TBR Pile Review: The Library of the Dead, by T.L. Huchu

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Hardcover, Goldsboro exclusive signed and numbered edition (1000) with sprayed edges, 336 pages
Published February 2021 by Tor Books

Sixth Sense meets Stranger Things in T. L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, a sharp contemporary fantasy following a precocious and cynical teen as she explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh.

When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

When ghosts talk, she will listen…

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.

She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.

My Review

I got this book from Goldsboro Books as part of their ‘SFF Fellowship’ monthly club. Its beautiful, and the ribbon is so soft. My signed copy is number 533 of 1250 of the first edition, with sprayed edges. The edges are a map of Edinburgh. The cover reminds me very much of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books. I like them as well. Must get caught up on reading them.

The Rosie Synopsis

Ropa is a gobby, spunky teenager, the bread winner for her small, impoverished family in an Edinburgh devastated by some past disaster. Her grandmother is some sort of magician who knits, Ropa is a ghostalker who finds her way into the titular library, via her friend Jomo. She becomes a member of the library and casually starts to learn magic by reading. At the library, she meets Priya, a disabled healer with an adrenalin junkie streak.

Ropa makes her living taking messages between the dead and the living. One of the ghosts, Nicole, keeps bothering her about finding her missing son. Gran persuades Ropa to do the job for Nicole. This leads Ropa into a dangerous world, and answers the mystery of how there ‘national treasure’ looks so young.

The Good

I really enjoyed this book. It kept me entertained for all 330 pages.

Ropa and her family and friends are really defined, interesting characters. I want to know more about how her Gran came to knit a scarf for Callahan in the past. People at the Library know who Gran is, but no-one is telling Ropa.

Ropa carries the story, and as a first person narrative we only know what she knows, which means there are a lot of secrets yet to be revealed. I want to know what happens next. I enjoyed the differences in personality between Ropa and Priya, and their developing relationship. I can’t tell whether they’re flirting with each other or not. Jomo is going to be so disappointed if they are.

I liked how the complex history of Edinburgh and the changes that made it a dystopian hell are woven into the story, and want to know more. The snobbery of the magicians and scientists towards ‘allied trades’ is so reminiscent of 18th and 19th century medical doctors and their attitudes to non-doctor medical practitioners – surgeons, apothecaries and herbalists – I can only surmise that that is what the author is modelling them on?

There’s a lot of detail in this novel and the author has clearly worked out how the magic works in his world. I like that. It intrigues me, and makes me want to read the next book.

I love the fact that the disabled character in this book is a fully fleshed out human being, not a sad, pathetic character lamenting what she can’t do or desperately seeking a cure for her disability – that trope gets boring and is insulting. Thankfully these days disabled characters are more often getting to be in on the action.

I think this novel is an adult novel but it’s not dark or horrifying at all, so I think it would be suitable for teenagers too. The main character is a teenager as are her closest friends.

The Not-So-Good

There’s a lot going on and the author has crammed it all in, so there are plenty of lines to follow for future stories but it could have been overwhelming for some readers. I hope the author explores a lot of the background information he has put into this first novel.

The Verdict

Excellent novel, highly entertaining and I can’t wait for the next one.

TBR Pile Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo

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Paperback, 128 pages
Published March 24th 2020 by Tor.com
ISBN:125075030X (ISBN13: 9781250750303)
Series: The Singing Hills Cycle #1

With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama, Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

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Audiobook Review: The Lost Sentinel, by Suzanne Rogerson

The Lost Sentinel Book 1 – Silent Sea Chronicles

The magical island of Kalaya is dying, along with its Sentinel.

The Assembly controls Kalaya. Originally set up to govern, they now persecute those with magic and exile them to the Turrak Mountains.

Tei, a tailor’s daughter, has always hidden her magic, but when her father’s old friend visits and warns them to flee to the mountains, she must leave her old life behind. On the journey, an attack leaves her father mortally wounded. He entrusts her into the care of the exiles and on his deathbed makes a shocking confession.

Struggling with self-doubt, Tei joins the exiles search for their new Sentinel who is the only person capable of restoring the fading magic. But mysterious Masked Riders are hunting the Sentinel too, and time, as well as hope, is running out.

Against mounting odds it will take friendship, heartache, and sacrifice for the exiles to succeed, but is Tei willing to risk everything to save the island magic? 

If you like character-based fantasy, then you’ll love The Lost Sentinel – book one in the Silent Sea Chronicles trilogy.

Purchase Links

Audible  

Amazon Audiobook

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TBR Pile Review: The Story of Silence, by Alex Myers

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Hardcover, 400 pages
Published July 9th 2020 by Harper Voyager
ISBN:0008352682 (ISBN13: 9780008352684)

I have this edition, gifted by Harper Voyager in a Twitter giveaway to Queer people. It’s very pink,

A knightly fairy tale of royalty and dragons, of midwives with secrets and dashing strangers in dark inns. Taking the original French legend as his starting point, The Story of Silence is a rich, multilayered new story for today’s world – sure to delight fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale.

