Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tag: ARC Page 1 of 4

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.

Golden Girls

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, published February 2021 (in the US).

The story is your obvious YA story. A young girl who used to be not very popular in her village, due to her heritage, has hidden powers with which she can help the emperor’s army defeat the demonic creatures that befall the land. Of course, everyone, even the emperor, has a hidden agenda. Soon it’s clear that Deka, the main character, has to become the saviour of all, especially of oppressed girls and women.

In this case the story has a west African background. The world-building is good. The main character, Deka, is strong and her character arc is interesting. But, sorry to say, it is a YA fantasy that distinguishes itself only by not being based on European or North American fantasy blueprints.

Atonement is a long and lonely road

H.M. Long’s Hall of Smoke, published 19 January 2021. First book in a series of standalone fantasy novels set in the same universe.

Hessa had one job. And she failed spectacularly at it. Hessa’s goddess tasked her with killing one particular visitor to the village, which Hessa didn’t do. While praying for forgiveness at a shrine high up on a mountainside, to be able to reenter the rangs of the Eangie – a magical warrior priest cast (?) – Hessa’s village is raided by the visitor’s clansmen. Hessa doesn’t make it back in time to save the villagers. What follows is her long journey to atone to be allowed into the High Halls after her death, to be reunited with her loved ones. While different clans from the north and south raid her homeland and murder her people, Hessa has to find the man she didn’t kill and finish the job to curry favour with her goddess to gain a life after death.

This story was hailed as being Viking inspired and I probably expected it to be a lot like Vikings the TV show. After the raid of Hessa’s village, right at the beginning of the book, nothing really interesting happens for a very long time though. In fact, for a good 3/4 of the book, Hessa does nothing but travel, trying to find the man she had to kill. This makes for a lot of (tiresome) landscape descriptions, but little character interaction. Thats’s what I missed most, I guess, some interaction with other characters and a few secondary characters that were more than extras with a few lines. But as I wrote in my headline, the road to atonement might have to be a lonely one. So the missing interaction might be a feature, not a bug. Still, for a book that straddles the fence between YA and NA, I expected a faster pacing.

Pirates on a Sea of Grass

The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson, published 19 January 2021, is the first book in a new environmental fantasy series.

Imagine yourself on a ship in the middle of a sea of miles deep prairie grass, pirates, a war over water between two floating cities. These are the ideas I had, when I read the blurb and saw the cover of the book.

Alas, that’s not what I got. Instead of a fantasy adventure, I got a Bildungsroman with a heavy climate change moral tale that could have been so much better with a bit of pruning from an experienced editor.

Kindred, the main character, is a hearth keeper on a harvesting vessel crossing the Forever Sea harvesting grasses and wildflowers used for food, medicine, or magic. She has to take care of the magical fire burning bones harvested from captains that keeps the ship afloat and propels it forwards. When she receives a missive from her grandmother – a larger than life figure which the reader is reminded of over and over – Kindred wants to follow her grandmother into the depths below the prairie grass that makes up the Forever Sea. Something must still be down there, something other than monsters.

For years there has been a war over the water stores between Arcadia, an island city which basically enslaved nature, and the Once-City, a floating ship like city travelling endlessly along the edges of the Forever Sea which “lived with the world,” acting in tune with nature. The ship Kindred had signed onto has to flee Arcadia, the crew is badly injured in a fight and has to seek the Once-City for help. Unsurprisingly, neither city is the refuge it seems to be.

What didn’t work for me:

  • Miles deep grass and wildflowers? I would really liked to have seen an explanation of how this is supposed to work. Even knowing I’m reading a fantasy novel it was very hard to ignore this. Plants need light to grow. It is very hard to imagine plants growing miles in length to reach the light. Not to mention that these plants need water that makes its way miles up within tiny capillaries?
  • Water shortage. These above mentioned plants get their water from the ground. So why not dive down into the depth of the grass ocean and find the ground water? Yes, there are terrible monsters down there, but obviously they can be fought. In an ocean of grass you don’t have to worry about not having enough oxygen for your dive.
  • The framing story. It certainly has a purpose other than adding to the page count of the book.
  • The pacing. Even in the middle of a fight we get ruminations about Kindred’s past. In another already slow spot of the story we get descriptions of each individual blade of grass as the light is reflected off it.

Some of the ideas of this book where really good. But, I would have liked a faster pacing and less repetition, also of the moral tale.

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.

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.

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.

Devils and Witches in Sicily

Kerri Maniscalco’s The Kingdom of the Wicked, publishing date 27 October 2020.

Kingdom of the Wicked is set in Sicily in late 19th century. We meet Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria, who are witches following a long tradition in their family. From birth on they have been inducted to protect themselves by charms and wards to avoid falling into the hands of the wicked princes of hell. Something they’ve heeded nearly always. Nearly always. When her twin is killed Emilia feels responsible. She raises a demon to help her find the killer and take her revenge on him, but she is in for a surprise.

Her ally soon turns out to be one of the seven princes of hell himself. Do I need to spell it out for you how close the two of them might become? Or will she keep holding up her torch for her childhood friend turned monk?

You might think it is a bit predictable. It is, but it has a very inventive magic system and the world building is executed quite well. If you like Kerri Maniscalco’s writing, you’ll certainly enjoy this first in a new series.

3.5/5 stars so that’ll be 4 Goodreads stars

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