1 Mar 2024

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays: ISLAND WITCH by Amanda Jayatissa (Review + Excerpt)

01 March 1 Comments


Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays introduces readers who are unfamiliar with the Adult SF/F genre to books, authors, and discussions all about the vast expanse of the world of Adult SF/F!

NIGHT FOR DAY

Author: Amanda Jayatissa
Series: N/A
Source: eARC via publisher
Publisher: Ace
Publication Date: February 20, 2024
Representation: Sri Lankan main character

Summary:
Set in 19th century Sri Lanka and inspired by local folklore, the daughter of a traditional demon-priest—relentlessly bullied by peers and accused of witchcraft herself—tries to solve the mysterious attacks that have been terrorizing her coastal village.

Being the daughter of the village Capuwa, or demon-priest, Amara is used to keeping mostly to herself. Influenced by the new religious practices brought in by the British Colonizers, the villagers who once respected her father’s craft have turned on the family. Yet, they all still seem to call on him whenever supernatural disturbances arise.

Now someone—or something—is viciously seizing upon men in the jungle. But instead of enlisting Amara’s father’s help, the villages have accused him of carrying out the attacks himself.

As she tries to clear her father’s name, Amara finds herself haunted by dreams that eerily predict the dark forces on her island. And she can’t shake the feeling that it’s all connected to the night she was recovering from a strange illness, and woke up, scared and confused, to hear her mother’s frantic cries: No one can find out what happened. 

Purchase*:
(note that these are affiliate links! I receive a small amount of compensation at no cost to you)
The demon-drums started and the little girl's face contorted like a blood-soaked rag being twisted dry. Her tongue hung out, purple and almost to her chest, a dribble of spit leaving a dark, wet mark on the loose nightdress she wore. The thick smoke from the perfumed incense made everything look like it was enveloped inside a dark cloud. I craned my neck out further from behind the curtain that separated the main room from the rest of the house, where I was hiding, hoping that no one would notice me.

My father sat in front of the girl. I knew she was ten years old, but she looked much younger as she thrashed around on the mat that had been laid on the floor. Almost like an animal about to be taken to the slaughter. I noticed that her white cotton nightdress was embroidered with little yellow ducks. I'd had a similar nightgown when I was that age.

The light of the small clay lamp that my father held in his palms cast strange shadows on his face as he chanted pirith. He was blessing her, and most importantly, blessing what was about to happen next. They had passed around pirith nool to everyone who was in attendance a while back-the protective thread that was meant to be tied around our wrists-so that meant things were about to begin.

May the blessings of the triple gem be with you, I silently mouthed, my own prayer for my father. Words I had uttered countless times, but still, today, they wilted on my tongue like sleeping grass when you touched it. Exorcisms were never cheerful events, but there was a certain hardness clinging to the air this evening, leaving everyone clenching their fists and shortening their breath, rigid and strained.

Three young men lined up, waiting for my father to say the word. They had on colourfully painted wooden devil masks. The same kind that hung in our hut-bad spirits to scare away worse spirits. I was thankful that these men hadn't abandoned him. Most people in the village had, though my father, Thaththa to me, would never blame them.

"People have a right to believe in what they choose to," he'd said, the finality in his voice conjuring rocks in my chest. There was a time we'd talk about anything and everything, but not anymore.

A tiny voice cut through my thoughts. "Aren't you scared, Amara Akki?" Siyath Malli asked me. Our parents were friends, and I'd been there the day Siyath was born. That was six years ago, and I was eighteen now. His eyes were wider than the possessed girl's and his lips quivered. Even though he threatened my hiding spot, I couldn't help but laugh at his expression. I put a finger to my mouth and ushered him to join me behind the curtain.

"Why?" I whispered. "Are you afraid of men in masks?"

We had a funny relationship with spirits on this island. We respected them, but we didn't fear them in the same way the British did, or the Dutch before them, or the nuns who taught me back when I used to attend school. We used them to help us, often against other spirits. I suppose you could say it was fighting fire with fire-although the only real fire here was from the torches my father had ordered lit around the property.

