Rose Hill's Writing Grove

A Fantasy author in the Twin Cities

Book Review: The Stars Are Legion

The Stars Are Legion was both exactly what I was expecting from a Kameron Hurley novel, and not at all. If you, like me, love her women-led novels and unflinching look at violence and trauma, you will find that here.

And when I say women-led, I want to be clear, there are no men in this book. None. Zero. All the main characters are women. All the side characters are women. All the nameless grunts in the background are women. The lack of men is never noticed or commented on. There’s no point to be made here about women as rulers or female-led societies. Men are just completely irrelevant to the society and plot line.

After all the sausage-fest novels I’ve read in my life, this was glorious.

Another thing that I appreciate in this that is such a Hurley thing is that no one in here pretends to be a good person. Jayd, in particular, is pretty explicit about being a villain. Yet despite that, it’s a novel about love and filled with hope. It’s about keeping going even when life is at its worst and everything has gone wrong. No one here is a good person, but they’re all still doing their best.

As for what they’re doing? Well, Zan and Jayd are trying to get to the surface of a particular living worldship. Everyone in the (maybe artificial?) solar system they’re in sees that particular worldship as the key to their salvation–since all the worldships are slowly dying. Everything goes wrong in a spectacular fashion, as plots are wont to do. But Zan and Jayd claw their way towards their goals, sometimes literally.

Hurley became one of my favorite authors three books of hers ago. This has all the women and queerness and body horror and unflinching injuries that I’ve come to expect from a novel of hers. But at the same time, it was also less violent than I expected. To be clear, it’s still violent. Incredibly violent. But it’s less violent than I was expecting after finishing her Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy or even The Mirror Empire. There’s a lot more politicking and interpersonal drama in this book. It’s still just as thrilling, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, so it threw me for a bit of a loop.

There’s also a mystery to this book: Zan has amnesia. In a way, her surprise about everything in the setting works well. Her competence comes through in believable, automatic ways, but doesn’t always save her. Her amnesia lets the reader see the world as something new with her, though. And because of that, I feel like this wouldn’t be a bad intro-to-sci-fi book.

I want to be clear that pregnancy, freedom, and bodily autonomy are major themes in the book. If pregnancy is a trigger for you, give this a pass. I really enjoyed the thoughtfulness put into those themes.

The title drop at the end was a chef’s kiss of a sucker punch. Utterly perfect.

 

Recommended for: people new to sci-fi; women interested in sci-fi; queer people interested in sci-fi; fans of Ancillary Justice/The Imperial Rach trilogy; anyone who wants a bit more body horror in their sci-fi; anyone who wants some amazing worldbuilding; everyone who wants more SPACE LESBIANS

Book Review: Unconquered Sun

I won a copy of Unconquerable  Sun by Kate Elliott in a Goodreads giveaway advertised on Twitter. I am not affiliated with the author or publisher in any way, nor have I been compensated for this review. I’m not all that familiar with Kate Elliott’s work, but one of my favorite authors is a fan of hers, so I was willing to give her a shot. Unconquerable Sun comes out on July 7, 2020.

Unconquerable Sun is billed as an Alexander the Great retelling in space. It feels exactly as epic as you might imagine from that. I, admittedly, don’t read a lot of space opera, but this had the grand sprawling feel I associate with epic fantasy. (A good thing, as a lover of epic fantasy.) There’s lots of space stuff too. Different planets, spaceships, space battles, humanoid aliens, everything you might expect. If that’s your jam, this hits it square on.

It took me a little while to get into Unconquerable Sun, but once I got into it, I was really into it. I LOVED the character interactions in this. Princess Sun with her Companions is exactly the kind of tight platonic bonds I adore. The forbidden romance between Sun and Hetty fed my sapphic heart without any hint of queer-shaming. I loved that Sun and Perse were both allowed to be assholes without using that to degrade their womanhood. Like, I feel like I need to repeat that because it’s SUCH a major thing for me. Women are allowed to be assholes in this book. Both women are encouraged to be more polite for political reasons, but not for any comment on their womanhood. They can just be asshole women. It’s everything I love about Kameron Hurley, but without the body horror.

And the characters are so much fun, I feel like this book would be perfect for fanfic. I want all the fics of childhood friendship shenanigans of Sun and her Companions.

Circling back up to Sun and Hetty’s romance, this is a queernorm book. The queen has two husbands and a wife. Hetty has two fathers. The forbidden aspect of Sun and Hetty isn’t that they’re women, it’s that Hetty is her Companion and that’s supposed to be a purely platonic bond, not a romantic one. I am quickly developing a strong preference for queernorm books. Give me all the forms of queerness that no one bats an eye at.

