BOOK REVIEW: Malice, by Heather Walter

BOOK REVIEW: Malice, by Heather WalterTitle: Malice by Heather Walter
Series: Malice Duology #1
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: April 13th 2021
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 470
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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A princess isn’t supposed to fall for an evil sorceress. But in this darkly magical retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” true love is more than a simple fairy tale.

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss.

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily-ever-after.

Utter nonsense.

Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.

Until I met her.

Princess Aurora. The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though it was a power like mine that was responsible for her curse.

But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating—and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps, together, we could forge a new world.

Nonsense again.

Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I—

I am the villain.

Sleeping Beauty is probably one of my favorite fairy tales, especially when the tropes are explored and subverted, and the second I heard about Malice I knew I needed to read this. It was everything I hoped for!

Malice deftly weaves the familiar and the new, setting up the familiar Sleeping Beauty tropes while fleshing out the fantasy world in which Alyce and Aurora live because the history, politics, and landscape add so much to the story. Alyce is a Dark Grace, assisting the palace and its courtiers with her skills, when she meets Aurora and her world begins to shift. Alyce’s struggle with her true self and wanting to fit in add so much depth, and I loved that her identity scared even herself. It ties in so much with the feeling of being queer, that society tends to tell us we’re wrong for being who we are or that it’s evil. This is the first half of a duology, so there’s a lot left to be discovered in Alyce’s true self and how much of a villain she becomes later on, but I hope that it’s explored more and that she learns more about her own history.

The romance between Alyce and Aurora is so layered, and I hope there’s a lot more buildup and exploration of their romance in the second book. So much of this first one felt like an introduction to the world and these characters that the last third of the book felt rushed, so I hope the second one develops more specifically with the characters now that we have this world set up for us to explore. Aurora is nothing like what we often expect from Sleeping Beauty retellings – a quiet, almost simple girl who has one set of desires and nothing else – because this Aurora is feisty, willing to fight for what she believes in, and questions everything. She also surprises Alyce by saying that she wants to be just like her, something Alyce never thought she’d hear anyone say. The romance in this feels natural and right, never forced (though sometimes a little insta-love, but it is a fairy tale after all), and it’s all I want out of a sapphic romance – fantasy with both fluff and depth.

Overall, I enjoyed this so much, from the characters to the worldbuilding, and I’m looking forward to the sequel and anything else Walter releases in the future!

BOOK REVIEW: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

BOOK REVIEW: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. TolkienTitle: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien
Series: The Lord of the Rings #0
Published by Del Rey
Published: September 21, 1937
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 305
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

According to Goodreads, I hadn’t read The Hobbit in eight years. EIGHT! I had been waffling for a few months about revisiting Tolkien’s stuff, and once I saw that it had been that long, I decided to start rereading! The Hobbit is my least favorite part about The Lord of the Rings saga, but it also feels wrong to start reading The Lord of the Rings without beginning with The Hobbit. I think part of the reason it’s been so long in between rereads (I used to read it all at least once a year!) is that I have such a nostalgic view of it because it was a series I was obsessed with right around the time the movies were released. So after seeing how long it’s been since I’ve read them and seeing the films again in IMAX this year, it’s time for a journey back to Middle Earth.

It was everything I remembered it being, and I appreciated the story for what it was! It definitely reads like a children’s book in some places and feels a little over-told sometimes. I also tend to forget the huge gap in between the publication dates of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and it’s evident already as I’ve already started The Fellowship. Tolkien developed so much about Middle Earth that it’s astounding, and with all of these new covers and editions being released in 2020 and in the near future, I want to revisit as much of it as possible.

Bilbo is one of the most relatable fantasy characters to me, someone who only wants to stay undisturbed in his little hobbit hole with a few small adventures here and there, until Gandalf comes along and takes him on a real, true adventure. The whole adventure, Bilbo is “puzzled, yet cheered” and carries on no matter what happens to him. Even though he’s a grumpy hobbit, he’s a grumpy optimistic hobbit, and that sort of optimism helps get him untangled from the worst sorts of situations.

And Bilbo’s last riddle with Gollum certainly wasn’t a riddle.