"No matter what, don't ever let the torches die out," he had said to his assistants. The same men who wore the wooden devil masks and had tied gejji-bells-around their ankles, waiting to dance a tovil on my father's orders. The devil dance was meant to draw out the evil spirit that had wedged itself inside the poor girl.

The De Silva family had come to see my father five days before. Clifford De Silva had brought home some beef, freshly slaughtered at the market, but when his wife had opened the parcel to make a curry for dinner, the meat had been rotten. Crawling with maggots, he'd said, and the stench had caused his daughter to vomit. It was definitely a hooniyama, Clifford had cried, a curse, cast by his neighbours, who had recently argued with him about a fence put up at the edge of his property. The neighbours claimed it was on five yards of their own land, but Clifford said they'd have to take it up with the British, who had gifted the property to his family for their support.

My father had narrowed his eyes at that, but had not said anything. Support for the British meant that the De Silva family would have joined the Christian church. Or perhaps they had already converted many years ago-their new name certainly suggested so, as did eating beef, which Buddhists never did. And my father made it very clear to me and my mother how he felt about that.

But most importantly, my father didn't like to deal with demons-yakku, as we called them here. My father was a Capuwa, he liked to clarify, and this profession required him to appeal to deviyo-the gods. He was mostly called upon to bless houses, cut limes to ward off the evil eye, administer tonics. Not to be confused with a Cattadiya, who used the dark powers of yakku.

He had given Clifford De Silva some blessed talismans-prayers inscribed and rolled into small clay pots-to hang in the four corners of his house for protection, and suggested he speak to the priest at the Christian church if his troubles continued.

But he didn't have the heart to refuse Clifford when he visited our home for the second time two days later, at the very crack of dawn, hair dishevelled and eyes bloodshot, trembling like a leaf. His daughter, Lalitha, had started speaking in a different tongue, he sobbed. What little they could understand was all profanity. Curse words that the girl had never once uttered in her life-words that she had not even heard before, he claimed. She would lie on her mat, her body bending and contorting while she hissed and spit and snarled. She had tried to bite the Christian priest who came to bless her. She'd been possessed by a yaka, Clifford cried.

His face grim, my father simply nodded and started to make preparations. This was no job for a foreign god. We had to deal with our demons the traditional way.

"It's not the masks I'm afraid of," Siyath Malli said, curling his small body into mine. "It's the yaka."

My father preferred not to deal with yakku, but I had grown up watching him perform these rituals when it was absolutely necessary. I'd usually help him-gathering the objects he needed, making sure everything was ready, though he never let me participate in the exorcism itself. I was still too young, he said, until a few weeks ago when he appeared to have changed his mind completely and declared I wasn't allowed to be involved at all.

I'll claw out your tongue if you tell. No one can find out what happened.

A chill ran through me, but not because of the scene in front of us. Since the last full moon, I'd been having dreams. They started in the same place every time. In a small hut, at the very edge of the world. It was made of mud, like most huts, but it had no sleeping mat, no shelves or baskets to store things in. All it had were old, tattered curtains in a surprising, startling red.

And every time I stepped out of the hut, my surroundings would be different. Sometimes I would be deep in the heart of the jungle. Sometimes on the ocean shore. But each time, without fail, one thing was constant.

Her.

I didn't know her name. I didn't know what she wanted. She was a monster. Demoness. A yakshaniya. Every time I dreamt of her, her image would get clearer in my mind.

Excerpted from Island Witch by Amanda Jayatissa Copyright © 2024 by Amanda Jayatissa. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer : I received a free copy of this book and chose to review it. This in no way impacts my opinion.

Content Warning: death, grief, nosebleeds, blood, discussions of war

I really liked this one but felt like there were some key missing pieces to make it a perfect read. I thought the premise was interesting with good execution but some of it ended up falling flat and feeling repetitive as time went on. I wanted to know more about the war, what the factions wanted, and the roles that everyone played in it rather than focusing so heavily on Ward and Camille.

