Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tag: alternate history

A bunch of quick reviews

Without further ado…

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, publishing date 27 April 2021.

Murderbot being Murderbot, it is not easy for it to interact with humans. But it has to find out about the dead human. A dead human it did not kill, thank you for asking. So, it’s playing Sherlock on a space station. Making new friends along the way, of course.

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes, published 02 March 2021.

This collection of fantasy and contemporary fiction short stories was a bit ‘yeah and meh’. Some of the Jewish ‘own voices’ stories were really really good. Yet reading some of the more speculative fiction stories, I felt a bit lost. Strong stories nonetheless even if they might make you feel uncomfortable.

The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme, published 02 March 2021.

This was surprisingly good for a rather generic YA fantasy romance. Boehme managed to make her characters and their love story believable by letting them both acknowledge that they had known each other only for a short time. A further plus: it’s a standalone that delivers a solid story in less than 350 pages.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, published 02 March 2021.

A historical fiction using the split timeline trope. I liked the storyline about the apothecary set in the late 18th century. Nella has a secret apothecary shop, she’s helping women who find themselves in ‘tricky’ situations. Until a chance encounter with 12 y/o Eliza sets the wheels of fate in motion, which lead to Caroline from Ohio. On a trip to London she finds an apothecary bottle while mudlarking in the Thames. She starts researching about the bottle and the apothecary. The story would have been just as interesting without the contemporary storyline, which was rather ‘meh’ compared to the historical story.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark.

Both short stories are set in an alternate Cairo in the early 20th century. Otherworldly beings are just as normal as the Ministry of Alchemy. In A Dead Djinn in Cairo, Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi is trying to solve a murder disguised as suicide and finds herself digging so much deeper that she encounters clockwork angels and a plot that might implode time itself. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 brings us back to Cairo, this time “Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.” I enjoyed both short stories and I am looking forward to reading the full novel A Master of Djinn (expected pub date: 11 May 2021), which has been idling on my ARC shelf for some time.

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’.

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.

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.

The Savage Beauty of American Hippo

I heard about Sarah Gailey’s novella River of Teeth on a podcast and its premise was so weird that I could not help but get this hippo western collection. Yes, you read that correctly. Hippo western. That should be enough to get everyone’s attention.

American Hippo collects two connected novellas – River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow – and adds two new stories. Usually I’m not a big fan of supplementary stories and tend to skip them, but I read everything back to back.

Gailey based the stories on a mind-boggling fact. In the early twentieth century, the US congress considered hippo ranching as a way to counter a meat shortage and at the same time get rid of water hyacinth that was clogging the waterways. Two birds, one stone. They didn’t follow through, but Sarah Gailey shows what could have happened if they did. Most of the consequences boil down to feral scary hippos biting people in half.

The overall story-line is about betrayal, revenge, cons, gunslingers and explosions – the kind of fun and fast paced romp you might expect from a western adventure. Well, if you replace horses with hippos.

But what really had an impact on me was the highly diverse and morally grey crew of characters. Every one of them feels fully fleshed out without the need to punch you in the face with all the labels. The focus is almost entirely on the skills of each individual character, the fact that they are for example genderqueer or obese is handled in a very accepting and insightful way. To top it off, even the hippo companions get their own character traits and you get a good sense of the relationships between the animals and their riders. Considering the fact that everything in this 5-star-read (at least for me) is packed into less than 300 pages, Sarah Gailey immediately became one of the authors I keep on my release radar.

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