Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Book Review: How Long Til Black Future Month?

Since it is Black History Month, I thought this would be the perfect time for my review of How Long Til Black Future Month? This was the first book I finished in 2020 and it may very well be the best book I read all year, no lie.

 

I’ve mentioned how much I love anthologies before. I love themed anthologies where each author takes a different interpretation of a theme. I love in-world anthologies that explore worldbuilding and characters we don’t usually get to see (or just want more of). I love anthologies by my favorite authors, full of the writing that I know I love.

I’ve been reading anthologies for about twenty years now, and I have never read one where I was impressed by every single story in it before now. Every single piece in How Long Til Black Future Month? by N K Jemisin is fantastic. Every one. I kept waiting for one to make me go “eh, I’m not into this” and now one of them did it. What really surprises me about that is that I didn’t actually like the first Jemisin book I read, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I went into this book already knowing that not all of her writing is for me and yet, I loved every story in this. That was wholly unexpected and yet such a great feeling, all at once.

 

  • The Ones Who Stay And Fight
    • This is in conversation with the infamous “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” If, by some fluke, you haven’t read that story, read it. I’m sure you can find it online somewhere. It’s an SFF classic, a commentary on what level of abuse one is willing to put up with. This one is just as thought-provoking as le Guin’s piece and I firmly believe they should be taught in tandem to discuss hope and limits and pain acceptable in society. That story alone is required reading.
  • The City Born Great
    • I was immediately sucked into this piece. The worldbuilding, the voice, the rhythm of the sentences, it all came together to hook me. And best of all, I believe The City We Became which comes out on March 24, 2020 is based in the same world. I’m definitely interested in checking it out.
  • Red Dirt Witch
    • This is very Black folk magic, though and through. I loved the interplay of Emmaline and her daughter, each trying to protect the other. And oh, the dream at the end, the callout to the Obamas in the future, just pulled at my heart.
  • L’Alchimista
    • This is one of my favorite pieces in the whole anthology. I loved the cooking challenge. I love having a short-tempered woman as the hero and chosen for her flawless skill despite her temperament. I loved the mystery and the challenge of it. Absolutely great.
  • The Effluent Engine
    • This is one of her queer stories, which I wasn’t expecting from a straight author. I love the intricacies of the racial politics, the steampunk feel of the world, the women flirting. I don’t know if Jemisin is planning to work in this world further, but I’d love a whole book (or more) with these characters in this setting.
  • Cloud Dragon Skies
    • My favorite part of this is the blending of sci-fi (humans living on a ring around Mars) and fantasy (dragons in/as clouds). There’s a tradition in white people fantasy to draw a hard line between sci-fi and fantasy, as though they’re completely separate things, but I’ve seen an increasing number of POC authors in particular blending them. This is definitely part of that tradition.
  • The Trojan Girl
    • It took me a little while to figure out what was going on here, but that’s part of the mystery of the story. I really enjoyed that nothing is explained to the reader–it’s expected that you’ll figure it out as you go along. And this is a very sci-fi/cyberpunk-y piece. Code become sapient and trying to survive. This was another one where I’d happily read a whole book about it. It’s one that sticks in my mind.
  • Valedictorian
    • I am always Here for a brilliant, ambitious girl and Zinhle is exactly that. This is a classic dystopia set-up in the vein of 1984 or Brave New World or The Handmaid’s Tale, but the utopia outside really sounds like a utopia. And what’s keeping people out of it are people being people. This story has one of the best lines of the whole book: “When they start to fight for you, we’ll know they’re ready to be let out… If they can accept you, they can accept us.”
  • The Storyteller’s Replacement
    • This opened like a Scheherazade retelling, which of course meant I was immediately invested. And then, of course, dragons and powerful women getting what they want. Exactly my sort of thing.
  • The Brides of Heaven
    • This one unnerved me more than anything else. Probably the forced, insidious pregnancy thing. That is a top fear of mine.
  • The Evaluators
    • This is an epistolary sci-fi horror piece. Another one that is deeply creepy, though it didn’t get under my skin the way “The Brides of Heaven” did. Monsters invading and seducing humans is not all that terrifying to a monsterfuker like me.
  • Walking Awake
    • I liked the perspective of someone serving a horrific fate, complicit in a terrible system, yet trying to find a way to resist in their own small way.
  • The Elevator Dancer
    • As a woman who has dealt with the possessive gazes of too many men, this was deeply unnerving. There was a good rhythm to it, a cadence that draws you in despite the creepy perspective.
  • Cuisine des Memoires
    • The best part of this was the main character’s slowly fading skepticism. They were so convinced it was a fake, and were so thrown off when it wasn’t. I have a soft spot for breaking arrogant characters, I have to admit. And it truly sounds like they learned their lesson, which I appreciate.
  • Stone Hunger
    • I don’t know whether this was the inspiration for the Broken Earth trilogy or just a story set in that world, but it definitely belongs with it. I adored the Broken Earth trilogy and loved to get an entirely different glimpse into it. Ykka is a comm leader, just like she is here, but the city is different.
  • On the Banks of the River Lex
    • I adored this story as I read it, but none of it stuck with me after reading. I loved the look into the lives of gods, I loved that Death is the protagonist, and I loved the cleverness of the octopus in the end. I loved the hope that remains even as the world ends. This is, at its heart, a hopeful story.
  • The Narcomancer
    • I get the impression this is set in the same word as the Dreamblood series, but I have never read those, so I can’t say for sure. This is pure epic fantasy. I loved the banter between the two priests of different sects. Be aware–this is a heavy story. At its heart is a woman who has been raped her whole life trying to convince a celibate priest to get her pregnant.
  • Henosis
    • This story threw me for quite a loop. I tried reading it through as it is, then had to go back and read it in number order. Only once I read it chronologically could I piece together what was happening thematically out of order. This is a piece I find more interesting on a structural level than a content one.
  • Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows
    • This is a fascinating sci-fi story. Is it an apocalypse? Is it a glitch in the system? Are just these people frozen from time? It’s never really clear. It has an almost zompoc feel to it in the isolation, but there are no undead here. But love–love is always the answer. That comes up repeatedly through these stories. Peopel save each other out of love.
  • The You Train
    • I really loved this one. The voice is strong, the format is unusual, the creeping weirdness of it is so utterly spec fic. Not clearly horror or sci-fi or fantasy, but pure speculative fiction all the same. And the arc in this was so clear, despite the short length and the odd formatting. So utterly, utterly perfect.
  • Non-Zero Probabilities
    • This is unlike any sci-fi piece I’ve ever read. At first I thought it was just a superstitious character, but nope! The whole city has gone weird. I like how she comes to terms with things, though. It’s not all bad, the way the world changes.
  • Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters
    • This was one of my all time favorite stories and a fantastic one to end the book on. Dragons and evil creatures fighting over a drowned New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina’s wake? It was amazing.