I think it also would have been interesting to give us more time in the world rather than cramming it all into a couple weeks. We weren’t given enough time to explore, learn about the consequences, or to understand what has been happening. Because of that, the story felt really rushed. I thought there would be more of an emphasis on not caring how much time was spent during this because of the immortal aspects, which when juxtaposed with the mortal side just didn’t quite hit for me.

But I did really like Camille and Ward’s relationship. The coming together and realizing what it meant to trust and love one another was the best part of this novel. I liked the way their relationship was described and learning about their past as they moved forward into the future. I liked their complimentary aspects and how they learned to work together to overcome their differences.

This is different than Roselle Lim’s typical novels, but it was a good departure! I’d be so interested in reading more of this style of work in the future.

Have you read this book? What was your favourite part?

27 Feb 2024

Review: DAUGHTER OF THE BONE FOREST by Jasmine Skye

27 February 1 Comments

DAUGHTER OF THE BONE FOREST

Author: Jasmine Skye
Series: Witch Hall #1
Source: eARC via Publisher
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: February 27, 2024

Overall Rating:
Diversity Rating:

Representation: queer main characters, sapphic relationships

Summary:
Two girls reluctantly bound by fate must weather a dangerous courtship as a prophesied war grows ever closer in Jasmine Skye's high-stakes, queernormative dark fantasy debut, Daughter of the Bone Forest.

Rosy is a bone familiar, gifted with the power to shift into animals marked with exposed bone. She spends most of her days in the magical Bone Forest, caring for her feral grandmother and hiding her powers to avoid conscription by the Witch King’s army. Until the day that Princess Shaw, a witch known as Death’s Heir, visits the Forest. When Rosy saves Shaw’s life, the princess offers her the chance to attend the prestigious school, Witch Hall, as payment. Though Rosy is wary of Shaw’s intentions, she cannot pass up the opportunity to find the cure for her grandmother’s affliction.

But at Witch Hall, Rosy finds herself embroiled in political games she doesn't understand. Shaw wants Rosy for her entourage, a partner to help lead the coming war. All Rosy wants is to stay out of trouble until she can graduate and save her grandmother, but she can't deny her attraction to Shaw or the comfort Shaw’s magic gives her. Will Rosy give in to her destiny, or will the Bone Forest call her home once and for all?
Purchase*:
(note that these are affiliate links! I receive a small amount of compensation at no cost to you)
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book and chose to review it. This in no way impacts my opinion.

Content Warning: death, war, violence, bleeding, grief

This is probably going to be my favourite fantasy release of the year. The built in diversity combined with the powerful magic system and immaculate world-building made this lose my breath with how much I enjoyed it.

I loved the premise of this and thought it was well executed. It ended up being more than just an academic setting fantasy story and morphed into a conversation around power, privilege, and politics. The book shattered me a few times with the characters, conversations, and ways in which it explored topics and identities.

What I loved most is that some scenes and conversations seemed trivial in the moment but ended up being significant later in the novel. I bet if I reread it, I would learn even more the second time because it has so much subtext written into it. This is especially true in the conversations around who has power and why it matters beyond just Shaw. I thought it was really neat to see how people tried to make their own power through the social norms and abilities they had.

Rosy was a really interesting character and I appreciated her emotional growth throughout the novel. She was able to go beyond just caring about the needs of her family to understanding how that impacted the broader elements of the world. She may not have had the full knowledge of everything going on around her, but she played to her strengths and was able to make powerful allies. I loved that she wanted to carve her own path forward.

Because Shaw’s perspective was in third-person rather than first-person, I found it a bit more difficult to understand her thinking patterns. I felt a bit closed off from her and questioning her decisions like Rosy did. I thought it was interesting to see how her morals and ethics started to change in the novel, but it meant that there was a bit of a disconnect between where she started and ended. I also felt like while there was a possibility of change, Shaw didn’t always quite understand why that change was needed beyond “Rosy wants it.”

The magic was the most intriguing part of this! I liked how bonding happened, the way that each pairing could be equally powerful or one more than the other. It made for an interesting way to view magic. I also liked the exploration of the bone familiar magic that we saw through Rosy. The calling to her animals, the way she paired with them, and how she was able to use them to her advantage was really cool.

