Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Author: TheMarquessMagpie Page 1 of 3

Squirrel Cat to the Rescue

One of the first books I picked up this year is Queenslayer by Sebastien de Castell, the fifth installment in his Spellslinger series. It’s been some time since I read book four – June 2019, to be exact.

This series is a perfect pick if you are tired of all the “chosen one” narratives out there. While the main character Kellen is from a powerful mage family, he only ever managed to master a single spell and on top of that is cursed with mysterious markings on his face. These are called Shadowblack, and the search for a cure is one of the driving forces throughout the series. Another big part is the relationship Kellen develops with a cursing and rowdy squirrel cat, Reichis. While threatening to basically eat everyone’s eyeballs, this familiar – no, sorry business partner – is probably the main reason Kellen is still alive in book five.

Other than the previous books, the pacing was quite slow for about two thirds of the book, which made the ending feel really rushed in contrast. The general idea of having a fairly incompetent main character is still fun, but starts to lead to a very generic and repetitive plot. It is getting harder and harder to believe that Kellen has managed to survive this long against powerful enemies with only a single spell and a murderous squirrel cat. Sadly, this is the weakest instalment in the series so far and felt more like a novella between two primary works. I hope this is justified by being the buildup to a grand finale. I want to finish the series with the last book, Crownbreaker, at some point in the next couple of months to see if it pays off.

Sword of Destiny

Sword of Destiny is the second short story collection I’ve read in the The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. Not the second in general though – that would be Season of Storms, which I have somehow managed to skip. No need to worry though, I already ordered it.

At first, it was hard for me to get back into the world, and to build a connection with the characters. Well, considering I skipped a book it kind of makes sense. But after the first two stories, I was completely engaged and the book became a page turner. The recurring presence of mainly Yennefer, Dandelion and Ciri connected the stories much better than in The Last Wish, the first story collection set in the universe. While scenes with Ciri are quite emotional (for the reader, for Geralt not so much), scenes with Yennefer give food for thoughts on morale and determination. And every scene with Dandelion is basically a lot of fun. It felt like the focus for this installment shifted from monster-slaying to character development and it worked out really well.

Since the books were originally written in Polish, I decided to pick up the German translations and can highly recommend them. Erik Simon did a really good job. I’m now eagerly awaiting Season of Storms to finish the short stories. After that, it will be interesting to see if the novels also work that well for me.

Mercy in Pain

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was my first finished book of this year and it was a really good one. It is a historical fiction novel set in the small island town of Vardø, Norway, and is based on the real event of a sea storm in 1617 which killed most of the male population while they were out fishing. While this event alone could make for a really interesting story, it is the witch trials – the first in Norway – following the storm that make this book a hard but rewarding read.

The story follows two main characters. One of them is Maren, who had to witness the death of her father, brother and betrothed during the storm. We follow her struggles as she has to adapt to the new life with the rest of the women of Vardø. While still coming to terms with the trauma of losing so many people, they have to fend for themselves in order to stay alive. The second point of view is that of Ursula, wife of the new comissioner coming to Vardø. He is supposed to assist the appointed minister to keep the women on a tighter leash.

The comissioner’s arrival deepens a divide that has begun to emerge between the women. There are the kirke-women, going to church and praying and focusing on womanly and godly behavior – and there are the rest of the women, taking on “male” tasks like fishing to keep the community alive. Maren faces the divide even in her own home, as she is left with her mother, her sister-in-law and her newborn nephew. While her mother leans more and more toward the company of the kirke-women, her sister-in-law is one of the native Sámi people which are increasingly suspected of witchcraft due to their rites and rituals.

Ursula has come to Vardø trapped in her loveless marriage to the cruel commissioner. On her way from Bergen, she envisioned a place of sisterhood to help her through her loneliness. She finds a safe haven in her growing bond with Maren, while around them conflicts are growing and finally erupting.

The writing is wonderful and lyrical, capturing the harsh setting while still providing sources of light and hope. Although this is a historical fiction novel, the tone and style reminded me a bit of last year’s buddyread of The Once and Future Witches.

While the beginning and the end of the book are really fast paced, the middle is more character-driven to illustrate the connection developing between Ursula and Maren. The difference in pacing gives the feeling that the middle drags a little, but I still enjoyed seeing the relationship between the two women grow. The commissioner is a character that fills you with dread right from the outset, and the feeling grows the more you get to know about him. Religion is once again used as a tool of oppression here. Especially in the unfolding of the conflicts you really start to question how people really could believe all the accusations thrown at the supposed witches.

