Earlier this month I participated in a readathon with my Goodreads book club, The Procrastinators Book Club, in an attempt to read seven books in seven days. Spoiler alert: I did it! But not without reading some novellas, because I had several ARCs and a couple from the library that I wanted to read before either the publication date or my hold ran out.
So, without further ado, the super quick reviews.
Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky 📖
When demons arise, only a great sorcerer can save the kingdom…Lynessa Fourth Daughter is the least of her family, but the one who remembers the old legends. After learning of demons terrorizing a neighboring kingdom, she sets off on a quest: find the sorcerer, defeat the evil, and return a hero. But Nyrgoth the Elder is both nothing and everything like she anticipated, and the evil they must defeat is just as incomprehensible.
She was smaller, under the artist’s hand, because she was less important. Fourth is less than Third. She had given their tutor ulcers for half a short-season after that, insisting that four was smaller than three when made to do her sums.
I feel like I would have enjoyed this a lot more if I’d read it as a teenager. As in, in the early 2000s, when I wasn’t as jaded and basic hero’s journeys and quests were exciting and a relatively simplistic plotline of overcoming a monster wasn’t boring.
This jazzes up the basicness a touch by having the Great Sorcerer be a wayward anthropologist from Earth sent to observe a pre recontacted colony lapsed into matriarchal medieval times, where the magic and science bumps heavily into Clarke’s magic is science we don’t understand yet, with heavy heapings of language mistranslations feeding into the magic misunderstanding.
Again, it’s a conceit that’s pretty familiar and I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the characters had any personality or depth, but aside from going deep into Nyr’s mind (he gets a first person POV), we don’t really get much of Lyn (third person POV) or Esha or really anyone else. Lyn remains a minor princess infatuated by stories of magic and myth and legend, despite her growing understanding that magic is just things she doesn’t understand quite yet and also despite her bravery in going at a monster with nothing but sword and armor and grit (despite it having worked so very well the first time).
Anywho, the twist on the trope was interesting but I felt that it thought itself clever and groundbreaking, when instead it just felt tired and a retread of other twists in the magic vs science sorcerer-in-the-tower and hero’s journey tropes.
Maybe this is all the story attempted to be, but I think I had been expecting something more from the author. It’s my first read from him, and I’ve seen on reviews of his other books mentioning how he’s taken tropes and twisted them into new and creative ways, but I just didn’t see that here. Some of the elements were cool, like the language drift and translation errors and cultural disconnects, but the rest didn’t really land or subvert the genre enough for me to enjoy it as much as I wanted to.
Trigger Warning: depression, death
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop 📖
It started when Alfa Ndiaye didn’t give his best friend, his more-than-brother, Mademba Diop, a merciful death to spare him from the suffering of a long and painful death in no man’s land. It continued when Alfa brought back the first hand, then the third, and as whispers rose among his fellow soldiers and his commander attempts to move him from the front for a rest, Alfa continues to bring back hands of the German soldiers he hunts and kills.
Temporary madness makes it possible to forget the truth about bullets. Temporary madness, in war, is bravery’s sister. But when you seem crazy all the time, continuously, without stopping, that’s when you make people afraid, even your war brothers. And that’s when you stop being the brave one, the death-defier, and become instead the true friend of death, its accomplice, it’s more-than-brother.
Okay this was a wild read.
It reminded me of The Stranger, in that it was a descent into madness and told by a highly unreliable narrator.
Chock full of war trauma and the colonialism, this it just…whew. It’s a lot. I enjoyed it (can you enjoy something like this?), and the repeated phrases made it feel like it was spoken word, both oral tradition and shell shock mixed with mental illness bringing forth this story of a man who watched his best friend die and then went out into no man’s land each night and murdered (and then mutilated) one of the enemy.
The effects of all human possibilities have already been felt. Nothing that might happen to us here, as terrible or as felicitous as it might seem, is new. But what we experience is always new because every man is unique, the way every leaf and tree is unique.
The plot itself is simple—it is exactly what the summary is. What makes this so fascinating is the exploration and commentary into PTSD, the weirdly arbitrary rules of a “gentlemanly” war, and the effects of colonization and racism and warfare itself on the minds of those expected to fight other’s battles. What does it mean, to be a soldier? To be expected to be filled with a rage that can switch on and off like a lightbulb? What does it mean, when that switch breaks? What is the line, then, between bravery and psychosis?
You will content yourself with killing them, not mutilating them. The civilities of war forbid it.