Even though we saw some of the overlaps, I hope we look at bone witch magic a bit more in the next novel to see how it all combines together.

This ends on a HUGE cliffhanger but is so worth the (eventual) wait between books. There is still so much to explore in this world and for these characters. I can’t wait to see where this goes and how power will play a role in this.

I am so grateful I was able to read this one early and hope you all pick it up on release date! I preordered it and you should too!

Are you going to pick this up?

23 Feb 2024

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays: NIGHT FOR DAY by Roselle Lim (Review + Excerpt)

23 February 3 Comments


Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays introduces readers who are unfamiliar with the Adult SF/F genre to books, authors, and discussions all about the vast expanse of the world of Adult SF/F!

NIGHT FOR DAY

Author: Roselle Lim
Series: N/A
Source: eARC via publisher
Publisher: Ace
Publication Date: February 20, 2024
Representation: Asian-American

Summary:
Two people destined to be together, but to never see each other again, fight against the greatest odds in this powerful and moving fantasy novel by critically acclaimed author Roselle Lim.

Exes Ward Dunbar and Camille Buhay thought they would never see each other again. They had broken up to pursue their dream jobs on opposite sides of the country—her to New York City, and him to Los Angeles. But years later, they unexpectedly reconnect in London, where they are interviewing for similar jobs. The spark they feel when they meet again—the attraction comes back like muscle memory, and they are reminded of what they had lost. When Ward and Camille discover they both got the job working opposing shifts, they vow to give their relationship another try.

Ward starts the day shift and finds the immortal clientele unusual and dazzling. When he clocks out at the end of the day, he finds the door locked and himself trapped in the building. After a horrific first night shift contending with restless spirits and ghosts, Camille is also unable to escape. In their respective prisons, they discover that they’re able to talk to each other a few minutes before dawn. This fleeting encounter incites longing for each other, but their promise to be together feels impossible. Because they are caught in the middle of a war of the gods—and their choices will determine the outcome.

Purchase*:
(note that these are affiliate links! I receive a small amount of compensation at no cost to you)
Mistakes were meant to be in the rearview mirror-not walking, breathing, and able to cup your cheek to stoke every single smoldering memory long buried for self-preservation.

He shouldn't whisper my name as if he never stopped doing so for the past two years.

Even now, my fingers itched to reacquaint myself with the beauty of his face, then to trace the slight cleft in his chin down his smooth throat, and ever farther down, to where our once shared intimacy implied permission and invitation.

"Camille, I never thought I'd see you again, let alone in London." The way my name rolled off his tongue and slid through his lips always elicited the same response-it felt like a hot kiss at the nape of my neck.

Ward Dunbar. The mistake I'd commit again and again even knowing that the result would always be heartbreak.

"Job interview. If I get it, I'll be moving here." I adjusted the neckline of my buttoned dress shirt, expanding the view of bronzed skin below my collarbones. My traitorous body always reacted to him when he was in physical proximity. Easier to shut down my hormones through the sterility of a black glass screen.

He brushed an errant dark blond strand off his forehead. "I'm here for the same. Though I've passed the interview part."

The skies overhead darkened-clusters of gray clouds huddling together in conference. It had been sunny five minutes ago. Late spring weather in London changed on a whim with wicked fickleness, and we were sliding into the heat of summer. I packed an umbrella and a cardigan in my lavender vegan leather tote, but I didn't account for him. My purse didn't contain what I'd need to cope with the nuclear fallout of a failed relationship.

Avoidance therapy was the only method that worked. Putting thousands of miles between us and preventing myself from checking his social media accounts fueled a comfortable sense of forgetfulness-the kind that allowed me to function on a daily basis, but didn't prevent an occasional damaging slipup. It didn't hurt that he hadn't had any long-term relationships since then. Moving to Manhattan helped, and London should have cured me completely.

I was wrong.

