Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Author: TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle Page 2 of 8

Just imagine London was French

Natasha Pulley’s fourth novel The Kingdoms, publishing day 27 May 2021, is an alternate history/time travel story set between the French Revolution and the early 20th century [I’m being vague on purpose]. The French won the Napoleonic Wars and Britain is under French rule; that might need a moment to sink in, take your time.

Our MC Joe arrives in a London that is familiar to him and is not. He’s lost his memories. He’s certain though that his wife’s name is ‘Madeleine’ and he has dreamlike memories of a man standing by the sea waiting for him. Due to his amnesia, he spends a few days in hospital until his owner and his wife Alice take him home. To a home and a life he cannot remember. He slowly adjusts to this new-to-him life and starts a family with Alice. When, some years after his arrival in London, Joe’s being sent to stay at a lighthouse in the northwest of Scotland for a winter, Joe knows that not seeing his young daughter for several months will have an impact on both their lives. He could not fathom how big this impact might actually turn out to be.

Pulley’s writing is excellent. I highlighted quite a lot of very apt descriptions in my eARC. My favourite, which I’ve already shared on Twitter and hope will make it into the final version of the book, was when Joe watched sailors pulling up the anchor chain of a ship, where one tiny slip might cause a fatal accident:

… his [Joe’s] teeth itched with the sense of potential energy.

Natasha Pulley, The Kingdoms

The chapters are mainly told following Joe, but we also get flashbacks to other major character’s pasts. This might be a little confusing at first, but each “jump” in time is labelled at the beginning of the chapter. I thought it was handled very well and easy to follow, but I love a good time travel story with twists and turns [Tenet did not give me a headache at all].

The story’s based on the so-called grandfather paradox of time travel. You know, will you still be alive if you travel back in time and kill your own grandfather before your parent is even conceived? That is, will changes made by your being in the past have an influence on your present/future? [Should you like research rabbit holes as much as I do, here’s a nifty Wikipedia article for you: Grandfather Paradox.]

What’s left to say? I’m looking forward to holding a print copy of this book in my hands. I’m actually hoping I can pre-order a signed copy and re-read the story by the fireside at the next Gladstone’s Library reading retreat that was cancelled twice in 2020 due to ‘the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named’.

It’s that time of the year…

… when I’m trying not to make New Year’s Resolutions that I won’t keep.

One of my resolutions last year was to read 250 books. I managed to do that. The Covid-19 situation is not to be blamed for it, I’ve been reading a lot every year since I had to stop working. Further I wanted to read 24 physical copies off my shelves. I haven’t kept a record, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet that goal. Apropos meeting goals, I had planned not to buy more than two new books each month. That resolution went out the window within the first few days of 2020.

What are my resolutions for 2021 – the bookish ones that is?

  • I want to try to flatten the curve of my MountTBR, it’s ginormous. The number of ebooks, audiobooks, and physical copies unread has four figures and the first one is higher than there are fingers on one of my hands. I will have to live forever, it seems.
  • I’d like to tame my review copies shelves, which means, I have to read through the small mountain of ebooks and will have to stop requesting too many new review copies.
  • As every year, I promise myself to read 24 physical copies already lingering on my shelves – I’ll keep you updated on how spectacularly I’m failing.
  • Last but not least, I’m trying to stick to a tighter book buying budget. I’m going to keep a record of pages read. Each page will be worth one Cent. Audiobooks and ebooks are entered by checking the number of pages of the physical copy editions, or are estimated. I can only spend as much as I have earned by reading books. Means, I have to read a few books before some of my pre-orders make it to my shelves.

Pre-orders? Yes, of course, a reader has to be prepared for the worst case scenario: empty shelves. — I just burst out laughing. As if that could ever happen. If I believed in the concept of Heaven and Hell, I’d say Hell freezing over’s more likely to happen than me running out of reading material; just see above mentioned MountTBR.

I’m really looking forward to the second book in the King of Scars Duology by Leigh Bardugo: Rule of Wolves. This will be my birthday treat to myself. Okay, you got me. It’s part of my treat; I’m intending to let the staff of Otherland curate a surprise box of books for me again. Must read the four books from 2020 before then, though.

