventure blockbuster I wanted, with the relatable stories I needed. No, I’m not talking about the government-trained assassin bit. Nor the cybernetic ally augmented super-solider. I’m talking about both. Mat only lost the first limb. Shredded in a military mishap, it was replaced with a prosthetic that promised better, faster, stronger performance than the original. From there it was easy to see the promise of posthumance. He quickly swapped out the old meat-suit for a fresh batch of new toys; a body that would manage to correct all the mistakes of the flesh that he couldn’t fix himself. Mat was after the power to safe others, only at the cost of himself.

Silvia didn’t choose her augments. Where Mat went with the body-hacker enhancement option, Silvia went the therapy route. Experimental, government, classified therapy. In hindsight, most of those should’ve been red flags. But at the time, she was desperate. Desperate to get on her own two feet, to get her life together—to please her family. The family that had done everything for her; her Mama, who both supported and belittled her, but loved her more than anything; and Vala, her sister, who lived and died for Silvia, fighting to build her up whenever their mother put Silvia down. Though the government reformed her body, they didn’t repair her mind. I guess that was Step B in therapy.

I related very well with each of these characters. While I know nothing about being a soldier, I know everything about depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and not feeling in control of your own mind. It’s an incredibly humbling, immensely frustrating experience. One that has you often desperate for a miracle cure: something that can fix you, fix everything, the dream of post-humanism. A role that Mat and Silvia fill perfectly. There is so never any chance of perfection in life—despite the fact that this is what Mat does, what he strives for day after day—it’s just a pipe dream. Silvia is about as far from perfection as one can get. Not only can she not control her mind, her body is suddenly alien as well. Before, neither has lived very well. But now, they are forced with a decision. Apart, the odds of survival are almost nil. Together… well, it’s higher. So, better together. Better together, but not perfect.

But life is never perfect, and death the only alternative.

TL;DR

An amazing cyberpunk adventure. Action-packed, romantically steamy, emotionally unstable, and more—Mat and Silvia represent a team that I’d love to see more of down the road. A few unique and unexpected twists later on in the story kept the plot intriguing, and never hard to read. I have very few complaints about this book. The story was great. The trials and travails faced within were both relatable and inspiring. Despite the leads being debatably “more-than human”, each demonstrated their humanity perfectly. It’s unclear whether the text argues more for or against transhumanism. I think it makes the case for posthumance, but urges restraint. But you can decide for yourself. My biggest issues were with the world-building—that we so rarely got a glimpse of the world outside the immediate story—though it’s a minor gripe. Truth is, I loved this book. Probably my best of the year thus far. Easily recommend.

An Ember in the Ashes – by Sabaa Tahir (Review)

An Ember in the Ashes #1

Fantasy, YA, Romance

Razorbill; April 28, 2015

464 pages (ebook) 15hr 22min (audio)

3.8 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

In the Martial Empire, no one is free.

Laia is a Scholar—one the Empire’s second class citizens. Her people have been oppressed by the ruling class for years, good for nothing except servitude and slavery. Some few have elevated to craftsmen and above, but none are trusted. Laia’s parents wanted something better for the Scholars; so they were killed. Years later Laia lives with her grandparents and her brother, Darin, but that too is about to change.

When he’s caught with sketches of a Martial forge, Darin is arrested for treason. Her grandparents are killed, their shop burned to the ground; the work of a Mask—the Empire’s faceless assassins. Laia manages to escape—but her alone. With no other option, she is forced to turn to the Resistance, though they’ve already ruined her life once.

Elias is a soldier. Born a Veturius—the daughter of one of the most renowned and elite families in the Empire—he was the son Keris never wanted. As such he grew up a faceless tribesman, before he was found out and brought home to the Empire by his grandfather. There he was sent to Blackcliff, the prestigious military academy, to follow in his mother’s footsteps. It was an honor he never dreamt of and a fate he never wanted.

As Laia is a slave by birth, so too is Elias.

Yet neither is keen to stay that way.

Elias plans to defect, to leave the Empire—and his family—behind. But the Augurs, immortal architects of the Empire, have other plans. See, the Emperor is dying, and without an heir, the line won’t last the year. And so a contest is announced to determine the next ruler—and the Augurs want it to be Elias.