Two days ago, I slipped and checked his Instagram. The selfie at an outdoor bookstall on the South Bank caused me to stop breathing for a few seconds. He was here and in the same city. I wasn't thinking when I sent him a direct message asking to meet at this bookshop. It was pure instinct-I turned off my brain and my heart took over, grabbing the wheel and changing the direction of my life.

"I never thought you'd leave LA." I resisted the urge to straighten the bent corner of his collar. No tie. I'd been the one responsible for those. His long, elegant fingers had other talents.

"I needed a change. This opportunity was as good a time as any." He tipped his head toward the bookshop. "It's going to rain. Can we duck in and chat?"

I followed him into one of the most beautiful little shops in Westminster. These buildings reminded me of an eclectic bookshelf-the windows and architectural details were charming, decorated spines of antique leather. Weathered stone, traditional painted wooden signs mixed with flashy modern ones and clean-line aesthetics. The mix of old and new fitting together in seamless coexistence.

To me, the past and present were constantly at war when I thought about Ward.

As if on cue, the curtain of rain began as he stepped into the shop. I caught a bit of it at the ends of my long hair and the back of my shirt. Again, I was reminded of what I'd be getting into if I decided to have another round in his bed-because that was where it always began.

He headed for the science fiction and fantasy section. He plucked the newest N. K. Jemisin novel from the shelf, tucked it under his arm, and continued to browse the titles, tracing his finger downward on the ones that perked his interest.

"So how does this affect your job in LA?" I took a step forward but maintained a safe distance. The scent of his subtle cologne along with the aroma of Irish cream coffee would undo my crumbling defenses. "Are you on sabbatical?"

Ward's cushy position at a very exclusive and trendy art gallery in LA was everything he ever wished for-flexible hours, the heavy array of movie stars and wealthy client meetings, and the perfect conduit to maximize his appeal. No one was impervious. He disarmed you with his good looks and gentle tone, then went in for the kill with the way he could make you feel. Empathy combined with charm was lethal.

"I quit."

I almost fell against a nearby bookcase. "You did what?"

"It's . . . I needed a change." He reached for my elbow to help me regain my balance. The heat of his touch distracted me. "I accepted a job yesterday and I start tomorrow. Now knowing that you're here, I'd say it's a great move."

Ward didn't let go yet. The worst part was that I didn't want him to.

Excerpted from Night for Day by Roselle Lim Copyright © 2024 by Roselle Lim. Excerpted by permission of Ace. All rights reserved
Disclaimer : I received a free copy of this book and chose to review it. This in no way impacts my opinion.

Content Warning: death, grief, nosebleeds, blood, discussions of war

I really liked this one but felt like there were some key missing pieces to make it a perfect read. I thought the premise was interesting with good execution but some of it ended up falling flat and feeling repetitive as time went on. I wanted to know more about the war, what the factions wanted, and the roles that everyone played in it rather than focusing so heavily on Ward and Camille.

I think it also would have been interesting to give us more time in the world rather than cramming it all into a couple weeks. We weren’t given enough time to explore, learn about the consequences, or to understand what has been happening. Because of that, the story felt really rushed. I thought there would be more of an emphasis on not caring how much time was spent during this because of the immortal aspects, which when juxtaposed with the mortal side just didn’t quite hit for me.

But I did really like Camille and Ward’s relationship. The coming together and realizing what it meant to trust and love one another was the best part of this novel. I liked the way their relationship was described and learning about their past as they moved forward into the future. I liked their complimentary aspects and how they learned to work together to overcome their differences.

This is different than Roselle Lim’s typical novels, but it was a good departure! I’d be so interested in reading more of this style of work in the future.

Have you read this book? What was your favourite part?

20 Feb 2024

Blog Tour: LEOPARD'S HUNT by Christine Feehan (Spotlight + Excerpt)

20 February 1 Comments

 

Today I'm spotlighting a release for the day:

LEOPARD'S HUNT

This novel is by Christine Feehan and is the 14th installment in the Leopard's People series! Learn more below.

