Review: Gideon the Ninth

Synopsis

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as arcane revenants. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

What I knew going in

I have been aware of this book for a while, but I wasn’t interested in reading it until recently. I guess you could I was judging it by its cover. Sometimes I can be very particular about what I read. Other times, I am less so. When I heard a few good friends of mine discussing how much they enjoyed the book, my curiosity was piqued. So I started doing a little research. I talked to my friends about it. I read some customer reviews. I would pick it up and look at it every so often until I finally just bought it. Then it sat on my shelf for a few weeks before I decided to bite the bullet and give it a shot. 

I was also very intrigued by the line on the back about “the most fun you will ever have with skeletons”. I just had to know. 

First impressions

I went into this book without any real expectations. The pacing was different from the book I had just finished reading, so it took me a second to adjust to it. The world view at first is very narrowed but Gideon’s irreverent tone quickly endeared me to her. She is someone who does not like where she is and is willing to fight tooth and nail to find a better life for herself.  A better world. This is a universe that was once grand and full of life. Now there is an air of decay and loss, but in a world of necromancers, this is not such a bad thing. I found the world fascinating, and when the mystery came in I knew I was a goner. 

What I loved

This whole book is a puzzle. The world is much grander than is shown at first but throughout the story more and more of the greater universe is unfolded. And it’s amazing. I also loved watching the contentious, complicated relationship between Gideon and Harrow evolve as they faced various challenges scattered about the haunted castle. I don’t want to spoil too much about the story, so I am not going into a lot of detail on the situation. But reading this book is like solving a puzzle where you don’t yet have all of the pieces. I actually enjoyed the fact I had no idea where things were going. Like Gideon, I was just along for the ride. 

There are also some things about this book that I can’t quite put into words. Even though the world is so incredibly unlike ours, I found the story incredibly human. The characters are real and they are messy and they are complicated. They all have their own conflicting goals and dreams. They have their own (metaphorical) ghosts haunting them. It’s raw and it’s beautiful. 

Who I recommend this too

Gideon the Ninth pulls elements from science fiction, fantasy, and horror. But, if you ask me, it is ultimately a mystery. It’s an escape room for the characters and a multi-layer puzzle box for the reader. If you are looking for something fresh and new, I highly recommend this. It will take you by surprise into a world unlike any you have ever seen and leave you wishing there were more like it. And it will leave you screaming a little at times. It’s great. 

Review: Shadow and Bone

SYNOPSIS

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

For more information on Shadow and Bone, you can check out Leigh Bardugo’s author website.

WHAT I KNEW GOING IN

This is a series I have been eyeing for a while now. It first caught my attention when I was working my way through the Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. Part of this was its proximity on the shelf and the other part was hearing my coworkers say good things about it. I had a great amount of curiosity when it came to the series. I also had 50 other books on my to-read list. So I put it on the list of books that I will buy and read eventually. 

Fun fact about that list: it’s not as much a list as it is an amorphous entity containing countless titles that will eventually be a part of an actual list. There is no rhyme or reason to where books fall on this ‘list’ because I am very much an impulse shopper when it comes to books. 

It got moved up on the list when I learned there was going to be a Netflix show based on it. Then one day I finally gave in and bought it because I knew the show would be out soon. I have a thing with TV shows based on book series where I have to read the book before I watch it. So I did, not knowing much about the book beyond the description on the back and the fact there is a duet somehow connected to it. 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

There is a bit of a time jump between the first two main scenes that threw me for a bit, but the story quickly reeled me back in. I always have a soft spot for found families, even if it’s just a single person. So the dynamic between Alina and her best friend, the boy she grew up with, was something I latched onto pretty quickly. I also enjoyed how she went about introducing the world state leading up to the reveal of Alina’s unique abilities. It paints a clear picture without feeling like she is holding your hand or doing an exposition dump. This story hooked me pretty quickly. 

WHAT I LOVED

The world-building was very well done. You can tell that Ravka is based on Russia (I mean, look at the character names), but it’s not a carbon copy. The world is rich and varied and seeing the difference through the eyes of someone who went from having nothing to being viewed as a future savior and the favored one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. 

The Darkling is an interesting character. He is both enigmatic and charming, but he also has an undeniable connection to the Fold, a strip of darkness and death that is slowly crippling this kingdom. A previous Darkling created it and now people are looking to him to find a way to end it. And that way could very well be Alina. 

I know this sounds like the oh-so-common YA fantasy trope of the teenage girl who discovers her power and becomes extra special because she is the only one who can save the world. And yes, she is special and yes, she could very well save her country. But trust me when I say this story does not indulge in tropes. It may play around with some of them, but Leigh Bardugo has a different story to tell. And Alina Starkov’s story is one you don’t want to miss. 