 

Recommended for: EVERYONE–there’s every subgenre of spec fic in here. If you read any sort of spec fic, there will be something in here that you enjoy. If you only read one book this year, read this one.

Book Review: The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion

I made the mistake of reading this book in the evening as darkness encroached. Despite the fact that the scary bits of this came during the daylight hours, the images in here were creepy enough to haunt me as I was alone in the house and trying to sleep.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is a novella by Margaret Killjoy that I got in a bundle of queer ebooks. I wasn’t expecting that to open with horror, but gods, it was so good that I can’t even bring myself to mind. The imagery of the three-horned deer and its ghoulish creations is haunting and stays with you. The details are visceral. The tension is gripping–and keeps amping up as the story moves along. We’re deep in the main character’s head.

Speaking of the main character, Danielle was deeply relatable as a tired millennial. She’s living her life on her terms, but that doesn’t mean that the shine hasn’t worn off and everything is exhausting. Her fears, her drives, even her ‘I should be interested in this person but I’m too focused right now to care about that’ was so clearly and honestly communicated. It’s been a while since I could so easily relate to a character. And I’m not even an anarchist.

I mentioned that I got this as part of a queer bundle and oh, my friends, it is so very queer. Most of the characters seem to be some variety of bi/pan (including the MC, which was part of the relatability), a couple of characters were explicitly trans, and there was an exchange of pronouns in the beginning. I would have liked more pronouns exchanges or pronouns offered with introductions, honestly. Having just the one in there felt a bit tacked on instead of normalized in the culture. And for a queer anarchist utopia, that seems like the sort of thing that would be normalized.

The plot moves surprisingly fast for a creepy horror novel, but I think part of that is the novella length. I’m getting more familiar with novellas as I go along, but I’m always wanting more. Happily, this seems to be the first in a series (Danielle Cain series by Margaret Killjoy), so more is available.

Overall, I highly recommend this novella. It was a good, creepy read.