LEOPARD'S PEOPLE

Author: Christine Feehan
Series: Leopard's People #14
Source: eARC via publisher
Publisher: Koehler Books
Publication Date: September 5, 2023

Summary:
Maya Averina has spent years hunting the criminals who destroyed her life, and she always takes down her prey. She keeps to herself, stays under the radar, and never loses focus. But with her body burning up and her mind distracted by her first heat, an ambush takes her by surprise. Now she's trapped, an unmated female shifter about to be sold off to the highest bidder. Maya is ready to fight her way out—until the most dangerous, powerful man she's ever encountered arrives to set her free....

Gorya Amurov might be known as his family's peacekeeper, but the leopard inside him wants nothing more than to claw to the surface and unleash hell. A harsh life has shaped him into a vicious fighter with a calm exterior, but Gorya knows it's only a matter of time until he loses all control. Deep down, he truly believes he'd be better off dead, and that no woman will ever accept him as a mate....

In this pulse-pounding novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling Leopard series, animal instinct unites two elite shifters whose heads are at war with their hearts.
Purchase*:
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Gorya was back to using his hand like a seductive weapon, his palm stealing around to the nape of her neck, where his fingers settled in her thick hair. It was impossible not to be aware of the way he gathered the mass into his fist, and she slowly tilted her head up toward his.

“Kissing. I’m going to kiss you.”

Thunder roared in her ears, nearly drowning out his soft murmur. She was sure she hadn’t heard him correctly. “Kiss me?” she echoed faintly. She should have expected it.

“Yeah, baby, I’m going to kiss you. If I don’t, you’re going to start thinking about it and you’re going to panic again.”

He was right, but she might panic now. “I don’t know how to kiss.”

“That’s fine. We’ll learn together. We’ll just practice until we get it right.”

His head had come closer to hers. Much closer. She could see the fine lines etched into his skin. Those lines represented the trauma he’d suffered as a child. Just seeing those creases settled her. She identified with him. She wasn’t threatened by him. She was needed by him.

His lips curved as if he knew what she was thinking. His warm breath reached the left corner of her mouth. Her entire body went taut in anticipation. Every nerve ending came alive. Little goose bumps rose on her skin. His lips brushed hers lightly—a delicate touch, but she felt it like a brand. Her stomach fluttered. A thousand butterflies lifted in flight.

Kissing was so intimate. She should close her eyes, but she was mesmerized by the way his eyes continued to change color, darkening with desire to a deeper blue, the silver ring around the blue thicker. This time she could read the stark passion mixed with growing affection for her. Growing need. Not just the need of a lover. There was that, but it was so much more. Like her, he wanted a much deeper relationship. He wanted something real with her.

Her hands came up of their own volition. She wasn’t going to be passive and put this all on him. He didn’t kiss women. Like her, he found kissing others much too familiar. If they were in this together, she was participating fully. She was terrified that she wouldn’t be able to be sexually intimate with him. She was the one afraid her past experiences would prohibit her from having a normal relationship. He was being gentle. Taking care to intro- duce her to their world of shared intimacy and vulnerability slowly and carefully.

His lips merely feathered along hers. Teased and coaxed. Always gentle. Little flashes of flickering flames seemed to touch her and were gone, leaving her wanting more. He didn’t try to rush into kissing her. He took his time, savoring the taste of her. The feel of her. Outlining the curves of her lips with his tongue. Memorizing her. 

She caught the images in his mind. All the while, he never closed his eyes, staring into hers as if he could see right into her soul.

Maya had never been so aware of another human being. He was everywhere. Surrounding her with his strength. His heart. Letting her into his mind. Pouring into hers slowly. Carefully. It wasn’t an invasion or a takeover. It was a joining. A promise. He deliberately shared himself with her. Opened himself up to her. Made himself vulnerable.

Maya did the same, staring into his eyes. Giving herself to him the same way. A vow to him that he would be her only. She would give him everything she was. There was no expectation of perfection. Both accepted the other for the broken, damaged person they were. They were going into the relationship with their eyes wide open.
He slanted his head, and his mouth settled on hers. Her lashes fluttered down as he rubbed his lips over hers and then traced the seam with his tongue. The floor tilted and rocked. She gripped his shoulders, needing an anchor so she wouldn’t go spinning off into space.