WHO I RECOMMEND IT TO

If you are looking for:

  • A coming of age story featuring someone who has had to fight for everything
  • Well developed characters and realistic dynamics between those characters
  • The juxtaposition between those with political power, magical power, and those who have neither
  • The impossible choices that come with being the person who is supposed to save everyone

You should read this book. It is a fascinating tale that I devoured in 3 days (only reading at night before bed because my life is chaos and that’s my only reading time). I went from there to Six of Crows, book one of the accompanying duet. I am still waiting to grab a copy of Siege and Storm so I can finish out that story. I am probably going to get the final duet as well, so I can have it. 

I started reading because I was interested in the show. It quickly added a new name to my list of favorite authors. 

Review: The Glass Spare

Wilhelmina Heidle, the fourth child and only daughter of the king of the world’s wealthiest nation, has grown up in the shadows. Kept hidden from the world in order to serve as a spy for her father—whose obsession with building his empire is causing a war—Wil wants nothing more than to explore the world beyond her kingdom, if only her father would give her the chance.

Until one night Wil is attacked, and she discovers a dangerous secret. Her touch turns people into gemstone. At first, Wil is horrified—but as she tests its limits, she’s drawn more and more to the strange and volatile ability. When it leads to tragedy, though, Wil is forced to face the destructive power within her and finally leave her home to seek the truth and a cure.

But finding the key to her redemption puts her in the path of a cursed prince who has his own ideas for what to do with Wil’s power.

With a world on the brink of war and a power of ultimate destruction, can Wil find a way to help the kingdom that’s turned its back on her, or will she betray her past and her family forever?

Fun fact: when I found this book, it was in the business section. Obviously, it was in the wrong section but it definitely caught my attention. So I read the back.

Me reading the back of a book is actually a pretty dangerous thing. It leads to me buying said book and adding yet another to my shelf. I just can’t help it sometimes. A girl who was basically raised to act as a spy who can suddenly turn people to gemstones through touch? I had to have it.

The king, Wil’s father, is a tyrant dead set on maintaining the old ways while the world around them embraces technology. He is also rather paranoid and power-hungry, determined to take over the world through war. He pressures the youngest and smartest of his sons to create weapons of unfathomable destruction. The oldest son is in training to be king. And the middle child is angry and jealous. 

When it comes to his daughter, she is nothing but a tool for him. A way for him to accomplish things that he doesn’t want people to know he is doing. We mostly see her going on missions to find specialized ingredients to help her youngest brother with his experiments, but there are hints of countless other missions. 

The relationship between Wil and Gertie (the youngest son) was something I very much enjoyed reading. It was so pure and so strong that it made me want to have a brother like that. Well, I have a guy friend who is like a brother, but my point still stands. I have always enjoyed stories that play with various family relationships, whether it is biological or adopted. This story plays around with these dynamics in a way that I very much enjoy.

I also really enjoyed the magic system. The world has an air of mysticism to it that I found to be a refreshing step away from the magic laden worlds I am used to. Those born with magic are few and they mostly deal in curses or blessings. Well, I assume there are blessings. We haven’t seen much of that yet as far as I can tell, but the two do tend to go hand in hand. Either way, these curses can only be given by incredibly powerful beings and cannot be broken unless by the one who gave it. 

Two of the characters we meet are cursed. We know where one came from, but not the other. This just adds to the feeling that there is more going on in this world that we have seen so far. There are mysteries yet to be solved, worlds left to be explored, and a war looming on the horizon. So many things that could go horribly wrong. 

The Glass Spare ends with the promise of more to come in The Cursed Sea. This is a fantasy duet that is worth reading. 

Review: American Royals

Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.

Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.

This is the story of the American royals.

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.

It was the title that grabbed my attention. American Royals. A look at what the world would look like had George Washington said yes to the crown. I couldn’t help it. I had to know where Katherine McGee was going with this. She has had a few other titles that caught my attention but this was the one I could not ignore.

Normally I get books out of the science fiction and fantasy section, but this is straight YA. And I loved every second of it.

It took longer than I expected to get my brain to accept the words ‘America’ and ‘monarchy’ being in the same sentence (probably because I never in my life expected to read them in the same sentence). Thankfully, it got a little less weird in time.

If you want to see what America would look like today if it had a monarchy, this book is pretty spot on. It doesn’t go as political as I expected it too, though there are some mentions of how most of the world’s countries have their own monarchy and nobility. I giggled a little when one of the characters had a snarky thought about how chaotic having a democracy would be, with all of the people fighting to have their party’s beliefs upheld. 

Most of the politics in the story involve the family maintaining their public appearances and keeping the goodwill of the people. They are essentially all celebrities, but celebrities who were born and raised in the lifestyle. They work hard to make sure they are living in such a way that they will not lose the trust of their people. It is actually really interesting to watch.