There was once, long ago, a foolish king who decreed that women should not, and would not, inherit. Thus when a girl-child was born to Lord Cador – Merlin-enchanted fighter of dragons and Earl of Cornwall – he secreted her away: to be raised a boy so that the family land and honour would remain intact.

That child’s name was Silence.

Silence must find their own place in a medieval world that is determined to place the many restrictions of gender and class upon them. With dreams of knighthood and a lonely heart to answer, Silence sets out to define themselves.

Soon their silence will be ended.

What follows is a tale of knights and dragons, of bards, legends and dashing strangers with hidden secrets. Taking the original French legend as his starting point, The Story of Silence is a rich, multilayered new story for today’s world – sure to delight fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale.

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I also have this edition! I completely forgot that it was a Goldsboro Books SFF Fellowship book until both arrived!
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TBR Pile: The Book of Dragons, ed. by Jonathan Strahan

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Hardcover, First UK Edition, 558 pages
Published June 25th 2020 by HarperVoyager UK
ISBN: 0008331472 (ISBN13: 9780008331474) https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008331474/the-book-of-dragons/

A unique collection of stories by the greatest fantasy writers working today.

Sparking myths and legends from Asia to Europe, Africa to North America, dragons are the most universal and awe-inspiring of magical creatures.

Whether they are fearsome, rampaging monsters or benevolent sages with much to teach humanity, dragons bring creation, destruction, and adventure in stories told all around the globe.

In this landmark collection, award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan combines nearly thirty never-before-seen short stories and poems, written by modern masters of science fiction and fantasy, and illustrations by acclaimed artist Rovina Cai.

Featuring stories from Scott Lynch, R.F. Kuang, Garth Nix, Ken Liu, Kate Elliott, and many more, The Book of Dragons breathes fresh life and fire into the greatest magical beasts of all.

Content:
– Introduction by Jonathan Strahan
– What Heroism Tells Us poem by Jane Yolen
– Matriculation by Elle Katharine White
– Hikaya Sri Bujang, or The Tale of the Naga Sage by Zen Cho
– Yuli by Daniel Abraham
– A Whisper of Blue by Ken Liu
– Nidhog poem by Jo Walton
– Where the River Turns to Concrete by Brooke Bolander
– Habitat by K.J. Parker
– Pox by Ellen Klages
– The Nine Curves River by R.F. Kuang
– Lucky’s Dragon by Kelly Barnhill
– I Make Myself a Dragon poem by Beth Cato
– The Exile by JY Yang
– Except on Saturdays by Peter S. Beagle
– La Vitesse by Kelly Robson
– A Final Knight to her Love and Foe poem by Amal El-Mohtar
– The Long Walk by Kate Elliott
– Cut Me Another Quill, Mister Fitz by Garth Nix
– Hoard by Seanan McGuire
– The Worm of Lirr poem by C. S. E. Cooney
– The Last Hunt by Aliette de Bodard
– We Continue by Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky
– Small Bird’s Plea by Todd McCaffrey
– The Dragons poem by Theodora Goss
– Dragon Slayer by Michael Swanwick
– Camouflage by Patricia A. McKillip
– We Don’t Talk About the Dragon by Sarah Gailey
– Maybe Just Go Up There and Talk to It by Scott Lynch
– A Nice Cuppa poem by Jane Yolen

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TBR Pile Review: Empire of Sand, by Tasha Suri

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Paperback, 496 pages
Published November 13th 2018 by Orbit
ISBN: 0316449717 (ISBN13: 9780316449717)

A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy.

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.

Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…

Empire of Sand is a lush, dazzling fantasy novel perfect for readers of City of Brass and The Wrath & the Dawn.

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Review: Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength by Kelly A Nix

Synopsis:

“I am strong. I am Kaji.”

Atae is a hybrid, a Kaji half-breed, living on the capital planet of the Kajian Empire. In a culture dictated by strength and honor, Atae’s father pushes her to prove herself worthy of being Kaji. 

At the elite Sula Academy, hybrids like Atae compete alongside the Kaji purebreds, warriors with the ability to transform into savage battle beasts. Atae and her packmates prepare for the Sula Academy Tournament, which will determine their fate within their warrior culture, but a close brush with death threatens Atae’s position in the competition and forces her to confront her weaknesses.

Atae must find the strength to escape a spoiled prince’s wrath, survive her first crush, and help her packmates complete the Tournament, all while keeping the biggest secret of her life from her father. And she must do it without losing her true self in the process.

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0578673959/?ref=exp_kellysloveofbooks_dp_vv_d

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Review: Phoenix Extravagant, by Yoon Ha Lee

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Dragons. Art. Revolution.

Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint.

One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers.

But when Jebi discovers the depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes—and the awful source of the magical pigments they use—they find they can no longer stay out of politics.

What they can do is steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton, and find a way to fight…

Hardcover, Signed and lettered, 346 pages

Published May 2020 by Solaris Books in association with Goldsboro Books

This was my May Goldsboro Books SFF Fellowship book. It is gorgeous

The Rosie Synopsis

Jebi is an artist. Their sister Bongsunga does whatever she can to keep them both alive. They both have secrets. Jebi has taken the exams for the Ministry of Art but gets co-opted by the Ministry of Armor, Bongsunga is a commander in the Hwagugin resistance to the Razanei invaders who n ow govern Hwagun – or District Fourteen as the Razan call the country.

