And so it begins…

Welcome to my blog! Here I intend to talk about a variety of subjects, probably mostly Science-Fiction and Fantasy related, though there is likely to be some feminist lens to my content (for which I make no apologies).

I am also an aspiring author, so the blog may include updates on my journey from writing to perhaps getting published.

So welcome and please bring an open mind and a warm heart. Disagreements are fine, I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I say, but please be polite and respectful in your arguments.

Thanks!

Update: I have added a ratings system to my blog now so I have updated all my old reviews with their ratings. They mostly match my Good Reads ratings, though I will sometimes use .5 here because I feel they can be helpful sometimes.

5* – I adored this book and will happily re-read it and recommend it to everyone who likes this sort of thing.

4* – This is an excellent book that I will likely recommend. May have some elements I didn’t think quite worked, but still highly recommended.

3* – This was a good book. I generally enjoyed reading it but may not particularly want to read it again.

2* – The book was OK. It had some redeeming features, but not enough for me to truly say I liked it.

1* – I hated this book and couldn’t think of much of anything good to say about it. To be avoided at all costs.

Half ratings will indicate that I felt a book fell between two other ratings and I wanted to acknowledge that.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January (5*)

Book: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow

As you can tell I am continuing to work through my backlog of Hugo Novel finalist reviews. This is something I had the paperback on pre-order for. I had been hoping to read it before the rest of the Hugo packet dropped, but unfortunately the release date got pushed back due to Covid-19, which meant that it came out around the same time instead.

The reason I wanted to read this had a lot to do with her short story, which was my favourite of last year’s Hugo nominations (see my blog about the short stories for more on this) and basically made me want to read more of what she has written. Have to say, I was not remotely disappointed. Her short story made me weep buckets and this novel made me do the same.

“The will to be polite, to maintain civility and normalcy, is fearfully strong. I wonder sometimes how much evil is permitted to run unchecked simply because it would be rude to interrupt it.”

DoorsIt’s a very interestingly structured book, it’s told as someone writing down their own story, but in a very almost stream of consciousness way. The main character is a woman named January Scaller, who tells the tale of her life and also intersperses it with the story contained in a book called The Ten Thousand Doors of January, the story of which is entwined with her own.

I really liked the way that was done, we learn the relevance of one story to the other as the book goes on and I felt that unfolded in a really great way. I did work out what was likely going on before it was revealed, but I think that is probably fairly typical and it doesn’t ruin the impact in the slightest, well it didn’t for me anyway.

One thing I should make clear is that the book is set in the past, in the early days of the 20th century and the main character is mixed race so the book does touch on issues of racism as well as the rather awful practice of “civilising” people from non-white backgrounds so definitely be aware of that if it might cause any issues. It seemed like this was dealt with well to me, but I am also aware that I am a very pasty person so this really isn’t an area I can talk about with any authority.

There is a theme of helplessness in some way, of someone’s power and agency being removed by someone else that gives a very claustraphobic feel to the book in places. I honestly felt like I was struggling to breathe at points as I knew what it felt like to be constrained, to be pushed into acting a certain way in order to be accepted by those around you. My own sense may come from a different place in some ways (though the fact this is something most women do experience is the same), but I strongly empathised with what the character was going through and how it feels to freeze instead of acting in ways people might expect you to act.

“Let that be a lesson to you: If you are too good and too quiet for too long, it will cost you. It will always cost you, in the end.”

Overall this is a beautifully written book which takes you on a very personal, very emotional journey. By the end I was in floods of tears and needed to move the book away so I didn’t cry on it. Definitely a deserved Hugo finalist and damn, this is going to be a very hard year to pick a favourite! On the plus side, whatever book wins won’t be too much of a disappointment.

Gideon the Ninth (5*)

Book: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I have been super psyched about reading this book since I first heard the premise of Lesbian Necromancers in Space, because I mean, why the hell would I not want to read that book? As normal I have trouble with hardbacks and since I prefer to own the physical book I don’t tend to buy ebooks because I don’t really want to buy them twice, so getting an e-copy of this in the Hugo packet was pretty much a dream come true.

