BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie

BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Tower, by Ann LeckieTitle: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Published by Orbit
Published: February 26th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Gods meddle in the fates of men, men play with the fates of gods, and a pretender must be cast down from the throne in this breathtaking first fantasy novel from Ann Leckie, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven's Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven's watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo--aide to Mawat, the true Lease--arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven's Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself...and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

Give me all, and I mean all, of the unconventional narrators in fantasy and science fiction, please. I read this right after finishing Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and these two books will always be paired with each other in my mind. Each are different from what’s often expected out of fantasy, and both of these are game changers on what I personally will expect from fantasy from now on.

Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower is told from the perspective of a god who resides in stone and who has lived in their particular stone for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. The Raven Tower takes some time to unfold, as the god in the rock spends their time thinking about everything in the grand scope of everything from the beginning of time. It had a very Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead approach to a Hamlet-like fantasy, and I loved that. I’m the kind of reader who loves that sort of thing. Give me the perspective of someone not directly involved in the action of the story.

Because the god is a rock, The Strength and Patience of the Hill, the narrative is exploratory, and you must be patient, because patience pays off in the end, like a rock rolling downhill and gaining momentum. The final quarter of the book is unputdownable and made my patience in letting the narrator tell Eolo his story, this story they have heard, well worth it in the end.

If you’re ready for something new in your fantasy, something for your mind to chew on and think about, and something a little philosophical about what it means to be involved in a story and what it means to be a god, pick this up. It’s already one of my favorite reads of 2019.

Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a complimentary finished copy of this book to read! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Unicorn Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle

BOOK REVIEW: The Unicorn Anthology, edited by Peter S. BeagleTitle: The Unicorn Anthology by Peter S. Beagle, Jacob Weisman, Garth Nix, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carlos Hernandez, Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Yolen, Nancy Springer, Cailtin R. Kiernan, Margo Lanagan
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: April 19th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

“What a treasure trove!”—Sarah Beth Durst, author of Queen of the Blood

Unicorns: Not just for virgins anymore. Here are sixteen lovely, powerful, intricate, and unexpected unicorn tales from fantasy icons including Garth Nix, Peter S. Beagle, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carrie Vaughn, and more. In this volume you will find two would-be hunters who enlist an innkeeper to find a priest hiding the secret of the last unicorn. A time traveler tries to corral an unruly mythological beast that might never have existed at all. The lover and ex-boyfriend of a dying woman join forces to find a miraculous remedy in New York City. And a small-town writer of historical romances discovers a sliver of a mysterious horn in a slice of apple pie.

I love unicorns. The mythology surrounding unicorns is so intriguing to me, especially when the traditional concepts of unicorns are broken down, dismantled, and challenged, and the idea of innocence and purity is explored in so many of the stories in this volume. What does it mean, ultimately, to be innocent and pure? How can one take the familiar myths of unicorns and subvert them?

This is not an anthology for younger readers, as there are references to bestiality (didn’t finish this story), references to sexual acts, and references to heavy-handed violence to people of all ages. This is a collection of stories that will make you reconsider the unicorn trope, and the collection includes a wide variety of stories to appeal  Overall, it’s a solid collection of stories, and I found myself wishing for a few more at the end.

My favorites were “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlín R. Kiernan (the lesbian unicorn noir you didn’t know you needed to read until now), “Ghost Town” by Jack C. Haldeman II (brother of Joe Haldeman!, and I also love western-esque stories about rogues being changed by chance encounters in nearly-abandoned towns), “The Highest Justice” by Garth Nix (I love anything Nix writes), “Survivor” by Dave Smeds (a Vietnam soldier gets a unicorn tattooed on his chest and therefore cannot die), “Homeward Bound” by Bruce Coville (he wrote a series of unicorn books for middle grade readers that I thoroughly enjoyed and was happy to see another unicorn story by him!), and “The Transfigured Hart” by Jane Yolen (anything she writes is pure magic and pure joy).

This collection comes with a recommendation from me, especially with the introduction by Peter S. Beagle himself.

This releases April 19, 2019! Thank you to Tachyon Pub and Netgalley for a complimentary copy to read and review. All opinions are my own

BOOK REVIEW: The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden

BOOK REVIEW: The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine ArdenTitle: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #3
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: January 8th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 372
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

“I am a witch,’’ said Vasya. Blood was running down her hand now, spoiling her grip. “I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.” She caught his knife on the crosspiece of hers, hilt to hilt. “I have crossed three times nine realms to find you, my lord. And I find you at play, forgetful.”

Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy have been some of my favorite fantasy books in recent years, and I find myself recommending them to friends and readers everywhere because of their world building, their characters, and the fairy tale qualities upon which each book explores. The first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, has a slower start that builds into a magnificent, magical Russian setting. The second book, The Girl in the Tower, continues Vasya’s story and sets up for the satisfying conclusion in The Winter of the Witch.

I loved the intersection of fantasy and Russian history, the strength of the female characters, the quiet scenes interspersed with the highly emotional or violent scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Vasya and Morozov, because their dynamic is a deep, dark, frisson. The scenes between Vasya and Morozov are intense and beautifully written, and I wish there was more about him, too. Vasya by herself, this time, seemed to be a little distanced from the character in the first two books, but I also wonder that it’s because she has been through so much that she’s in dissonance from herself, too.

Overall, I was highly satisfied with the story, and I think it’s rare that the third book in a trilogy holds up and is even better than the first two installments. It’s an excellent meld of fantasy and history and how a single person can unite a country, for better or worse.

