Review: The Bone Ships

Barker-The-Bone-ShipsTitle: The Bone Ships (September 24, 2019)
Author: R.J. Barker
Pages: 512
Series: The Tide Child #1 (Series Tracker)


What a wonderful adventure! This was my first experience with R.J. Barker’s work and I came away quite impressed with his skill as a storyteller. He drops us into the fully-formed world of the Hundred Isles, a sea-dominated region that’s peppered with small islands. Two warring territories, each equipped with extremely valuable ships made from ancient dragon bones, are stuck in constant and endless conflict. When the first dragon in generations is sighted, the race is on to be the first to track it down.

Barker’s prose is rich but rough and perfectly suited for a seafaring tale. You can taste the ocean spray and feel the sway of the ships as they traverse the angry seas. The world is filled with unique flora and fauna, but the setting still feels familiar and accessible.

The book also features really satisfying character work, most notably through the main characters Joron and Lucky Meas and the cultivation of their relationship with each other and with the rest of their crew. The connection that is forged between Joron and the Gullaime, the ship’s enigmatic, bird-like “windtalker,” is particularly touching. I hope we see more of the Gullaime in future books because the page (and I) lit up whenever it would appear.

Generally, I like to finish books quickly so I can move on to the next thing in my stack, but it was really gratifying to spend extra time with such a well-crafted novel. Even the artwork on the chapter headings is meticulously crafted and beautiful.

All in all, this is a superb start to an exciting new series. The worldbuilding, the prose, the character development, and the story beats are all top-notch. I’m already anxiously anticipating book two. In the meantime, I’m going to jump back and give Barker’s Wounded Kingdom trilogy a try to see if that is also to my liking.

★★★★½ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: A Choir of Lies

A-Choir-of-Lies-cover-683x1024Title: A Choir of Lies (September 10, 2019)
Author: Alexandra Rowland
Pages: 464
Series: A Conspiracy of Truths #2 (Series Tracker)


Alexandra Rowland’s A Conspiracy of Truths took me by surprise in 2018. I deemed it an “unexpectedly delightful story featuring a wonderfully eccentric narrator named Chant.” I was just as surprised, in this follow-up book, to see Chant left by the wayside in favor of a story focusing on Ylfing, Chant’s former apprentice. Ylfing is now a wayward soul, untethered, searching for purchase in a new city, having left his name, his master, and his personal connections behind. In many ways, his experience is mirroring that of the reader. Without the anchor of Chant and his splendid narration, we’re left to pick up the pieces along with Ylfing.

It’s a bold choice to change gears so drastically from one book to the next, but it pays off well. The overarching plot about a mysterious flower serves as a backdrop to the real story of Ylfing’s personal growth. The book itself is “written” by Ylfing in a manuscript format with a bevy of footnote comments by an opinionated newcomer who slowly comes into focus.

In the end, this book is charming, heartening, and well worth your time. It feels like Rowland is just getting started here. She’s an exciting, fresh voice in fantasy and I’m excited to see what yarn she spins next.

★★★★ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Harrow_Ten-Thousand-Doors-of-January_HC-1Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January (September 10, 2019)
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Pages: 384


The hype surrounding this book has been building for several months now – I was lucky enough to land an ARC and do believe the buzz is warranted. The writing is beautiful and lush. The story is sad and sweet in equal measure. The world is captivating and I truly felt transported back in time. January is a well-drawn character, full of life and verve and nuance. She was a wonderful window into this fantastical world. 

The way the first half of the novel is structured kept me from getting into the flow of the story until the second half, but the payoff of that structure is worthwhile. This, coupled with some uneven pacing and a few unearned twists, kept me from going above 4 stars. Nevertheless, if you enjoy Seanan McGuire’s ongoing Wayward Children series (with the whimsy turned down a bit) or other portal fantasy stories then you’ll have a marvelous time with January and her Ten Thousand Doors. 

 

★★★½ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Recursion

RecursionTitle: Recursion (2019)
Author: Blake Crouch
Pages: 336


A dynamic “what if” novel that builds and builds as the unintended consequences of messing with memories threaten to unmake the world.

I was worried that the mind bending nature of the story would be too hard to follow, but Crouch doles out the complexity slowly and never piles on too much quantum theory at once. I read this in one sitting and really enjoyed my time with it. It’s quickly paced and features well-drawn, sympathetic characters. My main quibble is that the ending did not live up to the great buildup that came before it.