Jebi discovers something in their time at the Ministry that forces them to make a decision. WIth the help of Vei, their lover and the Duelist Prime of Armor, and the automaton dragon Arazi they must escape, protect art and fight the Razanei. Bit of a tall order for an artist who just wants to paint.

The Good

I love it.

I really enjoyed this book, I took me far too long to realise it was a allegory for the Japanese invasion and occupation of Korea in the late 19th century. But with magic and automata. The Westerners – threat and boogie men held over the Hwagugin bu the Razanei – should have tipped me off.

The writing was really immersive, the story engaging and I am so happy about the Queer representation. A non-binary character is amazing, and so many different relationships. It makes such a change from the heteronormative relationships in a lot of fantasy.

The ending left me wanting to know what happened next (although obviously I have some idea of what happened in the real world) in this magical version of Korea. What did Jebi, Vei and Arazi find on the moon?

The Not-So-Good

I got nothing.

The Verdict

Add this to your fantasy TBR list immediately.

Review: Night of the Dragon, by Julie Kagawa

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Published March 31st 2020 by HQ Young Adult ISBN:1848457707 (ISBN13: 9781848457706)

Master storyteller Julie Kagawa concludes the enthralling journey into the heart of the fantastical Empire of Iwagoto in the third book of the Shadow of the Fox trilogy. As darkness rises and chaos reigns, a fierce kitsune and her shadowy protector will face down the greatest evil of all. A captivating fantasy for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Sarah J. Maas and Marie Lu.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has given up the final piece of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers in order to save everyone she loves from imminent death. Now she and her ragtag band of companions must journey to the wild sea cliffs of Iwagoto in a desperate last-chance effort to stop the Master of Demons from calling upon the Great Kami dragon and making the wish that will plunge the empire into destruction and darkness.

Shadow clan assassin Kage Tatsumi has regained control of his body and agreed to a true deal with the devil—the demon inside him, Hakaimono. They will share his body and work with Yumeko and their companions to stop a madman and separate Hakaimono from Tatsumi and the cursed sword that had trapped the demon for nearly a millennium.

But even with their combined skills and powers, this most unlikely team of heroes knows the forces of evil may be impossible to overcome. And there is another player in the battle for the scroll, a player who has been watching, waiting for the right moment to pull strings that no one even realized existed…until now. 

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Review: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, by H.G. Parry

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The ultimate book-lover’s fantasy, featuring a young scholar with the power to bring literary characters into the world, for fans of The Magicians, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and The Invisible Library.

For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world… and for once, it isn’t Charley’s doing.

There’s someone else who shares his powers. It’s up to Charley and a reluctant Rob to stop them, before these characters tear apart the fabric of reality.

Paperback, 480 pages
Published January 23rd 2020 by Orbit (first published July 23rd 2019)

ISBN:0356513777 
ISBN13: 9780356513775

My Review

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for organising the blog tour. And finally, to the author, for this great read.

Got to be entirely honest, I haven’t finished reading this book yet, because I’ve been terribly ill with a cold. My energy levels have been used on my various support appointments, so I’ve only been reading in short spurts because I can’t focus enough to read for longer. That being said, what I have read, so far, has been very impressive. I will finish it soon, but for now I will review based on my experience so far. I’m halfway through, after some concerted reading this evening (Friday 7th February).

The characters of Rob and Charley Sutherland are brilliantly well-written, they are funny and so realistic in their frustrations with each other and life. Their conversations flow naturally. Millie is an absolute riot, very ‘Enid Blyton-ish’ with her ‘jolly good’s and brisk bossiness getting Heathcliff to behave.

The descriptions are very clear, almost poetic at times. I especially enjoyed the description of Charley’s house and the mysterious lane. I could see them, one a place I’d love to live, with books stacked everywhere, and the other like something from a Dickens tragedy, all cobbles and fog.

I love the idea of ‘reading characters out of the book’, and Charley’s need to experiment potentially getting him into trouble. I was intrigued by the idea that there’s a secret group of characters hiding behind the real world, having escaped from their books. And the mystery of who is reading out villains to attack Charley and Rob really got me. Who is the Summoner? Why does he have David Copperfield in a basement? What has Charlie’s first book of literary criticism got to do with everything? I need to know what happens next, who everyone is and why they’re doing what they are. I’m also scared for Charley and Rob. I also think Rob needs to tell Lydia everything, because that Eric is a scoundrel.

The way the characters change depending on who reads them, the description of the magic of ordinary reading, it all feels so good to read. That doesn’t make sense, sorry. I just utterly love Parry’s writing, it’s so richly descriptive. You don’t need to have read the books she draws on to understand the plot (or not so far at least) because Charley can’t help educating people.

I feel that, if I were well, I’d have curled up with this book and read it in a day or two. It’s not a small book, about 400 pages; even I would have needed a couple of days at my peak. In my current state, it’ll be a bit longer.

So, based on what I’ve read so far, I heartily recommend this book.