 

TW: gore, death, undead things, demonic deer spirits, reference to SA

 

Recommended for: creepy horror fans, anarchists, people looking for queer protagonists, people looking for queer settings, books by trans authors

Book Review: Ancillary Justice

I read Ancillary Justice immediately following The Left Hand of Darkness and oh boy, that was quite a flip. I am not going to review TLHoD, though this review does touch on it in contrast–suffice to say I was not impressed reading a cis man misgender an entire race of non-binary people for three hundred pages. I was concerned I’d have the same problem for Ancillary Justice–I am happy to report I did not.

While Ancillary Justice uses she/her for everyone similar to the way LHoD uses he/him pronouns for everyone, the reasons behind it are different. In LHoD, the protagonist can’t imagine a non-binary person or pronouns and makes disparaging comments about any feminine aspects of people he meets. In Ancillary Justice, the character is from a race that doesn’t have gendered pronouns and can’t keep track of gender markers among all the different cultures of the Empire. And when it matters to people, the protagonist of Ancillary Justice makes an attempt to get the pronouns right. That, more than anything else, is why the pronoun usage in Ancillary Justice worked for me while LHoD did not.

I really liked that the protagonist, Justice of Toren/Breq, is a literal spaceship and can be in multiple places at once with her AIs. That’s utilized in creative ways throughout the story. I particularly enjoyed the scene where a couple of her AI bodies were in the same area and started singing in harmony, startling people around her. It’s such a vivid scene. Also, I have a soft spot for singing spaceships.

I’ve heard this book described as a space opera novel, but I tend to think of space opera as intergalatic politics and battles between fleets of space ships. Instead, this is a much more personal book. It delves deeply into Justice of Toren‘s mind and why she makes the choices she does. There’s a lot of flashbacks in this book, delving into her history so that the twists and turns make sense. So that her reasoning makes sense. For Justice of Toren, this is a very personal revenge mission. We are deep in her POV and I loved that.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’ll definitely be picking up the next one in the series.

 

Recommended for: fans of non-human characters, fans of AIs, people interested in trying space opera, fans of revenge quests

 

TW: Drug addition, pro-colonialist sentiments

Book Review: The Perfect Assassin

Sorry for the delay between postings. I have been swamped from moving. Onto the review!

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The Perfect Assassin by K. A. Doore is a delightful adult fantasy novel about a family of assassins being hunted down. A brand-new assassin, Amastan, is tasked to solve the mystery of who is hunting his cousins down.

I loved this book. I read a lot of violent novels (not that this one is that violent), but it’s been a long time since I was on the edge of my seat during a fight scene, worried about the characters. What really makes this book shine for me is that I fell in love with the characters. I always have a soft spot for scholar characters like Amastan, which helped, but his motivation to protect his family and his loved ones was deeply personal in a way that was well communicated to the reader. The stakes aren’t world-ending–and for most of it, it’s not even his life at stake–but they’re still deeply important to Amastan personally, and that’s what makes it matter to the reader. This was a deeply personal book for Amastan and I love that.

I’m not much of a mystery reader, so I can’t speak too much to that. It wasn’t the first person I guessed, but it was the second. And interestingly, I was really sad that it was who it was. I liked that character almost as much as Amastan. I truly don’t think I’ve ever seen a fight between the MC and the villain where I wanted to villain to come out safely while the MC still won. It was odd, but I loved that mental incongruity.

Amastan’s romance was adorable, though I will tell you now, it doesn’t last to the end. So if you’re looking for happy queer romance, this isn’t it. Amastan is ace and there’s a guy he starts a relationship with, but it doesn’t work out. His reactions to flirting and dating felt very true to my ace experience. The upcoming sequel, The Impossible Contract, will be F/F, so I’m hoping we’ll get a happier ending there.

To be clear, this is not a depressing end. It’s not a super happy one, even though the mystery is solved and his family is rescued. And it’s not happy because Amastan is not happy, because we are so deep in his head. But it is a satisfying resolution to the story.

The setting of Ghadid was richly described without drowning us in description. It is a platform city in the middle of a desert, right at the end of the dry season. The sensory details are on point. If you’re looking for non-Western fantasy, this is an excellent choice.

Queerness is totally normalized in the setting. So far as I can tell, there’s no homophobia to be found. Amastan’s brief boyfriend didn’t raise any comments. Two female side characters are dating (and that appears to be a separate F/F relationship from the one in the sequel). Women having wives and men having husbands are both treated as totally normal. I didn’t see any example of gender queerness, but there’s still two books to go, so we might see it later.