Before I get into it I do want to say that I was expecting a book that was a lot of fun at heart and maybe didn’t entirely take itself too seriously. It turned out to be so much better than that and I loved every bit of it. Waiting for the sequel is going to be a trial, let me tell you!

“Nonagesimus,” she said slowly, “the only job I’d do for you would be if you wanted someone to hold the sword as you fell on it. The only job I’d do for you would be if you wanted your ass kicked so hard, the Locked Tomb opened and a parade came out to sing, ‘Lo! A destructed ass.’ The only job I’d do would be if you wanted me to spot you while you backflipped off the top tier into Drearburh.” “That’s three jobs,” said Harrowhark.”

GideonThe book follows the main character of Gideon, a foul-mouthed lesbian who has had a less than excellent childhood and who only wants to get out of the personal hell she is living in and maybe get to romance or sleep with some hot woman along the way.

She is “persuaded” to come along with Harrowhark, the necromancer who rules the Ninth, as they head to another world for testing to become one of the Emperor’s chosen, which Harrow is determined to succeed at.

This turns into something of a murder mystery when certain of the other participants wind up dead and then there is a rush to discover if some dangerous creature is loose on the planet, or if one of the others is killing off their competition.

Gideon’s voice comes across very strongly in the book, she’s an easy character to love and honestly the more we find out about her the better it gets. She’s something of a secret sweetie, caring a lot more about other people than we might guess from her initial introduction into the story.

In fact Tamsyn Muir does an excellent line in slowly unravelling the layers of people’s characters so you get to know them a lot better as the story progresses and some of what you learn is really quite surprising. As the book is something of a murder mystery please be aware that characters you like may end up dead by the end, it’s pretty brutal in that regard.

“She had left Harrowhark a note on her vastly underused pillow— WHATS WITH THE SKULLS? and received only a terse— Ambiance.”

The setting is also really fascinating, especially as for the most part it seems like it would perhaps belong more in a fantasy book than in a science-fiction one, but the setting most definitely has elements of both. The magic is all necromancy based, but does appear to be treated almost as a science, whilst you do seem to have to have some innate talent to be a necromancer, study and understanding of the principles involved is a very important part of getting to be good at it.

It doesn’t feel vastly sci-fi, probably because the story is more of a weird mystery than anything else, but I get the feeling, given how the book ends, that the space part of the setting is going to be much more important in the future.

But yes, basically this book has a beautiful tongue-in-cheek humour (see the quotes for good examples) balanced with some excellent character work that really draws you into the story and has you rooting for people. I definitely wanted to know how things worked out and some of the surprises in it caught me entirely flat-footed. It’s well written, funny and very moving. Wish I had been able to read it sooner but better late than never I suppose!

The City in the Middle of the Night (4*)

Book: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Right, so I have been bad at catching up with these again, this whole pandemic is not doing wonders for my mental health I will admit. I am most of the way through all the reading I have been doing for the Hugos so I have a lot of posts to catch up on!

“Part of how they make you obey is by making obedience seem peaceful, while resistance is violence. But really, either choice is about violence, one way or another.”

CitySo first up (since I already did A Memory Called Empire) is The City in the Middle of the Night. This was something I had already bought for myself and hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. We also did it for my book club recently so I got to combine my reading in a really efficient way!

I will admit that I wasn’t a big fan of her first book, All the Birds in the Sky, just not quite my thing (though I know loads of people who loved it). The premise for this one really caught my eye though and listening to her talk about it on her podcast (Our Opinions Are Correct) got me really interested so I thought I would give it a go and I am honestly really glad I did because I very much enjoyed it.

