Review: Untethered Sky

Title: Untethered Sky (April 11, 2023)
Author: Fonda Lee
Pages: 160


I’m a sucker for books about birds – so when a favorite author of mine pens a novella about giant hunting birds – I jump on board. In Untethered Sky, Fonda Lee’s words bring life to the majesty and power of the rocs, legendary birds of prey who keep the countryside clear of the monstrous manticores. 

Because of its short length, the story doesn’t have room to be overly complex, but Lee has managed to make a simple story poignant and affecting. She made me care deeply for these beautiful winged beasts and the bond they share with their keepers. I’d absolutely sign up for more stories set in this world.

★★★★

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

Review: The Saint of Bright Doors

Title: The Saint of Bright Doors (July 11, 2023)
Author: Vajra Chandrasekera
Pages: 368


I’ve never read anything like The Saint of Bright Doors – wildly inventive, totally mesmerizing, and it upended my expectations at every turn. It reads like an established author’s career-defining masterpiece, rather than a debut novel. 

Vajra Chandrasekera paints a vivid picture of a city on the brink – told through the eyes of a man born and raised to be a master assassin, a catalyst of change in the world, bound for one singular purpose – but his skills dull from disuse and he strays from his destined path. The synopsis may not sound unique, but the tale and its telling are wholly original.

I was so impressed with Chandrasekera’s ability to craft a complex, political, and also surreal story in such an intelligible way. I was spellbound the entire time I spent with this book and I can’t wait to read it again, just to recapture some of the awe I felt the first time around.

★★★★★

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

Top 10 Books of 2022

10. Empire of Exiles

Books of the Usurper #1
by Erin M. Evans

You can tell that Evans poured all of her nerdery into this book and it’s impressive to behold...The world feels ripe for exploration and it’s setting up for a great trilogy.

FULL REVIEW


9. The Bone Orchard

by Sara Mueller

The Bone Orchard is an ambitious and inventive novel about the lengths someone will go for self-preservation amidst extreme trauma. 

FULL REVIEW


8. How High We Go in the Dark

by Sequoia Nagamatsu

There is no shortage of dark humor to be found among the increasingly macabre story beats of How High We Go in the Dark. Even so, some sections are just incredibly devastating to read and that’s a credit to Nagamatsu’s excellent writing.

FULL REVIEW


7. Lark Ascending

by Silas House

House’s no-frills, plainly-told story is a refreshing change of pace from similar novels that might get bogged down with worldbuilding about the fall of our civilization. It’s visceral, heart-rending, but filled with hope and promise about the resiliency of a boy growing up under unspeakable conditions. 

FULL REVIEW


6. Fevered Star

Between Earthy & Sky #2
by Rebecca Roanhorse

Fevered Star is a worthy follow-up to Black Sun, one of my favorite books of the last few years. This is epic fantasy of the highest order and Roanhorse’s writing is a joy to read. 

FULL REVIEW


5. A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Monk & Robot #2
by Becky Chambers

A heartwarming continuation of the adventures of our beloved robot and human companions, Mosscap and Dex. Much like the first novella, I so enjoyed the time spent in this world and with its inhabitants. 

FULL REVIEW

4. The Jade Setter of Janloon

The Green Bone Saga #0.5
by Fonda Lee

Fonda Lee was still able to craft an exciting, tightly-plotted, and complete story featuring many of the hallmarks that made the Green Bone Saga so compelling…if you loved the Green Bone Saga and aren’t ready to leave Janloon behind just yet, this is a supremely satisfying read.

FULL REVIEW


3. Neom

A Central Station Novel
by Lavie Tidhar

This was superb and I’m in awe of Tidhar’s vision. He’s conjured up a futuristic city that feels simultaneously ultramodern and also run down. The rich histories of the region and its cultures are seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of this fully-realized world.

FULL REVIEW

2. Venemous Lumpsucker

by Ned Beauman

This is the most delightful book about mass species extinction that you’ll ever read. Ned Beauman employs pitch-perfect gallows humor to engage with human-caused environmental destruction in a fresh and exciting way…very, very funny…fast paced, an engaging story, smart humor, and interesting characters. This book is a winner.

FULL REVIEW


1. The Spear Cuts Through Water

by Simon Jimenez

What. A. Novel. Simon Jimenez is operating on another level with The Spear Cuts Through Water. This is an evocative tale that beautifully blends fantasy, reality, and fable into a perfect package. To summarize the plot here would deprive you of the wonderful journey that awaits you once you crack open the first page. 

Jimenez simultaneously (and effectively) tells multiple nested stories, while exploring the nature of identity, love, and intergenerational trauma. The book is unwavering in its commitment to its characters, its story, and its structure. And it’s told with such fierce confidence and love that I was totally mesmerized from start to finish.

If The Vanished Birds (also excellent) didn’t put Jimenez on the map, The Spear Cuts Through Water definitely will. This is a special book.

FULL REVIEW


Review: Empire of Exiles

Title: Empire of Exiles (2022)
Author: Erin M. Evans
Pages: 432
Series: Books of the Usurper #1


A ruined civilization. A sequestered city. And a story told through the eyes of archivists who study the collected works of those cultures lost to time and war. 