In order to get myself to catch up on some recommended reading – not the scholarly kind of RR – I’ve pre-ordered Becky Chamber’s fourth book of the Wayfarer series, The Galaxy, and the Ground within; and I’m contemplating pre-ordering the next book of the Murderbot series by Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry.

Five books that I’ve put on the tentative TBR list for 2021 are:

  • Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library – which I have wanted to read ever since the news about the book came out.
  • Victoria Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – s.a.
  • N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became – I’m going to read this in January for the #AuthorAMonth book club over on Litsy.
  • Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes series – don’t gasp, I’ve already told you I am behind on the recommended reading.
  • Jay Kristoff’s Empire of the Vampire – can’t wait to review this one.

Why only five? Well, I could have added so many more. Actually, there are more than 400 books on my “Want to read” list on Goodreads. Though that doesn’t mean that I have to want to read them all within the next few months. I’m trying to put less pressure on myself not more.

Last but not least, a tiny recap of December 2020. I did manage to make a small book tree. I wrapped 42 books for it. I could have added more, but I was done cutting the pad of my thumb on the tape dispenser. As far as reading went, I finished the Forward Collection, a collection of six sci-fi short stories curated by Blake Crouch; read the first novella in the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells; wrote a long review after finishing Naomi Novik’s Deadly Education; and there were also a few ARCs and romance novels.

What are your resolutions for 2021? Any bookish challenges you’re taking part in? One of my non-bookish resolutions is drinking more water. Since I’ve emptied my tall glass now, I’m off to refill it and then settle down with one of my ‘left-overs’ from last year, The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart.

Steampunk Fun

Elizabeth Chatsworth’s The Brass Queen will be published 12 January 2021.

Comedy, romance, and adventure light up this delightful gaslamp fantasy set in an alternate Victorian age.

THE BRASS QUEEN was a 2018 Golden Heart® finalist, was showcased in Pitch Wars 2017, and won numerous contests including The Far Side Contest 2018 (Light Paranormal category), The Molly Contest 2018 (Paranormal category), Put Your Heart In A Book Contest 2018 (Paranormal, Science Fiction, & Fantasy category), The Best Banter Contest 2018 (Paranormal category), and The Catherine Contest 2018 (Wild Card category).

Elizabeth Chatsworth on Goodreads

Let me tell you, Ms Chatsworth, whom I virtually met on Litsy ages ago, is not boasting. She knows how to write, and the ARC I read clearly showed all the hard work she has put into the book. It was relaxing to read something that had a well thought through timeline and plot, AND there were no inconsistencies whatsoever – something to bring out the champagne for, actually.

What’s the story about? The story is about Constance Haltwhistle, daughter of a baron who’s been absent from his estate for ages, and arms dealer to a company called Steamwerks. And Mr Trusdale, a Stetson wearing American who is and is not the person he pretends to be.

Although Constance lives in an alternate Steampunk Victorian age, she still can’t inherit her father’s estate. Since her father has been absent for a very long time, her uncle is threatening to seize the estate from under Constances bustle, if she can’t manage to snag a decent husband within the next week.

Her coming out ball is a big success until the three exo-suits that were meant as pure decoration start moving seemingly on their own accord and abduct three scientist friends of Constance’s. That’s when Constance decides that, although she is on the planning committee for the royal visit of the Queen, taking place in a few days, and actively looking for a husband, she needs to rescue her friends at all costs.

Aided by the cowboy Mr Trusdale, her coach man and her butler, Constance is on a mission to bring her big plan of rescuing her friends to fruition. Which means, the reader may settle in for a mad-cap ride through a well-designed and thoroughly thought out world-building with weirdly funny characters and excellent pacing.

School of Monsters

Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, published 29 September 2020, had been on my radar for quite a while. After reading a few reviews, though, I was and wasn’t certain that I wanted to read the book.

What?! You don’t make sense, you might think right now. Well, I sometimes don’t. I’ll try to do my best to explain.

