BOOK REVIEW: Bonds of Brass, by Emily Skrutskie

BOOK REVIEW: Bonds of Brass, by Emily SkrutskieTitle: Bonds of Brass by Emily Skrutskie
Series: The Bloodright Trilogy #1
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A young pilot risks everything to save his best friend--the man he trusts most and might even love--only to learn that he's secretly the heir to a brutal galactic empire.

Ettian Nassun's life was shattered when the merciless Umber Empire invaded. He's spent seven years putting himself back together under its rule, joining an Umber military academy and becoming the best pilot in his class. Even better, he's met Gal Veres--his exasperating and infuriatingly enticing roommate who's made the Academy feel like a new home.

But when dozens of classmates spring an assassination plot on Gal, a devastating secret comes to light: Gal is the heir to the Umber Empire. Ettian barely manages to save his best friend and flee the compromised Academy unscathed, rattled both that Gal stands to inherit the empire that broke him and that there are still people willing to fight back against Umber rule. As they piece together a way to deliver Gal safely to his throne, Ettian finds himself torn in half by an impossible choice. Does he save the man who's won his heart and trust that Gal's goodness could transform the empire? Or does he throw his lot in with the brewing rebellion and fight to take back what's rightfully theirs?

One of the things I love about Emily Skrutskie’s work (and I have only read two of hers, and now obviously need to fix this) is that she makes you immediately care about the characters and throws you right into the action without feeling as if you’re missing any information. Bonds of Brass plays with familiar sci-fi and romance tropes (big galactic empire heirs, omg they were roommates) while breathing new life into them all while taking you on a wild space chase through the galaxy. It also throws a handful of references to those of us who like a particular Star Wars ship, and it felt like Skrutskie said, if Star Wars won’t do it, I will. And she did.

The book opens with Ettian defending Gal, his roommate, from an attack from schoolmates; and after this, Ettian begins to struggle reconciling the truth about Gal’s identity, his feelings for his roommate, and the status of the galaxy at large. Gal’s the heir to the Umber Empire, the very same empire that shattered Ettian’s home, the capital city of the former Archon Empire. During their escape, Ettian and Gal meet Wen, a scrappy scavenger, who reveals that an Archon resistance exists, and she might be the only way for either of them to get home, wherever that home might be.

Without revealing any spoilers, the last third of this book is incredibly action-packed and a complete free fall of revelations that shift everything you as the reader knew about Ettian and Gal and the empires to which they belonged, and the final reveal occurs at the end of the book that will leave you desperate for the sequel. I can’t wait to see how each character continues to come to terms with the annihilation and violence the empires have wrought and to see how the relationships among all of the characters develop. Overall, this is a fun sci-fi title that makes you feel things.

When I first heard about this book, I was certain it was marketed as YA, but it’s published by an adult imprint. This first installment does read a little bit like YA, so it’s definitely a crossover, but I’m hoping with the rest of the trilogy, Skrutskie takes it as far as she’s able to really explore the depths this galaxy has to offer.

Thank you to Del Rey for the giveaway and the advance copy to read!

BOOK REVIEW: The Guinevere Deception, by Kiersten White

BOOK REVIEW: The Guinevere Deception, by Kiersten WhiteTitle: The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White
Series: Camelot Rising #1
Published by Delacorte Press
Published: November 5th 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

There is nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom's borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution -- send in Guinevere to be Arthur's wife... and his protector from those who want to see the young king's idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere's real name -- and her true identity -- is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old -- including Arthur's own family -- demand things continue as they have been, and the new -- those drawn by the dream of Camelot -- fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur's knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a new fantasy series reimagining the Arthurian legend, set in the magical world of Camelot.

I’ve always loved King Arthur, it’s mythologies, and all of the various takes on the lore, but Kiersten White’s The Guinevere Deception blew me away. It had been so long since I’ve read anything King Arthur, and I was really excited when I got approved for this ARC from Netgalley.