On a related note, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a book use “queen” (or any other female-associated title) be used as a gender-neutral default. I’ve seen it with male-associated terms like “lord,” “king,” and even “prince” in plenty of other spec fic novels. (Winterglass, for example.) I literally gasped when I saw that because I’d never heard of that before. Women, as the default. Not just the only people there, as in The Stars Are Legion, or the de juro rulers, as in The Black Jewels Trilogy, but as the societal and linguistic and political default. It was shockingly refreshing, the way I felt reading The Perfect Assassin (possibly my first queernorm exposure) or In the Vanishers’ Palace (with its near-complete lack of men).

We open with three very different POVs, but they all interweave by the end. Once the first death happens, it’s almost nonstop action. That was probably the point where I got invested.

Why did it take me that long?

The beginning is full of info dumps. I am very much an author who prefers being dropped in with minimal info. I figure I’ll either pick it up as I go along, or I’ll bounce out. The info dumps slow down later on, but it remains heavy on description all the way through. That writing style has never been to my taste.

On top of that, I was thrown by being introduced to the first few characters in third person past, then Perse in first person present. Having finished the first book, I don’t know why Elliott made that choice for her POV. I would have been less thrown had the whole book been consistent in third person past. The switch was jarring and it took multiple chapters for it to stop bouncing me from the story.

Despite that, I finished that yesterday and immediately want to get my hands on the sequel. (It says it’s first in a series, so I’m guessing one must be coming eventually.) The pasts of this I didn’t like were things I could look past, and the parts of this I loved I really loved. So, yeah, highly recommended. Check this out.

 

Recommended for: fans of space opera, fans of ancient Greek retellings, fans of feminist SFF, fans of asshole women, people who want female protagonists, people who want strong friendship grroups, people who want queernorm books

Book Review: Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse was sort of like a whirlpool. At first, I wasn’t that into it. It felt like the urban fantasy that had made me stop reading urban fantasy in college. (Though this isn’t UF, to be clear. It’s post-apoc.) By the time Kai was introduced I felt the current. After that, it kept pulling me in deeper and deeper until at the end it left me going “can I order the second from my local indie bookstore tonight?”

For a while I was confused by what the plot was, because it didn’t seem to be the mystery of the monsters or the side quests offered up by tertiary characters. At the climax it was clear–this is Maggie’s story. This is her recovering and moving on and learning to see herself as more than just a monster. And once I hit that, all the choices in the book made so much more sense. This is a very character driven novel, rather than a plot one.

This is also everything I wanted out of the Mercy Thompson books. A Native woman hunting monsters. There’s no Christian supremacy here, no werewolf bullshit, no Western European mythos. There’s very few white people. It felt good in the way that Aliette de Bodard’s books do (or even Kameron Hurley’s, though with way less body horror); it’s that sense of 0 patience for the white man’s kyriarchy. (Though it’s not queer, like de Bodard or Hurley. There’s hints Kai might be multi-spec and one of the side characters is gay, but our protag Maggie appears to be straight.)

Book 2 (Storm of Locusts) is already out and I want it. That may well be the next book I order, if I can get my hands on it through my local indie bookstore. There’s not a release date set for book 3 yet, but it’s supposed to be a 4 book series. (Storm of Locusts is described as a “girl gang road trip” that pulls on more post-apoc tropes than the first one, so that should be fun.)

(ETA: I ordered Storm of Locusts and it’s even better than the first one, I highly recommend these.)

 

 

Recommended for: fans of UF, fans of post-apoc fantasy, people who want non-Western fantasy, fans of violent women, fans of women coming into their power

Book Review: The Deep

The Deep by Rivers Solomon is based on a song by clipping. of the same name. I didn’t listen to the song until after I finished the novella but it does feel like a good translation of the song to story form. clipping. describes the shift of the story from their inspiration to song to novel as being like a game of Telephone, but with things added each time instead of lost. They’re all slightly different, but connected.

The basic premise is that mermaids are the children of the pregnant African women thrown overboard from slave ships. That was basically all I knew going into it, but this book goes a lot deeper than that. It brings in concepts from The Giver by Lois Lowry and “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K Le Guin. Yetu, the Historian, is the only one who remembers their wars, the humans’ attacks on them, their horrific origin from the dead enslaved mothers, and it’s killing her. Her people are happy, almost idyllic in their forgetfulness, because she’s the one who bears all the pain.

The book dives deeply into Yetu’s pain, her desire to live, and her cultural connections. The prose feels lyrical, though the word choices are straightforward. The rhythm of the piece feels like a song. I want to go back and read this book out loud, just to get a feel for hearing it.

I loved this novella. It touched on fables from SFF that I was already familiar with and brought them to new and harsher depths. It had the best description of mermaids I’ve ever seen. (That sensory detail!) It was queer and consent based and had a happier ending than I expected for both a novel with such a dark premise and one feature a mermaid/human romance.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a free weekend.