Please be gentle, 2021

We all can agree that 2020 was… well, let’s say challenging for all of us. I wonder what this year has in store, but taking a bookish look at it is a sure way to get our hopes up. So, here we go.

I am sure our monthly Buddyreads picked by the Otherland staff will continue to be a source of joy and lead to interesting discussions with my fellow Sceptres. The next Buddyread delivery will be accompanied by some other books I ordered, so the year is off to a good start.

Usually I’m not really good at keeping track of new releases, but there are some I am really excited about:

  • Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
  • two new Becky Chambers books, the fourth Wayfarer book will even get here as a signed preorder thanks to TheLadyDuckOfDoom
  • Broken by Jenny Lawson
  • Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire
  • The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

Apart from that, there are a couple of books already waiting on my shelves that I finally want to get to:

  • Dark Age by Pierce Brown – I excitedly preordered a signed edition back in 2019 and it has been waiting for me ever since
  • Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb, to finish the Farseer trilogy
  • 5 (!) books by V.E. Schwab
  • Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and Warbreaker
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin – also signed, also silently judging me from its place on the shelf

As always and against my better judgement, I also get really excited about reading challenges at the beginning of the year. The Goodreads challenge is the only I’ve really stuck with in the last couple of years, but I always take a look at Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge and the Popsugar Reading Challenge. I usually plan books for most of the categories in January and forget all about them by April at the latest. But still, the planning is a whole lot of fun.

Burning Roses Review

Our December Buddyread was Burning Roses by S.L. Huang and it once again confirmed my theory that you can never go wrong with a Tor novella.

If you are into fantasy retellings, this one delivers quite a lot of them in such a short form. Our main characters are Rosa and Hou Yi, both middle-aged and based on Red Riding Hood and the Archer. They embark on a quest, and on their way face themes of motherhood, belonging and redemption. I won’t tell you more about the plot, because that would spoil a big part of the book. I enjoyed seeing more experienced characters in this story, both of them with a fully fleshed out backstory. Amidst the flood of YA fantasy books, this felt like a breath of fresh air. Their life stories are told as adapted versions of well-known Brother Grimm tales and will please everyone ready for a fairy tale.

After getting a glimpse of Huang’s writing, Zero Sum Game has risen higher on the never ending TBR list.


TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle’s main reason why I found it hard to get into this book was that my grandmother’s name was Rosa. My mind kept inserting a picture of my grandmother, in her usual attire (a hooverette over a thin wollen pullover and a long pleated skirt, sensible brown leather shoes, and her hair in a tight bun), whenever the name Rosa came up. Hilarious when in combination with a gun in a fight scene, yet annoying. It has never bother me before, seeing the name of a family member in a book. Very strange. Add to that my usual struggles with fairy tale retellings. It’s definitely a problem of “it’s me”; it’s just not my cup of tea.

Mutineers and Mangos

Robert Merle’s The Island is based on the fate of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn Island and once again shows that a hunger for power begets quite a lot of blood. While not completely out of my comfort zone, it took someone close to my heart to put it into my hands. I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across it myself, given my somehow strained relationship with French authors.

After killing their cruel and sadistic captain, the mutineers aboard the Blossom need to avoid British persecution. Those directly involved in the mutiny therefore sail toward an uncharted island, determined to build a new home there. They stop in Tahiti, picking up several men and women of a tribe befriended by the main character Adam Purcell. But even before reaching their island, conflicts between the British sailors and Tahitians are starting to brew. One of the main reasons for dispute will prove to be the fact that there are less women than men and that their “distribution” hence leads to jealousy and rage. Combined with a decent supply of gun power and cultural differences, a predictable racial war ensues.

Merle’s writing style is very detailed and analytic, often discussing every possible outcome of a debate before the character has even uttered a single word. It’s not a style to really relax your brain, but enjoyable nonetheless. While the plot itself is easy to predict, the book keeps you hooked with extensive character development and moral considerations.

Would events have turned out differently if the most power hungry of the British had been killed early on? What kind of society would have emerged, if the whole crew had taken to Purcell’s approach of treating the Tahitians as equals? What if the women had been allowed to select their partners on their own, instead of being distributed like cattle?

