Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I loved this book.
I’ve been hearing tons of hype about Leigh Bardugo lately. The gals at book riot sing her praises on a relatively regular basis and recently my lil’ sis said that Six of Crows was her FAVOURITE BOOK OF ALL TIME. She’s sassy and picky and smarter than me, so I figured I should probably give it a shot.
And what. A. Book.
This book is like if Steven Soderbergh, Scott Lynch, and that dude who makes all those CW superhero shows, not the bad ones (I know they’re all kind of bad, and that it’s all the same guy), but the ones with engaging and charming characters, all had some rooooooooougggghhhh and gritty sex and made a baby out of it. And that baby was actually a book. And that book was actually good.
And I know that sounds like a lot, but…this book is kind of a lot. There’s just so much good stuff to crunch into while reading it. The characters are complex and engaging and endearing and flawed. The way they interact with each other, the chemistry they have together, is endlessly engrossing (and suuuuuper dramatic sometimes. But not syrupy teen drama dramatic, nobody drops to their knees and screams to the skies, they’re just in unusually tense situations). The mysteries in each of their pasts are interesting and smart and revealed at the perfect pace. AND! (if you can’t tell by the exclamation point, this is particularly important to me) the heist plot was actually well thought out and intelligently put together. The smart people in this book, the ones coming up with the plans, actually talk and act like smart people. It’s the fucking best. There was a little “a whoooole bunch of stuff had to go right for this plan to work” going on, but I was so wrapped up in the action and excitement I barely noticed it.

Recommended for people who like twisty plot heavy novels, introspective character novels, fun and action-y novels, gritty novels, fantasy novels!, crime novels etc. etc. etc. you get my point. It’s good. Go read it.


VBR

PS. This is a late ad-in edit, because I always forget to shout out to authors for doing this, but if more diverse representation in your fantasy is something that’s important to you, this book does have that. It’s not loud, and if you don’t keep your peepers peeled you might miss some of it, but it’s there.

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Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

Hey ya’ll!

So after reading Hunger, a great book that’s also reaaaaally difficult, I felt like I needed something light and fast and fun. I’d eaten my veggies, cleared my whole plate, and it was time for some dessert. I really loved Borderline, the first book in this series (you can check the review out here), and if this one was anything like it I figured it would do the trick.

And it did, sort of. I liked this one, I still enjoyed myself while reading it, but I can’t help but feel like it didn’t really live up to the promise of the first one. At first I couldn’t really figure out why I wasn’t having quite as much fun, it still had all the major key points of the first one (fast-paced action, a sort of mystery, weird faerie shit), but I think I’ve managed to narrow it down to two things.

The first one is Millie. Maybe it’s just me, but she seemed a little different in this book. It could be that the character herself is just growing up and coming into her own a little more, but she seemed a lot less unstable this time, a lot less confrontational (she mostly shuts down when people in the book either critique her or push back against her), and just a little more…bland? Generic? Maybe those aren’t exactly the right words, but it seemed like a lot of her sharp edges, the things that made her so interesting in the last novel, were blunted. I get that it’s important to move a character forward, but if it’s done properly it should be satisfying to watch a character grow and stabilize and come into their own. Here I feel like we missed a step or two and it just doesn’t really sit right.

The second thing is the plot. I have a few minor winges about it (mostly to do with nobody ever believing Millie eeevvvveerrrrrr, even though she’s constantly right all the time. Eventually you’d think that they’d just start taking her at her word, but I guess you have to get your drama and suspense from somewhere), but I’m going to focus mostly on the main problems: how unnecessarily complicated it was, and consequently, how long that made it feel.

As a side note, just to start this off, I just went to my bookshelf to check how many pages longer this one was than the first one, convinced that it was going to clock in at around a hundred pages more, and was surprised to find that they’re basically the same length. If you’d asked me right after I put this one down I probably would’ve bet money on it being atleast fifty pages longer, if not more, that’s how sure I was. That, in and of itself, has got to say something.

I think the major problem lies mostly in how complicated she made the plot. She tried to stuff waaaayyyyyy too much into this one novel and it really changed the dynamic. In the last book it wasn’t exactly a slow reveal, but there was still tons of mystery involved. You felt like she was uncovering information about the fey and the existence of the other world bit by bit, and that no matter what she found out she was still missing most of it. In this one you get exposition dump after exposition dump and by the end of it, I wasn’t sure what else there was to reveal. I left feeling like there wasn’t really anything hooking me into reading the third one. I know that this might just be personal preference, I’m always inclined to a slow reveal leading to a big payoff, rather than just dumps of information along the way, but this website is called verybiasedreviews so…I dunno, what did you expect?

Anyways, don’t write this book or this series off completely. The first one is great, and again, despite it’s problems I still had a pretty good time with this one. I’ve seen worse when it comes to the sophomore slump. I’m definitely going to come back in for one more go, but if the third one is more like this one than the first I might have to leave it after that.

Recommended if you like foul-mouthed, no bullshit lady protagonists, are fond of stories that are even tangentially related to hollywood, or if you like your exposition given in big, straight forward, indigestible chunks.