The book follows two different protagonists whose lives get tangled up together in the course of the book. The world that the book is set on is one that is stuck with one half in the light of the sun and the other half in darkness, so the only habitable area is the twilight region between day and night. Sophie is a young woman from the poorer side of Xiosphant is a student and a revolutionary. She ends up exiled into the darkness and is saved from it, an event that will change the course of her life and potentially the planet. The other woman is Mouth, a traveller seeking to preserve the memory of her lost people. The two of them will get caught up in the troubles of the world and will have to find a way to work together to get through it.

“You might mistake understanding for forgiveness, but if you did, then the unforgiven wrong would catch you off guard, like a cramp, just as you reached for generosity.”

As I mentioned before the setting of this book really got my attention, the idea of a civilisation perched in twilight, caught forever between a day and a night that would kill them was something I find fascinating, especially in regards to what a society would look like in those sorts of conditions. There’s an interesting contrast between Xiosphant, a city that is built on order, on using shutters to make a fake day and night to give the residents the sense of routine that they had on Earth, whilst the other city is relaxed, more chaotic as the residents have much more freedom to do what they want.

One of the main focuses of the book is also on the relationships between the characters, which is always a favourite thing for me. Though a warning, there is a very toxic relationship portrayed in it that could be pretty triggering if you have been through something like that. It is very, very well done and I often found myself screaming at the character in the book, not because I blamed them for their choices, but because I desperately wanted better for them and it was painful to watch them go through it all. Which I mean, is excellent characterisation, the whole thing wouldn’t have upset me as much had I not cared about the characters and if the depiction hadn’t been quite so realistic, so masterfully done on the author’s part.

The ending is a little open in some ways, I don’t want to get into detail because I don’t want to spoiler it for anyone. I think overall I liked the way it ended, it wrapped up enough of the story to feel like some sort of ending, whilst still leaving other things to your imagination, in a way I really did like. The book tells the story it wants to tell and I got really invested in it, it’s not my favourite out of the Hugo novel finalists, but it definitely deserves it’s place there. Well worth a read.

The Kingdom Of Copper (4*)

Book: The Kingdom of Copper by S A Chakraborty

This is book two of a trilogy, if you are curious about my views on the first book, City of Brass, click the link to have a read. You may be able to work out that I enjoyed it since I went as far as to pre-order the paperback of the second one. But if you haven’t read the first one in the series then this review is going to have some spoilers in it most likely so please be aware of that.

“I can count my short reign a success if I manage to convince the two most stubborn people in Daevabad to do something they don’t want to do.”

KoCRight, well this book picks up at first not too long after the events of the first book with Ali stranded in the desert and Nahri is in Daevabad dealing with the fallout of what happened.

It does then jump forward in time a few years when Alizayd is living with a tribe out in the desert and making a new life for himself while Nahri is making the most of her new life and her marriage to Ali’s brother.

Circumstances will drag Ali back to Daevabad, bringing him into conflict with most of his family and also with Nahri.

All of that will be threatened by a force in the north who will potentially cause permanent change to Daevanbad, even beyond the wildest dreams of either Ali or Nahri. All will come to a head during a big festival and the fate of Daevabad hangs in the balance.

So this book contains pretty much all the sorts of things I loved in the first one. The characters and their interactions are a main draw for this book so if they aren’t the sort of characters and dynamics you enjoy then this book will not really work for you, but I really loved it.

“People do not thrive under tyrants, Alizayd; they do not come up with innovations when they’re busy trying to stay alive, or offer creative ideas when error is punished by the hooves of a karkadann.”

The world that has been built is something that I really enjoy and the mythology it is based on is definitely something I wish I knew more about. The city and cultires of Daevabad feel very realistic and with the events in this book I felt like she took the tensions and issues that were established in the first book and really opened them up more . The author is really excellent at letting you see things from very different perspectives so you can see the roots of the conflict from a bit more of a neutral standpoint.

I am definitely very curious as to where the trilogy is going to end giving that there is another pretty big cliffhanger at the end of this one as well. I am sure whatever happens it’s going to be a hell of an emotional rollercoaster and I am here for it.