First off, as seems to be my general disclaimer these days, I haven’t read any previous work by Novik. Her book Uprooted was in my big box of surprises from Otherland, but I haven’t made time for it yet. Also, I’m very likely to reveal a few things about the story of Deadly Education – aka SPOILERS AHEAD!

Before diving into a book, I often read some reviews. (Bad habit? Spoils the fun?) I read a few of the glowing ones, which all gush about how clever the world-building is, how they love the main character, how ingenious the magic system and the Scholomance are, and how the readers can’t wait for the sequel. Things that normally put me off. Would have here too, if it wasn’t for the criticism.

After the rave comes the criticism; I move on to the reviews that are often long, detailed, and make me want to read the book to find out whether all the criticism is deserved, or make me not want to read the book at all.

In this case, it was one particular review that had an issue with Novik’s use of different languages and the portrayal of the speakers of these languages that made me want to read the book.

Was that particular reviewer correct? Yes, in part they were correct. Novik’s MC El often refers to other students by the language they speak or the enclave they come from. We have Arabic speaking kids, “the only Mandarin speaker”, kids from the Dubai enclave, kids from the New York enclave etc. Contrary to the reviewer who saw this as a flaw in Novik’s writing, I think this is part of El’s personality. She’s snarky. She’s been hurt before. She keeps a large moat and thick castle walls around herself for her own protection. Yes, she knows she should form alliances with other students, as this would ensure her survival. But it’s hard for her to overcome her inhibitions and open herself to others. Also, due to her magical affinity, which tends towards the ‘kill as many lifeforms as possible’, she cannot show off her magic without risking the lives of the people around her. Hence everyone thinks her either a maleficer or magically inept. That she has survived nearly three years of the Scholomance, a school that you either graduate from or literally die trying should tell her classmates enough about her abilities, but they don’t care.

Another reviewer commented that El’s being dirty would show how stereotypical Novik saw people of Indian heritage.

Well, El is of mixed heritage. Her mother is described as “an English rose” and her father was Indian. Her parents met at the Scholomance and her mother graduated three months pregnant, her father died trying to protect his beloved and their unborn child. Somewhere in the early chapters El remembers her childhood and another child comparing her skin colour to “weak tea”. There were a few more examples of people being racist towards El in the book. Still, the issue was, that El describes herself as dirty. Which is by no means a reflection of people with Desi background. It’s an honest observation based on El’s circumstances. If you don’t have any friends, or any alliances at the school, you can’t go and take a shower whenever you feel like it. You need someone to watch your back while you are in the shower. Otherwise the mals (short for maleficaria: the monsters) will creep up on you while you are at your most vulnerable. [They want to eat teenagers with magic to get the mana that lives in those teenagers. Teenagers are the more yummy snack, compared to aged magicians. Teenagers have more mana.]

Yet another reviewer had an issue with the “lockleeches”.

El explains that long hair is impractical. As a non-enclave student without friends or allies at the Scholomance you can’t shower regularly. You might not have brought a brush or a comb with you on your induction – the process of getting into school, which has very strict weight restrictions for luggage [worse than on-board luggage regulations for flights these days]. Without any grooming tools, your hair might mat together. This makes it easier for a certain type of leech to lay eggs in those “clumps of hair”. The hatched leeches then somehow end up in your brain and … don’t ask. Unfortunately, all that info-dump about the lockleeches came after El’s stream of consciousness narration mentioned that dreadlocks are the worst idea of hairstyle for a student at the Scholomance. Which, as you might guess, some people read as ‘people with dreadlocks have vermin infestations’. I did not understand it this way, but understand how this might have been misunderstood. Naomi Novik wrote an apology about this particular scene.

You’ve made to this part. Thank you! I feel honoured.

Here are my issues with the book.