You can tell that Evans poured all of her nerdery into this book and it’s impressive to behold. She throws everything under the sun into the worldbuilding and while that sometimes overshadows the murder mystery and character work, it all gels nonetheless.

The world Evans has built up feels ripe for exploration and it’s setting up for a great trilogy. With the murder mystery solved and a larger conspiracy laid bare, I’m intrigued to see what shape the next book will take.

The book is worth it for the incredible maps by Francesca Baerald alone.

★★★¾

Review: The Half Life of Valery K

Title: The Half Life of Valery K (2022)
Author: Natasha Pulley
Pages: 384


A former nuclear scientist, imprisoned in a Siberian gulag, is transferred to a mysterious city where unknown levels of radiation are currently bombarding the unaware populace. It’s not the most uplifting of scenarios, but Pulley tackles a dour topic with verve and a light touch.

The science-heavy narrative is very accessible and compelling and I was sucked into the “all is not as it seems” story. Valery, our main character, peels back the layers and layers of the mystery surrounding City 40 to reveal the conspiracy at its core. Once that’s done, though, the narrative loses momentum, especially with the frequent flashbacks threaded throughout the book. This, plus a too tidy ending, kept this novel from reaching higher heights, but it was a compelling read nonetheless.

Whether or not this qualifies as speculative fiction is debatable, as it hews closer to historical fiction than anything in the SFF realm, but the lines of genre demarcation are often blurry, and who really cares? This is a solid book and I think SFF fans and non-SFF fans would like it all the same.

★★★½

Review: The Jade Setter of Janloon

Title: The Jade Setter of Janloon (2022)
Author: Fonda Lee
Pages: 144
Series: The Green Bone Saga #0.5 (Series Tracker)


Obviously, a short novella is no match for a lengthy trilogy when it comes to characterization and worldbuilding, but Fonda Lee was still able to craft an exciting, tightly-plotted, and complete story featuring many of the hallmarks that made the Green Bone Saga so compelling.

If you’re interested in the Green Bone Saga and aren’t ready to commit to the full series, this is a tasty appetizer for what’s to come. And if, like me, you loved the Green Bone Saga and aren’t ready to leave Janloon behind just yet, this is still a supremely satisfying read.

★★★★

Review: Empire of Grass

Title: Empire of Grass (2019)
Author: Tad Williams
Pages: 867
Series: The Last King of Osten Ard #2 (Series Tracker)


Another satisfying read as the overarching story starts to take shape (all is not well in Osten Ard!). So much of my enjoyment of this ongoing series comes from Williams’s writing. It’s beautiful to read and although the pacing is often slow, there’s rarely much fluff from page to page. 

In truth, the reason I started Williams’s original series was because I saw Michael Whelan’s incredible cover art for this novel and it made me want to read the entire series so I could put this book on my shelf. Seven books later and I’ve finally finished that book that caught my eye so many moons ago. Sadly, DAW chose not to commission more cover art from Whelan for future books in the series. Luckily, I’m now invested in the story itself, so the cover art is less important! (Although, I do like the art from book #3 – Into the Narrowdark).

★★★¾

Review: The Spear Cuts Through Water

Title: The Spear Cuts Through Water (August 30, 2022)
Author: Simon Jimenez
Pages: 544


What. A. Novel. Simon Jimenez is operating on another level with The Spear Cuts Through Water. This is an evocative tale that beautifully blends fantasy, reality, and fable into a perfect package. To summarize the plot here would deprive you of the wonderful journey that awaits you once you crack open the first page. 

Jimenez simultaneously (and effectively) tells multiple nested stories, while exploring the nature of identity, love, and intergenerational trauma. The book is unwavering in its commitment to its characters, its story, and its structure. And it’s told with such fierce confidence and love that I was totally mesmerized from start to finish.

If The Vanished Birds (also excellent) didn’t put Jimenez on the map, The Spear Cuts Through Water definitely will. This is a special book.

★★★★★
✪ SPECULATIVE SHELF STARRED BOOK

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

Review: Fevered Star

Title: Fevered Star (April 19, 2022)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Pages: 384
Series: Between Earth and Sky #2 (Series Tracker)


Fevered Star is a worthy follow-up to Black Sun, one of my favorite books of the last few years. This is epic fantasy of the highest order and Roanhorse’s writing is a joy to read. 

While Black Sun was constructed like a ticking time bomb with a narrative structure that built towards an epic conclusion, Fevered Star is a quieter tale. It’s the calm after the storm that that hit in book #1. It’s a transitory time in the Meridian as factions grow, contract, splinter off, or soldier on. The characters scramble to consolidate power and lines are drawn in the sand.

Despite the more subdued action, I’m fully invested in these characters. Each POV brings something interesting to the table and Roanhorse uses this novel to position her chess pieces for the coming conclusion/confrontation/clash to decide the fate of this world. Several fuses have been lit, but we’ll have to wait until the third book to see them pay off. I know I’m looking forward to it.

★★★★