The Bird King

The Bird King

The Bird King came across my library holds list after I perused some of the best of 2019 lists. It was billed as a great fantasy read, and you all know I’m always down for those. I finished this book, the first finish in a little bit, and I am really sad to say that I was a little underwhelmed by the story. It moved quickly, it was easy to follow, and the ending was moving, but as a complete package it wasn’t anything to write home about.

It’s difficult for me to write about how the story even works without giving a ton of stuff away. It’s set in 1491 on the Iberian peninsula, and Fatima is the last Circassian concubine to the sultan there. Her best friend Hassan is gay as well as a magical map maker – he can make doors appear to places just by drawing a map. When the Holy Order (read: Spanish Inquisition) comes a-knocking Hassan and Fatima must run for their lives or be tortured, killed, or in Hassan’s case, used for the Order’s purposes.

The best part of the story is the first third leading up to their escape. G. Willow Wilson paints a beautiful picture of Fatima and Hassan’s friendship as well as her relationships within the harem and with the sultan. She is just beginning to see that she could hold real power and is waiting to see if she becomes pregnant with the sultan’s child when everything falls apart.

Their escape and subsequent journey to Qaf  where the King of the Birds resides is a bit of a mess storytelling-wise. The villain isn’t scary, Hassan’s powers are not clearly defined and how he uses them is not made clear, and without giving too much away, how they find the island and defend it seemed rushed and strange.

The ending was moving enough for me to ask you to read it, but don’t be shocked when you feel like giving up around page 300 (if you’re reading the hardcover). I pulled a rare “I made it this far, I might as well finish” and made it to the end, and I’m glad I did. It’s a nice story. If you have a gap in your reading schedule, pick it up and enjoy.

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Tor Books via NetGalley as a digital ARC in return for an honest review. Magic For Liars went on sale on June 4, 2019 and is currently available for purchase.

Magic For Liars is the story of a pair of sisters, one magical and one not, who took very different paths in life: one a Theoretical Magic teacher at a prestigious magic school and the other a beat-down private investigator. When Ivy gets the call to investigate a magical murder at the school where her sister Tabitha teaches, the story takes us through Ivy’s struggle to connect past with present to solve the mystery.

It has a promising start. That dark, down on your luck kind of opening that any private eye kind of flick might have. I settled in, ready for a dark and dingy kind of tale. What I got was a whole lot of nothing through 75% of the book, where I finally decided to stop and move on to something else.

This book stays at one volume level the entire time. Ivy is endlessly interviewing students and then nothing happens. She confronts her sister and seems to make headway about their past as rivals and their magic/non magic issues, and then nothing happens. A teacher is dead, and while we meet many interesting characters and might have suspicions about a few, the tension never ratchets up enough where you feel like we might be headed toward a solution, which would then keep you reading to find out more. I have other things to read, other things to do, either give me something to nibble on or stop wasting my time.

It was really disappointing. It was a cool idea but difficult to pull off without any reveals or wrong turns or accusations in a world where Harry Potter already exists. Sorry fam, it’s a thumbs down from me out of sheer boredom.

The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2)

The Heart Forger

The Bone Witch (#1)

The first novel of this series, The Bone Witch, has been sitting in the back corners of my mind for a long time. The book itself was good, but not ‘blow my socks off’ good, so I didn’t run to the sequel right away. But it was good, and so every so often I would think back to it and wonder what happened next.

The Heart Forger tells its story the same way The Bone Witch did: alternating between the perspective of a Bard (whose identity we do not know) and Tea’s point of view. The Bard’s experience is happening now, while Tea’s is the story leading up to the current situation. You might think this wouldn’t work, especially because the Bard’s story often spoils things that haven’t happened yet in Tea’s timeline, but I was surprised by how much I liked it, and it made me read faster to find out how these relationships and choices came about.

Dark forces are at play across all the kingdoms, and the enemy we only know as the Faceless are discovered to be attempting the forging of shadowglass, a heartsglass that would make its wearers immortal. To do this they need certain ingredients that would connect them back to a mythical trio: The Blade that Soars, Dancing Wind, and Hollow Knife of the darashi orun, a dance/play that is traditionally performed every year in the kingdom. The band of asha, deathseekers, and friends travel around the kingdoms trying to discover what is going on and to thwart the efforts of their enemies.

