Book reviews: Year 2021

Bonds of Brass (The Bloodright Trilogy, #1) by Emily Skrutskie

An easy-to-read space romance. The mutual pining starts strong from the start and it was just fun to read. The worldbuilding is super interesting and I really, really enjoyed how the politics and moral dilemmas are slowly introduced and explored. What life is like when your country was conquered and colonised. There are no good compromises and you can feel how sick it makes the narrator feel, that no matter what decision they make people will get hurt and die. The Found Family vibes were excellent whenever they popped up but then again, see: moral dilemma getting in the way. Looking forward to the next volume after that ending! Not exactly a cliffhanger but certainly opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.

Frédéric Cendrevent: L'autre côté des ombres, T2 by Noëmie Auke

J'ai eu quelques difficultés au début à me remémorer les règles de ce monde tout en absorbant les nouvelles informations qui nous sont données, mais une fois tout mis en place (et qu'Allowin nous refait sa première apparition !) l'histoire m'a complètement absorbée. L'intrigue politique est intéressante mais c'est surtout l'évolution de Frédéric et de sa relation avec les autres (son loup, ses nouveaux cercles, et bien sûr Owin) que j'ai trouvé prenante. Voir sa volonté de décider de sa vie par et pour lui-même s'affirmer, et réaliser peu à peu que ce ne sont pas juste les autres qui lui mettent des bâtons dans les roues mais aussi lui-même. J'ai beaucoup aimé découvrir de nouveaux recoins de cet univers fascinant, rencontrer les autres personnages et leurs relations, entendre des explications d'événements mentionnés dans le premier volume sur lesquels je ne m'attendais pas à en apprendre plus (bonne surprise!!), et généralement voir tout ce petit monde faire de leur mieux pour se protéger les uns les autres a été un véritable plaisir. J'ai trouvé la conclusion très réconfortante. Enchanteur !

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1) by Naomi Novik

A magic school without teachers or staff that is infested with monsters that kill many of the students before or during graduation... And where learning is a matter of survival. Incredible, fascinating worldbuilding. The characters are endearing in somewhat unusual ways, due to the kind of environment they are operating in. And seeing the outcasts and weirdos sort of slowly gravitate toward each other had a kind of found family vibe that I eagerly absorbed. It's hard work getting there though!

I read this in one go and loved all of it. Which is why my review is short, because I am very tired now.

Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, or Trust Fund Required by Kristy Shen

I found the methodical, systematic advice on how to choose (POT) very good and would recommend the method to all students or people considering a career change. Overall, very engaging writing style. As always, the concrete advice is north american-based (includes Canada this time, though!) and doesn't apply to different tax system, but the general advice ("The past doesn't matter") and other anecdotes and stories were all interesting and thought provoking.

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

This is two stories in one, because someone is reading a book inside of it, and that book is about the poet Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. I admit I found it difficult at first to feel compassion toward Ella, the modern narrator who is reading book - until we get more of her perspective and suddenly I understood her better, and she broke my heart a little bit.

It's a book about love, all kinds of love. Romantic, platonic, religious, toward the self... It's a spiritual book as well, one that gives you a lot to think about, the kind of thoughts you feel down in your soul.

It's a book about people, and humanity, and human emotions - many of them beautiful, and a few others that are less pretty.

Because the book within the book was focused on Shams and Rumi, I found it a little bit disappointing when we were missing the full "arc" for some of the characters who observe and float around them (especially Desert Rose), but I would still heartily recommend this story.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Although I prefer character-driven stories, I really enjoy Andy Weir's books. The characterisation is a bit weak in this book as well, in that despite the different backstory it feels like exactly the same main character as the other books, tone-wise, especially The Martian. But I actually don't mind the wry, sarcastic, self-deprecating American-type humour so it works for me. I think that covers what I thought were the weakest parts but then again, it's not the kind of story it was meant to be either. This is more plot-driven? Mystery-driven? And damn if that part isn't impeccably done, I was hooked right from the start. Slowly figuring out together with the protagonist what the hell is going on was really, really well done - and you have two storylines in a way, the current one and the flashbacks from back on Earth. There's always something you're wondering about, and the more you learn the more questions you have, but in a really fun and gripping way.

And like, it's a desperate situation, certain death and a whole bunch of other things, but it's also, somehow, an incredibly hopeful story. Finding things to marvel about even in the face of crushing adversity because hey! This is space? Isn't this cool?! And there is so much joy in discovery and in science. There's a particular, very important event that happens about a third of the way into the book, maybe, and in any other story these days this would have been cause for terrifying story development, because cynicism and pessimism is the name of the game, but... not here. Super hopeful instead, and I appreciated that so much.