  • To me El is a very unlikable character. She’s snarky, sarcastic, grouchy, and boasting about her abilities. Albeit, the latter only in her head. The former are all due to her life’s experiences. [I get a tick on my fictional Trope-Bingo chart.] Still, she knows she has to form alliances; better yet, friendships. On the pro side, El is insightful, intelligent and reflective. BUT, why then is she in no way curious about the prophecy her father’s grandmother made about her, or where her affinities for dark magic come from. The prophecy names El as the destroyer of all enclaves. Which caused her pacifistic paternal family to consider killing 5 year old El only hours after they first met her. Her dark powers have attracted mana-hungry mals even before El hit puberty. Is this unusual? Does El want to know?
  • To be able to form alliances, El must show her cards. When the perfect moment of showing off her power comes, she’s saved by the White Knight of the Scholomance, Orion Lake; son of a high-ranking official of the New York enclave (I still don’t have any idea what an enclave is, I’ll get to that in a bit). Villain? Love-Interest? Both? [Tick for handsome, privileged, white guy, who saves the damsel-not-in-distress and who seems to be the villain of the story.]
  • El, by the way, thinks of herself as the ugly duckling. And, as mentioned above, she’s often dirty and probably giving off a bit of BO. [Tick for ugly duckling.]
  • Although El thinks everyone has prejudices against her, she herself is not without that kind of flaw. She sorts people into nice little cliques, just like at highschool, only that here it’s sorting people by the languages they speak. It grated by halfway point. I’m repeating myself, she has to form an alliance and doesn’t even make an effort of getting to know her classmates. Only when she needs something form the other students does she start associating with them.
  • One more about El. Of course, at about the half-point of the story, El decides to save the younger students in the school by killing an unkillable mal all on her own, without any witnesses; and without killing any living being around. Quite the feat! And so predictable from the start.
  • Okay, world-building. The Scholomance is somewhere on Earth, but in a nook that is very close to the void. That’s where the monsters, excuse me mals, come from. That’s where enclave kids can draw dark mana from for spells, too? It is not quite clear. We are being told what the school looks like. But although the information dump is lightened by El’s snarky voice, it’s still information dump and with lots and lots of blanks to fill in yourself to boot. For example, I have absolutely no idea how the rooms look like, but I know that the school is a tiered structure with levels built on top of each other. In my mind it looks like a very depresssing concrete structure – actually, a bit like US prisons are depicted in films and series. (Apparently there is a map in the printed edition, but I listened to the audiobook, so no map.) I wish there had been a bit more fleshing out of the schools interior.
  • The magic system is equally explained and not explained. I’m not quite sure where the affinity for magic comes from, what enclaves are, and honestly tuned out of the explanations several times.
  • The Scholomance was built by powerful enclaves to protect their children from mals. Mals want mana and teenaged kids have the best to offer. Why do the mals want the mana? What do they do with it? Is mana like calories for humans?
  • By the way, I think having a different mal for each chapter is supposed to be a feature, not a bug. But it gives the story a bit of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe.
  • And why are there no adults at the Scholomance? Can we please get an explanation for that?

Whoops! That got longer than I had planned. And I could add.

To cut this very long story short: The book ends with that trope-y scene where all the kids who were most unlikely to form an alliance, or friendships even, are hanging out together when a dire warning makes its way to the main character, leaving the audience begging for the sequel.

Well, I’m not begging. The story seemed to be missing a lot of things. It might be, because we look at the Scholomance through El’s eyes, who has been disenchanted since before she left her mother’s yurt in Wales. I wasn’t enamoured by the lauded writing either. There were passages that I had to go over a few times to really understand them, and that’s definitely not because English is not my mother tongue.

I will probably read the sequel, just to see what Novik created out of all the criticism and in which direction this story is going; but the sequel will not end up on top of my TBR.

Final words on the narration: the narrator, Anisha Dadia, does an excellent job. She makes El’s snark come to live nicely.

Burning Roses – Buddyread Reveal

The Sceptre Buddyread selected from the trusted booksellers at Otherland is S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses, published 29 September 2020.

To me, this came as a total surprise. Not only had I been looking at lists of books published at the end of November or in early December, but I hadn’t heard the name of the author before. My bad, definitely. My fellow Sceptres reminded me of other books by Ms Huang, like Zero Sum Game, which I have, obviously, missed out on, too.