 

Recommended for: Fans of non-Western fantasy, people interested in queer leads, fans of M/M relationships, people looking for ace leads, people who want assassins questioning the morality of killing, people who like books that go deep into a character’s POV

Book Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant

I’ve been trying to pull my thoughts together for weeks on this one because it just blew me away. Baru is a young girl when the colonizing empire shows up. She grows up through their increasing control.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy novel with such a blatant depiction of the horrors of colonialism. The horrors of Empire are typically sanitized—think of the pure white of Princess Leia’s dress as she fights as a rebel. But with Baru you see the children indoctrinated against their own parents, the plague that comes through after a previously unexposed population, the people who are killed for not complying to the new rules set down by the colonizers, the sexual abuse of the colonized people who have limited recourse for help. It’s hard and it’s brutal and Baru is brilliant in her navigation of it.

The title is a promise. I spent the whole book hoping she’d be betraying the empire, but it’s always in question. She plays a long game, always. She learns as she’s still a child that the empire is too big to overthrow with some grand gesture—like her parents plan, or the hero of some YA novel. She has to destroy it from the inside, but that means working from the inside.

And that’s the whole trick of the situation. Is she working for the Empire here because she’ll turn against them later? Or has she lost hope of ever overthrowing them? Is she helping these people due to her conscious, or so she can tear them down that much harder later?

Will it even matter if she saves her people in the end after all the other nations she destroys in her path?

I’m definitely hooked. This could very well be a villain origin story, but I’m totally into it. There’s a line at one point that’s something like “better a reluctant traitor than an unfeeling sociopath” when she refuses to kill someone, and the very fact that she has that thought tells me she made that calculation. She knows exactly how she wants to be perceived and acts accordingly. The question is not, is she a traitor, but rather, who is she betraying this time?

On the less twisty side of things, Baru is definitely lesbian. She was raised by her two dads and her mom in what appears to be a closed triad, until one of her fathers was killed for being queer. Her whole motivation arises from that. There are definitely queer characters who are killed, both for being queer and for other reasons, so if you’re looking for something that avoids that, look elsewhere.

I’m definitely going to check out the sequel.

 

Recommended for: fans of dark fantasy, people who want queer relationships outside of romance, anyone interested in anti-colonialist fiction, fans of anti-heroes and villain protagonists, fans of female villains and anti-heroes, fans of Sapphic characters

 

Mind the trigger warnings:

Attempted child sexual assault, threats of sexual violence, eugenics, child brainwashing, queer slurs, colorism, seriously so much eugenics

Book Review: Unbroken

Unbroken is an erotica novel set in the same world as the Port Lewis Witches by Brooklyn Ray. We get a cameo from a couple of characters from the other novellas and short stories, which is a nice little treat if you’re already a fan.

I knew I was going to buy this book the moment Ray posted this.

This is my exact ship dynamic. Like, exact. So I was pretty sure I was going to love this book going into it and I did. The demon is a good mix of human and not, the sex was hot, consent was regularly reaffirmed (a safe word was used and respected!), and the relationship between them was interesting. This book is first and foremost erotica though, rather than erotic romance. The relationship between Michael and the demon comes second to Michael’s personal development. There’s still fluff and romance in there, don’t get me wrong, but don’t expect it to be in the forefront the way you would for erotic romance or straight-up romance.

Part of Michael’s development is moving past an abusive relationship and it gives the book a weight that you might not otherwise expect from consent-focused erotica. His coping mechanisms aren’t necessarily healthy, but they are so very true to the way people actually react. Ray has said this is a very personal book for them in regards to how Michael relates to his trauma. It’s not treated lightly or flippantly in anyway.

This is not a witch-focused book the way the other Port Lewis books have been–Michael is a normal human–so if you’re a Pagan looking for more witchy books, this won’t quite be that. The aesthetic is definitely there in the background, though. And it is definitely quite enjoyable despite that.

I don’t know what else to say about this one. If you want M/M erotica with beautiful language and rough sex, you’ll love this. It’s great. If not, give it a miss.

 

Recommended for: fans of M/M erotica, monsterfucking, demon/human relationships, Hades/Persephone retellings, consensual erotica with rough sex

 

Mind the trigger warnings: Discussion of past abusive relationships, discussion of past sexual abuse, rough sex, drinking, scene of bloodletting, self-harm, depiction of anxiety, D/s situations

New Patreon!

I now have a Patreon where you can get more access to my writing process and even get exclusive short stories that I’m not planning to publish anywhere else. I will still be posting book reviews, submission calls, and periodic rants on here as well.

