BOOK REVIEW: The Good People, by Hannah Kent

BOOK REVIEW: The Good People, by Hannah KentTitle: The Good People by Hannah Kent
Published: September 19th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 464
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Shorlisted for theWalter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction
From the author of Burial Rites, "a literary novel with the pace and tension of a thriller [that] takes us on a frightening journey towards an unspeakable tragedy" (Paula Hawkins, bestselling author of The Girl on the Train)
Hedged in by gossip and joined by their desperation, three women in nineteenth-century Ireland are drawn together in the hope of rescuing a child from a superstitious community, determined to rid itself of the strange and unknowable. Bereft after the loss of her husband, Nora finds herself alone and caring for her young grandson Micheal--a boy whom she recalls as having been a happy and healthy infant but now, in the wake of both his mother's and grandfather's deaths, can neither speak nor walk. Mary, a servant girl from more rural parts, comes to the valley to help Nora just as the rumors are spreading: the talk of unexplained misfortunes and illnesses, and the theory that deformed Micheal is a changeling, a fairy child to blame for the bad luck the valley has endured since his arrival.
Determined to banish the evil in Micheal, Nora and Mary enlist the help of the elderly Nance, a recluse and wanderer once revered by her neighbors for her healing powers, but now condemned as a fraud and a threat by the new priest in town.
As the trio's situation grows more dire, their folkloric practices become increasingly daring--culminating, at last, in a stunning and irreversible act that will put all their lives in danger. Terrifying, thrilling, and wholly original, THE GOOD PEOPLE is a startling examination of absolute belief and superstition taken to their extremes, of the universal yearning to belong, and of love, both tender and harsh.

 Some folk are forced to the edges by their difference. … But ’tis at the edges that they find their power.

I really, really loved Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, and I read that when it was Waterstones’s pick of the month. I was swept away by the atmospheric writing and the compelling story, so when I head that Hannah Kent was releasing a new book, I requested it and moved that book to the next spot in my reading list. The Good People is a stellar sophomore novel that weaves together the stories of three women who are involved in the horrific treatment of a child whom the women believe is a fairy changeling in a tiny village in Ireland in 1825.

In the beginning of the novel, Nora’s husband Martin dies, leaving her with her daughter’s four year old son Michael who has an unnamed disability in which he cannot speak and cannot fend for himself. Nora finds it difficult to care for the child and her household as a widow with no family on which she can rely, so she hires a girl named Mary to help with the work. When she can’t handle Michael even with Mary’s help, Nora enlists the help of Nance, the local woman trained in the art of natural healing. With the arrival of the new priest in the village, Nance is beginning to be considered a witch and evil and as a result an outcast, but she attempts to cure Michael to prove her skills to herself and to the village. Each “cure” that these women try become increasingly more dangerous until the final act is horrifically devastating.

The Good People is an atmospheric novel that balances the struggles these three women face in a changing society and the risks they must take in order to survive, no matter how dubious those risks are. It is interesting how Kent uses the tropes of the three women (the crone, the mother, and the virgin) to explore the actions and reactions of these women and the actions and reactions of others to these women. Kent also explores how the ideas of poverty and the lack of education in rural areas and ignite a fiery fear toward anyone who is different or toward the unexplainable. The best part of the novel is the last third, when everything culminates in an emotionally charged trial that showcases the growing rift between the old ways of thinking (believing in fairies, believing in changelings, and a reliance on old folklore, old pagan traditions, and old wives’ tales) and the new (following the Christian tradition and following new medical practices).

The only drawback I found to The Good People is the long set up to get to the more thrilling parts of the story. I felt like a third of the novel focuses on the slow development of Nora and Mary’s experiences with Michael, and a third of the novel focuses on Nance and a fairly long account of her life. At the end, I found this knowledge of their lives enriching to the heartrending trial, but before that, I found myself getting a little bit bored and wondering when the story would ever pick up. If you are turned off by a long build up, this might not be the novel for you. But if you are interested in novels about the experiences of women in certain periods of history, the collision between the old ways and the new, and compelling trials, this is one you you’ll want to add to your reading lists as soon as possible.

An advance readers copy was provided to me for review by Little, Brown & Co. and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn

BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie VaughnTitle: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Bannerless Saga #1
Published by Mariner Books
Published: July 11th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

A mysterious murder in a dystopian future leads a novice investigator to question what she’s learned about the foundation of her population-controlled society.

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.  Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn't yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?  In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

What happens when you mix a post-apocalyptic dystopian with a bit of detective fiction? You’ll get Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless. I really enjoy traditional, structural genre stories mixed with a fantastic setting, and this one didn’t disappoint. Bannerless takes place about a hundred years after a series of events destroy society. It’s a little like taking a peek into our future if we aren’t careful about our relationships with other countries and if we aren’t careful with our planet. Instead of being another post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, Vaughn uses this vision of the future as a twist in her traditional mystery and that twist adds a dimension to the story that I found really enjoyable.