So, we’ll be diving into a story where a middle-aged Little Red Riding Hood and middle-aged Archer go on a quest together. Sounds perfect for the time before Christmas. The book has about 150 pages, so we’ll probably fly through it in no time. We’re starting with Part 1 next Monday, December 7th that is. If you’d like to join the buddyread, leave a comment. You’ve already read the book? Great, tell us about it in the comments, spoiler free please.

Bell, Blade and …

… a thunderhead cloud. I just couldn’t find an alliteration for that.

During the last months I read The Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman with my son. We both liked it very much.

It’s set in a future, where death has been erased from humankind. Any information on Earth is stored in a large cloud computer, the Thunderhead, who is not only a storage device, but also some sort of benevolent Big Brother watching out for you at all times.

Immortality comes with a caveat though. Overpopulation would be an issue if no one ever died, so Scythes -trained and ordained deathbringers- have to glean people (aka kill for good) to even out the numbers.

We follow a young woman, Citra, and a young man, Rowan, into their apprenticeship under Scythe Faraday. It’s tiresome and trying to learn all the ins and outs of the Scythedom, and only one of the two can become a Scythe at the end of their year of apprenticeship; the other has to be gleaned. Citra and Rowan make it through this first year, which is action packed with actual murder, discovering how crooked the Scythedom really is and trying to set everything to rights. Which will, of course, lead us into books two and three that I am not going to write anything about to avoid spoiling the story.

Let me just tell you, there are a few WTF moments, there are a few twists you might have seen coming, but the final resolution of the story is well-made. What I especially liked is that although it is a Young Adult novel we don’t see the usual tropes of love triangles and pining and every decision being judged through rose tinted glasses. It’s a story that is action packed, has it’s funny moments and definitely makes you think about immortality and what it might mean for humankind.


The Lady Duck of Doom totally agrees with this review. It was a really well crafted YA novel, avoiding the common pitfalls and cutting surprisingly deep into the abyss of humanity.

It’s that time of the month…

…when I’m wondering why I have so much Christmas decoration that I cannot put up because of the cats.

Have you ever tried having a lovely looking book tree with tinsel and fairy lights with two nosy cats? I have, last year. Ended in disaster for the tinsel and fairy lights, luckily the books escaped without much harm. This year, I had the idea of creating a Jolabokaflod book tree. If you are not familiar with the term Jolabokaflod, it’s Icelandic for Christmas book flood. The Icelandic tradition is to give and receive lots of books on Christmas Eve (that’s the brief version). So, my Plan -with a capital P- is to wrap all of the books that I have for the kids, and for myself, and put up a book tree. I’ll forego the tinsel and lights this time; better safe than sorry. What is keeping me from doing this? The amount of books I’d have to wrap. It’s somewhere around 50 or 60, I think. (Yes, I went all out.) Also, the time that goes into wrapping all those books, I would rather be reading!

I’d best be procrastinating by telling you about whether I have planned any reading for December? But first, did I get any reading done in November?

November seemed like a slow month for me, maybe it’s because I did not read twenty or more books. I’ve read/listened to The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. I’ve read, and partly re-read and buddyread with my son, The Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman; review to come. There were a few juicy romance novels in November, which I totally blame on the foggy weather. I skimmed along the Sceptre Buddyread, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. We, that is the Sceptres, also read R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War together; a review is forthcoming. I’ve managed to read a few ARCs off my NetGalley shelf, gave feedback on two beta-reads, and I read a lot of chapters from different books to my daughter.

In December I plan to read that slim volume of Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose for my postal book club. There is the Sceptre Buddyread, which is lying right next to me, but since TheMarquessMagpie and TheLadyDuckOfDoom haven’t got their books yet, I am keeping mum about the title. [ETA: they both got their copies, we all know what the title is; you’ll find out in our title reveal post] There will, of course, be more books to read, but I don’t know what I will pick at this moment. There will be ARCs, that’s for sure, there might be some books that have collected actual and virtual dust over the past months/years. I’ll tell you in January.

For now I am off. There are books to be wrapped, tinsel to be stuffed into a cat prove box, biscuit dough to be prepared. I’ll put on an audiobook to entertain me, can’t waste precious reading time on listening to the ticking of the clock.