Thank you to Netgalley and Del Rey Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Wolf in the Whale, by Jordanna Max Brodsky

BOOK REVIEW: The Wolf in the Whale, by Jordanna Max BrodskyTitle: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Published by Redhook
Published: January 29th 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Historical
Pages: 544
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

A young Inuit shaman's epic quest for survival in the frozen lands of North America in 1000 AD.

Born with the soul of a hunter and the language of the gods, Omat is destined to become a shaman like her grandfather. To protect her people, she invokes the spirits of the sky, the sea, and the air.

But the gods have stopped listening, the seals won't come, and Omat's family is starving.

Desperate to save them, Omat journeys through the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, together they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world...or save it.

The Wolf in the Whale is a powerful tale of magic, discovery and adventure, featuring an unforgettable narrator ready to confront the gods themselves.

Brodsky’s novel, The Wolf in the Whale, was an incredibly immersive read from the get-go. After reading the first few chapters and getting familiar with the setting and the story, I didn’t want to stop reading it. The story follows Omat of an Inuit tribe through their journey across land and through life. I loved the gender fluidity of Omat, and their struggles in finding their identity. When they meet a Norseman named Brandr, Omat struggles even more with their identity and their place in the world at large and in their own personal world.

The Wolf in the Whale is violent, full of terrible things that happen to Omat and their people, and to everyone Omat meets. It’s a reminder that the past was violent in people conquering other people and in people colonizing “new” worlds, and Brodsky doesn’t shy away from any of it. None of what happens to the characters in this book feels like it was thrown in as a plot device. Omat and Brandr felt real, their cultures and mythologies felt immediate and real, and the brutalities of the past balanced with the more tender, personal moments.

I don’t want to give too much away in this review because so much of what happens is so integral to the story, but let it be known that this is a hefty book and once I started reading it, I got hooked and couldn’t put it down. If you enjoy rich, expansive historical fantasies with memorable characters and mythology so real you can almost taste it, don’t pass up reading The Wolf in the Whale.

A complimentary copy of the book was provided to me for review via Netgalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Queen, by Signe Pike

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Queen, by Signe PikeTitle: The Lost Queen by Signe Pike
Series: The Lost Queen Trilogy #1
Published by Touchstone
Published: September 4th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Fantasy
Pages: 527
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Mists of Avalon meets Philippa Gregory in the first book of an exciting historical trilogy that reveals the untold story of Languoreth—a powerful and, until now, tragically forgotten queen of sixth-century Scotland—twin sister of the man who inspired the legendary character of Merlin.

Intelligent, passionate, rebellious, and brave, Languoreth is the unforgettable heroine of The Lost Queen, a tale of conflicted loves and survival set against the cinematic backdrop of ancient Scotland, a magical land of myths and superstition inspired by the beauty of the natural world. One of the most powerful early medieval queens in British history, Languoreth ruled at a time of enormous disruption and bloodshed, when the burgeoning forces of Christianity threatened to obliterate the ancient pagan beliefs and change her way of life forever.

Together with her twin brother Lailoken, a warrior and druid known to history as Merlin, Languoreth is catapulted into a world of danger and violence. When a war brings the hero Emrys Pendragon, to their door, Languoreth collides with the handsome warrior Maelgwn. Their passionate connection is forged by enchantment, but Languoreth is promised in marriage to Rhydderch, son of the High King who is sympathetic to the followers of Christianity. As Rhydderch's wife, Languoreth must assume her duty to fight for the preservation of the Old Way, her kingdom, and all she holds dear.

The Lost Queen brings this remarkable woman to life—rescuing her from obscurity, and reaffirming her place at the center of the most enduring legends of all time.

Signe Pike’s The Lost Queen was everything I’d been craving in a historical fiction (with a hint of fantasy) novel. Set in 6th-century Celtic Britain, Pike weaves historical details with Arthurian legends and manages to bring a vivid creation of a young woman’s life to the page. Languoreth is the oft-forgotten twin sister of Lailoken, a warrior and a wisdom keeper who was later known as Merlin. In this first installment of a trilogy, we’re given an insight of Languoreth’s childhood through first love and subsequent marriage, all while the followers of a newly-introduced religion threaten to disrupt life as she and her people know it.

Languoreth and Lailoken are born with gifts and raised in the Old Ways by their mother before her death; and as much as Languoreth would like to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a healer and a wisdom keeper, her father has plans for her to marry to secure an alliance. Even though this novel takes place in the mid-500s, the choices with which Languoreth is faced are immediate, real, and are similar to choices women face today. This first installment in the trilogy is less about Languoreth’s role in Lailoken’s life as it is about her role in becoming a powerful queen, taking charge of the choices she made, and forging her way through a man’s world.

This first novel of a trilogy is rich and engaging, and it sets up for what I hope are brilliant examinations of early Scottish/Celtic life with the invasion of Christianity. I already love the glimpses of day-to-day life in those early courts, and I felt like I was right there next to Languoreth as she experienced everything. I can’t wait to see what happens next with Languoreth, Lailoken, and Pike’s further reimagining of the Arthurian legends. The next one isn’t out until 2020! That’s so far away!! But if you’re looking for something to fill the void between Outlander, Game of Thrones, and Mists of Avalon, definitely check this one out.

Many thanks to Touchstone for sending me a complementary copy to review! All opinions are my own.