With back-to-back sharp, page-turning sci-fi thrillers, Blake Crouch has certainly found a genre sweet spot for his writing talents. If you liked Recursion, definitely check out Crouch’s Dark Matter or Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays for something similar with a lighter touch.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Sin Eater

Sin Eater.jpgTitle: Sin Eater (2019)
Author: Mike Shel
Pages: 574
Series: Iconoclasts #2 (Series Tracker)


Sin Eater shook me from the book rut I’d been in for months. I was struggling, in particular, with Book #2s in series that could not recapture the magic of their predecessors. Although I wasn’t as enthralled with this one  as I was with Aching God, I still flew through it and enjoyed the ride.

Shel introduces several new characters for Auric’s team and although the stakes are higher this time around, the story is not able to inject an appropriate level of urgency into the proceedings. Adventure/questing elements from the first book seem dampened this time around and the new POVs prove a bit flat. 

Luckily, the worldbuilding remains strong, the writing flows nicely, and the ending is satisfying enough to leave me excited for what’s to come in the third and final book in the trilogy.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Silver in the Wood

SilverWood-final-cover.pngTitle: Silver in the Wood (June 18, 2019)
Author: Emily Tesh
Pages: 112


A compact folktale about a mysterious man living deep in a magical forest. Author Emily Tesh immediately immerses you in her vivid world full of fae and foliage. The story, the writing, and the characters are all solid and I mostly enjoyed my time spent in Greenhollow Wood…although I’m not sure I’d want to return there for future adventures.

★★★ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: A Brightness Long Ago

ABrightnessLongAgoTitle: A Brightness Long Ago (2019)
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Pages: 448


I spent the first few months of 2019 reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s early works (for the first time) as a primer to this book’s release. I polished off his first six novels and thought I was ready to dive in here until I saw the world map that features “Sarantium” quite prominently – I closed the booked and jumped back and read Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic as final preparation. I’m glad I did, because that duology enhanced my understanding of this world and there are several callbacks within Brightness to the events in those books. Here, Kay is exploring the ripples of time, how small actions have an impact on the world at large and how our memory of the past shapes our understanding of our future.

Much like Kay’s previous work, A Brightness Long Ago is beautifully composed, emotionally engaging, and it features compelling characters with depth. I really loved being introduced to minor, seemingly inconsequential characters who, once they had played their part in this specific narrative, have the remainder of their lives described to us and how consequential they end up being in their own right.

As much as I enjoy Kay’s writing, I hit a wall about midway through here and really limped my way to the end over several weeks. Whether a result of my own disjointed pacing or the book’s, I was never quite hooked. That kept it from full 4-star territory, but I will gladly continue on with GGK’s oeuvre.

★★★¾ out of 5

“We see only glimpses of history, even our own. It is not entirely ours – in memory, in writing it down, in hearing or in reading it. We can reclaim only part of the past. Sometimes it is enough…”

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

ABoyAndHisDogTitle: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World (April 23, 2019)
Author: C.A. Fletcher
Pages: 336


A fertility epidemic (slowly) wiped out 99.9999% of the world’s population. The remaining survivors are scattered around the globe. Griz lives on a small, Scottish island with several family members and two dogs. When one of the dogs is stolen by a mysterious visitor, Griz sets off across the sea and barren landscape to bring the dog back home.

C.A. Fletcher paints a vivid picture of an abandoned, post-apocalyptic world, but this is a tough book to rate. I did not find Griz’s story to be compelling…at all…until the final 10% of the book. It was a quick read and that excellent last section made the uninteresting journey somewhat worthwhile. I did appreciate that Fletcher’s choice of narration style is part of the story and even pays off in the final pages.

If you like this book, there are a few genre-similar books that I also enjoyed: The Wolf Road (review), The Fireman (review), The Dog Stars, and Station Eleven.

★★★ out of 5

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Test

TheTestTitle: The Test (2019)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Pages: 112


25 questions. Pass, you’re granted citizenship. Fail, you get a one-way ticket out of town.

Sylvain Neuvel follows up his excellent Themis Files series with this twisted, fast-paced, and thought-provoking dystopian novella. Much like Themis Files, Neuvel employs an unconventional storytelling structure to engage the reader and make the best use of his sharp, sense-of-urgency writing style. There’s an added element of reader participation here, as you’re left to wonder how you would respond to the events of “the test” as the questions suddenly go off the rails. It’s a tight page-turner that really works.

★★★★ out of 5