Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Those are not the books you’re looking for

Bone Shard Spoiler

We started this Buddyread of the The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart in late December. All of us were really hyped for this book, and all of us were really underwhelmed by what we actually got. The book is marketed as an adult epic fantasy, which is simply the wrong stamp to put on it. We picked it up based on a twitter recommendation by a much loved author of us, and somehow we expected something glorious in the veins of Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, or V.E. Schwab. Well, those expectations were disappointed for sure.

The magic system is incredibly mellow. So mellow, in fact, that it even breaks the few rules it sets itself. There are necromantic constructs defined by rules engraved into tiny boneshards that are contained within these constructs. The engraving idea is stolen straight out of Foundryside by the way. The constructs, the only barrier between the Island Empire and an ancient evil, can, of course, be outsmarted by anyone with half a brain. We nearly sprained our eyes while rolling them at that blunder.

The worldbuilding is full of holes, too. There are a ton of why’s, and they are not addressed at all. If you can swallow it all down, it might work for you. But what the fuck is Witstone? Not explained at all – personally, I figure it will be revealed in book II, but you get NO info whatsoever about this absolutely essential thing running the empire.

The above aside, it could all make an action-packed fantasy page-turner, except for two things: The multiple character PoV narration breaks up the action. Some of the characters feel forced, maybe they were added at a later editing point of the book. The thing that ruined my enjoyment though were the incredibly foreseeable plot twists. Seriously, not one “twist” was in any way something to gasp about. The biggest twist is literally spoiled in the title of the book. I always wonder if we read a different book from everyone else, because anyone who uses about 25% of their brain capacity would have seen everything that happened coming.

So… yeah. Disappointing. If you want a book where you don’t have to think, this could be for you, but for us it was the wrong decision. Can’t understand the hype at all.

Worst book I’ve read this year award…

… goes, unfortunately, to The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. For me. This is my opinion, and everyone else might have a different view on this. In this review, I will attempt to list the points that made the book such a bad read to me. [TheRightHonourableEagle has edited this post and added a few thoughts. These are not indicated individually, because they do not differ from TheLadyDuckOfDoom’s. They were added for shock-value. ;o)]

The book starts with an underdog character getting into a military school for the rich – nothing new here. The start was solid, but nothing special. Nothing wrong so far, just some tropes I got tired of: The rich bully making the life of the main character hell, the weird teacher, the tall and brooding hero a few years older.

The problems start with part 2 of the book. Rin, the main character, doesn’t really act according to her character. For the rest of this book, she acts like a petulant child, rather than the young, though trained, soldier she’s supposed to be. So, for the sake of the story, that can be annoying, but is manageable.

Still, the whole story feels forced. There is a sudden friendship/maybe romance between Rin and her former bully. That guy tried to kill her. Multiple times. For Rin, a person driven by emotions, this does not seem likely.

The whole part of the story, where Rin, her comrades, and the rest of the army are under siege feels rather unrealistic; and let’s not talk about the thing with the salt.

Then begins the story of torture and rape. Picturesque and gory to the bone, an ex-classmate of Rin, who also bullied her, is re-introduced for one scene only: Fallen far into a husk, she retells all the scenes of her and the other women’s rape, including how a baby was ripped out of a pregnant women with the bare hands of an officer. And, guess what, all this ex-classmate was good for was to tell about how she was raped. She was not a character at all, just a tool to show the cruelty of what the enemy soldiers did. In addition, the pages of torture and rape we are talking about are not just inspired by the Nanjing Massacre, no, the text reads almost the same as the Wikipedia article. Even if we are reading a work of fiction heavily inspired by history, this is a fantasy novel. I expect the author to at least try to write an individual version, citing resources in a reference at the end of the story, to tell people that this passage was inspired by an event that really happened. This feels like a copy of the article written just for shock value.

And now that your mouth hangs open, your tongue is dry in shock of what enemy forces can do to civilians, you turn the page and find Rin ogling the older brooding guy. It’s a scene mainly focusing on opium addiction, but, although Rin is reminded of something familiar by the smell in the room, what she immediately notices is that His Broodyness has no shirt on. At least the scene stays sombre, he is smoking opium and there is no sexual tension, but I/we really stumbled over the no-shirt thingy.