VBR

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Everybody, I have a confession to make. I’ve done a stupid.

On the last day of my trip I started a big, honking fantasy series and now I’m in so deep I don’t think there’s going to be anything else that I’m going to read until I’m done. And while the series is great, and I’m going to give it a little write up here, they’re not different enough from one another to give them each their own blog. The good news, it’s been about a week and I’m four books through, so we’re moving at a decent clip. The bad news, there’s six more books to go. So we’re probably going to be pulling from the backlist to write things about over the next little while.

You gals, this series is everything my hearts been wanting for the past few months. I’ve been reading lots of really good books over the last little while, but a few of them have been on the heavier side (which I like! I love, actually. I just like to intersperse my heavy, serious reads with some lighter, fluffier fare). I hadn’t actually realized until I picked these up how long it’s been since I’ve read a big, fun fantasy series. I can’t even remember the last time I latched onto one and burned my way through it (maybe the Dresden Files? Which itself is a series with great world building, okay writing, and some well-meaning, if not always well-executed, politics). It’s a thing I used to do a lot more when I was younger and didn’t have as many obligations eating up my time, dive into a world and lose yourself there for a few thousand pages, and I’ve missed it.

There’s so many things about this book that speak directly to me. I was raised in a fairly WASP-y environment (I wasn’t allowed to leave the dinner table as a child without saying “I’ve had ample sufficiency.” For real) and the stuffy, buttoned-up, very slightly before Victorian-era main character just…delights me. I love how proper and concerned with formality he is (he notices when people aren’t wearing their full dress coats and neck clothes, even when they’re in tropical environments, and does his best not to look down his nose at them because he’s a god damn gentleman). He also does that thing I remember, oh so fondly, from my childhood, where the angrier you get, the colder and more polite you become. Mmmm…childhood memories.

Now, because of the time frame and the place, his concern with respectability and his upper-crusty British-ness does lend itself to some…old-fashioned (sexist!) ideas about things, but Novik is aware of it, and addresses it pretty cleverly. She’s created a society in England at the time, The Aviators (people who’ve bonded with dragons) who, from necessity, have a more liberal viewpoint than most of the rest of the world. They don’t discriminate based on gender, babies out of wedlock are no big deal, they don’t bother overly much with status and the layers of planning and propriety that seem to go into every conversation because of it. By dropping her suuuuuuper British character among them, she gives him a means and a reason to learn, which he is both capable of and willing to do. You get to see that he’s a pretty good guy, and mostly just a product of his environment, constantly course correcting as he adjusts his ideas about what the right things to do are. Plus it’s just fun to watch him unwind a little (not a lot) over the course of the books.

And the dragons are great! Funny, likeable, smart. It’s a really good, fairly original take on the creatures, and Novik uses their intelligence and the weird position they hold in British society to make some smart social commentary. A lot of that comes from the main dragon character Temeraire, who acts as a good surrogate for the author. He’s smart and opinionated and gives a lot of kickback on the shitty thinking of the time, allowing the author to slip in her own opinions about some of the less appealing aspects of British society.

I’d recommend this series for lovers of fantasy (though don’t go in expecting high fantasy. Dragons are the only fantastical element), adventure, and people who like a little flavour in their historical lit (Novik seems to have done a buuunnncccchhhh of research for these books. I’m no expert, so everything she says could be completely and totally wrong and I wouldn’t know, but it feels authentic enough). Also recommended if, like me, stiff, emotionally unavailable British gentlemen make you purr like a cat.

With the Sincerest and Most Deeply Felt Affection,

Yours,

VBR

 

 

Uprooted By Naomi Novik

You guys, I really, reaaaally loved this book. After the last couple of dark-as-fuuuuck books that I’ve read, this was just such a warm, light, heart-hug of a novel. Don’t get me wrong, people die (so many people. Thousands of people. Almost all the people) but…I dunno. It just felt so fresh and fun to me. The language is clear and clean and to the point, the story is great, and the protagonist is a dope-ass, take no shit lady (something ya’ll know I have a weakness for).

But it wasn’t just light and fun. For some reason, despite the big buzz around the novel (I’ve only ever heard people gush about it), I had moderate to low expectations for it. I was, and I’m ashamed to admit this, using it as a palate cleanser. I just wanted something fun and easy, something that would suck me in and carry me along. And I got it! But I also got something else. It had a moral centre, an intelligence and thoughtfulness to it, that I wasn’t expecting. Novik’s use and subversion of fantasy and fairy-tale tropes was subtler, smarter, than I thought it was going to be.

Before I wrap this up I also want to give a quick shout out to the ending. I’m not going to say much about it, because I want you to discover it on your own, but I really enjoyed it. As an avid and life long fantasy reader, I find nothing more disappointing than the “kill the monster and everything is better” ending to a novel, and I’m happy this book avoided that trap.

In case it wasn’t clear throughout the entirety of this wet, sloppy kiss of a review, I am definitely, one hundred percent recommending it. Normally I would put some sort of a caveat on there (if you like fantasy, or if you like fairytales, or if you like blah blah blah), but this one is pretty unequivocal. Just buy it and read it, okay?

Enjoy!

VBR

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