Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley Reads

I have been terrible at keeping up with blog reviews ever since late last year, so I am playing catch-up now and make more of an effort! I felt like I was doing really well for a while, and then a whole bunch of things happened and my brain just kind of went blah and that was that. ANYWAY, onward to these short but sweet reviews.

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
Series: Lotus Kingdoms #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: October 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 367
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull is the start to a lush fantasy trilogy that felt a lot at times to be the fantasy counterpart to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness as it explores gender and identity against the backdrop of political intrigue and upheaval. I hadn’t realized it is the start to a sequel trilogy of a previous series of Bear’s. While I think that I probably could have benefited from being a little more familiar with the world before diving into this one, I don’t feel like I was alienated in any way from the enjoyment of The Stone and the Skull‘s story because this story is set several decades after the first trilogy. My only issue with the book was that it took too long for the heart of the story to really reveal itself. I was more than halfway through the book before I felt as if I could connect with almost any of the characters. My favorite characters, however, are the Gage and the Dead Man, so I’m looking forward to seeing how their story progresses in the rest of the trilogy!

Review copy provided by Netgalley/Tor; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Del Rey
Published: December 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 363
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

After I finished reading The Girl in the Tower, all I could think was wow, what an amazing followup, because much like The Bear and the Nightingale, Arden’s second title in the Winternight Trilogy satisfies some of the questions left at the end of the first book and leaves a lot of questions to be answered in the upcoming final book. The writing and atmosphere is both foreign and familiar, like a fairy tale you’ve only heard on the peripherals of the familiar stories we’ve grown up with. Arden expertly weaves and subverts those familiar fairy tale tropes while managing to make her tale fresh and exciting. After such a stunning followup to the already incredible The Bear and the Nightingale, I’ll certainly be picking up anything Arden writes in the future without any hesitation.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Del Rey; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood turned out to be everything I’ve been hoping for lately in recent YA fantasy. Dark fairy tales, believable characters, and all of those twists and turns to keep you glued to the page. This is a fairy tale about a mother-daughter bond and the strange, wild lengths one goes for family and truth. The major issue I had with this, though, was the pacing. The first half is a little slower-paced, allowing for us as the reader to get to know Alice and the world in which she leaves and the world she was told to avoid, but the last half had so much going on in it that I felt a lack of development for the Hinterlands. Knowing now that this is the first in a series, I’m hoping we get to see more of the Hinterlands in later stories because I wanted to know more! This is going to be perfect if true-to-the-source dark fairy tales are your thing and for those who enjoy a well-crafted YA fantasy.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Flatiron Books; all opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

BOOK REVIEW: The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine ArdenTitle: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey
Published: January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 322
Source: Netgalley

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale is a superbly magical fairy tale inspired by Russian folklore. The story is lyrical and engaging, and even though I’m not a reader who is familiar with Russian fairy tales and folklore, so much of it seems both familiar and strange that I felt like this story has both been part of that fairy tale lexicon of sorts and wholly new all at the same time. I love it when a writer weaves together the old and the new to make a new effortless-feeling tale that lingers in the mind long after the book ends.

Vasya, the main character, is lively and complicated, as fairy tale heroines often tend to be. Arden’s villains are nuanced and complex, making you think that perhaps villainy is only a construct of our perspectives rather than a factual thing. The atmosphere feels like a chilly Russian wilderness, and its distant enough in time and distance to be all the more enchanting.

And, like many traditional, “original,” fairy tales, The Bear and the Nightingale is beautiful and terrifying in a very Neil Gaiman-esque sort of way, and I love the sort of terror that sneaks up on you and faces you full-on, making you come to terms with the terror of your own reality in contrast to this fairy tale one.

If you are a fan of Erin Morgenstern and Neil Gaiman and enjoy reading terrifically beautiful fairy tales, this is one you need to add to your TBRs immediately!

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine for a review copy!