Gods of Jade and Shadow (4*)

Book: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Right, time to start blitzing through my backlog, this means that there may be a lot of posts in relatively quick succession (I hope). Basically I will be queuing them up to go out every couple of days so I can get onto the Hugo stuff sooner.

This book is another one that I read for my book club, we’re doing things online now due to the lockdown. I was pretty pleased when it came up though I can’t say I know too much about Mayan mythology, largely due to it not exactly being easy to find books on (or at least I don’t remember coming across any when I collected books of myths). I also don’t think I have ever read a fantasy based in Mexico, so I was pleased to be able to do so.

“It was as Hun-Kamé had told her: life was not fair. Why should she be fair? Why should she suffer? This was not even her story. This kind of tale, this dubious mythmaking, was for heroes with shields and armor, for divinely born twins, for those anointed by lucky stars.”

Gojas

To start with I do just want to say, look at that gorgeous cover art. Is it not utterly beautiful? All kudos to the artist behind that, it really is quite something. I am entirely a sucker for a pretty cover so I likely would have picked this up book club or not.

Anyway, the premise of the book is that it is set in the Jazz age, the protagonist is a young woman called Casiopea Tun who has to do menial work for her rich family as she and her mother are considered charity cases by them as her mother married further down the social hierarchy and was cast out for it.

One day she opens a box in her grandfather’s room and accidentally releases the captured Mayan god of death inside. This leads her on a journey through Mexico and beyond as she helps the god recover his lost power, leading to a confrontation with his brother, the one who had him locked away to begin with.

“Words are seeds, Casiopea. With words you embroider narratives, and the narratives breed myths, and there’s power in the myth. Yes, the things you name have power.”

This might be considered slightly spoilery, but given the premise of the book it was something I had assumed would be the case from the outset and I want to talk about it so be warned. Basically the book does involve a supernatural romance angle, which as I said, I did see coming and was in many ways my least favourite part of the book. It’s the sort of thing myself as a teenager would probably have loved, but I understand a lot more about power dynamics now so that sort of thing is something I tend to find rather unsettling. I will say that the way it is dealt with does ease some of that twitch, I don’t want to go into too much detail but the way it plays out wasn’t what I was expecting and I definitely did like that about the story.

The plotline is quite linear, it’s a very familiar story structure in many myths and fairytales though so it works quite well for the story that is being told. It is perhaps a little short, I think I would have preferred a bit more detail and exploration in places, but it ends well and that makes up for a lot.

I did really like the character of Casiopea though, she was pretty relatable as someone who had been given a shitty deal in life, was angry about it and wanted something better. I liked the arc she was given overall and I would definitely read more stories about her in the future.

But yes overall I enjoyed this one quite a lot and if you like exploring different mythologies, it’s well written, the characters are good and it definitely does some interesting things with the story and with your expectations.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? (4*)

Book: Do You Dream of Terra-Two by Temi Oh

Ugh, so behind with these. I have some time off work so I am going to try and blast through my backlog as I have started my Hugo reading now and I definitely want to cover that.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Temi twice and she is honestly a genuinely lovely person. Listening to her talk definitely made me want to read this, combined with listening to Emma Newman froth about it (they were at the same event together). As usual, I can’t do hardbacks due to stupid joints and their constant malfunctioning (they are too heavy basically and cause pain if I read them for any length of time) so thus settled into wait for the paperback.

Terra TwoThe book follows the story of six teenagers who are chosen to on a long mission to a planet that has been designated Terra-Two. Their journey is expected to take them 20-30 years so they will arrive when they are in their late 30s to early 40s. They are the back-up crew to the adults, expected to learn their jobs so they can take over when needed later on in the journey.

I will admit that I had assumed that the book was going to be covering the whole journey and dealing with the interpersonal problems that would arise from such a group of people being stuck with each other in such a small space for a long period of time, but that isn’t entirely how it goes. This isn’t meant as a spoiler, just as a warning, only a relatively short time of the journey is covered in the book.

There was a lot I liked about the way the relationships played out between the characters, there were some pretty dark moments as well, no sexual violence just the regular sort in case you are worried, but potential trigger for bullying type situations so be aware of that.