After dipping my toe into this part of Merle’s work, his next book on my list will be Malevil. It will be interesting to see how his writing fares in a (dystopian) science fiction setting.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water

You may know Zen Cho from her books Sorcerer to the Crown, but with The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, she proves that her writing also shines in a shorter novella form. And you can’t help but get interested with a beautiful title and cover like that.

The book follows Guet Imm, a votary of the titular order. She joins a group of bandits after being fired from her job in a coffee house because of a commotion one of the bandits started. While Guet Imm befriends the right-hand man of the group’s leader, trouble is on the horizon because of the items they are planning to sell. From the outset, you would expect something really action-packed. It starts with a martial arts fight scene, after all. But what you get is a warmhearted novella about a found family with strong themes of acceptance. Devotees of the order also have some tricks up their sleeves, and there may or may not be magic involved.

The audiobook was done really well, and it was easy to keep track of the characters. I think listening to it really added to my enjoyment of the story, as it provided an easier access to the Asian names for me.

Taking a Stand

You may have read about my struggle with Stephen King’s The Stand but today is the day I can finally finally finally announce that I did it. I finished it. It took me roughly seven months (and two weeks to eventually write this review, but that’s somehow very fitting).

The Stand is no doubt a masterpiece, albeit a very long one. But still, why did it take months for me to finish it? That was probably a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. I had a hard time picking it up time and time again, probably because the page count is so daunting. Once I picked it up, I immersed myself easily. But after reading for quite a while, you still seem to barely make a dent in this huge doorstopper. Let us just say it was the wrong pick for this weird year, not because of the content, but probably because of the format.

Talking of content, I would maybe recommend reading it in 2022, or later. An apocalyptic horror novel about a virus gone wild is probably something that will sit better by then.

As always, nobody writes characters like Mr. King. This book has such a huge cast, and still he manages to make all of them memorable, interesting and fully fleshed out. Even with weeks passing between single reading sessions (cough cough), you step right back among them.

There is a certain ingenuity with which he lets the reader look at ordinary things and recognize the disaster that might lurk just beneath the surface. So, what happens if society has the chance to start over? If we can reshape the way humans are interacting in a social context, rebuild the way we are organized based on the knowledge and experiences we have right now? Well, in King’s opinion we get either a peaceful, benevolent community….or bloody mayhem. I think he has a point.

4/5 Goodreads stars

Clap When You Land

This story by Elizabeth Acevedo about two sisters finding each other in the aftermath of their father’s death is not something you should read right before boarding a flight. Which is exactly what I did, because my brain has its slow moments.

Camino lives in the Dominican Republic, Yahaira in New York City. Both have accepted that their father is absent for parts of the year. Little do they know that their father is dividing his time between their respective families. On his way to visit Camino, the plane crashes. Their father’s death leads to the sisters oncovering his secret, and they finally meet each other as Yahaira flies to the Domincan Republic for the burial.

This is my third Acevedo, and I have enjoyed every one of them. Her novels are always told in verse. This is something you have to get used to at first, but it really lends a beautiful frame to the stories. In Clap When You Land, different points of views slowly intertwining seamlessly reflects the sister’s evolving relationship. A little caveat – there are a lot of Spanish words scattered throughout the book. They really fit the mood, and my dusty school Spanish was more than enough, but it might be a little bit confusing.

Dead Mountain

As mentioned in a previous post, I am (perhaps weirdly) fascinated by mountaineering books and the disasters that often accompany them. Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar falls firmly into that category. It is an account of a mystery that leads to the death of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains.

In 1959, nine university students – all of them experienced hikers – set out on a trip that was supposed to earn them the next hiking grade. The group surrounding Igor Dyatlov died under circumstances that still lead to confusions decades later. The bodies of the hikers were found outside their tent, all of them without shoes and proper clothing. Their tent was cut open from the inside, giving the impression that all of them fled into the night in a panic. While most of them died from spending the pitch-black night in freezing temperatures, violent injuries were found on some of the bodies.

In his book Eichar tries to find a plausible explanation for the events on the titular Dead Mountain that does not involve conspiracy theories. In 1959, the investigation was wrapped up with the explanation that the hikers left their tent because of an “unknown compelling force”, after all. We are talking about Soviet cover-ups, rocket launches, strange lights in the sky and radiation readings. A big part of my fascination with this book was caused by the photographs reproduced from the hiker’s cameras, supported by translations of their journal entries. This made following their story almost a personal matter.

I was very satisfied with the (scientific) conclusion Eichar provides in the end, although probably only one of the hikers could have told us what really happened that night.

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