I really love revenge stories, and Tea’s use of her powers to get revenge on these Faceless and bring the kingdoms back into some semblance of balance, possibly at great cost to herself, is totally my jam. This story is full of strong women and supportive men and reading it was smooth as silk in terms of character building, plot progression, and magic use. The setting is beautifully described, and I felt like I was there sitting next to the asha in some scenes.

Be careful reading the last 100 pages or so in public. One death scene is described so emotionally that I had to fight my own urge to cry. Just one more friend to avenge with her pack of daeva. Go get ’em Tea, I’m rooting for you.

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)

The Poppy War

The Poppy War is a book about tests and schools and usually those are totally my jam. Runin (Rin for short) is a war orphan from the second poppy war. Her foster parents tell her at age 14 that she will be marrying a much older man once she turns 16, so she makes a deal with her tutor and her foster parents that if she take’s the country’s placement test and tests into the tuition-free military academy, that she can leave and not have to marry. She studies and memorizes and crams for two straight years and manages to score high enough to place into the Sinegard Academy.

When she arrives she experiences what you would expect from rich, pampered kids who are trained from birth to come to this academy – her skin is darker and she’s from one of the poorest provinces – they think she cheated to get in or that she was let in to make the test seem fair, and she would be sent home after the Trials that all first years must pass. She works hard and discovers a unique power within her along the way, something that hasn’t been seen since the end of the Second Poppy War. Rin can meditate and reach the Pantheon of gods to call on their power and use it as her own, but with a price.

It’s a very enjoyable book through about the first hald. It gives glimpses into Chinese history through a fantasy story and map, and I find that it’s much easier to learn things that way, or at least to prompt questions that I can ask the husband, who is am expert in world history topics. The story about the school is neat, and the topics they study are interesting. I found myself thinking of The Name of the Wind as I was reading this book: poor person tests into school they shouldn’t belong at, must impress a particular professor in order to remain at school, gets banned from a certain aspect of the school so they have to adjust and train themselves, trains to discover something/skill/knowledge people thought was long dead, now has a dangerous power they don’t know how to control, etc. etc.

My only confusion came when Rin’s motivation abruptly shifted from “be the best I can be so I don’t have to marry or have kids” to “REVENGE.” Like, revenge against who? It was such a fast shift in her narrative that it was like hitting a brick wall in her character development. The only way a revenge story works is if I feel like I want revenge too on the character’s behalf. I get her thirst for power over her own destiny, but I feel like the hunger for revenge isn’t earned in the plot.

Also the second half of the book gets bogged down in a new war that we only see through Rin’s perspective, and most of that time is spent agonizing over her powers and whether or not she should access them. I found myself getting bored toward the end, if only because war is pretty boring on the page without some kind of action or fighting. When most of it was just hanging around the camp being angsty about gods, I lost interest. The most interesting developments happen in the last twenty pages, but the fact that they came after such a down period made them less exciting. I won’t spoil it for you, but by the end I didn’t have anyone I was rooting for, barely understood what was going on, and just wanted to send the book back to the library.

I have the sequel as an advanced reader copy, so I’ll let you all know if the series gets better in book 2. If you’ve read my reviews for awhile though, you know that rarely happens, as book 2 tends to lag even worse than book 1. There was enough in this first installment to get me to read the entire story, but now I wish I could go back and undo the reading of it so I could try something else. Take from that what you will.

The Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons #1)

The Ruin of Kings

I wanted to write about this one because this is the fastest I have ever put down a book. I read the short introductory chapter and thought, okay, a prisoner telling their warden a story, great let’s go. But then I turned the page and the FOOTNOTES started. And I’m sorry fam, but if I’m going to read a book for fun, especially a fantasy novel, there is no faster way to get me to take that shit back to the library than to make it look like a research paper. Also it’s difficult to keep the flow of the reading going when I have to constantly eyeball back and forth from the action to the side info.

NOOOOOOOPE.

Conspiracy of Ravens (The Shadow #2)

Conspiracy of Ravens

Wake of Vultures (The Shadow #1)

The first book of this series Wake of Vultures was so fantastic that I knew I was going to continue with the series. Book 2 seems to have the book two blues. The Book Two Blues is when an author had all the time in the world to write the first book, query it, pitch it, and sell it, but then book 2 is under a heckin’ deadline and sometimes quality suffers because of it. That’s just how publishing rolls.

