Sunday, 22 September 2019

Hobgoblin Boots by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Hobgoblin Boots by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a short novella set in the world of the Mocklore chronicles. It stands alone and you do not have to have read any of the other books to pick this one up. I previously reviewed Ink Black Magic and I’ve also read Splashdance Silver, but more than a decade ago, long before this blog came into existence.

At the age of thirteen, half-hobgoblin Bounty Fenetre found herself on her own, which was fine by her. There was a cute chainmail number at the smithy's she had her eye on, once she figured out how to fix it so it bared her midriff. Then Ma Fortuna adopted her and she met Luc, her new foster brother.

Four years later, at the age of seventeen, Bounty is older and wiser, and really wants to Seek Her Fortune. She and Luc ambush a hero and steal his armor, because as everyone knows, the first step to becoming a hero is to look like one. The second step is to be recognized as a hero by the world at large, which surprisingly, isn't as hard as it sounds. Mocklore is a land where magic crashes and smashes through the landscape, exploding with abrasive sounds and colors, the ideal place for a clever half-hobgoblin fosterling and a charismatic hero-in-progress to make their names.

The story follows Bounty as she grows up (reaches her late teens) and goes off to seek her fortune. First with her adopted brother, then alone. She encounters a variety of fantasy world scenarios and experiences somewhat of a coming of age narrative.

This was a short and entertaining read. The author doesn’t shy away from mocking fantasy tropes, but without mocking the entire fantasy genre. It’s a little reminiscent of early Pratchett, or perhaps Douglas Adams, but also not quite. Roberts has a voice all her own.

I recommend this novella to fans of Roberts’ writing and particularly the Mocklore books. If you haven’t read any of that series, this is a reasonable introduction and sample.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2004, recent re-/self-published
Series: Mocklore universe, a standalone story
Format read: ePub
Source: Tansy Rayner Roberts' Patreon or possibly newsletter
Disclaimer: Although the author is a friend, I have endeavoured to write an unbiased review

Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang

The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang is the fourth novella in the Tensorate series. It tells its own story, but it does contain sort of spoilers for some of the earlier novellas, especially The Descent of Monsters, I think (they have all blurred a little in my memory). I suspect some of the worldbuilding set up in earlier books helps a bit with getting your bearings in this novella, but it's not essential.

The Protector is dead.

For fifty years, the Protector ruled, reshaping her country in her image and driving her enemies to the corners of the map. For half a century the world turned around her as she built her armies, trained her Tensors, and grasped at the reins of fate itself. Now she is dead. Her followers will quiver, her enemies rejoice.

But in one tavern, deep in rebel territory, her greatest enemy drowns her sorrows. Lady Han raised a movement that sought the Protector's head, yet now she can only mourn her loss. She remembers how it all began, when the Protector was young, not yet crowned, and a desperate dancing girl dared to fall in love with her.

Told as a one-sided conversation in a bar, this is the kind of story that grabs you with its unique voice and is difficult to put down before it's finished. It's a shorter read than its prequels, so reading it in one sitting is quite feasible (though I took two). Once you start reading you'll be quickly treated to a first-person retelling of a life story. Our protagonist goes from peasant girl to dancing girl to the right hand of a powerful noble. Her take on her former mistress is very different to how the rest of the world saw her and, well, it's always more interesting to see how and why someone becomes something than it is to just see the end result.

This is the kind of series I want to reread all in a row one day. It's been long enough between books that I'm sure I missed some nuances. On the other hand, I had also forgotten events from earlier books, adding to some suspense/surprise when reading Ascent to Godhood. While this is a self-contained story, I feel like we are not done with the Tensorate universe yet and I am very much looking forward to reading what Yang gives us next.

I recommend this book to fans of the earlier Tensorate books, with the caveat that it's written in a different style to any of its prequels. It furthers the story of the world, however, so if you're interested in the world like I am, then I strongly recommend picking it up. If you're new to the series you can start here, but it's not the best starting point since Black Tides of Heaven and Red Threads of Fortune come chronologically earlier. That said, they do work out of order.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2019,
Series: Tensorate book 4 of 4 so far
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Apple Books

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

The Princess Who Flew With Dragons by Stephanie Burgis

The Princess Who Flew With Dragons by Stephanie Burgis is the third book set in the same world as The Dragon With the Chocolate Heart and The Girl With the Dragon Heart. While the three books follow each other chronologically, they all feature different protagonists, so stand alone well.

Princess Sofia of Drachenheim is sick of being used for her older sister’s political gains. At twelve years old, she’s already been a hostage to invading dragons and a promised future fiancé to a wicked fairy. Her only comfort lies in writing letters to her pen pal and best friend--Jasper, a young dragon whom she's never even met.

When Sofia's older sister sends her on a diplomatic mission to far-off Villenne, she's meant to play the part of a charming, smiling princess. But when an accident leads to her exile from the city, Sofia is free to wander as she pleases for the first time in her life. And when Jasper's food-mage sister Aventurine turns him into a human boy, Sofia thinks life can't get any better. Until… the legendary ice giants of the north attack, trying to reclaim the territory that they lost centuries ago. With the dragons and royals frozen in ice, can Sofia and Jasper save their families and kingdom?

