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.

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: 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 Gutter Prayer

TheGutterPrayerTitle: The Gutter Prayer (2019)
Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Pages: 512
Series: The Black Iron Legacy #1 (Series Tracker)


A ghoul named Rat, a man degenerating into stone, and an orphan thief with a mysterious gift work together to uncover a dark conspiracy in an ancient city filled with tunnels, monsters, and dangerous gods.

Author Gareth Hanrahan has built an undeniably cool world that crackles with dark energy. The monsters that patrol and infest the city of Guerdon are human enough to be comprehensible, but grotesque enough to be creepy and unnerving. The architecture of the city itself is imaginative and fun to explore, with layers upon layers built atop the haunted past they’ve tried to bury.

I had a difficult time connecting with Hanrahan’s writing style, which felt a bit stiff and difficult to lose myself in. The book never sucked me in the way I wanted it to, but the concept and tone were enticing enough to keep me going. I’ll be intrigued to see where the sequel goes after The Gutter Prayer’s game-changing final act.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Hod King

TheHodKingTitle: The Hod King (2019)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 608
Series: The Books of Babel #3 (Series Tracker)


In this third installment of The Books of Babel series, author Josiah Bancroft shakes up the narrative structure yet again and we’re presented with three distinct, non-concurrent storylines that all take place over the same period of time. This doesn’t push the overall story forward very far, but it provides us with sustained and worthwhile time with several wonderful characters.

Bancroft could write a kitchen appliance manual and I’d happily read it. The fact that he’s built such a wondrous world and a story that makes such perfect use of his unique voice and style makes it all the better. The witticisms, turns of phrase, vivid images, fully drawn characters, and the magnificent setting all coalesce into something truly remarkable.

In my review of Arm of the Sphinx, I concluded that this series “has the makings of a modern fantasy classic.” Well, makings have been made. This series is a modern fantasy classic.

Come the Hod King.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Rosewater

ROSEWATER-2Title: Rosewater (2018; originally published 2016)
Author: Tade Thompson
Pages: 432
Series: The Wormwood Trilogy #1 (Series Tracker)


This is a really inventive novel that concerns an alien biodome that sets up shop in near-future Nigeria. Our protagonist Kaaro is a “sensitive” who (basically) gains the power of mind-reading through his reaction to alien spores in the air. Kaaro is a complex and flawed character who did not always use his powers for good, which is refreshing in a lead character that you can still root for and identify with.

The story itself is told in a series of cross-cutting chapters that jump between Kaaro’s past and present. As these stories intercut, gaps are filled in and two converging narratives begin to emerge. As someone with a bad “book memory,” I had to repeatedly reorient myself to the separate threads while attempting to remember which characters were from which timeline and what information is available to characters at what time. It required some mental gymnastics, but I think it created a richer reading experience, nonetheless.

I enjoyed this novel on a conceptual level, but didn’t find the story to be compelling until it all comes together at the end. I’m interested to see where author Tade Thompson takes future installments in this trilogy because he’s set up a good foundation with this excellent first book.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Afterwar

9780316558242.jpgTitle: Afterwar (2018)
Author: Lilith Saintcrow
Pages: 416


Afterwar is an uncompromising story about a motley crew of raiders who hunt down war criminals after the Second Civil War. The title is a misnomer — nothing comes after war because war never truly ends. Lilith Saintcrow’s novel explores the scars of war that live on long after a ceasefire has taken place.

There are purposeful parallels to present-day America scattered all throughout this book. Supporters of the ruling political party are dubbed “Firsters” who put “America First,” walls are being built to keep out “immies” (immigrants), and the country is run by a megalomaniac with small hands who bombs his hometown of New York City because the residents there hate him. It’s so on the nose that it became a bit of a distraction when each of these parallels appeared.

Unfortunately, I never fully engaged with the story being told, but I appreciated Saintcrow’s prose and the dark future that she presents, regardless of how upsetting (and possible) it all seems.

★★★ out of 5

Review: Arm of the Sphinx

Bancroft_ArmoftheSphinx-TPTitle: Arm of the Sphinx (2018; first published 2014)
Author: Josiah Bancroft
Pages: 380
Series: The Books of Babel #2 (Series Tracker)

In my reading life, I want to get sucked into stories, invested in characters, enraptured by action, and delighted by prose. If only one or two of those boxes can be checked by any given book, I’m perfectly satisfied. Josiah Bancroft’s books check a fifth box — all of the above. Every page of Arm of the Sphinx is a delectable treat, with countless delightful passages, characters, and a story that gets more intriguing as mysteries build and questions are answered.

The Tower of Babel and its surrounding airspace feels pulled from a fairy tale. Bancroft has created a fantastical setting that remains beguiling and limitless in terms of storytelling possibilities. I’m enjoying learning more about the Tower and the direction that the story seems to be going in that regard.

This book expands upon the backstories of each character, doles out meaningful motivations, and pairs the characters up in fun and refreshing ways. The story hits a few lulls leading up to the sections involving the Sphinx, but things pick up again and finish with a satisfying flourish.

Like Senlin Ascends before it, Arm of the Sphinx is inventive, clever, and imbued with a sense of virtuousness and humanity. Bancroft is weaving together a wonderful series that has all the makings of a modern fantasy classic. I cannot wait to get my hands on The Hod King later this year.

★★★★½ out of 5