 

Recommended for: people who want queer SFF, people who want f/f SFF, mermaid lovers, people who want Black protags/casts, anyone who likes fantasy and has some free time

Book Review: How To Bang A Billionaire

For about eighteen years, I avoided Romance novels. I had a bad run of them when I was young–books full of alphahole heteronormative bullshit where abuse equaled love–and I wrote off the whole genre for many years. But I’ve been following an increasing number of Romance writers on Twitter and I’ve been writing more romance and erotica myself. It was time to get back into the genre and see what there was to see.

I am delighted that I got back into the genre with Alexis Hall’s How To Bang A Billionaire. This book was so much fun. My husband kept asking me why I was giggling.

The main character, Arden, was by turns delightfully snarky, painfully awkward, and incredibly thirsty in a way that immediately made him endearing. It felt real in a way that I don’t feel like I see that often in my normal Fantasy novels. People screw up! They can be awkward! It’s not always tense negotiations of politics where everyone must be perfect. (There’s not any of that in here.) Arden just felt like an awkward, horny college student, and man, I’ve been there.

It says twice that Arden is pansexual and while I wanted to love that, it didn’t feel backed up by the text. The way he talked about women–not in a misogynistic way, just in a “women are not an option in attraction” way–felt really off to me, as a pan person. Don’t get me wrong, I know that multi-spec people can choose not to date particular genders if they wish, but this doesn’t feel like that. It feels like a gay character got changed to pan somewhere along the line without changing any of the mindset/reactions behind it.

That is, it must be said, a pretty minor critique (it just rubbed me wrong the whole book because I am pan and I’m in a lot of pan groups and no, that’s not how we react). He was still a fun character. I loved that he was raised by a polyam triad. I loved that he was not afraid to cry. I loved his cuddly friendship with his straight guy friend. I loved that he expressed and enforced his boundaries.

The love interest, Caspian Hart, was the sort of emotionally-distant, masculine Dom that should have ticked the alphahole box for me, but he didn’t. I think what really made the difference for me is that he respected Arden’s boundaries and tried to make him happy (as best as he could figure out, which wasn’t great at times). Watching those two with entirely different ways of relating to the world and relationships stumble around each other was great entertainment.

The story ended with a HFN (happy for now, instead of HEA, happily ever after) and I know there are two more books in the series. I might pick them up at some point when my to-read pile shrinks a little (lol, unlikely), but honestly? I’m satisfied with this ending. It gave me the warm fuzzies I wanted. I feel safe venturing further into Romance knowing there are authors who write fun, consent-focused stories I want to read.

I am not fully clear on how heat levels work in Romance (see above for having been out of this a long time), but this wasn’t as high heat as I was expecting considering the title. So if you’re considering this book but don’t know if it would be too much sex for you, I’d say give it a shot.

 

Recommended for: people looking for consent-focused M/M romance; people who want a fun, thirsty romance; fellow queers thinking about venturing into Romance like I have

Book Review: Gideon the Ninth

I know Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir has been hyped up by a lot of people, but frankly I think it’s well deserved. This was a delightful book. I was sold at the tag line “lesbian necromancers in space” and it was even better than I dreamed of.

The basic plot is that Harrow, the Ninth House’s necromancer, has been summoned to compete in a challenge to become one of the Undying Emperor’s elite. Every necromancer must go with a cavalier, and Gideon gets stuck with the job. Once they’re in place, everything starts unraveling and bodies start piling up, as you might expect with a book full of necromancers.

The relationship between Harrow and Gideon was one of the things I loved most. They grew up together on a mostly dead planet and hated each other–but they’re also the only people the other can rely on. Their snark was one of my absolute favorite things. Do you enjoy the snark in the Dresden Files but wish it was full of women and utterly queer? (I do.) This is the book for you! I also really enjoyed the slow way they came together as the tension mounted. They continued being their frustrating (to each other) selves, but they opened up and came to rely on each other. I loved it.

As someone who is always enchanted by necromancy in the games and books I enjoy, I deeply enjoyed the many permutations of necromancy present here. The worldbuilding is intriguing. Calling it fresh seems weird when it’s so full of bones and corpses, but hey, it works. There’s a sci-fi empire that feels like it’s decaying like one of the corpses in the novel.

I feel like the author lived in a thesaurus while writing this, but in the best way. Every description is exactly on point in setting up the mood and theme of the books. Death. Dying. Bones. Corpses. Every single permutation of these you can think of. But it wasn’t overbearing–I found it delightful and refreshing. That’s part of what made this book so enjoyable for me.

The death toll climbs sharply as the book goes on, and death is a lot more permanent than I would have expected for a bunch of necromancers. But the book ends with a number of the bodies unrecovered, so I have hope we’ll see some of those characters again. There is major character death, FYI, so be aware of that going in.

I have already preordered the sequel, it was that good. And I’ve talked three other people into reading it next.

 

Recommended for: grownup goths; everyone it’s amazing; if you like the Addams Family; if you’re looking for a blend of science and magic; if you want a lesbian protagonist; fans of women warriors; fans of snarky protagonists; fans of necromancy

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!

theperfectassassinfinalcover

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