In this futuristic world, the population has dwindled, birth control is mandatory, and people live in tight-knit communities in which everyone knows everyone else’s business. People group together in family units called houses, and they work together to provide enough materials for themselves and for their families, and once their quotas are met or consistently exceeded, these families can apply to get a banner which allows that household to have a baby.

Enid of Haven is an Investigator, a role that combines the roles of police, detective, and judge. Crime doesn’t really exist in this future world, and most of it ends up being bannerless pregnancies or unauthorized food and material production to try to game the system. She is called up with her partner to investigate a suspicious death of a bannerless person in a neighboring community, and she is forced to confront someone with her past as she and her partner Tomas figure out the mystery. I also really enjoyed Enid’s self-discovery as she investigates the suspicious death. She goes from being a little insecure of herself as an individual to growing more and more confident in herself, and to me, that’s entirely relatable. Told in alternating chapters of Enid’s past and present, Bannerless explores a future in which our very society is regulated on the local level and how our actions, even with good intentions, can be devastating for entire families.

If you enjoy traditional mysteries, dystopian futures as imagined in books like Station Eleven, and speculative fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this one! It’s short, yet well-crafted and well-paced. And I’ve just read she’s working on another post-apocalyptic murder mystery, so I’m hoping that the next one will continue following Enid’s investigations!

This book was provided to me for review by Netgalley and Mariner Books. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Net, by Benjamin Percy

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Net, by Benjamin PercyTitle: The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published: August 1st 2017
Genres: Horror, Thriller
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Hell on earth is only one click of a mouse away…

The Dark Net is real. An anonymous and often criminal arena that exists in the secret far reaches of the Web, some use it to manage Bitcoins, pirate movies and music, or traffic in drugs and stolen goods. And now an ancient darkness is gathering there as well. This force is threatening to spread virally into the real world unless it can be stopped by members of a ragtag crew:

Twelve-year-old Hannah -- who has been fitted with the Mirage, a high-tech visual prosthetic to combat her blindness-- wonders why she sees shadows surrounding some people.

Lela, a technophobic journalist, has stumbled upon a story nobody wants her to uncover.

Mike Juniper, a one-time child evangelist who suffers from personal and literal demons, has an arsenal of weapons stored in the basement of the homeless shelter he runs.

And Derek, a hacker with a cause, believes himself a soldier of the Internet, part of a cyber army akin to Anonymous.

They have no idea what the Dark Net really contains.

Set in present-day Portland, The Dark Net is a cracked-mirror version of the digital nightmare we already live in, a timely and wildly imaginative techno-thriller about the evil that lurks in real and virtual spaces, and the power of a united few to fight back

Holy hell, what did I just read?? Twelve year old Hannah has been fitted with a device called Mirage that’s very Geordi La Forge, and when she sees through it, she can detect auras around certain people that she wasn’t able to see before. From that moment forward, the story just gets weirder and weirder. Hannah’s technophobic aunt, Lela, is a reporter who is always chasing after the next story. Lela once interviewed a guy named Mike Juniper for a lead, and Mike Juniper is a former child evangelist who has a host of weapons in his homeless shelter’s basement to ward off attacks from demons. The demons of the near future don’t possess people like they used to. Everything, including possession, has gone digital.

Benjamin Percy’s The Dark Net is a demonic techno-thriller that makes you think about all of the information we willingly or inadvertently give to the all-knowing Internet. With the widespread hackings of consumer data over the last few years, with our constant life updates and thoughts on various social media platforms, one has to wonder what’s being done with all of that information. We’re being reduced from DNA to ones and zeroes. Our lives, our life data, is collected, traded, and sold by users of the dark net, and ultimately is used against us in the end.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but I thought that the dark net used in demonic practices and zombie apocalypses was a fascinating twist. It’s not something you often think about in our digitally infatuated age. It’s not something we can escape at this point, so how are you going go guard your data, your privacy, and quite literally your life? The Dark Net is a creepy thriller that riffs on horror and zombie tropes, and it’ll make you think twice about the information age.

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Alchemists of Loom, by Elise Kova

BOOK REVIEW: The Alchemists of Loom, by Elise KovaTitle: The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova
Series: Loom Saga #1
Published by Keymaster Press
Published: January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 395
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Her vengeance. His vision.

Ari lost everything she once loved when the Five Guilds’ resistance fell to the Dragon King. Now, she uses her unparalleled gift for clockwork machinery in tandem with notoriously unscrupulous morals to contribute to a thriving underground organ market. There isn’t a place on Loom that is secure from the engineer turned thief, and her magical talents are sold to the highest bidder as long as the job defies their Dragon oppressors.

Cvareh would do anything to see his sister usurp the Dragon King and sit on the throne. His family’s house has endured the shame of being the lowest rung in the Dragons’ society for far too long. The Alchemist Guild, down on Loom, may just hold the key to putting his kin in power, if Cvareh can get to them before the Dragon King’s assassins.