The beginning of this book feels a lot like the middle of the first book: Nettie Lonesome wandering through the desert, only this time she’s doing it as Rhett Hennessy and it soaring through the desert in her new gigantic bird form, eating dead things and scaring other predators off. She comes across a donkey/Irishman skinwalker who is searching for the Rangers to help with a problem back East, so they team up and travel to reunite with the Rangers. This mirrored her experience with Coyote Dan almost to a T, which made the first third of the book a little bit draggy and repetitive for me.

Luckily at about page 100 we’re off to the East to take on a crooked private railroad owner who employs a doctor who can cut off monster limbs to fuel the railroad’s progression, and then heal them back, something that Nettie/Rhett and others like her have never seen done. There is some dark magic afoot and Nettie, her friend Sam, Coyote Dan, his sister Winnifred, and Earl the donkey go to meet it and hopefully defeat it. The Shadow is pulled to trouble and her destiny once more.

But then we get sidetracked by other “monsters” that are different than the one we are actually setting out to deal with, and so you’ll be at about page 200 or so (out of 350!) before you even get to the main objective of the book – the railroad tycoon who experiments on monsters. It just got to be too much description and banter and not enough action so I decided to stop reading.

***

On a side note, this series seems to be playing with the idea of what it means to be trans or maybe gender fluid and definitely bisexual. At the start of the series we see Nettie identifying as a woman who uses the guise of a man to survive and find purpose in a world that is not kind to women. But then, in this second book, she continues using the male name but then the pronoun changes, but she/he still views him/herself as a girl and wishes she was a man. It’s unclear though whether this wish is due to existing as a black/Native American woman or because psychologically Nettie is a man in a woman’s body.

This book was published in 2016, and so I’m not sure how it escaped the ‘woke af’ discussions that I am sure would have swarmed around it concerning trans/bisexual representation. The maleness Nettie puts on feels like a costume and not her real identity. She seems tired of being a woman (see: 10 pages straight on how she’s having her period out on the journey) and wants to escape into being a man, which is very different from gender fluidity or trans identity as we have come to understand it. Not that I fault Nettie for this instinct at all – if I was a woman in the Wild West I would want to try to pass as a man myself. It’s just an odd story to tell and to read. I came in with the understanding that it was a girl power type story – breaking boundaries and things like that. It is not that at all anymore, and I found myself frustrated with a story that was about this asshole dude and that I definitely didn’t sign up to read.

Between being bored and confused and disappointed, I just stopped reading and I’ll be skipping the rest of the series.

 

The Raven Tower

The Raven Tower

I want to be up front about the fact that I did not finish this book. When I don’t finish a book it’s for one of three reasons: (1) I’m bored, (2) I don’t care about the characters, or (3) It’s due back at the library and I can’t renew it. In this particular case my boredom was so strong as to make me reread the same page for five minutes without realizing it because my brain was entertaining me with other thoughts because the book was so boring.

The idea is interesting. There are many gods – big gods, little gods, strong gods, weak gods, traveling gods, stationary gods, gods that speak through animals, gods that communicate with stones, gods that have gone silent but are still terrifying – I got bored just making that list.

And you get endless descriptions of these gods and how they came to be since before the Ice Age. Oh and in between the descriptions of the evolution of gods we get glimpses of the story we are supposed to be interested in that takes place in the present, but it’s not told from the point of view of any of those characters. The narrator of the story is a god we are not familiar with, speaking to the aide to the prince we are supposed to be invested in, but she can’t hear it (or it might be a he, it’s implied that there are bindings which I assumed are being used to hide breasts). It speaks to her using “you” and I was not a big fan of this storytelling style. I can’t get into the head of a narrator I don’t even know.

We are introduced to a society that sacrifices a king called the Raven’s Lease to the raven god once a generation. The Lease’s heir takes over and speaks with the newly born god once it hatches from an egg until it dies, and the system repeats. But the Lease’s heir, to whom our MC is an aide, is away defending the borders when his father supposedly runs out on his responsibility to sacrifice himself, and his uncle steps into the Lease’s job in his place. When they return from war and find this, the current Raven speaks and says that there will be a reckoning for what has happened, but all they can do is wait for the new bird to hatch to hear what comes next.

This would be a pretty intense story if it wasn’t nested in pages and pages of history description. I got 30% of the way through this book, so it was interesting enough to hold me that far, but I got to the point where I was reading it out of some sense of obligation and not a spirit of enjoyment so I gave myself permission to stop. I have so many other books to read.