That isn’t to say there isn’t drama, though. Because there is quite a bit of drama going on behind the scenes. One person is fighting to earn their place among the royals. One is struggling to find their place in a world where they feel like they are the spare, the backup plan. One is suffocating under the weight of the burden placed upon them by their birth (thanks to a law changed years before then). And yet another is trying to figure who they are and how to stand for themself. 

It’s the characters that really won me over, with their intertwining plot lines and complicated history. Normally I am not that into celebrity drama, but the way this was all portrayed was so captivating. It felt so totally and completely human while also appealing to the part of me that secretly enjoys that kind of emotional/political drama. I had to keep reading to see who was going to win the day and in the end, I was left absolutely floored.

This was an impulse purchase that left me with no regrets (aside from the fact I now have to wait for the sequel to see what happens next). It would make a great vacation read, or if you are looking for something a little different to spice things up. I honestly cannot wait to see what happens next. Katharine McGee did a fantastic job of setting up different plot threads tied to different characters who are all complex in their own right. It leaves you not sure who to root for, while also hoping that everyone gets their own different happy ending. Then the story ends with a jaw-dropper that throws all of those endings into jeopardy.

Needless to say, I am counting down days until we get a sequel.

Review: Dorothy Must Die

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a road of yellow brick—but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I’ve been trained to fight. And I have a mission:

Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart. 

Steal the Scarecrow’s brain. 

Take the Lion’s courage.

 And—Dorothy must die.

Moment of truth: I have been working on a Wizard of Oz retelling for a few months now. It will likely end up being a five-book crime series, so lots of room for references. I promise to share more details later, but that is not what this blog post is about. 

This book is about another Wizard of Oz retelling. Or, more accurately, a tale of what happened when Dorothy came back to stay. It follows Amy Gumm, a girl from a broken home with an addict for a mother. Her life is definitely not pretty and she would do almost anything to escape. 

Then a tornado comes through and takes her to a very different Oz than the ones in the stories. The land is dying, the people are trapped under the thumb of a dictator, and the Wicked have banded together to return balance to Oz.

I did not expect this book to revolve so much around addiction and neglect, but I can appreciate the way it was handled. My parents divorced when I was little, and my dad was very much an addict when I was going over to his house every other weekend. I experience some of that loneliness that Amy was dealing with on a regular basis. Thankfully, I had my mom and my grandmother. She has no one. 

The world-building is rather bleak, which makes sense in context. Oz, an inherently magical place, is being drained of its magic and so is being drained of life. There are a few places left that retain their magic, mostly because they are harder to access, and that is where the Wicked hide. 

The real beauty of this story is found in the characters. The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked is led by some dynamic, powerful women, all with their own stories. They all have secrets to hide and are not afraid to resort to turning victims into weapons when necessary. War is a messy thing, especially when it is between Wicked and Good.

Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion have all changed drastically as well. Their descriptions feel so artificial that it is uncanny. These are not the same people as you met in the original story. They have grown drastically, not only in their power but in their corruption.

This story blurs the lines between good and evil in a way that I really enjoyed. Things aren’t as straightforward as you might think. The stakes are high. Actions have consequences. Both sides are not afraid to do things that would normally be considered unthinkable. 

There is also a lot more going on behind the scenes than anyone person realizes. Even the most powerful beings do not have the full picture. They only have guesses, assumptions as to what the underlying causes might be. It leaves for a lot of questions, especially as Amy takes up a new quest in the last few pages. It is the same quest mentioned on the back cover.

To remove the tin woodman’s heart, steal the scarecrow’s brain, and take the lion’s courage.

Then, and only then, she can kill Dorothy and save Oz. 

Or so they think.

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic, from #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antarimagicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in ArnesRed Londonand officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

I’ve been following V.E. Schwab on Twitter for some time now. Her life revolves around writing and being an author, and I enjoy the peeks she gives us into that world. I also, if you haven’t guessed by now, really enjoy fantasy. 

Picking this book up, I was first intrigued by the idea of multiple Londons. I have seen multiple worlds done before (this isn’t quite a multiverse) but something about this particular iteration caught my attention. There is a finite number of worlds, each with its own level of magic. 

One world has none. One world is teaming with it. One world is tearing itself apart to find more of it. And a fourth that fell to a fate that no one wants to talk about, but you know it had to do with magic. 

I also don’t think I have ever had a book start off talking about the main character’s interesting jacket. Yet the whole thing is the perfect introduction for the main character, Kell. You quickly realize how and why he is different as he takes the reader on a literal journey through the three Londons. A great example of showing versus telling. It also does a great job of establishing the main cast of characters.