Meanwhile, all Laia wants is her brother. But the Resistance isn’t willing to free him for nothing. So to help her brother, Laia is recruited as a spy. She is to gather information about the Empire: their movements, their secrets, anything useful—and report it to the Resistance. But to free Darin, she has to find something worthwhile. And to find something worthwhile, she has to go somewhere important. Somewhere like Blackcliff.

*—•—*

I read about 70% of this as an audiobook, before my library loan expired. Then, I read the rest as an ebook. While both were decent platforms, the audio was highly immersive, with great voice talent that really got into their parts. Though I probably read through the most tense, thrilling, and heart-pounding sections at the end, I never enjoyed the story more than in its audio-format.

All in all, I was a big fan of AEitA. But… I think it was a little too intense for me. This book has all the tension of a YA fantasy under the constant strain of puberty. I mean, CONSTANT. Laia is high-energy paranoid, and with the stress of having to save her only brother WHILE going undercover in Blackcliff knowing that all the previous spies that have done so have died AND ostensibly doing it alone—it kind of shows. She is highly strung, but for a very good reason. This made her chapters all high-energy, fully pumped up, heart-pounding stress and tension. Elias, meanwhile, is almost as intense; trying to survive Blackcliff, while dealing with the added pressure garnered by the name Veturius, and the constant tug-of-war between his desire to desert the Empire and the loyalty he shares with his few friends and comrades, particularly his best friend Helene—whom he may or may not be in love with. [Yes, I realize those were both run-on sentences—no, I am not rewriting them.]

Both POVs confronted the normal issues YA stories deal with. But instead of one or two, they decided to tackle pretty much ALL OF THEM. Which, understandably, made everything pretty intense, energetic, and angsty. I found myself conflicted between the desire to find out what happened next and the need to stop reading and avoid the wave of stress that only YA development can cause.

As such, the romance was in parts fierce, intense and terribly awkward. As most YA romance is, generally. While I loved the characters in AEitA, none were stronger than those of its love-triangle. And while I hate everything about love-triangles in books, since I loved all the characters within this one—I still hated it. I’m not getting into this now. Or ever. Sufficient to say that I find said triangles to be awkward, annoying, angsty, and an unwelcome flashback to my youth where everything was awkward and so brutally important and cringe-worthy all the time. The romance wasn’t a bad-teen-romcom or together-forever romance. But it wasn’t not these things either.

As I said, I loved the characters. Elias and Helene dominated one half of the text, and as the story progressed, both characters continued to grow and develop. As does the relationship between the two. On the other side, we have Laia and Keenan (a Resistance fighter). I never bought into this romance, which seemed like it was introduced just to counter the possible Elias-Helene one. Keenan barely gets any screen time, and remains as weak and unfleshed a character as when he was introduced. And, while I mostly enjoyed Laia, she also infuriated me. Where Elias developed, she pretty much remained the same. Stubborn, paranoid, and standoffish—pretty much early stages Katniss throughout the whole book. Towards the end, her chapters began to annoy me in a very startling way—which was both good and bad. Bad, as she was frustrating. Good, as it demonstrated just how much I had bought into the story.

The characters of Markus and Keris were also quite strong. Okay, so mainly just Keris. Where Markus was your classic unhinged sociopath, Keris showed depth, change and insight—a potent combination for a character obviously designed to be a villain. Over the course of the book, we get to see quite a lot more of Elias’s mother than would be comfortable, but I was surprised to find a logic behind her thoughts and actions, and a justification later on. I’m not giving anything away—just that it was eye-opening to say the least.

The only other weakness I can think of is the setting. The world isn’t very well fleshed out in the first book, something I hope is corrected in further installments. I’d like to see more of the land beyond deserts, imposing fortresses, prisons, cities and tunnels. It all had kind of a dark and dreary cast in my imagination—I’d like to see a bit more vibrance from the setting in the future. Furthermore, a greater understanding of the supernatural world would be nice as well. We’re given just a peek of it in AEitA, with hardly any accompanying explanation.

