Katherine Addison, The Witness for the Dead (2021)

Author: Katherine Addison

Title: The Witness for the Dead

Format: E-book

Pages: 240

Series: The Goblin Emperor #2

I’ve had a veritable avalanche of NG books for May and June, and still haven’t reviewed even half of them 😉 I’m getting there, though, and July and August seem much calmer (or I got wiser, and don’t request every shiny new book I think might be good ;)). The Witness for the Dead, however, had been sent to me by the publisher – so many thanks to Tor Books for this opportunity! The new Addison’s book hits the shelves today, so it’s only fitting that my review follows.

I’ve read The Goblin Emperor ages ago and while I enjoyed it, I also had a few choice words to say about the things that I felt didn’t work so well. Ah, those were the days when my tongue was very sharp indeed and my tolerance much lower than it is today 😉 

Having read Addison’s The Angel of the Crows more recently (and finding that book so bad that I only wrote a short GR review for it) I approached The Witness for the Dead with certain trepidation. I needn’t have worried, however. If jumping straight into the highly regulated and intricate world of elves’ and goblins’ steam-powered fin de siecle is what you were waiting for, The Witness for the Dead delivers it in spades.

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Marjorie Liu, The Tangleroot Palace: Stories (2021)

Author: Marjorie Liu

Title: The Tangleroot Palace: Stories

Format: E-book

Pages: 256

Series: –

Other: Short story collection

I’ve known Marjorie Liu as the author of Monstress, a dark fantasy graphic novel series with the wonderful art by Sana Takeda. I liked Monstress well enough to request Liu’s short stories collection from NG the moment I saw it there – just look at this cover! In hindsight, I might’ve been better served by gathering more intel on Liu’s work of fiction first. That’s not to say that the collection is irredeemably bad; most stories are inherently readable and subtly creepy in Liu’s trademark Monstress way, and there are a couple that are actually all right. As for the rest, however, ah – best see for yourself, below.

As usual, I offer here a short summary of each story, each scored separately, with an overall rating at the end.

Sympathy for the Bones 7/10

A nicely creepy voodoo (here called hoodoo) story, with dolls and gris-gris and the possession of one’s soul. The sewing aspect was what’s really drawn me to the story, and the spin on the usual witch-and-her-victim trope was interesting. In Liu’s stories men have no agency – and while in this one it made perfect sense, the issue of male agency clearly delineated in the conclusion in a wonderfully perverse way, the whole idea quickly turned into a tired, overused schtick in other stories.

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Get to Know the Fantasy Reader Tag

It’s been some time since we did a TAG! And there is one that caught our attention earlier this month, when it appeared on Bookforager. Get to know the Fantasy Reader – sounds like a great post to finish the Wyrd & Wonder month with. So, here it is!

What is the first fantasy novel you read?

Ola: The Lord of the Rings. I was seven when I read the whole trilogy – it was a copy borrowed from my older brother’s friend. Right after I finished it I went to the bookstore and with my saved pocket money bought my own copy, which then I instantly proceeded to reread. And here we are! 😀

That’s how my first copy looked 🙂

Piotrek: I want to say Hobbit, and it’s likely the truth. My first & favourite short story collection is Joan Aiken’s Room Full of Leaves and Other Stories, but Hobbit is the novel I received as a gift from a cousin some time early during my primary school years and it was my gateway into fantasy. What can I say? This is a wonderful book, accessible to the youngest readers, sucking them into the wonderful world of wyrd & wonder! It enchanted me and I never looked back 🙂

If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?

Piotrek: It’s not an easy question. Some of my favourite authors write stories where horrible, horrible things happen to the protagonists. Maybe Guy Gavriel Kay? He creates wonderful worlds and usually delivers a happy ending without too many casualties…

Ola: Hmmm. Pratchett, I think. Discworld is a fabulous place, and I’m sure I’d fit right in ;). As much as I love dark stories, I would not want to become a part of them, be it a hero or an onlooker or the hapless victim of friendly fire ;). Happily ever after trope is the one I insist on when my personal life is at stake 😀

Discworld as imagined by Paul Kidby

What is a fantasy you’ve read this year, that turned into a huge revelation?