The story opens with Guinevere arriving to Camelot before her marriage, unsure of herself and her future position in King Arthur’s court, and it’s soon revealed that Guinevere is not who she seems, not even to herself. She has been sent to protect King Arthur rather than merely be a bride sent from a royal family. Throughout the course of the story, Guinevere balances learning about her past and her realities while also getting to know the court in which she lives and the people with whom she is surrounded.

I absolutely love the duality of Guinevere’s character and thought that the struggles she faced while in the midst of all sorts of discovery were true to herself. The supporting case of characters were well-developed, had incredible range and depth, and delighted and surprised me at every turn. The first part of the book did feel a little slow, but since this is the set-up to what I hope is at least a trilogy, I did find it necessary. There’s a lot of ground to cover when reinventing a familiar story, and by the last half of the book, I was completely hooked and didn’t want this to end. I don’t want to spoil anything, but of all the supporting characters, I think Lancelot is my favorite and I’m so excited to see what White does with this character in the context of the familiar stories.

This is one of my favorite reads of the year, and not just YA reads, just because it was so much fun and so inventive on so many levels. I’ve never read White before, but I’ve had the physical ARC for her Frankenstein retelling and the first of another series on my kindle for a while, so I’m definitely bumping those up on my TBR because I enjoyed this so much.

Read this if you enjoy fantasy and/or King Arthur revisits, because this checked off so many boxes for me and I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since I read it.

Thank you to Netgalley and Delacorte for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Magic For Liars, Sarah Gailey

BOOK REVIEW: Magic For Liars, Sarah GaileyTitle: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Published by Tor Books
Published: June 4th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Sharp, mainstream fantasy meets compelling thrills of investigative noir in this fantasy debut by rising star Sarah Gailey.

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It's a great life and she doesn't wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

What do you get when you mix the styles of Agatha Christie, throwbacks to magical boarding schools à la Harry Potter, but set in California? You get Sarah Gailey’s Magic For Liars, a murder mystery set in and around a magical boarding school in central California! I really enjoyed this one, and I knew I would because I enjoyed Gailey’s River of Teeth novella duology released by tor.com in the last few years.

Magic For Liars weaves its way in and out of Ivy Gamble’s involvement in solving a murder at the school at which her twin sister Tabitha teaches. In the process of solving the whodunnit, Ivy has to face and come to terms with her own nonmagical abilities, something she’s been struggling with her entire life. She finds herself imagining the person she is to the person she could have been with magical abilities, and she has the opportunity to see who might have been had she been born with magical abilities.

Tie in this self-discovery and murder with other magical students, rumors of a chosen one, and familial relationship struggles, and Magic For Liars becomes a fully-fledged novel that has lingered with me since I finished it. I really enjoyed the fresh-noir feeling of the writing, the magic system and how gruesome and cruel magic could be, and all of the little references and throwbacks to popular mystery series and Harry Potter.

Like magic, mystery, murder, relationships between sisters, magical theories and conspiracies? Read this delight of a novel. It’s out June 4.

Many thanks to Tor for a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley

BOOK REVIEW: Stars are Legion, by Kameron HurleyTitle: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Published by Saga Press
Published: February 7th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 380
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Set within a system of decaying world-ships travelling through deep space, this breakout novel of epic science fiction follows a pair of sisters who must wrest control of their war-torn legion of worlds—and may have to destroy everything they know in order to survive.

On the outer rim of the universe, a galactic war has been waged for centuries upon hundreds of world-ships. But these worlds will continue to die through decay and constant war unless a desperate plan succeeds.

Anat, leader of the Katazyrna world-ship and the most fearsome raiding force on the Outer Rim, wants peace. To do so she offers the hand of her daughter, Jayd, to her rival. Jayd has dreamed about leading her mother’s armies to victory her whole life—but she has a unique ability, and that makes her leverage, not a leader. As Anat convinces her to spend the rest of her life wed to her family’s greatest enemy, it is up to Jayd’s sister Zan—with no stomach for war—to lead the cast off warriors she has banded together to victory and rescue Jayd. But the war does not go at all as planned…

In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and Dune, The Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about familial love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most imaginative new writers.