The repetition lulled me into the story (the writing is compellingly lyrical and gorgeous in its grotesqueness), luring me deep into Alfa’s mind and justification and reasoning, and the end left me with no answers, only questions, and more questions, and a whole lot to think about.
No one knows what I think. I am free to think whatever I want.
Trigger Warning: graphic death, body mutilation, rape
In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu 🎧
The city of Ora maintains control and harmony through an interconnected living network called the Gleaming. Anima is one of the eight vessels inside the innermost circle, and æ loves ær job, and takes pride in keeping the city safe. Everything changes when a stranger arrives and breaches ær circle, showing Anima worlds and possibilities beyond ær imagination. Slowly, so slowly, æ begins to realize there is more than what the city of Ora can provide. Because what is protection, really, and who is protected?
Creative and interesting, and I really enjoyed the commentary on surveillance states, urban living, changing cultural norms (and clashing cultures), and how it was so queer with so many different beings coexisting (peacefully and violently).
This is a super quick review, mostly because I listened to it and can remember very little of the interconnected short stories (Anima’s arc is the framing device connecting everything), and throughout it all I enjoyed very much how thoroughly and joyously queer this entire book is. However, I kept thinking: Is this furry fiction?
Nothing wrong with furries or their fiction, by the way. I just don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a traditionally published furry work before.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw 📖
Cat joins her friends—well, they were friends, now who even knows?—for a spooky wedding in an abandoned and possibly haunted Heian-era mansion. She and her friends want thrills, they want an experience, but they are not prepared for the bride buried in the foundations. They are not ready for her hunger.
“After all, isn’t that the foremost commandment in the scripture of horror? They who are queer, deviant, tattooed, tongue-pierced or other must always die first.”
Whaaaaaaat even was this novella?
I’m going between 3 and 4 stars, because beneath the creeping horror of the house and the never-bride-to-be, the friends group felt off and weird and half-formed? Of course, they were off and weird because they weren’t truly friends and all had complicated backstories, but Cat’s narration was disconnecting and odd. Her disconnect and unreliable narration is normal, however, because of her past year, her imaginative mind (she dropped out of studying Japanese lit), and her mental illness, but I still had a hard time getting a read on her thoughts.
It doesn’t matter how many corpses are lying in the soil with them. It’s not the same. The dead msis the sun. It’s dark down there.
Anywho, the horror aspect of a haunted house was solid. Ancient, decrepit mansion. Bones in the foundations. Yokai and many nods to Japanese horror and legend. A group of rich young party-goers looking to get married with an ~experience~ in an old Japanese mansion. And a lonely ghost who just wants to feel the warmth of the sun and the solid weight of living human flesh.
And intermixed in this tweak on horror-tropes is an interesting commentary on cultural exploitation and capitalism.
It was an enjoyable foray into horror, but I really wanted it to be longer so the characters (and especially their backstory) could be just a touch more fleshed out (hehe) so I could get that guttural punch when the shit hits the fan.
Trigger Warning: Death, body mutilation
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E Harrow 📖
Her next text is an image of a PowerPoint slide titled, So You Fucked up and Got Lost in the Multiverse.
Zinnia Grey is twenty-one, and she’s got a year left to live…if she’s lucky. She’s always known her time is short thanks to localized industrial contamination that left her with a rare condition, and because of it, she’s always felt strangely akin to Sleeping Beauty. When her best friend Charm throws her a fully themed Sleeping Beauty party, Zinnia is having a blast—until she is literally blasted into another world, with a girl just as fated as herself. Zinnia can’t solve her own problems, but fuck it if she won’t let someone else die from their fate.
I consider trying to explain that my world doesn’t have curses or fairies. That my fate was determined by lax environmental regulation and soulless energy executives and plain old bad luck.
Okay, this was delightful.
I’ve found Harrow’s writing style to be dense and falling more onto the beauty of its prose than the strength of the story, but this novella prunes the prose just a touch and falls deep into the storyline of a multiverse-like Sleeping Beauty.
Zinnia’s voice shines through, the chronic illness storyline is well handled, and the aftermath of corporate pollution is done quite well—and I adored how Harrow twisted and turned various version of Sleeping Beauty and made shit queer as hell. And fuck, you should all know how much I adore characters who express emotions through weird PowerPoint slide titles.
And Zinnia is a fantastic bi heroine. Yes! Bi!!!
I cannot wait for the second book in the series. Finally, my favorite line in the series (out of context it’s not a spoiler):
“Well, Harold,” I say gently. “They’re lesbians.”
Trigger Warning: chronic illness
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review