Opium brings me to the next point that is highly problematic for me. Drugs are somewhat lauded in this book, but I don’t know if the writer has knowledge about how addiction works. There is a former heroin addict who never gave up on drugs, just goes from heavy drug addict to smoking opium once a month. Heavily addicted people become a husk of themselves pretty soon, and heroin is a drug that causes bodily addiction, so going so long without a hit just does not work without repercussions. Furthermore, Rin herself, who has never been on drugs before, is administered shot of heroin to the vein in her neck and falls into a hallucinating trance right away. It’s highly unbelievable that you just get into a trance this way, communing with the gods. [We are not willing to test this theory, though!]

By the way, Rin is the child of a drug-dealing family and did deliveries for them. She has seen addiction in all stages, so I guess it is only natural to just start smoking opium heavily. What could possibly go wrong? It’s for educational purposes. Or was it for the sake of the whole nation? [sarcasm]

On top, in the history of this fictional world, the Empire made an entire people addicted to opium. AN ENTIRE PEOPLE! Because, of course, everyone there is the same, that’s how humans work right? Because if everyone of them is in constant pain and mentally imbalanced, everyone will turn to drugs. Which leads to the overall problems of the book.

The book is incredibly dehumanizing in some cases. Every enemy soldier a monster, and one can feel hate seeping through the pages. This goes so far that soldiers of the Empire wonder how these enemy forces might look like and whether they actually want to see the face of their enemies.

A whole people is addicted to a drug, a whole people does this, does that. Prejudice much? A tiny paragraph at the end that tells us “Yes, they are people, too” just is not enough for me.

Fantasy and science fiction are, in my opinion, genres to explore beyond borders, borders of countries, peoples, stars and also beyond the borders of hate. I could not find this in this book. I really tried, and this book utterly failed in this regard.

We, the Sceptres, have been wondering whether we read a different book from every other reader who raved about this book. The story went from 3-star trope-y Young Adult downhill to a 0.5-star drug glorifying gore-fest. We won’t bother reading the other two books in the trilogy.

If you liked Six of Crows…

… you might want to give this a pass. This being Adrienne Young’s latest YA fantasy book Fable, published 01 September, 2020.

Fable is the 17 year old heroine of this story. Left stranded on an island four years ago, she eventually has managed to scrounge away enough money to leave the island. Where to? In search of her father, who had left her on the island, right after his ship drowned with Fable’s mother on board; who had carved a mark into her forearm; whom she wants to prove herself to as a worthy member of his pirate crew.

In order to reach the island where her father has his home port she joins the crew of the Marigold under it’s helmsman West. A vessel Fable had been trading jewels with for the past years.

The premise for the book is great: female heroine, pirates, ships, a crew of misfits, found family, and romance. The delivery though.

Neither character feels fully fleshed to me, they are all rather shallow. Yes, of course Fable’s character has a bit more flesh than the secondary characters, of whom West and Willa are the two memorable ones. I have already forgot the names of the three other members of the crew.

The plot is slow paced and rather boring. Nothing much happens for the first two thirds of the book. The crew sails the ship from island to island to trade. There is banter, there are shenanigans, but it’s all just foreplay for the last third of the book. Then suddenly so many things happen at once that it is difficult to keep up and then we are left with a cliffhanger.

The romance also happens from zero to sixty. First West hardly interacts with Fable and then, after one kiss -granted that underwater kiss was well-written- there are confessions of love? That’s way too fast.

Other reviewers have compared this book to Bardugo’s Six of Crows. I cannot see the connection. Yes, we do have a crew of misfits. Yes, West might be the brooding type with a rather dark streak. Yes, there is two-facing, there is cunning, and there is “sleight of hand” involved in this story; but, in my opinion, it doesn’t even come close to Six of Crows.

Unearthed

When I first got a Netgalley account, I requested a huge amount of ARCs, Unearthed by Marc Mulero was one of them.

The author definitely can write action scenes, but that was about the only thing I liked about this book. The story felt very videogame-ish, without any depth. Gruesome scenes were used solely as plot device.
It is obvious the book was written by a man, because the only “strong” female character was of course the melee assassin in a world of machine and sniper guns. Who is so badass she does apparently not need to clean her knives. It felt very forced. The rest seemed to be women in need and muscular male fighters. Weapons were also very important, in the first few pages you can only read 3 times about the Desert Eagle of the leader.

One might think this book was written because someone wanted the story as an action movie. It certainly felt that way to me. 

Lesson learned: Don’t request every book you can find on Netgalley. Not even half of them. Maybe only those you have heard about previously.

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