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.

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!

The Priory of the Orange Tree (4*)

Book: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

In darkness, we are naked. Our truest selves. Night is when fear comes to us at its fullest, when we have no way to fight it,” Ead continued. “It will do everything it can to seep inside you. Sometimes it may succeed – but never think that you are the night.

PrioryI have had this one on pre-order for the paperback as soon as I heard about it. The premise that was given to me when listening to Samantha talk about her book at an event was that it was a feminist, queer retelling of George and the Dragon and that utterly sold me on wanting to read it. (Also look at that cover, it is absolutely gorgeous).

The book follows multiple perspectives, the two main ones being Ead Duryan, a foreigner who is part of the Queen of Inysh’s court and secretly protects the Queen from those who would seek to harm her.

The other main character is Tané lives far across the sea and is training to be a dragonrider, though her own life is about to run into difficulties due to a chance meeting with a stranger to her shores.

Both they and their world face a great danger that is awakening and the world itself is quite divided on views and unless they can find a way to overcome that divide it could cost them everything.

This is a story that sucks you into quite strongly from the start, she packs a lot into this book and whilst it may be over 800 pages the pace doesn’t let up much from start to finish, making it quite the page turner so it turns out to be a much quicker read than you might assume from the size of it.

She does a fantastic job of creating a world you can lose yourself in, populated by a diverse cast of memorable characters who are a good mix of people you can root for and more complicated people you end up with complex feelings about. There’s one particular character who goes through quite a journey through the book, despite mostly being a secondary character (though still a viewpoint one) and my views of them changed a great deal over the arc (I won’t say who as I don’t want to accidentally spoiler anything).

I really liked that the cultures felt quite real and very different from each other, they are clearly heavily influenced by real world cultures, but there is enough difference to make them their own thing. She clearly seems to have put a lot of thought into them and they came across to me as being more nuanced than a lot of Fantasy authors doing fictional versions of real cultures tend to manage (obviously this has the caveat of these are not based on my culture and as such I am not the best judge of this).

Honestly my biggest complaint, and the reason it got 4 stars and not 5, was in my opinion this would have worked better as a trilogy rather than one very large book. The reason for this is that some story beats got resolved quite quickly in some ways, which meant that the book didn’t quite have the emotional depth I wanted from it (only slightly, it is still excellent and the love story is particularly good). I mean I enjoyed it so much I pretty much wanted more of it, so I like to think that’s a pretty ringing endorsement.

Xuya Novellas & In the Vanishers’ Palace

Books: On a Red Station, Drifting; The Citadel of the Weeping Pearls; In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

You may have noticed that I have been reviewing a lot of novellas lately. I went on a mini buying spree in an online bookstore (not Amazon, fuck that company) to pick up novellas that are hard to get physical copies of in the UK and I spent a chunk of January reading them. Since they are shorter I have been grouping them together so I can get through them all.

Today’s spree is the three novellas by Aliette de Bodard that I bought myself. The first two are in the Xuya universe, which is the same one as The Tea Master and the Detective is set, the novella that I loved the most for the Hugos last year. The other is a f/f retelling of Beauty and the Beast that I have been keen on reading since I first heard about it.

On a Red Station, Drifting (5*)

How dare she! How could she stand there, with everything that Prosper was in tatters, and look obscenely proud of everything she’d done?

oarsdThis is the oldest of the novellas (I believe) and the first one set in the Xuya universe. There seem to be other novelletes and short stories that I shall have to see if I can find somewhere so I can read them too as I am a big fan of the setting from what I have read so far.

The story begins with Lê Thi Linh arriving on Prosperity station, fleeing war and disgrace to find sanctuary among her distant relatives there. She was once a magistrate but upon meeting Quyen, who runs the station, the two do not get on particularly well.

With the problems the Station is suffering due to the ongoing war and the ones that Lê Thi Linh is bringing with her, the clashes between the two of them bring a very real danger.

One of the things I liked about the book is it had a weird Pride and Prejudice vibe, not with a romance element, but the dislike that forms between Quyen and Linh feels very much based on pride and prejudice in that one of them is too proud to bend and the other makes immediate assumptions about what the other is like as a person and it all goes downhill from there. It was a very realistic dynamic and I really enjoyed the way it unfolded in the story.

I could wax lyrical about the setting all day though, it is absolutely gorgeous and very well described. Though I have to say that glancing over the Goodreads reviews for this novella was a depressing place at times, the number of people giving it low stars because of failing to understand the culture presented in the text, or talking about the “Eastern flavour” as though the author isn’t herself French Vietnamese and doesn’t know what she was doing when she wrote it. I can entirely understand people not liking something because it’s not their sort of story, or they didn’t like the characters, or stuff like that. But claiming you can’t understand the culture because it’s not Western in its basis is just gross racism and I have no time for it.

The Citadel of The Weeping Pearls (4*)

Thirty years after the Citadel disappeared, Diem Huong woke up with the knowledge that today was the day- and that, whatever she did, the trajectory of her life would be irrevocably altered.

Citadel_ebook_RGB_webAn older Linh makes an appearance in this story, though it is not about her, but is instead a tale of the Empress seeking to find the lost Citadel of the Weeping Pearls, a place that was her daughter’s after she was exiled and is rumoured to contain all sorts of weapons.

As the Empire is on the brink of war, the Empress is desperate to find something to help them stand a chance against those who seek to conquer them.

The story surrounds the mystery of what happened to the Citadel, how many lives its dissappearance has affected and what it has to do with the new dissappearance of someone working for the Empress to try and recover the Citadel.