There's something to be said about a story that's about finding delight in all the small, cool things that are going well even when faced with an overwhelmingly bad situation you can't change, especially these days. I really enjoyed this book and wholly recommend it.

A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, #2) by Arkady Martine

There is a large cast of characters for this book and it took me a while to find my bearings especially since it had been a while since the first book. As before, if you enjoy political intrigue you'll get your fill here, but the worldbuilding and character relationships are what sells this book to me just like its predecessor. The language aspect is still wonderful, the way speaking another language forces you to think differently, but even more so the... I'm not sure how to call it. The longing and fear and conflicted admiration for an Empire that would destroy you and your entire culture given half a chance is just fascinating and so well done, I really enjoyed it.

A lot of the book sets things in place, and then it all falls together very quickly over the last quarter of the book - breathtaking! I enjoyed the resolution greatly.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams

I really enjoyed it.

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1) by Tamsyn Muir

It's a difficult book to review. The writing style is so dense and the atmosphere so grim. I mean, necromancers have an aesthetic to preserve I suppose, even necromancers in space. But so many dense descriptions of skeletons and darkness and grime and black veils and... it's tough. It's tough and yet the narrator Gideon has such a great voice. She's not untouched by the grimness of the setting but she still always feels - out of place, out of place in a way that fits. So you'll read a beautiful description of a rotten space platform half-falling apart and in the same breath Gideon will describe the necromancer standing on it as having a "resting bitch face" and I'll be snorting but it doesn't pull you out of the story because it's Gideon so it works.

I found the whole cast of characters a bit difficult to keep up with, especially since they have too many names (I thought "the twins" and "the teenagers" referred to the same people for a confusing, embarrassingly long time) but I was still very invested in multiple characters, their relationships and the mystery of the plot. The aesthetic of everyone, everything, and especially the Ninth house is flawless, too. Just zoom in on that cover: black garb, skeleton face paint, and sunglasses. Hell yeah.

(Yes, that's Gideon.)

Anyway. Lesbian necromancers in space, go!!

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance, #2) by Naomi Novik

I really enjoyed it.

Any Way the Wind Blows (Simon Snow, #3) by Rainbow Rowell

I really enjoyed this conclusion to the trilogy. It's an easy read, great for my still pandemic-fuddled mind but I also liked the plotlines. The first book was all prophecies and Chosen Ones, the second book more about running away from your problems (road trip!) and facing new ones, and this third book... well, it's about what happens once the prophecies are done and dusted, once the characters have to face the end of their lives as they knew it and the trauma that goes with that, and come to terms with it. I quite liked it. The cast of characters is varied enough to keep the story engaging even if you don't like everyone as much and the glimpses into the worldbuilding were fun as well.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

Really interesting outlining method based on screenwriting techniques, using beat sheets. The first quarter of the book explains the method, then the meat of the book shows how it can be applied to different genres by breaking down well-known books into their beats. You can't help but start looking at movies differently after reading it because the beats become very noticeable.

Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #2) by Tamsyn Muir

I'm a little bit torn as to how to review this book. I found it really difficult to get into. The prose is just as dense as in the first book, but a lot of the fun characters are either dead or MIA and that leaves only the grim, cynical, psychopathic, paranoid, backstabbing or generally unfun ones around. A couple might be okay but they know much more than the protagonist and the handwaving about "you couldn't understand" is as frustrating for the reader as for the protagonist - even as I recognise that they are right. I wouldn't have understood. I can't even begrudge the other characters for being like they are (except maybe for the backstabbing one, who I still feel furious with) because the world is grim and everyone has seen some shit (tm).

What kept me going was the plot and worldbuilding. The plot is very well weaved, with flashbacks and flashforwards like "the night before the emperor's murder" right from the first page that certainly arouse curiosity. Learning more about the worldbuilding of this strange solar system, the Nine Houses and their mythology and how it all connects to what is happening now was also very interesting.

The last quarter of the book is a lot more engaging, and I even laughed out loud a few times in between all of the other hellish crap happening. Knowing the emperor would be murdered, it was really interesting to try to guess who would do it and changing my mind right until the end.

The ending is somewhat open ended and I know there are more books coming, but I can't say I feel super satisfied with it. It's a complex story and I can see how it would have more impact if you managed to keep track of absolutely everything. I know people who re-read both books immediately upon finishing and I certainly understand why. We do learn about a lot of lore that sheds a different light on a number of events of the first book and many (most?) of the events of the second one. I'm not invested enough to do that because as interesting as it was, this is a story and world more grim than I usually enjoy. But it certainly makes for compelling storytelling, and even when I was hating or not caring about most characters on the page (that changes as we go) I still couldn't help but keep reading.

Binti (Binti, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor

A short story about grief, finding your people without disavowing your roots, building understanding across cultures. I enjoyed it.