When Ari stumbles upon a wounded Cvareh, she sees an opportunity to slaughter an enemy and make a profit off his corpse. But the Dragon sees an opportunity to navigate Loom with the best person to get him where he wants to go.

He offers her the one thing Ari can’t refuse: A wish of her greatest desire, if she brings him to the Alchemists of Loom.

 Don’t let the shadows of the past smother the possibility for a bright future.

Elise Kova’s The Alchemists of Loom follows Ari after the five guilds fall to the Dragon King. She meets Cvareh, who is wounded, and she thinks she can kill him off as some kind of revenge, but she decides not to when she learns he can grant her the boon she wants if she takes him to the Alchemists of Loom.

Premise of this is amazing and right up my alley, but something about it fell short for me. Most of it has to do with the fact that we’re thrown in media res without much explanation or world building. We’re just supposed to piece it together with the help of a glossary in the back (which one might not know about if one’s reading a digital copy) or through hints made throughout the story. I don’t mind it if a world is built as sort of an unfolding, but this was like opening up a single folded sheet of paper. You open it and it’s all there like glitter and you’re supposed to keep it all together while trying not to let it spill everywhere. It took me to get about halfway through the book until I felt familiar enough with the world and the characters and the rest of the details to start enjoying the book. I kept reading only because I wanted to know what Cvareh would do.

This book falls under the steampunk fantasy variety and features an indistinct world in which everything happens. There are five guilds with distinct practices, a Dragon king (and I was a little bit disappointed to discover they weren’t actually dragons), shady characters, some light romance that felt entirely forced (oh yes the main girl and the main guy argue all the time and clash all the time so of course they’ll automatically like each other).

Ari reminded me a lot of Celaena in Maas’s Throne of Glass series before she became Aelin, and Ari in this novel is a well-known criminal with an intent to restore Loom to its former glory before the Dragons took over. Her motive is unclear though, and I don’t really find a connection or sympathy to a character who has a mission. She is unyielding to that mission, but she has no clear motive for what she does, just that things must be made right. Okay? But why? Her sidekick/lover/girlfriend/??? Florence is more interesting and believable than Ari. Cvareh is the trickster sort of character who seems to flip flop between wanting to save himself, work for the Dragons, or help Ari, and the most interesting twists of the story seem to come from his actions.

The story’s action moves at a brisk pace, and I enjoyed that about the book. I just wish I had a bit more of Ari’s backstory to connect her motive with her actions and reactions because a lot of Ari’s life and relationships read completely unclear. I am going to see what the reviews are for the second one to gauge reactions to what happens next before I pick it up, but I hope it focuses more on Cvareh’s side of things!

Overall, it’s an enjoyable fantasy if someone’s ready to take a step up from “YA” fantasy and try something new.

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

BOOK REVIEW: Strange Practice, by Vivian Shaw

BOOK REVIEW: Strange Practice, by Vivian ShawTitle: Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
Series: Dr. Greta Helsing #1
Published by Orbit
Published: July 25th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Meet Greta Helsing, fast-talking doctor to the undead. Keeping the supernatural community not-alive and well in London has been her family's specialty for generations.

Greta Helsing inherited the family's highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills - vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's been groomed for since childhood.

Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice has just about everything I look for in a modern, urban fantasy. Dr. Greta Helsing (a descendant of those Van Helsings) is a GP to the supernatural inhabitants of London – vampires, vampyres (there’s a difference), demons, ghouls, mummies, werewolves, you name it. When the story begins, Greta is doing a house call and she finds out there has been another attack in a string of murders involving a weird religious sect. Through the developing arc of who, or what, is behind the Rosary Ripper murders.

Shaw develops Greta’s London throughout the story, and I loved reading about all of the supernatural beings she encounters, treats, and cares for. Each type of being has their own social hierarchies, and I really enjoyed the fact that Greta has to rely on her knowledge of mythology, folklore, and the like, along with her shared family history, in order to figure out her patients’ symptoms and probable cures. Maybe it’s me, but I think it’s rare to find a female protagonist who isn’t in her twenties in urban fantasy these days, and I liked that she was slightly older than the typical protagonist and was slightly stiff and reserved around other people until she became familiar with them. There’s a little bit of a budding infatuation, but I liked that this was mostly focused on the relationships Greta has with her friends and colleagues. Romance is nice, but it’s better to have a core set of people to rely on and trust when things go terribly, terribly wrong. She truly cares about her people, and her people care about her.

And if you love London and aren’t there now, this book will make you long to be back on those winding streets and wandering through those dark alleys on a cool night. As soon as I started reading this, I felt like I was transported right back to that city, and I felt like I could trace the routes these characters took in map I have in my mind. It felt real, it felt wonderful, and it made me wish I could go back just to see if I could catch a glimpse of the others hidden in the shadows.

Strange Practice is a thrilling romp through the London we think we know with a fantastic set of characters that will keep you hooked until the very end.

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