 When you understand what the world is, you have two choices: Become a part of that world and perpetuate that system forever and ever, unto the next generation. Or fight it, and break it, and build something new. The former is safer, and easier. The latter is scarier, because who is to say what you build will be any better?

I read this book in March, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it or recommending it since. Kameron Hurley’s The Stars are Legion is on its way to becoming (if it’s not already there) one of those must-read science fiction books if you’re into even the barest sliver of science fiction. Science fiction often explores that question of “what if” and reflects on current aspects of life that are problematic in some way. Today, women’s bodies are policed. They are often told they cannot choose for themselves when and how to reproduce, and if a woman is control of her sexuality, she is seen as a threat. I sell this as a “politically charged womb-punk space opera that will thrill you and make you rage, oh, and there are no male characters in this at all.” Most of the time, I get a look like “… what?” My roommate even thinks that me liking this book so much is weird, but this book, at least for me, speaks of certain aspects of an experience that is difficult to convey to someone who doesn’t have a body part that has been consistently policed by men in positions of power.

Aside from this being an amazing space opera, The Stars are Legion has a cast of brutally unlikable characters, blood and gore up the wazoo, and feels like it could have come right out of that wave of sff that was written in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The characters are unlikable and cruel and you can’t trust anyone, but you’ll be rooting for them in the end. The Stars are Legion is a an angry, visceral yell into the void of space, and the world within the covers is just an expanse waiting for you to live in it for a while, get pumped up, and want to go kick some ass in the real world.

I mean, don’t you want to read about asexual ships that give birth to whatever the ship needs, cannibalistic women who eat their deformed young, and womb/uterus/placenta references (with all of the associated fluids) all over the place? Yes, you do. I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot or the characters because half of the enjoyment of this is getting to discover that for yourself. Just read it. ASAP. The hardcover is out now, the ebook is h*ckin cheap, and the paperback is out in November.

BOOK REVIEW: The Devourers, by Indra Das

BOOK REVIEW: The Devourers, by Indra DasTitle: The Devourers by Indra Das
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: July 12 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 306
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Goodreads
Goodreads

 Yes, you looked at me and I wished you were not human, that I could cleave your soul in two and watch your second self emerge, a beast as lovely as your first.

I received this book last year as part of a Goodreads giveaway, and am just now getting around to reading it and reviewing it. I’m making a serious effort to reading and reviewing those review copies I get, and I feel like I read this at just the right time. I started it last year when I received it but couldn’t get into it the way I had hoped. Sometimes we just have to wait for the right moment to read something!

Anyway, I was initially interested in this book because The Devourers draws comparisons to Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, two of my favorite authors, and I can see why it does. The Devourers is a violent, fantasy-infused exploration into India’s shapeshifting mythology. If you are turned off by graphic mentions of violence and rape, then this might not be the read for you, but if you can stomach that sort of thing, then this might be something to consider picking up! Das explores concepts of gender identity and expression in The Devourers, and this exploration becomes really apparent in the last third of the book.

The thing that bothered me the most was the rape and then the constant referral later on to the act. It felt like a third of the book just kept constantly referring to it in a very weird way, as if it affected the shapeshifter who did the act more rather than the woman who experienced it. I did like, however, that the woman brought up her assault every time the man who attacked her tried to dismiss his behavior. It’s difficult to talk about, in real life and in books, and I think once I got to the end, I liked how Das wove it into the story.

It’s a very interesting story, very much a fairytale that explores the deepest, darkest parts of humanity, and once it’s done sweeping you away, it leaves you with a lot to think about.

Thank you to Del Rey and Goodreads for a copy of this book to read and review! All opinions are my own.