TL;DR

While it may seem like your classic, run-of-the-mill YA fantasy-romance, An Ember in the Ashes isn’t satisfied with just tackling a few of the YA tropes—it does them all. Youthful development, romance, growth, love, hate, war, depth, sacrifice and compromise—seriously, it does them ALL. And though it helped make this read incredibly immersive, it was the characters that made it real for me. Elias and Helene, and Laia, were strong enough to carry the story through a dark and dreary, unassuming world, filled with men and monsters alike, as well as some of both. What brought me back to earth was the romance—a cringe-worthy dual love-triangle—one side of which never felt real. Adding to this was Laia’s refusal to develop, maintaining the detached, stubborn cast she’d cultivated throughout the entire text. When the rubber hit the road and all the threads converged, Laia stubbornly kept on as she had, annoying me and the plot alike.

While it has both ups and downs, An Ember in the Ashes definitely puts more to the good than the ill, making it a must-read YA fantasy that hopefully will only get better with time. A tetralogy (means “four”) that is set to wrap up later this year, An Ember in the Ashes continues with A Torch Against the Night, a book I’m definitely looking forward to reading. Probably as an audiobook. After that… we’ll see how it goes.

The Constant Rabbit – by Jasper Fforde (Review)

Standalone

Fantasy, Humor, Alt-History

Hodder & Stoughton; July 2, 2020 (UK)

Viking; September 29, 2020 (US)

326 pages (ebook)

4 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Last year I actually read my first Jasper Fforde novel—Early Riser—and it was straaange. Like Jeff Noon strange. Like… something else strange. A story about a dream, a seasonal hibernation, and a love story between people that up until the halfway mark I didn’t realize weren’t people at all. Then there was an ending that confused me so thoroughly I didn’t know what to make of it. Fforde follows this oddity up with the Constant Rabbit, a tale about anthropomorphized rabbits and their acceptance among humankind. It’s… maybe less absurd, but that’s absurd in a good way. I think.

Peter Knox lives in Much Hemlock, a quiet little town in England, much away from the fuss of the city. Nothing gets its citizens riled up like their football, the Spick & Span awards, and Rabbits. Peter is much more concerned with his hobby of Speed Librarying, something that I couldn’t explain if I even had the faintest clue what the hell it is. And I don’t. But Rabbits are a concern to everyone else in Much Hemlock, so they are to Peter as well.

55 years earlier, an event known as “The Event” rocked Britain, spontaneously anthropomorphizing 18 rabbits, 9 bees, one caterpillar and a small host of other beasties. The bees haven’t been seen since and the caterpillar was so disturbed by the whole endeavor that it took up in a cocoon and hasn’t yet emerged. While the other species failed to make much of a dent on society, the Rabbits flourished, breeding, well, like rabbits. A jump forward to the present day finds around 4 million Rabbits in Britain alone. They speak, they work, they drive. They serve in the military, the navy, and eat a lot of lettuce and carrots. And they are hated for all of it.

Nothing has unified humanity like something else to hate. Something different. The Rabbit—while anthropomorphized (their bodies look like human bodies, with curves and bulges in all the right places)—are certainly different. Though they look a lot more human than their small, cuddly brethren, they just as clearly aren’t. What they lack in thumbs, Rabbits make up for in ears and teeth. And while humanity by in large hasn’t accepted them yet, the Rabbit is here to stay.

Or are they?

Peter works at RabCoT—the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce—which is an organization specifically designed to manage and police all matters Rabbit within England. While to his neighbors, he is simply a lowly accountant, Peter Knox is in reality a spotter: someone whose job it is to discern one Rabbit from another. This is just as difficult as it sounds as most Rabbits can’t tell most humans apart, and the feeling is quite mutual. Spotting is something that some people just have the knack for; it can’t be taught or learned, Peter is blessed with the ability, and in a rare position to use it. He’s also a rarity for his liberal views of Rabbits, something which is decidedly NOT the norm at RabCoT. Most are just one step above TwoLegsGood—a radical humanoid supremacist group—in their disdain for the Rabbit. But like it or not, the Rabbit are here to stay, and people have to learn to accept them.

That is, until a group of off-colony Rabbits move in next-door to Peter.