Better late than never #1 …

…or how I eventually picked up a series that had been recommended to me felt ages ago. (BTW, this is going to be an ongoing series, I have a lot of catching up to do.)

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin was, as I mentioned above, recommended to me. When I found myself spoilt for choice with what to read next, I picked up the first book, The Fifth Season.

It was a bit tricky to get into the story. The different POV took some time to get used to, but when it finally clicked and made sense, I flew through the rest of the book and immediately picked up the next one, The Obelisk Gate. Which I then chased with the last book, The Stone Sky.

The world-building and magic system are what most people rave about. I would like to describe it, but I am sure I’d botch it up and/or give too much away. Let’s just say, the raving is justified.

What I truly liked about the series is that the main character is a woman in her forties, who has already experienced so many bad and good things in her live and now has to find her daughter and somehow save the world on her quest.

Once there were three witches

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow, publishing date October 15, 2020.

After reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January, I was happy to be approved for the ARC for Alix Harrow’s next book. A book about witches.

Yet, it is so much more than just about witches. Set in 1883, in New Salem, a town a few miles away from Old Salem, which was burned down in the witch trials about a hundred years ago. Women are fighting for the right to vote. And three sisters need to get to grips with their past and survive the present to allow a future for strong women and witchcraft.

Apart from (feminist) witches and devious witch hunters, this book contains badass librarians, sisters and Sisters, powerful depictions of birth and motherhood, and a gorgeous cover.

The prose is excellent. This is why the rather slow parts in the story are still a pleasure to read. Still, at about 60% of the story I was wondering what else might be coming, I thought everything had been said by then. I was wrong, obviously.

4/5 Goodreads stars


The Once & Future Witches was also our Buddyread this month, picked by our most trusted bookshop, Otherland. TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle skipped along a second time, while TheMarquessMagpie and TheLadyDuckOfDoom discovered the magical story of the three sisters. Here is what we think:

TheMarquessMagpie was very much in awe of the writing style. It felt like fairytales came alive, some of them old, some of them new, all of them feeling like a warm blanket on a cold day. She felt part of the family, one of the sisters herself. There was longing, to be one of the future witches and to believe her familiar is out there, waiting in the dark with red burning eyes until she is ready.

TheLadyDuckOfDoom fell in love with the book, sometimes every page all over again. She especially loved the part on page 399 – 401, which her imagination wants to paint rather badly. It’s the part where old meets new, and no further spoilers will be heard from her, because she loved every part of the story deeply and will not take anything away from potential readers.

Going once, twice, sold!

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk, published October 13 2020.

We’re looking at a fantasy world that’s similar to the British Regency Period. The higher classes meet during a season that’s called Bargaining Season, to basically sell off their eligible daughters to the highest bidder. These daughters are sorceresses. They could perform magic, but -as is so often the case- they are not allowed to. The practice of magic is restricted to initiated men. Young sorceresses learn a few spells, but never get a real chance to outgrow the nursery rhyme phase. Upon their marriage an enchanted collar will be fastened around their necks blocking their magic, so that no malicious spirit may enter and inhabit the soul of any possible unborn child. Magical women’s sole purpose, until menopause, is producing offspring.

The female lead of the story, Beatrice Clayborn, is such an eligible young sorceress. Her father, a non-magical merchant, has indebted the already financially unstable family to give Beatrice the perfect Bargaining Season. Beatrice is to find a wealthy husband so that especially her younger sister might profit by being able to go to an esteemed finishing school.

But Beatrice doesn’t want a husband. Beatrice wants to become a full Magus. Since women aren’t allowed to practice the magic that is necessary to become a magus, Beatrice had to learn to summon a spirit in secret from hidden encrypted books.

When Beatrice meets the handsome heir to a wealthy family of magi and his sister, she at first thinks she’s made enemies for life. In fact, she’s managed to make the best allies in her fight for equal rights for sorceresses. A difficult course, since neither sibling must know that the other is working to find a way for women to embrace both, magic and family.

Although the happy ending was predictable, I quite enjoyed the way it came about. A very enjoyable cosy read that had quite a lot of commentary on women’s oppression.

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