Ola: Revelations, huh? I’d say I’m too old to get revelations from fantasy books 😉 but it wouldn’t be entirely true. My revelation, and one that will last much longer than just this year, is the discovery of Dragon Ball manga (I know, I’m stretching the definition a bit, but that’s my answer :P). Seriously, I never expected to love it at all, let alone as much as I do. Some of original DB volumes are among the best books I’ve read this year, and the whole series (well, maybe except the Cell arc) is an instant pick-me-up for me! 😀

Piotrek: I haven’t read that much fantasy this year, yet. But Gardens of the Moon, finally fully read, turned out to be better than I remembered from my first failed attempts. I’m a bit late to this party, but yay to Malazan Book of the Fallen!

What is your favourite fantasy subgenre? What subgenre have you not read much from?

Piotrek: Favourite? That must be either High Fantasy, or Military Fantasy, judging by what occupies all my all time favourite lists. If I had to choose one, it would be high fantasy, the source of it all.

But what subgenre is the most neglected by me as a reader? Romantic Fantasy, most likely…

Ola: Genres and subgenres… Not a fan :P. If I had to choose, I’d opt for military fantasy (Cook, Tchaikovsky) or science fantasy a la Zelazny, with lots of mythology thrown in the mix. Romance in any form gets an instant NO from me, so if there’s something like Paranormal Romance/Romance Fantasy that would be the ultimate no-read subgenre for me. Also, YA. Please, no YA, fantasy or other…

WWII with magic and insects… What’s not to love? 😀

Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?

Ola: I don’t have any auto-buy authors. I rarely buy books at all – only those I really really love and I’m certain I’m going to reread one day. I don’t think I have complete works of any one author, to be honest. I prefer to borrow books – then, if the book is less than stellar, I don’t have a problem of it taking shelf space. And if it’s good enough for me to want to have it – well, welcome aboard, there’s still space on the shelves! 😀 Besides, everyone writes a weaker book from time to time, even the best of the authors, and I wouldn’t want to own these anyway. But I do buy whole series that I love (especially when I know they’re finished) – Discworld, Shadows of the Apt, Black Company, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Fitz and Fool… 😀

Ahh those pretty covers! 😀

Piotrek: Not really, no. Used to be Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he writes new stuff faster than I’m able to read it. He’s still one of my favourite contemporary writers though!

How do you typically find fantasy recommendations?

Piotrek: In my seventh year of blogging it really is mostly fellow bloggers, definitely. Thank you, guys!!

Ola: I second Piotrek’s answer! Thanks, all!!!

What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?

Ola: Well, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Abercrombie’s The Wisdom of Crowds (out in September) and Barker’s The Bone Ship’s Wake (September, too) – both the final installments in what’s shaping up to be very good trilogies. The review for Abercrombie’s The Trouble with Peace is here, and the reviews for the Barker’s earlier books are here, if you’re interested: The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships.

Piotrek: Hard to say. With my TBR as long as it is, I mostly read series already finished, and books published years ago. I don’t want to insert a GRRM joke here, as these stopped being funny years ago 😉

What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?

Piotrek: The one that fantasy is somehow not proper literature, that including fantastical elements somehow makes it less serious. This silly superstition still lingers among some close minded people, and I would like to see it vanished forever 🙂 There was a short post about it early in blog’s history…

Ola: Again, I second that. How come Shakespeare can be rightly considered a titan of world literature, but modern authors implementing the same fantastical elements can only be “fantasy authors”?

H.C. Selous’s illustration to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?

Piotrek: I’d ask some questions first. My answer would depend on person’s age, interests, favourite non-fantasy books… it might be Hobbit, Harry Potter or one of the Discworld books, or something dark and bloody, like the Black Company series.