I enjoyed that at its heart this was another story about various relationships and as the story goes on we learn quite a surprising amount about the characters for sure a short piece of writing as well. There are a lot of stranger elemets to the story as well, mostly surrounding the Citadel and what happened to it and these didn’t seem to be explained in any particular depth to me, now I imagine that has to be at least partly because of the length, but it did result in that part of the plot feeling a little underdeveloped to me, so I didn’t enjoy it overall as much as I have her other novellas in this series.

Still an excellent read and I thoroughly love the universe that she has created and I definitely want to read more about it. There is some other stuff out there I shall have to get hold of

In the Vanishers’ Palace (4*)

We’ve discussed this before. Not just other people saying yes, but whether they mean it, or whether they’re just doing it because they’re afraid.

Vanishers

So when I heard that the premise of this one was a f/f retelling of Beauty and the Beast I instantly wanted to read it. As mentioned before this one isn’t part of the Xuya universe, as far as I know it’s a stand-alone novella.

The story follows Yen who is sold to a dragon as payment for a healing done on a member of her village. She finds herself in the Vanishers’ Palace, a vast complex that used to belong to the race who dominated the world before they left, leaving dangers in their wake.

The dragon, Vu Con, sets her to teach her children and the two of them share a strange attraction, though the secrets the dragon holds will threaten everything and Yen must decide where she will be truly happy.

I am quite amazed at just how much worldbuilding Aliette manages to get into this novella given its length. The detailed pictures she paints of how this world works is utterly stunning and I found myself entirely captivated by it. Not everthing is entirely explained, but it doesn’t need to be and I actually liked that there was still some mystery surrounding the Vanishers by the end of it.

A lot of why this is a 4* and not a 5* book for me comes down to personal preference in regards to romance. I much prefer slow-burn stuff that allows the characters to get to know each other quite well and that isn’t really what happens here, in fact by the end in some ways I felt they still didn’t entirely know each other as well as I would like. This meant I didn’t find the romance as believable as I would have liked to, so it was a little lacking in that department. It’s probably a lot to do with how I work as a person though, so probably not something that will be a factor for most readers of the novella.

It is honestly a beautiful read and I feel it is well worth people’s time, especially since you can easily inhale the whole thing in an hour or two. And look at that cover, it’s a stunning book. The more I read of Aliette’s work, the more of a fangirl of hers I am becoming if I am honest.

An Unkindness of Ghosts (4*)

Book: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

I am a boy and a girl and a witch all wrapped into one very strange, flimsy, indecisive body. Do you think my body couldn’t decide what it wanted to be?

AUOGThis is the book we did for our January meeting of the London Science-Fiction and Fantasy book club. That meeting was done on a theme of LGBTQIA+ authors and this was the book that won, which I was pleased about as it had been something I had heard about before and had been wanting to read for a while.

The story follows Aster, one of the residents of a generation starship called the HSS Matilda. Aster lives on the lower decks which are populated with those who work the field decks, or other tasks vital to the running of the ship which are less glamorous and considered above those who live on the upper decks.

When the sovereign of the ship gets sick, his symptoms are similar to those recorded in Aster’s mother’s diaries before her death twenty-five years earlier. The link sends Aster investigating what happened to her mother and how it relates to what is happening on the ship currently.

There’d be no forgiveness this time. It was one thing to destroy a person, but to destroy their work was a sacrilege Aster couldn’t easily forget. All that was left of a person’s life was recorded on paper, in annals, in almanacs, in the physical items they produced. To end that was to end their history, their present, their future.

First off I would say that this is overall not exactly what you would call a fun read. The lower decks and the treatment of the people who live there is a clear analogue for slavery and how people were treated during it. As a result there are a number of very challenging scenes to read involving torture and abuse, though sexual trauma is talked about and implied in the text, there are no graphic scenes of such (which I am very thankful for).

One of the things I loved most about this book was the portrayal of Aster who is coded as what seems to be to be someone on the Autistic spectrum, she takes things very literally and struggles with information that is coded or unclear. When people ask her questions or talk in certain ways, she gets very confused or annoyed when her being direct does not resolve the issues or causes more, things I found pretty relatable even if she operates on a more extreme end of being literal than I do.

Her struggles against the restrictions of her world are very relatable and I also really enjoyed the relationship between her and the Surgeon (Theo) which I thought was done really well. I really love it when an author manages to convey complexity in relationships of all sorts and that really comes across here. What is between them is far from simple and it is also something that is still evolving and changing throughout the course of the book as well.

It’s not a perfect book, there are some definite pacing issues, especially towards the end and the ending is definitely a little abrupt. I don’t think I disliked it in the same way that some people in my book club did, but I could see why it would be problematic for some people as well, who were left wanting to know more about what would happen next.

There is also not a lot of description or detail about how the layout of the ship works and there were a couple of places where I got confused and couldn’t quite picture how the travel times that seemed to be the case didn’t seem to be consistent. Now, it’s not a massively important thing to the story so if you are swept along in the narrative then it’s a fairly minor issue, but for someone struggling to connect with what is going on it is definitely something that will throw them further out of the book and cause more issues.

Truth was messy. The natural order of an entropic universe was to tend toward it.

The writer of the book is non-binary and they do some interesting things with gender and gender presentation as part of this book. Early on there is a reference to a larger proportion of the population of the lower decks are more ambiguous in regards to gender, it’s not entirely clear what this means, it could perhaps be suggesting that they are more likely to be intersex. Aster herself is certainly described in ways that suggests her gender presentation does not skew towards solely feminine. I really liked the way that this was handled and it was clearly something that personally mattered a great deal to the author as well.

Overall it was a good book and I am very pleased that I read it. It’s very well written and I can certainly see why the author was shortlisted for the Astounding award for best new writer. This is also certainly someone I will look at reading future works by as well.