Review: One of Us by Craig DiLouie

Wow. I don’t even know how to approach reviewing this. It’s an exploration of “us vs. them” mentality through a SFF lens and, while well-written, in no way a pleasant read. I could only read it a few pages at a time before I had to put it down again. The petty, everyday evil, the worst aspects of humanity laid bare. It was almost too much. But. It felt powerful and important and viscerally realistic in its own brutally unflinching way. Necessary.

He learned what he was, what they were, and that monsters and men were not meant to exist in the same world. If your own mother hates you and drives you away, why should total strangers love you? From the beginning, the masters understood this fundamental truth. They created separate worlds, one for themselves, another for monsters. The system would not end when the mutagenic reached adulthood. The children would grow up to become free folk living in an invisible cage, with no rights or opportunities. Which meant no real freedom at all.

The basic premise is that a sexually-transmitted disease caused a generation of children to be born with pretty significant mutations. Abortion, safe sex education, discussions on rape, medical testing have become a necessity. The plague children have mostly been taken away at birth and shut into Homes, institutions where the employees are mostly ex-cons and other sorts of desperate people that shouldn’t be let near children. They are used for slave labour on farms. As the children become teenagers, they start developing superpowers and tensions are rising.

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Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #2)

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I have had this book lying on my shelf since February – I even preordered it. I have no idea why it took me nearly a year to get around to it, because it turned out to be wonderful. Even gave me a bit of a book high, a rare and precious thing.

“I do not know what you should choose. Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of other: of a life left unchosen. Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.”

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November 2018 Monthly Wrap-Up

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November has been a mixed month for reading. I have found a couple of new favourites, but also more than a few books that I wasn’t so keen on. More than the usual number of DNFs as well; a lot of books tried, but only a few of them finished. From now on, my reading time is going to be reduced somewhat because of schoolwork as well, but we’ll see. Hopefully December is going to be better.

  • Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron: Fun and charming and quite well-written, but ultimately not my kind of thing. Recommended if you want uplifting Urban Fantasy.
  • City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer: The weirdest book I’ve ever read and one of the most interesting. No coherent plot, structured more as a collection of novellas and short stories, many of them in-character (scientific monograph on squid…), but it works incredibly well.
  • The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles: Book that made me realise that I maybe need to look into romance more. Reads very fast and the characters have a great dynamic. Loved it.
  • The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang: Interesting worldbuilding, but the story would need a bit more space to breathe. Too much stuffed into too short of a pagecount.
  • Prince of Cats by Daniel E. Olesen (ARC): DNF 40%. Nothing wrong with it, the world is very well-researched and if you like sassy thieves you should probably try it, but I wasn’t really feeling it so I put it down. Maybe some other time.
  • Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss: DNF 30%. Way too grimdark for my taste, couldn’t get over the fact that one of the two main characters literally supports and participates in the genocide of an entire race of people because of what some of their mages did in the past.
  • An excerpt of The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon that I got off netgalley. It was about 100 pages long, and I’ll be getting the book on release. It’s classic political epic fantasy, chock-full of worldbuilding. The POV number is not overwhelming and the East/West divide when it comes to chapters help. The characters all have their own, often opposing, goals and motivations and the world feels both familiar and fresh.
  • Currently reading The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. Feels very appropriate for the cold weather.

r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 37/50 (74%)

Books read this year: 57

DNF: Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss (Gods of Men #1)

DNF 30%.

I picked up this book on sale after it got declared as a SPFBO finalist. Since the reviews were stellar and the concept “magic is forbidden but the MC is a mage” seemed good I was pretty sure I’ll like it.

Ultimately, I couldn’t get past the fact that one of the characters is one of the main supporters of genocide of a whole race of people, killing or dragging them off to be interrogated – men, women, children, everyone. The Sol Velorians, or Scabs as they’re called, are commonly enslaved, brutally interrogated, or slaughtered because their mages destroyed a large part of the land…and Jeric is one of the main perpetuators of this.

Twenty-six Scabs.