But if you want to get more access to my short fiction, come sign up for my Patreon! $5 will get you access to my SFW short fiction, and $7 will get you access to my NSFW short fiction. Even at the lowest $1 tier, you’ll still get character interviews, updates about my writing process, and more!

Book Review: The Witches of Port Lewis – Volume 1

CW: Discussion of edge play kinks

This is a collection of four stories, all in the same world with the same characters. Fictional Port Lewis is filled with witches and magical creatures and it’s so wonderfully queer. I will admit I was originally drawn to this book (and the author, Brooklyn Ray) with descriptive tags of, “queer,” “witchy,” “monsterfucking,” and “knives.” It has all of that and I love it. (The monsterfucking was heavier on the fucking than the monster, but still excellent.)

The first story, “Reborn,” is an F/F short featuring Thalia and Jordan. Thalia is a witch come home, the new matriarch of her clan. Jordan is a necromancer—and her old ex. Despite the concerns of their families (or, at least, Thalia’s family), they are drawn back into each other’s arms. This story does an excellent job setting the mood of a dark, witchy tale filled with sex, drama, and knife play.

Knife play is either explicit or referenced in every single story in this, so if that’s a hard limit of yours, maybe pass. If, on the other hand, that’s your kink? Read this book. Read it right now. I love knife play where the knife and the cutting (and to some extent, the blood) is eroticized, rather than the fear. Fear play didn’t come up here, but blood play did.

Next was “Darkling,” a novella featuring Ryder, a fire witch who becomes a necromancer. I loved his attitude, I loved the little touches of his magic, I loved the descriptions of siphoning his boyfriends magic and the knife play between them, I adored the blend of magic and sex. Holy shit that was possibly the best part (of this whole book, Ray writes excellent sex scenes and blends them with magic spectacularly). I know “darkling” as a term in the book is supposed to be an insult to a necromancer, but it’s such a cute term I want to see used as a pet name between him and his water witch boyfriend. (I might have strong Tamora Pierce associations with that term, I’m sorry.)

“Undertow” featured the same pairing, but this time the POV character was Liam, Ryder’s water witch boyfriend.  Their relationship was established in “Darkling” and continues to grow here, but the focus is on Liam’s family drama/family witch clan secrets more than anything else. Have I mentioned how much I love how witchy these books are? It feels so good to read books by witches for witches. So incredibly validating. Also, I love water witches, they are my jam.

Ryder and Liam, the protags of “Darkling” and “Undertow” are in the same circle and one of my few critiques of this is that I want to see what keeps them in the circle. There’s a ton of in-circle conflicts here (not between Ryder and Liam, mostly between both of them and Tyler the circle leader) and not much showing what keeps them together. I’d love to see them work together as a circle. (I’d also love to see Tyler being actually supportive and not a jerkface, but I get the feeling his character growth is coming soon.)

Literally the only other thing that bothered me in this was the lack of safe sex practices (or discussion whatsoever). The sex was hot and kinky and I loved it, but this is a modern setting friends. Diseases are a preventable thing. Pregnancy this a preventable thing. Why is this not addressed? (I know a lot of people don’t think safe sex practices are sexy, but in modern settings I view them as much a requirement as consent. Normalize it and make it sexy.)

The last story of the book, “Honey”, was pure fluff between Ryder and Liam. It was so perfect and wonderful to end on after the darkness of “Undertow” and made me squeal and hug the book.

Overall, I love LOVE LOVE this book. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: Pagan readers, fans of sexy contemporary fantasy, people with a knife play kink, readers who want a trans lead (Ryder), fans of M/M and F/F romance, fans of cross-elemental pairings, fans of necromancers, fans of kelpies

Book Review – Song of Blood and Stone

Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope got recommended as a potential comp for mine, specifically focusing on the romance through war aspects. I think that’s probably part of the reason I’m struggling to put my thoughts into words here. I came into it expecting it to similar to my queer violent fantasy and it’s… not.

For one thing, both participants in the main romance appear to be straight, which was definitely not what I expected for an M/M comp. Don’t get me wrong, the romance was sweet. The attraction between the main characters was clear (to the point where the ace side of me was going “oh my gods, you two, get on with it”). They treated each other well, which is a delightful change from the romance I read when I was younger (which contributed to me not reading romance for over a decade). They truly and deeply cared for each other and that came out in their actions. And, I didn’t get annoyed or bored with it the way I have with some straight romances recently.