BOOK REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab

BOOK REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. SchwabTitle: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
Published by Tor Books
Published: October 6th 2020
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 442
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Schwab is one of my favorite writers. I love the way she uses language to create worlds, and I love the connections between characters she develops. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of my favorite reads of 2020, and even though it’s been a few weeks since I’ve finished reading it, I can’t stop thinking about it in both good and not so good ways. I understand some of Schwab’s reasoning about choosing not to include very overt and specific historical things due to a fear of not writing it correctly, but they were still choices. I’ll try not to spoil it too much, but be forewarned that there might be spoilers below!

Addie LaRue made a deal with the devil to escape a life she doesn’t want, and an aftereffect of the deal is that no one remembers her. Throughout her life, throughout hundreds of years, she travels the world but the parts Schwab wrote about are so obviously eurocentric and white. There is no mention of the slave trade, not even in passing, and no mention of the civil rights movements occurring throughout the last hundred and fifty years. Is it because Schwab didn’t find it comfortable to write about or include, or is Addie so self-centered that she is only concerned about her day-to-day life and influencing artists rather than seeing what she could do, however small and incremental (as she does with the artists’ lives with whom she engages), to the grander scope of society? I feel like it’s a little of both, and I just wish there was something. Addie can’t be photographed, make any kind of physical written mark or brush stroke, but she can influence people in their art?? This is the main frustration I had with the book because it paints such a soft, sanitary version of the world. I know that’s not the point of the book, but I do wish history in its terrible reality had been included more.

But to me, Addie’s plight, her desire to be herself and live as she wished resonates a lot with me on so many levels. I often feel invisible, wanting to be recognized but finding myself stopped short by some invisible force.

“I do not want to belong to someone else,” she says with sudden vehemence. The words are a door flung wide, and now the rest pour out of her. “I do not want to belong to anyone but myself. I want to be free. Free to live, and to find my own way, to love, or to be alone, but at least it is my choice, and I am so tired of not having choices, so scared of the years rushing past beneath my feet. I do not want to die as I’ve lived, which is no life at all.”

Addie lives each day being forgotten by other people until Henry, the boy from the bookshop, remembers her. Everything she has known up until that point is thrown into a topsyturvy mess, and she spends a lot of time figuring out what that means while also falling in love with Henry. Knowing Schwab’s style from books in the past, I had an inkling about where the story would go, and it lived up to all of my expectations. I loved the ending because it felt like the right choice for her. All she wanted was to be known for who she is, not for who she could be; and for Henry, there were a lot of could bes involved.

Even with my frustrations about the history included in this book, I still enjoyed it a lot. Schwab’s style has grown and evolved since I first started reading her work, and I’m looking forward to what comes next. This is a novel that is best read without knowing too much about it (and I know I probably spoiled it a lot in this review), but the day-to-day explorations and trials Addie faces as someone who can’t be remembered resonated with me a lot, and a reread of this book is likely in my near future.

BOOK REVIEW: Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire, by Dan Hanks

BOOK REVIEW: Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire, by Dan HanksTitle: Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire by Dan Hanks
Published by Angry Robot
Published: September 8th 2020
Genres: Historical, Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 380
Format: Mass Market
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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An ex-Spitfire pilot is dragged into a race against a shadowy government agency to unlock the secrets of the lost empire of Atlantis...

In post-war 1952, the good guys are supposed to have won. But not everything is as it seems when ex-Spitfire pilot Captain Samantha Moxley is dragged into a fight against the shadowy US government agency she used to work for. Now, with former Nazis and otherworldly monsters on her trail, Captain Moxley is forced into protecting her archaeologist sister in a race to retrieve two ancient keys that will unlock the secrets of a long-lost empire - to ensure a civilisation-destroying weapon doesn't fall into the wrong hands. But what will she have to sacrifice to save the world?

It felt like those in the west had a talent for skipping straight out of one war and into another, as though they had a lust for it, while the locals would be left to clean it up when they had gone. More and more, the glorious ideas of “Empire” were revealed to be nothing more than fancy dressing when you saw the realities of those who came to suffer beneath its polished boots, blinkered ambition, and secret agendas.