Excerpted from Leopard's Hunt by Christine Feehan Copyright © 2024 by Christine Feehan. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Christine Feehan is the New York Times bestselling author of many novels, including the Carpathian series, the GhostWalker series, the Leopard series, the Shadow Riders series, the Torpedo Ink series, and standalone romantic suspense novels. Learn more online at www.christinefeehan.com.
Photo credit: Michael Greene

Pick this up today!

9 Feb 2024

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays: TO BE TAUGHT, IF FORTUNATE by Becky Chambers (Review)

09 February 0 Comments


Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays introduces readers who are unfamiliar with the Adult SF/F genre to books, authors, and discussions all about the vast expanse of the world of Adult SF/F!

TO BE TAUGHT, IF FORTUNATE

Author: Becky Chambers
Series: N/A
Source: Gifted at Christmas
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Representation: queer characters

Summary:
At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in subzero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to journey to neighboring exoplanets long known to harbor life.

A team of these explorers, Ariadne O’Neill and her three crewmates, are hard at work in a planetary system fifteen light-years from Sol, on a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds. But as Ariadne shifts through both form and time, the culture back on Earth has also been transformed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the story of the wonders and dangers of her mission, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

Purchase*:
(note that these are affiliate links! I receive a small amount of compensation at no cost to you)
Content Warning: animal death, confinement, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempt, grief, sexual content, depression

This was such an interesting and thought-provoking read about decisions we make and the impact we have on others. Like a lot of other Becky Chambers novels, this one is encouched in "science" that really just explores the idea of how we can associate ourselves to others through atypical means.

I really like books with queer characters, found family, and overall queer themes, so To Be Taught, If Fortunate appealed to all these elements for me. It has a strong focus on the relationship between the characters and their journey of self-discovery, which is a typical aspect of Becky Chambers books.

This is a pretty short novel but it packs a lot of information and themes into it. I thought it was so interesting to see the idea of how different worlds create different feelings in people, the need to take as little as possible while still enough to gain knowledge, and the leaving with no trace behind. It felt like a camping trip in space, which made it pretty interesting.

I think the ending was really well crafted. I wish the conversation had been a little longer to get a bit more perspective on how they wanted to continue onwards, especially because it ended pretty shortly thereafter. I would have liked a bit more discussion about the importance of how you make decisions that affective a collective rather than being "selfish."

To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a great read if you're interested in a thought-provoking and emotional journey that explores the wonders of space and the transformative power of human connection. Do be cautioned that the animal death scene is very traumatizing and leads the characters into a pretty heavy state of depression.

Are you going to pick this one up?

6 Feb 2024

Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays: FATHOMFOLK by Eliza Chan (Review)

06 February 0 Comments


Science Fiction and Fantasy Fridays introduces readers who are unfamiliar with the Adult SF/F genre to books, authors, and discussions all about the vast expanse of the world of Adult SF/F!

FATHOMFOLK

Author: Eliza Chan
Series: Drowned World #1
Source: ARC via publisher
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publication Date: February 27, 2024
Representation: Pan-Asian, queer side characters

Summary:
Welcome to Tiankawi – shining pearl of human civilization and a safe haven for those fleeing civil unrest. Or at least, that's how it first appears. But in the semi-flooded city, humans are, quite literally, on top: peering down from shining towers and aerial walkways on the fathomfolk – sirens, seawitches, kelpies and kappas – who live in the polluted waters below.

For half-siren Mira, promotion to captain of the border guard means an opportunity to help her downtrodden people. But if earning the trust and respect of her human colleagues wasn't hard enough, everything Mira has worked towards is put in jeopardy when Nami, a know-it-all water dragon and fathomfolk princess – is exiled to the city, under Mira’s watch. When extremists sabotage a city festival, violence erupts, as does the clampdown on fathomfolk rights. Both Nami and Mira must decide if the cost of change is worth paying, or if Tiankawi should be left to drown.