But it was a romance between strangers, rather than long-time friends. It was a romance between a prince and a shepherdess, with an almost Cinderella-like feel, instead of a pair of assassins raised by the villain. While both stories involve a romance set in the lead-up to war, in Song of Blood and Stone, it felt like the romance was separate from the war plot until the very end. In this book, the war ended, whereas in mine, the war begins.

It also wasn’t as violent as I expected. I mean, the story opened with racial slurs and threats of racial violence, then two separate rape attempts (towards both of the main characters), so I was expecting a similar level of combat and violence all the way through. But once we leave her house, there are a few isolated incidents of violent racism and a whole lot of politicking. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy political fantasy, but again that wasn’t what I was expecting from this book.

But it also wasn’t what I’d expect from a political fantasy, either. There wasn’t much manuevering for the throne, or dealing with outside royals. Rather, this is a new monarch dealing with internal strife–particularly around refugees. This is an extremely relevant topic right now, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a fantasy novel before. I would have honestly liked to see that delved into even more, but this story was tightly focused on the romance. (Not a bad thing if you’re here for the romance!)

About halfway through the book I was wondering how they were going to wrap up the plot they set up. I started to think they wouldn’t, that killing the villain would be a series goal, but no. It’s not quite a deus ex machina, despite the appearance of literal gods, because it’s still the human MCs who have to save the day (and save the goddess!). Yet, it didn’t quite feel like a twist, either? The ending was well-foreshadowed and set-up throughout the book, but again I was expecting more violence.

This might be a book I’ll have to reread again to get a better feel. (I realize this review was pretty unfair since I spent a lot of it comparing it to a book that’s not even picked up by an agent yet. Sorry about that.)

One thing I will say I was super pleased to see is that the MC does not reconcile with her abusive racist family. She confronts the racist matriarch once and decides no, that bullshit is not worth her time. I LOVE that. There’s way too much pressure in society and books for people to put up with abusers “because family.” I am so glad to see she’s not putting up with it.

Overall, this was a good book. I liked it. I’d be interested in picking up the sequel when it comes out.

Recommended for: anyone who wants romantic fantasy, fans of interracial romance, people who want a Black woman lead, a sweet romance fans, people who want a sort of 1920s-ish second-world fantasy, #ownvoices black leads in fantasy

Book Review:In the Vanishers’ Palace

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I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on this book since I first heard de Bodard tweeting about it.  (I have mentioned my love of de Bodard’s work before, so I’m sure this comes as a surprise to no one.)  Sapphic Beaty & the Beast retelling with a dragon?  Hells to the yes.

Let me tell you, this did not disappoint.

I found the first half a little hard to envision sometimes, though that is a problem equally shared by our protagonist.  There is non-Euclidean architecture, reality breaking rooms, future alien tech, and dragons who rarely seem to stay in one shape for long.  This felt very much like a post-apocalyptic fairy tale.  Horrifically dangerous weirdness that people try desperately to survive, but wrapped within beautiful poetic prose.

I actually struggled for a long time with what to put in this review.  It’s just so wonderful I want to shove this book at everyone.  Like, queer fairytales with a dragon?  Why are you not already reading this?  I seriously can’t remember the last time a book made me cry, and it wasn’t even with the romance.  It was just a line about life and surviving but it’s so relevant right now.

Here’s a list of all the wonderful things in this book, since there are too many to go into individually:

  • Central F/F relationship
  • Multiple non-binary characters
  • D R A G O N S
  • Post-apocalyptic forests with alien machine/monsters
  • Dragon/alien monsters
  • Living mothers who are important to the plot
  • Dragon/human romance
  • Setting is #ownvoices Vietnamese inspired
  • Magic through books
  • Consent issues common to B&tB are acknowledged and addressed
  • People actually learn from their freaking mistakes
  • Healers and scholars are the main characters
  • There’s almost no fighting in this whole book
  • There’s only one living guy in the whole book and he dies pretty quick
  • Fresh take on a fairy tale retelling

 

So, yeah.  Pick any reason you want out of that list and read this book.  At 48k, it’s right on the edge of novella and novel. (Apparently 40k is the cut-off for novels for the Hugo awards, which I did not previously know!  So it counts as a novel for our big genre award.)  It’s not a long read, but it is definitely worth it.

 

Recommended for: Everyone?  Fans of Beauty & the Beast, fans of fairytale retellings, non-European settings, fans of post-apocalyptic fantasy, readers who want fantasy that’s not based on combat, readers who want mothers to exist in fantasy, dragon lovers, fans of Vietnamese settings, all Sapphic readers, people looking for non-binary rep