Dan Hanks’s Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire is a action-packed adventure that reminded me a lot of a cross between Marvel’s Captain America and the Indiana Jones universe with a dash of The Mummy and National Treasure. Captain Moxley is a take-no-shit heroine who races to protect her sister from a shady section of the United States government involving Nazis, genetically modified beings, and aliens? Yes, this novel is incredibly pulpy and uses a lot of familiar tropes to the genre, but it’s a page-turner with a lot of heart and a lot of insight that made me want to see where Captain Moxley was headed.

One of the things I liked the most about this was that Hanks does explore colonialism and the “empire” in archeological history and what that means for everyone involved. It’s an important conversation to have when we consider how many, if not all, of the artifacts of our museums come from colonialist “exploration.” I loved the dynamic between Samantha and her sister Jessica, and I thought the balance of being a protective sibling while also learning to let the other make choices because she’s her own person was well done. I also loved the genderbent characters and how those flips toyed with the genre’s tropes and expectations. Even though I took my time reading it (thirty minutes for lunch only leaves for bite-sized reading sprints), I found it easy to follow and compulsively readable with a lot of fun surprises throughout. It’s pulp fiction at its best and pulls in so much of what I like reading in genre fiction and making it new, too.

This book feels like an action-adventure film or even a video game, and once you’ve strapped yourself in, you’re in for a ride. There are a few anachronisms, mostly in the use of language, but in the scope of the novel, it’s not entirely noticeable at all in the midst of it all. Because it’s so cinematic, I think these anachronisms are to be expected. But if that sort of thing bothers you, then it’s something to be aware of!

I really hope to see more from Hanks and this world he’s created with Captain Moxley, and this ends with a set-up for a sequel, so I hope there’s one coming out in the future! I’d love to see how Captain Moxley continues to handle her relationship with her sister and the discovery/exploration of Atlantis and everything else that has come with finding those amulets and the Hall of Records.

Thank you to Angry Robot for sending me a complimentary copy of this book to review and feature! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Glass Magician, by Caroline Stevermer

BOOK REVIEW: The Glass Magician, by Caroline StevermerTitle: The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer
Published by Tor Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
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A gilded menagerie rules a Gilded Age: Bears and Bulls are not only real, but dominate humanity in The Glass Magician, an amazing historical fantasy by Caroline Stevermer

What if you could turn into the animal of your heart anytime you want?
With such power, you’d enter the cream of New York society, guaranteed a rich life among the Vanderbilts and Astors, movers and shakers who all have the magical talent and own the nation on the cusp of a new century.

You could. If you were a Trader.

Pity you’re not.

Thalia is a Solitaire, one of the masses who don’t have the animalistic magic. But that is not to say that she doesn’t have talent of another kind—she is a rising stage magician who uses her very human skills to dazzle audiences with amazing feats of prestidigitation. Until one night when a trick goes horribly awry…and Thalia makes a discovery that changes her entire world. And sets her on a path that could bring her riches.

Or kill her.

The Glass Magician is set in an alternative Gilded Age New York City in which magic exists beyond the stage performance. Thalia is a stage magician who realizes after watching a trick go horribly wrong for her and again on stage for someone else that there is more to her world than she knew before. It is a world of shape shifters tied by bloodline, and she is one of them after thinking she was a Solitaire (a human who doesn’t shape shift) for her entire life.

I ended up feeling rather so-so about the last third of the book because it felt both melodramatic and rushed at the same time. The magic trick at the end to reveal the true killer and motive didn’t seem to flow as well with the story as I would have liked, but I think that’s also to do with the world building. However, it did leave me hopeful that there would be more books set in this universe because the foundation has been laid for a lot more exploration and examination.

I enjoy “quiet” novels, stories that are a bit slower and softer than the usual fantasy fare of high-octane action. I loved the setting of an alternate New York City in the Gilded Age, and I imagined magic and magic tricks revealed and performed in gas-lit rooms and lush dresses of mint and lilac and rose contrasting with the darker elements of this society and the magic therein. Most of these thoughts were more of my own projections of my enthusiasm of the era, but I enjoyed this book for what it was. I think I was left wanting because I knew there could be more – from world building to character development to character interactions. So much of it felt like a superficial magic trick. Pretty to read and to look at, but I felt like I could see right through the tricks.

Thank you to Tor Books and Netgalley for the advance reader copy; all opinions are my own.