One thing that did bother me in regards to the character relationships and their development though. Early on there is a character who does not want to have sex, but the way it is framed she seems to think the whole thing is horrible and not something that she wants, which is a pretty clear indicator of a certain type of asexuality. Then later on she seems utterly happy to have sex with someone else, with no explanation of her very major change of views on the matter. As an asexual person who is often desperate for more representation, this was really quite frustrating.

The only other slight quibble I had may actually be more of a marketing thing than anything else. So I love Planetfall, I liked the weird mystical seeming stuff that permeating parts of that book. As a book where the premise was about a colony on an alien world that had been established after they followed a prophet to the place, that seemed to entirely match my expectations of what I was going to read. There is a similar element in this book where there are some weird dreams about the place they are going to, but in a book that was marketed without that expectation it felt a little jarring to me. Like I said though, not sure that is something I can particularly blame the author for but it is something to be aware of.

But overall I really liked the book and it’s a pretty good debut. The ending does feel a little abrupt and the way it ends may annoy some people, but it did make a certain amount of sense to me, even if a part of me can’t help but want to know how the story of the characters ends, even if that isn’t the story the book is telling me.

Annihilation (4*)

Book: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

This is another one of our book club picks, though I have been wanting to read it for a while since I heard about it because of the film. I did watch that first and I mostly enjoyed it and I was very curious as to how it would compare to the book, especially since I know a lot of people who had read the book didn’t like the film very much, if at all.

I am somewhat behind with my reviews as well, this is mostly just because trying to get into the right headspace at the moment can be difficult but I am going to try and struggle through, it’s a good distraction right now with all that’s going on.

“Nothing that lived and breathed was truly objective—even in a vacuum, even if all that possessed the brain was a self-immolating desire for the truth.”

AnnihilationFirst thing I will say is that I am unsure if Annihilation is a very short novel, or if it’s a novella. Not that it particularly matters either way I suppose, but it is certainly surprisingly short.

The story follows four women, none of whom are given names in the narrative, they are known by their job titles alone: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist (the leader) and a biologist who narrates the story. All of them are on an expedition into a strange area known as Area X.

Fairly early on they come across something that the narrator refers to as a tower and the others call a tunnel, it goes down into the ground but still make her think it’s a tower. What they find there will have long lasting consequences for all of them.

There is a lot of weird imagery in the book and the descriptions do a wonderful job of evoking a creepy and alien environment, made all the moreso by the fact that it is mostly like our world, but definitely not entirely so. I really loved the descriptions of the tower itself, they were very well done and create an excellent atmosphere and give you something of a hint of what sort of journey you will be going on in the story.

I did find it quite impressive how well I understood the personalities of the characters and it does go to show that a name is not the only thing that matters when it comes to making someone seem more real. Some of them are more fleshed out than others, but I still felt that I got a very good sense of who they were. I would have perhaps liked more about the rest of the expedition, but I definitely enjoyed the way the relationship between the narrator and her husband was unravelled through flashbacks and inner thoughts, the way it was handled was excellent and it does surprise you somewhat at the end.

Overall it was an excellent read, especially given the short length. Some may find the ending a little unsatisfying as it does leave things unanswered, but then there are other books so I can only assume that those loose ends will be tied up later on in the trilogy. It’s well written, wonderfully weird and I definitely enjoyed it.

 

Children of Time (5*) and Children of Ruin (4*)

Books: Children of Time and Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I have been excitedly waiting for Children of Ruin to come out in paperback because of how much I loved the first one. And since I apparently read the first one before I made this blog, now I am going to review the two together. As a warning, the review for Children of Ruin will contain some spoilers for Children of Time, so I would only read the review of the second if you have read the first one.

“You can never know. That is the problem with ignorance. You can never truly know the extent of what you are ignorant about.”