I found everything about these worlds intriguing and enthralling. When we finally got the story of the fall of Black London, I was in awe. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to read that story as well. A lot of time in fantasy worlds, authors don’t take the time to explain how their magic system works. This means in a lot of fantasy worlds, the magic system doesn’t really make sense. I am looking at you, J.K. Rowling.

Before you start yelling at me I would like to state, for the record, that I basically grew up on Harry Potter. I will always love the series. That said, my point is still valid. 

I will save my magic system rant for another day. Because it is going to be a doozy. 

I really like this one though. It feels natural and makes sense in all of the worlds. It is what is called ‘soft magic’, where magic has an organic feel to it. There are some spells and some rules to the magic, but most of it flows naturally. 

Everything about these worlds and these characters has me hungry for more. I want to see more of Lila and Kell, to learn more about their mysterious past and see their friendship grow. They are so engaging and dynamic. They are complex. They evolve. 

I had a coworker refer to this series as a poor man’s Mistborn. Honestly, I don’t see it. This story is great in its own right. I mean, there is a reason that V.E. Schwab is a best selling author. She knows how to weave a fantastic tale in a world unlike any I have encountered before. 

I am curious to see what happens in the future between the three Londons. I want to see more of Kell and Delilah as they find themselves and their place in this wonderfully strange world. I’m also curious to learn more about Black London. I feel like there is much more to the story than meets the eye. 

I guess we will have to wait and see in A Gathering of Shadows.

Review: The Witcher (pt 1)

For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.

Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as The Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world - for good, or for evil.

As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt's responsibility to protect them all - and the Witcher never accepts defeat.

Following The Last Wish, Blood of Elves is the new novel starring Geralt of Rivia, the inspiration for the critically acclaimed videogame The Witcher.

I was first introduced to the world of The Witcher through the videogames. I spent some time on YouTube familiarizing myself with the events of the first two games because upon starting up the third I had no idea who anyone was or why I should care. Thankfully I was able to rectify that without spoiling anything.

That was when I first started falling in love with the world. The richness coupled with the hint of death and decay creeping around the edges. The interplay between an old world of magic and a new world of technology.

Needless to say, I was very excited to hear there was going to be a Netflix show. So excited that I decided to have the first book read before season one drops, so I can be caught up. 

I started with The Last Wish, a series of short stories that come before the first book. It took me a minute to figure out it was a frame story that jumped back and forth between then and now.  It was a great way to introduce the characters and how they all fill together.

It wasn’t until I started Blood of Elves that I really got into the story though. Andrzej Sapowski’s writing style varies differently between when he is writing long-form fiction and when he is writing short stories. I personally very much preferred the long-form style. I found it much easier to engage with and was quickly absorbed into the story.

There were a few interactions between Triss and Geralt that I was not particularly pleased with, but overall I do like their dynamic. A woman wantonly throwing herself at a man is never going to be something I like. Thankfully, these moments were few and the rest of the time Triss was incredibly competent and fiercely independent. So I can look past the few lines that made me cringe.

The Last Wish gives you a good taste of what Geralt’s life is like before the events of Blood of Elves. It establishes the world and the characters in a way that manages to not give away any of the twists to come. I know there is another collection of short stories, The Sword of Destiny, which came out recently. I found this out after I had started Blood of Elves, so I decided I would come back to that one.

There are so many moving pieces and so many questions littered throughout the story that I could not put it down. There are references to a prophecy that is connected to one of the main characters, but no one ever fully explains what it is. War lurks around the edges of the map, stirring up trouble within the kingdom and causing revolts. Alliances shift as each side is concerned solely with its own, eyeing to see which allies will most help them in the coming conflict. Agents seemingly tied with no cause flit in and out, leaving you to wonder whose side they are on.

There were many times where I had a hard time putting the book down. I became so invested in the conflict and in the characters that I had to know what happened next. The ending filled me with an intense curiosity and then, with a single sentence, left me with a vague sense of unease. 

Once I clear out more of my reading backlog I am definitely going to continue with this series. Until then, I am going to wait with bated breath for the release of season 1 on Netflix. 

I have been following Lauren Hissrich, the lead writer, since not long after I first heard about the show. Every bit of news she drops leaves me more excited than before. 

The Rating

The Last Wish – It may feel a little slow getting into this one, but once you get used to the style and pacing it is much more enjoyable. If you plan to get into the series, this is definitely the best place to start. The frame narrative helps provide context for the impact past events have had on Geralt, as well as how things have changed since then.

Blood of Elves – If you love fantasy, you will love this book. It will hook you from the very first page and it will not let you go until the very end. There is this sense of decay as the old world and all of its magic is being usurped by the new world of technology. Yet there is something ancient and powerful that is refusing to let go, creeping along the edges of the story to be addressed later. A solid start to a promising series.