And, much to Peter’s surprise, he knows one of them. A Rabbitess by the name of Connie, whom he met in university—met and fell for, though nothing happened—arrives with her family, and turns Peter’s life upsidedown. For while the entire village of Much Hemlock is queueing up behind Peter to bribe, force or burn the Rabbits out of town, Peter himself is reluctant to see them go. For seeing Connie has opened a door he had thought was closed for good, and set in motion a series of events that will change Peter—and the world—forever.

**—**

So, I’m not sure what is an odder pitch: a winter wonderland full of murderous dreams, or a budding romance between an Englishman and an anthropomorphized Rabbit. I mean… it’s a tough call.

While the plot follows Peter in his life and job and interaction with Constance, the real story is that of the Rabbits and Humanity. As I said before, nothing has united humanity like someone else to hate. For years, we’ve been hating our neighbors, be it over religion, heritage, ethnicity, gender or creed. When there wasn’t any of that around, we came up with something else. So, drop a bunch of Rabbits in the gene-pool—anthropomorphized or not—and our fear of all things new and different takes it from there. The premise of the Constant Rabbit can be interpreted in so many ways, it’s difficult to know where to start. So much so, in fact, that I’m going to skip most of them. You know when you were in school, and your English teacher told you to read whatever book and correctly interpret what the author was thinking, only to later tell you that you were dead wrong and that they were actually trying to tell you this other thing? Yeah, I always hated that. Because the only one that could really know what the author was thinking was the author—and in Fforde’s case he isn’t talking (yet). So I’m not going to wildly speculate about what the author was trying to impart—I’m just going to pick the most obvious (to me at least) one. And talk about it for a sentence or two.

So, the Constant Rabbit deals quite a bit in the overwhelming leporiphobia of the Rabbit, the bigotry and abuse they suffer, how the government monitors and mistreats them, how radical groups go a step further—just short of killing them and making a stew. And now imagine our own world, where there is more than enough of this around despite the lack of 6ft, fuzzy, fully anthropomorphized Rabbits.

There’s no sex, in case anyone was wondering, so I’m fairly certain Fforde isn’t advocating beastiality. It’s probably just the racism one.

Reading this at the time I read it, with the backdrop of protests and racism and all else—it was impossible not to make some connections. But you can interpret those for yourself. I’m just going to deal with the story from here on out.

And… the story’s pretty good. It’s enjoyable, no matter your politics, if you can get past that. There’s the usual dry humor that Fforde imbues into the text, predominately through subtle wit, sarcasm, and the use of footnotes. It’s all quite entertaining, even the story of star-crossed lovers reuniting after an age apart. Even if one of them is an anthropomorphized Rabbit and the other’s English. Honestly, the romance was more compelling than I’d’ve thought, as it was the driving force—not the plot itself, which is by no means bad—that saw me through this book. The plot is alright, but one more interwoven with politics, which soured me on it (I loathe politics). The love story is more genuine, more real—even though Constance is a bit of a mystery throughout and Peter (though English) has quite a bit of character development and change to go through before the end.

Oh, and I still can’t explain Speed Librarying. As hooks go, this one was a bust—I was so thoroughly confused halfway through the first chapter that I ended up skipping straight to the second and beginning the book there. But this was one of only a few hitches in the story, as mostly everything carried on quite nicely over Peter Knox’s POV (he’s the only POV), through twists and turns, up hills and down valleys, until at some point it turned into not just a political piece, but an entertaining and enjoyable read as well.

TL;DR

The Constant Rabbit is the height of Jasper Fforde’s game, as it combines the author’s unique and shrewd writing style view and blends it with current hot-topics such as racism, bigotry and giant, anthropomorphized Rabbits. Then tops that with a healthy dose of absurdity, tomfoolery, and carrots. Peter Knox was an ideal narrator; a liberal view but one used to the comfort and order of the status quo. Though few other characters fleshed out quite like he did, it was Peter’s development that really sold the plot, the way that he viewed things altering the way I thought about even the most inane detail. While some may read into the politics of the book too much to enjoy it any, if you’re able to look past the present day parallels drawn to race, hatred, bigotry and violence—you might just find an enjoyable adventure within, albeit one that still involves anthropomorphic rabbits. One might even buy in to the romance within the story, one that—while a bit odd—was enough to keep me reading through to the end.