Children of TimeBasically this book was sold to me a civilisation of sentient spiders in space and that alone made me desperate to read it. Weird fact about me, I adore spiders, have done since I was 7 when I got to hold a tarantula. So a book that basically makes spiders smart, point of view characters with their own motivations and goals was definitely something I knew I wanted to read. This was in fact the first book by Adrian I ever read and now I have an ever growing pile of his stuff because he writes some compellingly he’s on my ‘must buy’ author list.

If you yourself are an arachnophobe and are thus unsure about reading this book, I cannot speak for the particular way your phobia works, but I will say that we read this book for my book club and we had several arachnophobes in the group and not only did they very much enjoy the book, but they actually found themselves rooting for the spiders! This, to me, is the ultimate testiment to the power of Adrian’s writing, he has an absolute gift to make characters who are distinctly alien in their ways of thinking and yet still very relatable. This book is the best example of him doing this that I have currently read.

Anyway, I have said all that and not even really gone into the actual plot of the book (oops). The premise is that in the last era of Earth, various scientists went out to try and terraform worlds into places fit for human habitation. One of these, Avrana Kern, was a genius who was not trying to terraform a place for humans, but instead was trying to uplift monkeys and bring them sentience and gift them with a new world all of their own. Something goes wrong though and the monkeys are killed, but the virus meant to uplift them still works on the terraformed world, instead, slowly through generations, lifting the arachnids and other creatures to sentience instead.

“Life is not perfect, individuals will always be flawed, but empathy – the sheer inability to see those around them as anything other than people too – conquers all, in the end.”

In the meantime a starship of survivors leaves Earth, heading out to the world that has been terraformed and had the uplift virus applied to it. They need to find a new place to live and are not expecting it to be already inhabited by a sentient species. Can the two civilisations find a way to work together or will there be conflict between them?

The book switches between seeing the development of the arachnid civilisation and the problems they face in their expidited evolution and with the crew of the human ship that is trying to find a new home. The main crew of the human vessel stays the same for the most part, due to them spending long periods in stasis, but the spiders change between generations, though a naming convention is kept the same which gives a sense of continuity in some ways.

As mentioned before, one of the things I love about the book is how well Adrian makes non human beings seem like people and it really makes the book stand out. It also deals with a host of social issues as well, from the internal ones in the arachnid civilisation, to the ones that the humans are fleeing from and going towards. At its heart it is an excellent exploration of the nature of what it is to be a person and what people would and should do in the pursuit of survival.

There is honestly so much I could talk about that I am struggling to work out what I should say and what basically would give too much of the book away to do so. Basically, this is one of the best bits of science-fiction I have read in recent years and honestly there is no one I wouldn’t recommend this book to (unless you are the sort of arachnophobe who absolutely cannot deal with spiders in any way, in which case, this book is sadly not for you).

“An inclination to play God was part and parcel of wanting to go out and terraform other worlds, but good practice was to at least play nicely with the rest of the pantheon.”

Children of Ruin

And now we come to the sequel: Children of Ruin. Like I said I had been looking forward to this one since I heard that he was writing a sequel and waiting for it to come out in paperback was an absolute trial let me tell you!

If you have not read the first book, please stop reading now, this will otherwise have spoilers for the end of that book and I don’t really want to do that so please be warned!

One of the things that appealed was the fact that this one was going to involve sentient octopi (he even acknowledges the scientific argument about what you actually should call a group of them and that was honestly a wonderful little nod). I am a fan of these beautiful and remarkably smart creatures and I definitely wanted to see what sort of culture he would develop for them.

The story follows on where the first book left off, with a ship crewed by a mix of humans and portids heading off to investigate other areas where human terraforming was meant to have been taking place. Interspersed with us following their journey and discoveries we get to see the stories of both the human terraformers who were working a planet in the area and also their investigation into the life that already existed on one of the planets in the system. One of the terraformers is the one who uplifts the octopoids to help with work on the water planet.

We do get some of the same development as done with the portids in the first book, but not to the same degree, we learn a lot more about their society from their interactions with the human/portid crew than we do from the flashback parts of the story.