It was the largest group Jeric had scouted yet. It still amazed him how many Scabs existed from a war that’d happened nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. He tried his best to hunt them, kill them, enslave them. They couldn’t be allowed freedom, not after what their people had done. Not after what their survivors did still. A supposed religion of peace, and their sorcery had nearly annihilated the continent. If one ever forgot how dangerous power of that magnitude could be, a quick glance at the Forgotten Wastes proved an effective reminder. An entire land… destroyed, at the hands of their Liagé. Their so-called blessed for the sorcery they wielded. Sorcery wasn’t a rutting blessing. It was a curse upon the land, and Jeric refused to let that peaceful culture thrive on his watch.

A protagonist who kills an entire race of people indiscriminately is not one I can cheer for, no matter what their mages did. I don’t care. It disturbs the shit out of me. And for such a heavy topic, it doesn’t seem to be dealt with…gravitas? He isn’t treated like a villain, more of an antihero. Or perhaps it improves, it’s obvious there is another side to the story, but either way. NOPE. Sable, the other protagonist is a mage – not Sol Velorian as far as I know, and her country of origin isn’t mage-friendly either – and judging from other reviews, they eventually develop a romance as well.

There’s also a lot of almost-rape scenes. As I said, grimdark.

The writing aside from that is not bad. Nothing flashy, but solid and readable. There’s a whole lot of fantasy terminology dropped on the reader in the first few chapters, which was the first thing that bothered me, but that alone wouldn’t have bad if everything else was fine. Sable is a good character too. But I simply couldn’t get past my visceral reaction to Jeric and what he does. Every person has a line when it comes to what they are willing to tolerate in a MC and genocide is a step too far for me.

No ratings because the low enjoyment score is obvious and I didn’t get far enough to be able to judge the execution.

Review: The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang (Tensorate #1)

…it had been so easy to turn her into this mythical figure, a distant and all-powerful entity insulated by the walls of the capital and the monastery. A prophet. The prophet. Beloved and abstract. But she was also his sister. A mortal, a human being, a person. Made of flesh and sinew and bone and blood. And she could be hurt like anyone else.

Akeha and Mokoya are twins, the children of the Protector. At the age of 6 they are sold to and begin their education at a monastery. At the age of 17, their paths diverge. Mokoya, a seer, stays with their mother and the Protectorate. Akeha chooses to run away, works as a smuggler, and eventually joins the rebellion. Mokoya has always been treated as more important than Akeha and this influences their relationship, but despite some resentment, they love and care for each other regardless.

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Review: The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles (A Charm of Magpies #1)

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I don’t know much about romance. I used to avoid it quite religiously until a couple years ago and even after I got over my fear, recommendations were rare. But honestly? I think I need to put in the effort and actively look for more of it because this was amazing and I devoured it near-instantly.

“You know,” he added, “there are a number of recommended methods of dealing with ghosts – salt and iron, harmonic resonance, some people swear by exorcism, and not just priests – but that’s the first time I’ve seen anyone try a left hook.”

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Review: City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer (Ambergris #1)

I delight in books that piss on convention and pull it off. The plotless, the strange, the experimental. City of Saints and Madmen makes all that I read so far sound perfectly ordinary and reasonable. Of all the books I’ve ever read it is, by far, the oddest and the most experimental of them all. It very slightly resembles The Gray House in the sense of slowly discovering a world while reading (and that was the recommendation that made me pick it up), its use of unreliable narrator, and surrealism, but only a bit, in the most general of senses. The structure and the setting itself are entirely different.

Either way, I fucking loved it.

The window looked down on the city proper, which lay inside the cupped hands of a valley veined with tributaries of the Moth. It was there that ordinary people slept and dreamt not of jungles and humidity and the lust that fed and starved men’s hearts, but of quiet walks under the stars and milk-fat kittens and the gentle hum of wind on wooden porches.

The best words to describe it would be “delightfully insane.” Because it is. Utterly batshit and utterly fascinating.

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