Ola: Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for all! Well, mostly maybe for mythology/anthropology lovers ;). Tolkien’s Hobbit for those adventurous at heart. And for those young and delighting in creepy, maybe Meggitt-Phillips’s The Beast and the Bethany would be a good place to start, or Roald Dahl’s books, even before Harry Potter.

The version illustrated by Charles Vess is on my wish list! 😀

What’s the site that you like to visit for reviews, author interviews and all things fantasy?

Piotrek: Apart from blogs? Tor is the last one I regularly visit…

Ola: Blogs, and sometimes Tor. I do visit magazines websites, but I mostly read SF short stories, rarely fantasy.

Well, this was fun! We’re not tagging anyone but if you’d like to give it a go, be our guest! 😉

P. Djèlí Clark, A Master of Djinn (2021)

Author: P. Djèlí Clark

Title: A Master of Djinn

Format: E-book

Pages: 396

Series: Dead Djinn Universe #1

Let me start this review by saying I that enjoyed Clark’s short stories set in the Dead Djinn Universe quite a lot; A Dead Djinn in Cairo was snappy and entertaining, offering a refreshing mix of ideas, and The Angel of Khan el-Khalili is a solid psychological story rooted in real events, showcasing Clark’s strengths in the short form. A Master of Djinn, on the other hand…

Yup, there’s no way around it: if not for NG I would have DNF’ed this book without a second’s hesitation. It was jumbled, incoherent, predictable, and boring. There are many reasons why I judge this book so harshly. First is probably the case of expectations versus reality: I really liked the short stories set in this universe and expected the novel to be more of the same, or even better. It was not to be.

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Beautiful Ones (2017/2021)

The Beautiful Ones is out today

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Beautiful Ones

Format: E-book

Pages: 320

Series: –

Another of recently re-published novels, with a new (very sumptuous and eye-catching) cover, The Beautiful Ones has been my first unsolicited NetGalley book – hurray! 😊 I’ve received more titles since then (and I’m still struggling with saying no), but that old-new Moreno-Garcia’s novel definitely caught my eye. Having read and enjoyed Mexican Gothic, I expected The Beautiful Ones to be similarly dark and unsettling. The blurb promised secret bitter truths, magic and telekinesis, so I envisioned a fin de siècle vampire story, somewhere along the lines of Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (no, I haven’t read that one, I’ve only watched the movie 😉). Alas, I should’ve listened to the reviewers who claim that no two Moreno-Garcia’s novels are alike – because this one turned out to be a very straightforward historical romance, or novel of manners, with a slight fantasy twist. To be honest, I felt that the fantasy elements were mostly decorative, and I had a distinct impression that they were there for a single purpose only – for one scene at the very end.

Let’s be clear: I don’t read romances. Not because I’d never touch them with a ten-foot pole (though I’m getting there) but because I have already read a few, mostly historical ones, and my observations to date indicate that 1) they are generally following a very simple formula; and 2) I just don’t like them. I don’t find myself interested or even slightly invested in the daring adventures of hearts, in the usually contrived obstacles between star-crossed lovers, and in the dramatic resolutions. No, not even Austen (gasp!).

Imagine my conundrum with The Beautiful Ones, then – which is as simplistic in terms of cast and as baroque in terms of plot convolutions as it can get away with. The plot especially seems like something taken straight from numerous Latin American soap operas, with multigenerational families, secrets from the past, and beautiful, cold women. I was close to DNFing this one despite the evocative, trademark Moreno-Garcia’s prose, because veritably all characters seemed to be ready-made by the same romance-churning machines: walking stereotypes engaged in predetermined actions. Charming, sure, but not even considering not toeing the line of romance conformity. And yet, I’m glad I persevered and finished this book, because even if it didn’t change my opinion of romances as a literary genre, I was still pleasantly surprised by the feminist twists on the age-old patterns.

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