The protagonist of this book is Princess Sofia, who was a secondary character in the second book The Girl With the Dragon Heart. The main cast from the first two books don't make much of an appearance in this one and it mainly takes place outside Drachenheim. The new setting really enriches the world, not only by adding kobolds and ice giants but by also showing what other cities look like and what they think of Drachenheim and its denizens. (The last point is something I always find fun.)

I enjoyed reading about Sofia's adventures in Villenne. Back home she'd rather stay in her room reading philosophy books than go to any official state functions. On her adventure, we got to watch Sofia go from being a girl who is always stuffing up and is perpetually burdened by the expectations of her older sister coming out of her shell. As well as visiting the university and mingling with normal people (in goblin and kobold form), she is also given the opportunity to confront her privilege in a way that wasn't possible without a literal journey. Her newfound friends were funny and entertaining to meet and I loved her relationship with Jasper, the young dragon.

If you've enjoyed the other books in this series, I definitely recommend picking up The Princess Who Flew With Dragons. I got the feeling that this might be the end of the series, but I'd be happy to read more if more books were to appear.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2019, Bloomsbury
Series: Tales from the Chocolate Heart book 3 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo

Saturday, 14 September 2019

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga is, I believe, the debut novel of both coauthors. It's a fantasy-Victorian-era/gas-lamp fantasy novel about a princess and a "resurrectionist" who (illegally) digs up bodies to sell to doctors and medical students. Also, it has a gorgeous cover, which I urge you to zoom in on if you haven't already.

With a murderer on the loose, it's up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

"Man of Science" Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he's framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he's forced to trust in the superstitions he's always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger's execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There's a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart.

This book is set in a world where the nobility (and especially royalty) has magic, technology is roughly early-Victorian, and class and poverty divides are stark. Our low-class protagonist, Roger, wants to be a surgeon, but can't afford the tuition fees. He also becomes interested in a string of murders after stumbling over an unusual dead body and wants to solve them, getting himself framed in the process. The princess Sibylla, meanwhile, was a childhood friend-then-lover of his, but is mostly consumed by her own typical problems, like a forced betrothal to her annoying cousin. Their stories don't directly intersect until quite late in the book, which I found a little disappointing. I kept waiting for a dramatic reconnection, but it was pushed back surprisingly far.

I found the start of the book a little slow. This was exacerbated by the fact that the blurb summarises a large swath of the story and I was more than half-way through the book by the time I felt like I'd caught up with the expectations the blurb had set. Also, while Roger was trying to solve the murder mystery, it wasn't so much his cleverness that helped him with the day as luck, always a disappointing plot twist.

Overall, this book was OK. It took me a while to get into it and the resolution was interesting but not executed the way I expected. There's also a spoilery thing near the end which made me raise an eyebrow for the lack of exploration given to it and was an unpleasant note to leave on. That said, the story is self-contained but the end set up a potential sequel which could be an interesting read. I would certainly consider picking it up if it comes to exist. I recommend this book to fans of gas-lamp fantasy and Victorian-ish settings. Also, corpses.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2019, Angry Robot
Series: Not yet but maybe?
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen

The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen is a novelisation of The Bright Sessions podcast. More accurately, it’s the novelisation of one particular storyline, primarily following two of the characters. I initially thought it was going to be a sequel, but it actually goes into more depth on events from the first two (I think) seasons of the podcast.

Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”

Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb's ability is extreme empathy—he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb's life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam's feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb's feelings in a way that he can't quite understand.

Caleb's therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist—who seems to know a lot more than she lets on—and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.

In essence, this is a YA romance book, featuring two male protagonists. The speculative element is clear: one of the protagonists, Caleb, has an empathy superpower, which allows him (forces him) to sense other people’s emotions. So on the one hand, we have Caleb’s very unique view of the people around him. On the other hand, there’s Adam, who is a normal teen that happens to suffer from depression. Despite one being a it of a nerd and the other being a it of a jock, the two of them form a connection. I also want to be clear that it isn’t just through Caleb’s powers that we experience Adam’s depression. Adam has his own point of view chapters and was diagnosed long before the start of the book. It’s now just something he has to live with and, I think, a particularly good depiction of living with depression.

Since I have listened to the original podcast, I knew what was going to happen in this book. The fact that it’s a romance book cancels out the spoilery nature of being familiar with the podcast (because of how romance books work). The one thing I think might throw people who haven’t listened to the podcast is the sudden appearance of some of the other podcast characters (other than Dr Bright). They sort of fit into the story, but because Caleb and Adam weren’t directly involved in the most dramatic parts of the podcast events, they seemed very oddly tangential, despite triggering some personal issues for our protagonists. On the other hand, if you enjoy The Infinite Noise, it might be a good jumping off point for getting into The Bright Sessions podcast.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I generally recommend it to all fans of YA, particularly spec fic YA. I hope we get more novels in this universe, although I’m not sure which bits of podcast would work best. You definitely do not need to have listened to the podcast to enjoy this book and, conversely, listening to the podcast first does not in any way ruin the book.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2019, Tor Teen
Series: Sort of? The first actual book, set in the Bright Sessions (podcast) world. I hope there'll be more books.
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley