Review: My Beautiful Life by K.J. Parker

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ARC received from the publisher (Subterranean Press) on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve always been interested in reverse stories, where the ending (in this case, the death of the narrator) is known from the start, and then they slowly work its way towards it. Where the question is not what happens as much as how it happens. And I have enjoyed what I read of K.J. Parker so far.

I’ve done some truly appalling things in my life. I’m bitterly ashamed of them now. Saying I did them all for the best—and saying, those things weren’t my idea, other people made me do them, is just as bad; admitting that I’m a spineless coward as well as morally bankrupt. I’m a mess, and no good nohow.

But despite the catchy opening, I was not…quite satisfied with what I got.

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Reread: Vita Nostra by Sergey & Marina Dyachenko

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There were plenty of people loved by someone, the ones who carried a seashell, a button, or a black and white photograph in their pockets; no one had been saved by memories, no one had been protected by words and pledges, and those loved greatly by others died too.

I have a bit of a history with Vita Nostra. I don’t know if I first heard of it in a rec thread or found it myself after reading The Scar, but I first read it in 2015, when the translation was ebook-only and more or less self-published. I picked it for during a long car ride…and devoured it in one sitting. And nobody has seemed to have heard of it. I continued wanting to yell about it when it became unavailable, and when it was finally rereleased, of course I went for the hardcover. Then finally, in September, I got the chance to lead a bookclub and the circle was complete.

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Review: Los Nefilim by T. Frohock

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I didn’t expect to like this series as much as I did.

“My papa says—” There was another pregnant pause, during which Diago imagined Ysa checking both directions to make sure no grownups were near. “We are the sons and daughters of angels. We are Los Nefilim. Nobody fucks with us and wins.”

Generally, I don’t like Urban Fantasy. Anything set in the modern world, and I balk. Getting me to read this took a lot of convincing, but boy do I not regret it. I binged the novellas and the novel in a matter of days (which is also why I’m reviewing them all together), and I do not have a tendency to binge series either.

The novel, Where Oblivion Lives, was written so that it can be read without reading the novellas beforehand, but why would you want to?

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Review: The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

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ARC received from the publisher (Angry Robot) in exchange for an honest review.

I had fairly high expectations going in. Dark Victorian fantasy with a murder mystery plot and at least of a bit of a focus on medicine? Plus that gorgeous cover? Unfortunately, The Resurrectionist of Caligo was a letdown. Initially, I was hopeful it would be one of those books that manage to pull it off despite its many flaws, but the nearer to the end I was, the more clear it became that this is sadly not the case. The characters were either bland or assholes and what’s worse, the worldbuilding and plot had more holes than swiss cheese and the ending…did not do it any favours.

Note: the word “resurrectionist” is simply an euphemism for a person who digs up corpses and sells them to doctors to learn from, it’s not related to necromancy (alas).

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Review: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (The Dark Star Trilogy #1)

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ARC received from the publisher on Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

This has been one of the most hyped and anticipated fantasy releases of 2019. Literary fantasy set in Africa? Yes please. I wanted it so much and couldn’t believe my luck getting an early copy. The first few pages were wonderful. But, ultimately, as a long-time fantasy reader, I was left underwhelmed and disappointed.

I saw that I was still a boy. There were men stronger, and women too. There were men wiser, and women too. There were men quicker, and women too. There was always someone or some two or some three who will grab me like a stick and break me, grab me like wet cloth, and wring everything out of me. And that was just the way of the world. That was the way of everybody’s world. I who thought he had his hatchets and his cunning, will one day be grabbed and tossed and thrown in with garbage, and beaten and destroyed. I am the one who will need saving, and it’s not that someone will come and save me, or that nobody will, but that I will need saving, and walking forth in the world in the shape and step of a man meant nothing.

(quote taken from the ARC, subject to change upon publication)

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

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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: Blood of Heirs by Alicia Wanstall-Burke (The Coraidic Sagas #1)

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The ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Blood of Heirs was a very pleasant surprise. I needed a quick read, something that wouldn’t take me weeks to finish and boy has this book delivered.

He was no different to the rabbit, no different to any game animal pursued through the woods, whether for sustenance or pleasure. He was as hunted as that rabbit, and he’d turned his power on it, despite his already superior strength. What might he do if his pursuer cornered him the way he’d cornered the rabbit? Was it only a matter of time before the walls closed in and the escape routes vanished, only a matter of time before his father’s men tracked him to a dark corner and he too stared at his death without the power to run?

The book follows two characters. Lidan is the heir of a clan chief (or daari, as they’re called) without any sons. She wants nothing more than to be trained as a ranger, ride horses, learn to fight, but her mother won’t let her, saying it’s too dangerous for a heir…then things get a lot more complicated. Ran is the son and heir of a duke. He saves his city from disaster, but in the process, his magic is discovered and he is forced to run for his life.

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