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book and chose to review it. This in no way impacts my opinion.

Content Warning: death, grief, xenophobia, racism, knives, kidnapping, torture, fighting, police brutality, discussions of war, parental neglect

This review is part of an ongoing series of highlighting Orbit's 2024 New Voices!

I really wanted to like this one, but something just felt like it was missing for me. First and foremost, this was a mix of a variety of Asian cultures, which didn't quite hit the mark for me. It felt like it was all over the place instead of immersed in one specific folklore or mythology. Other reviewers, such as Mai, have outlined the lack of clarity and focus on mythology in a way that makes sense.

As for the rest... I wanted this to have a bit more substance. I felt like we were meandering along through different plot points instead of things being more action packed and thoughtful. I think part of the issue with this was the choice in perspectives.

With three point of views (POVs) to follow, it made it really difficult for me to understand who knew what and how they would have figured it out. It also felt like sometimes we were getting information or seeing a scene from the wrong perspective. I didn't really like any of the perspectives, but Mira's felt the most grounded in the story and narrative as opposed to Serena and Nami.

Mira (half-siren) was the first fathomfolk in the military and the first to reach captaincy. Kai (dragon) (not a perspective, but shown in both Mira's and Nami's POVs) is the ambassador for fathomfolk trying to work towards a better future for his people. Nami (dragon) is Kai’s opinionated and stubborn younger sister who is exiled to the above-water city by their mother and is determined for drastic change and falls in with an anti-human rebellious extremist group. Cordelia (sea witch) is the ambitious, selfish wife of one of the most powerful councillors who manipulates from behind the scenes, striking deals to better her position.

Now if you aren't confused, there's also a "twist" that the one perspective, labelled "Serena" is actually Cordelia. This happens like 5 minutes into the book, so it's not a "twist" in my opinion. But it was such a silly plot point except to show us the duality of how people are treated - which we were ALREADY seeing with the other perspectives.

If we were going to get a "human" perspective, that would have been much more interesting and enlightening to the way that the world and politics work. Serena/Cordelia was not a great character, her flaws heavily outweighed any aspect of her good elements. And instead of actually breaking the "sea witch" trope (like she hoped to do), she fell right into it instead.

Which is another aspect I didn't enjoy - the politics. I took Political Science for my degrees and this book was just a mess. It was all over the place with the trope of ambassadors trying to solve problems from within, young political extremism, and generally taking advantage of the system.

There was no nuance to any of this, it was so blatantly obvious that it felt a bit like the author thought if she wasn't putting it into every scene, dialogue, and thought from every perspective. It cheapened any of the scenes that looked at things like the xenophobic-adjacent issues and behaviours and looks at how a society can come together, or fall apart, when forced to integrate, work together, and confront long-held prejudices.

The romances felt quite juvenile and very insta-love like, especially Nami's. Everything felt fairly predictable especially with Nami's perspective in general. Mira and Kai coming from such different backgrounds to fall in love was fine except that we didn't really see any of it. Mira also feels at one point like she's falling out of love with Kai only for them to get back together with little to no fanfare. I just wanted someone's relationship to not feel so forced and out of place.

The familial relationships in this were really great, though! I loved watching Mira and her mom together and the sacrifices they both made for one another. I also thought Kai and Nami had a good sibling relationship that made it quite intriguing to read about. The idea of found family even was a good concept in this book where you had a lot of people struggling to find their identities and look to others for that.

The pacing of this book was so slow and boring at some points. Then at the end, I felt like it could have ended about six different times but then it kept going. I don't understand why each chapter and scene near the end felt like an epilogue (and there WAS an epilogue) rather than the next logical sequence in the book. It just felt like it was all too much rather than a solid and well thought out book. And with this being the first in a series, I'm concerned about where this is going to go next, especially with the ending.

I feel like the more of this review I write, the less I like the book. I was so happy to receive it early and have the chance to review it. The cover is gorgeous and in theory this should have checked off all my boxes. It's compared to The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart, but it does not compare at all to it in my opinion.

This one might be a pass!

Are you going to pick this one up?