One of the things I think Adrian pulled off really well in this book is making the true aliens, exceptionally so. The way they think and act is very, very different to humans and even to the other uplifted species that the series has introduced us to. They come across as truly creepy and terrifying in a way that may well give you nightmares. I will honestly never hear the words “we’re going on an adventure!” in the same way again.

The book, like the first one, still deals a lot with the idea of finding commonalities between very different species. There are a lot of issues between the humans/portids and the octopoids because they think in very different ways and I especially loved the difficulties they had in learning to communicate with each other and the misunderstandings it inevitably caused.

I didn’t quite love this book as much as the first, it’s hard to exactly put my finger on why because it is also very good. I think it might just be that the way it is structured doesn’t quite work for me in the same way as the first book did. There isn’t quite as much learning how the octopoids developed, or maybe not even that but the fact that the structure is more split up between three different groups/timelines and that meant I didn’t quite have as much attachment to the people or what was going on as I had the first time around.

That is the only real complaint I might make against it though, the book is a very worthy sequel to the first one and if you loved the first one then I do highly recommend that you get this one too. Some of my friends actually preferred this one to the first one, so you may even find yourself in that category. And let’s face it even if, like me, you don’t think it quite measures up to the first one, a slightly worse book than Children of Time is still a book that is vastly better than many books you could buy.

A Memory Called Empire (5*)

Book: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Sorry for the quiet, been struggling to write more than usual lately, probably a subtle way that the current state of things is getting to me, though I also weirdly have more of a social life going on now which has been eating some of my time.

We did this for our book club last month, and as it’s on the Nebula shortlist, honestly I cannot be happier that this one was what we picked because it was utterly excellent. Though the Nebula list for this year looks really, really good and I have Gods of Jade and Shadow to get through soon, Ten Thousand Doors of January on pre-order (I would have the paperback of Gideon the Ninth on pre-order too, but it’s still not up on Waterstones and I refuse to buy from Amazon).

“This was the most animated Mahit had seen Three Seagrass be so far, and it was really making it difficult for Mahit not to like her. She was funny. Thirty-Six All-Terrain Tundra Vehicle was funnier.”

MemoryI was also excited to look up the author and discover that she is queer, I do adore finding more excellent queer writers, it makes me so very happy.

But anyway, the story follows a young woman called Mahit Dzmare who is from an independent mining colony who live on a space station. She is selected as the new ambassador to Teixcalaanli Empire after the unexpected death of the previous one. She has long loved the culture of the Empire, but now she has to balance the needs of her own people with her pleasure at being where she has always longed to be.

It’s basically a political murder mystery at its heart, but with some very interesting science -fiction twists that elevate it up much more than that. The main character has a technology in her head that gives her advice and sometimes memories from the previous ambassador, though the information is years out of date (this is a fairly minor spoiler as this is introduced very early on into the book). The role that this plays in the plot is really well done, though I don’t want to go into too much more detail because of more severe spoilers.

There is an aspect of this book that I feel is definitely either a love it or hate it thing. All throgh the writing there is a lot of discussion about the culture of the Empire, especially in regard to poetry, whether that is through poetry competitions, the use of it in encryptions, or referring to it as a way to describe the landmarks of the city. For me I loved this, I found it well done and very engaging, but from what I heard from others in our writing group, some of them found it somewhat pretentious and difficult. So just be advised that your tolerance for poetry based culture may influence your enjoyment of the book.

“Released, I am a spear in the hands of the sun.”

I was also very impressed by the pacing, it seems to be the hardest part of a book to get right and the hurdle that most debut authors stumble at. This one worked really well though, there was a lot of action in the book, but also plenty of intrigue and character moments that kept it flowing along very nicely. It built up very successful to the conclusion and I wasn’t left with a feeling of it being rushed, shoe-horned or full of last minute deus ex machinas to fix anything. I also felt that the way it ended made perfect sense for what I learned about the characters and I really loved that too.

