“The bakery lay silent and dark in the small hours of the morning, lit only by the faint glow of embers from the hearth.”First line in In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan
Wyrd and Wonder is over 😢. But what a month! I had such a great time reading everyone’s posts and even found a few new blogs to follow. On the personal side, I’m also satisfied with how much I interacted with everyone, even though I know I could have done more. I attempted tweets more often but kind of gave up halfway through the month, and now I’m looking forward to not being on Twitter as much. Comment sections are way safer.
During the month, I also got slightly distracted by Eurovision and my sudden desire to learn Italian. Not that I’m currently learning it because I’m too busy listening to Måneskin. They’re so good!
Turning my attention to the reading I got done during May, I only read Historical Fantasy as my theme for Wyrd and Wonder. It was awesome, even though I did read one book that’s going on my most disappointing reads of the year list. But take a look at my stats:
Maybe I should have foreseen this when I planned my TBR, but I really didn’t set out to only read women this month. As it turns out, I actually don’t have any Historical Fantasy books on my TBR written by men and I’ve only read three. Is it just a genre dominated by women? I do prefer reading books written by women so I’m not complaining, but it’s just very curious to me. But well, everything else about my stats is pretty standard so no reason to talk about those. Let’s just get into the five mini-reviews of the month.
Midnight Never Come (The Onyx Court #1)
Author: Marie Brennan
Published: May 3rd, 2008
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Buzzwords: Elizabethan London, Fae underworld, court politics
Synopsis: England flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs.
But a great light casts a great shadow.
In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined, in secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected only by a few.
Two courtiers, both struggling for royal favor, are about to uncover the secrets that lie behind these two thrones. When the faerie lady Lune is sent to monitor and manipulate Elizabeth’s spymaster, Walsingham, her path crosses that of Michael Deven, a mortal gentleman and agent of Walsingham’s. His discovery of the “hidden player” in English politics will test Lune’s loyalty and Deven’s courage alike. Will she betray her Queen for the sake of a world that is not hers? And can he survive in the alien and Machiavellian world of the fae? For only together will they be able to find the source of Invidiana’s power—find it, and break it…
A breathtaking novel of intrigue and betrayal set in Elizabethan England; Midnight Never Come seamlessly weaves together history and the fantastic to dazzling effect.
This was a surprising success! I’m not really into fae stories and also worried the writing would be too dry, but I really connected with the writing style and the story itself was very impactful. I have a full review for this one if you’re interested in more of my thoughts.
The Last Magician (The Last Magician #1)
Author: Lisa Maxwell
Published: July 18th, 2017
Genre: YA Fantasy
Buzzwords: Time travel, early 20th century New York, gangs
Synopsis: In modern-day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.
Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.
But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.
I’ve been raking my brain to come up with just one thing I liked about this book, so it might find its way to someone who would actually enjoy it. Because I certainly didn’t, and I don’t have anything positive to say. I honestly think this is a badly written book on so many levels. None of the plot twists were “earned”, as in, they weren’t set up properly so the emotional pay-off is absent. The characters are hampered by the author’s determination to only write dialogue that she has come across in so many other YA Fantasy books, no matter how much it goes against other parts of their characterizations. Seriously, I felt like I’ve read every single line in here at least twice in other books. That greatly sums up how there is very little originality in this book. If you’ve read Six of Crows and The Diviners, then you’ve already read most of this book as well.
Then I also had minor issues with it that just added to my frustration. Like the preferred way to create drama was for characters to withhold information from the reader for no apparent reason and they did that. All. The. Time. There’s also a lot of telling instead of showing, of course, especially in terms of character relationships. We’re often told how persons X, Y and Z mean a lot to the main character and it’s an important plot device that she’s willing to sacrifice a lot for them… we just don’t see her caring for them. But she makes certain to tell the reader very often how much she cares. That became a huge problem for me in terms of the romance in here because they are almost abusive to each other (quite often), and when we don’t get the caring side, it just comes off as toxic.
Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Published: July 23rd, 2019
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Buzzwords: Mayan mythology, Mexico, Cinderella-like character going on a quest
Synopsis: The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.
Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.
In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.
I have one word to describe this book: Fine.
Okay, I’ll say some more, but I really don’t have any strong feelings towards this book, negative or positive. A lot of it comes down to the fact that this book ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to stuff I don’t like. It’s very plot-driven, it has simple and straight-forward language, and one of it’s main tropes is one that very often makes a book boring for me. Don’t know if it has a name but it’s “characters going off on a quest to find different items a.k.a. nothing else can happen until they find them all so now I’m just waiting for them to do that”. At some point I even felt the author knew that and kind of rushed through some stuff in the first half so we could get to that end. Which sounds like something I should appreciate, but it actually made sure I wasn’t very invested.
The Mayan mythology elements in here were the most interesting parts without a doubt, and I liked learning about it. I had fun comparing it to other mythologies as there are often overlaps between such things. The insight into Mexico in the 1920s was also really cool.
Finally, I also want to say that I felt the book had a bit of a juvenile tone and had I not known it was Adult, I would probably have pegged it as YA. Not a bad thing, but it means I would recommend this to readers of YA who are trying to get into Adult Fantasy. I think this is a great introduction.
The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1)
Author: S. A. Chakraborty
Published: November 14th, 2017
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Buzzwords: Middle Eastern fantasy, djinn, political fantasy
Synopsis: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…
This was one of the rare books where the characters weren’t my favorite part because the world and the political intrigue just insisted on being spectacular. And that doesn’t mean that the characters were bad by any means. There is definitely so much potential as Chakraborty really used this book to set up some intriguing future plot lines. I have a full review that also includes a spoiler section for those of you who’ve already read this and want to discuss.
In Ashes Lie (The Onyx Court #2)
Author: Marie Brennan
Published: January 1st, 2009
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Okay, so I didn’t like this one as much as the first book in the series. It takes place many decades later which I knew meant that many characters from the first one wasn’t going to be in the sequel. I think a lot of character-driven readers can relate to how frustrating that can be, but I was prepared to love the new characters. However, this book is way more plot-driven so the great introduction to the characters we got in the first book was kind of absent in here. We’re just thrown head-first into events that I also had my difficulties following, but I don’t think I would have minded had I gotten to know this new male protagonist beforehand. I never really connected with him.
This book also employs some non-linear storytelling as it jumps back and forth in time, although the past storyline seems to be the main one. And I was of course way more interested in the future one that took place during the Great Fire of London in 1666. Not only do I think that’s a very interesting historic event, but I also really liked a character that featured in those snippets. He generally featured a lot more towards the end of the book, so naturally that was my favorite part and why I still really like this series. It just took a while to get there, and I’m still not sure why the first half was necessary. But I think I need to learn my lesson: Don’t get attached to the mortal characters. They’re going to be gone by the next book.
That was all from me for Wyrd and Wonder this time around. A big thank you to the three amazing hosts Imyril, Lisa and Jorie for putting this event together. Now I’m exhausted but also looking forward to June. I’m currently at that place where I want to reread all my favorites… but I also want to read at least ten books from my TBR right this second. And June is also my birthday month so it’s bound to be good.
Let me know if you’ve read any of the books from this post or you plan to. Happy reading!