This is a book that will definitely tug on your heart strings and I found myself enraptured by a number of the characters. I also loved how important friendships and trust was in the story,  Those were built up very well and she humanises her characters wonderfully. I felt I understood a lot about the personalities and motives of each one, in a way that brought them all to life for me.

Overall this is a pretty astonishing debut. It’s rare that I read a debut novel and know that I am going to be looking out for absolutely everything that the author publishes from now on, but I definitely feel that way about this one. More like this please!

Come Tumbling Down (4*)

Book: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan Mcguire

Well hello folks, sorry for the recent quiet, as I am sure all of you are aware things have been a bit… well… stressful with the whole pandemic situation and all. I hope you are all well and taking care of yourselves. Personally I am working from home and haven’t left the house much in the last week (I am slightly more at risk than most, but not worryingly so). I am worried about friends and relatives though, I have a fair few people who are high risk and it has made focusing on this harder.

But I want to catch up on reviews, I think it will be a good way to keep myself busy so here’s the first of them, I should have reviews for A Memory Called Empire and Children of Time/Children of Ruin shortly. With any luck the lockdown might at least help me work my way through my stack of unread books!

No one should have to sit and suffer and pretend to be someone they’re not because it’s easier, or because no one wants to help them fix it.

ComeTumblingDownRight, Come Tumbling Down is the latest Novella in Seanan Maguire’s Wayward Children series. In this book we see Jack return to the school in dire straits and in need of help from those there. A group are gathered together and they head with her back into the Moors, to deal with her sister once and for all.

For a novella, I have to say that the pacing in this book is handled rather well. I am getting more used to the speed in which things happen in this sort of format, but even with that some of them tend to end abruptly, but this felt like the build-up to the end made sense for the story and worked rather nicely.

I fell rather in love with the Moors, both from what I learned of the place in Every Heart a Doorway and also from the more full backstory that is Down Among the Sticks and Bones, so I was delighted by that being the primary setting for this book as well.

It’s interesting that the series seems to alternate between stories set at and around the school, and the back stories of various of the characters. I definitely did enjoy the feeling of follow on this book gives, where previously the stories often felt more loosely connected to each other. Which isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed the background stories, I have, but this story makes it feel more like a definitely series rather than books just set in the same setting.

Sometimes heroism is pressing on when the ending is already predestined… Sometimes a hero has to fall.

I mentioned before that I love the Moors, a lot of this is because she evokes all the creepy glory of the old hammer horror movies with an excellent eye. The drowned gods in her Moors world are very evocative of Lovecraft, and the classic vampire and mad scientist tropes are also very much present and in excellent form. It’s interesting to me how the morality is played with as well, Jack is not quite portrayed as the “good guy”, just the “not quite as bad as the other guy.” Also, a lot of those characters are anti-hero tropes with very masculine bents to them, so this is a refreshing change to all of that.

As can be seen from the quotes I have mentioned in this review, as well as what you can find by looking on Goodreads, Seanan has a wonderful turn of phrase when it comes to her characters, or the narration, talking about various aspects of the human condition. This story contains elements of showing the fallout that can happen from pushing people in directions they don’t want to go, to be people they don’t want to be. It shows what it can be like to have toxic people in your life who are family and who you love despite all the pain and suffering that they may have caused you.

Cutting people out who hurt you is a good thing to do, I don’t believe that reconcilliation is always possible, or even always wanted, and I like that Seanan is not afraid to confront that sort of thing with her writing. This story shows something of the differences between a family you build for yourself and the one you are born into. The first can often mean a lot more than the second. As someone who is a massive fan of found families, I love that thread that runs throughout all of this series.

Honestly I cannot wait to find out what the next story is going to be about and where else this is all going to go as there is so much more that she can explore with this setting and the characters in it, though I understand from her Twitter that we may be waiting a while before we get Cade’s backstory due to her wanting to be sure that her audience can trust she can handle a transition story respectfully. But whatever the next story will be, you can guarantee I am going to be buying it!