Solo Leveling, Vol. 1 by Chu-Gong

The weakest of the weak, E-class hunter Jinwoo Sung has no money, no talent, and no prospects to speak of. And when he enters a hidden dungeon that fateful day, he ends up being left to die in the aftermath of a horrendous tragedy. At death’s door, Jinwoo is suddenly invited to be a “player” by a mysterious voice. Desperate to live, Jinwoo jumps at the chance…but what is this strange new leveling system that only he can see?

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

A quick disclaimer: While I haven’t read the Solo Leveling webnovel or manhwa, I’m a long time reader of fan-translated Asian LitRPG/Isekai/SFF webnovels. I’m familiar with the tropes and the general pitfalls of these kinds of webnovels a reader new to this genre may not have. This review will be written from that perspective. As an aside, as a long-time reader, reading an officially translated audiobook version was a very weird experience. Not bad, per se, but like the feeling of two very different, separate worlds intersecting in a way that makes you think, huh. that shouldn’t happen.

I’ve seen the cover of the Solo Leveling manhwa for years, though I’ve never picked it up. Seeing the audiobook up on NetGalley really was the final push to pique my curiosity and I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

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A Radical Act of Free Magic by HG Parry

The Concord has been broken, and a war of magic engulfs the world.

In France, the brilliant young battle-mage Napoleon Bonaparte has summoned a kraken from the depths, and under his command the Army of the Dead have all but conquered Europe. Britain fights back, protected by the gulf of the channel and powerful fire-magic, but Wilberforce’s own battle to bring about free magic and abolition has met a dead end in the face of an increasingly fearful and repressive government. In Saint Domingue, Fina watches as Toussaint Louverture navigates these opposing forces to liberate the country.

But there is another, even darker war being fought beneath the surface: the first vampire war in hundreds of years. The enemy blood magician who orchestrated Robespierre’s downfall is using the Revolutionary Wars to bring about a return to dark magic to claim all of Europe. Across the world, only a few know of his existence and the choices they make will shape the new age of magic.

*****

This review will contain spoilers for book 1, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Orbit. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Despite my complete lack of familiarity with French history, I thoroughly enjoyed book 1 and I was extremely excited to see where the author would take in book two. Napoleon appears! (I cry in excitement, knowing absolutely nothing about Napoleon). I can say I’m thoroughly satisfied with this second book of this duology and still sitting in awe by how complete Parry has construct this life-long story of Pitt and Wilberforce.

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And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

In a far future city, where you can fall to a government cull for a single mistake, And What Can We Offer You Tonight tells the story of Jewel, established courtesan in a luxurious House. Jewel’s world is shaken when her friend is murdered by a client, but somehow comes back to life. To get revenge, they will both have to confront the limits of loyalty, guilt, and justice.

****

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Neon Hemlock. All thoughts are my own

Review:

And What Can We Offer You Tonight is one of the most uniquely written novellas I’ve read this year, with it’s dreamlike, almost surreal stream-of-consciousness prose. In this novella, we follow experienced courtesan Jewel, who, upon discovering the murders of one of her friends, is finally forced to confront her dystopian city’s massive power imbalance. Jewel grapples with the decision of taking revenge for the death of a fellow courtesan and fight for better treatment of her entire house, and protecting herself and the life she’s managed to make from the retribution of her rebellions. Though I initially found the prose off-putting, I quickly found myself sucked into this novella, its unique writing style easily sucking me into this world, the characters fears and pains, their joys and triumphs. I rate this novella a 4/5.

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She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Yeah. This is it. This is the one. My favorite book of 2021. Doesn’t matter that I read this in January. (then re-read in June because I forgot to write a review) This book is it. The stunning prose, the characters that have prompted me to draw fanart after fanart after fanart, the genderqueer commentary, and the absolute immersion I experienced reading this book twice over. Just fantastic all around.

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June 2021 | Wrap-Up

So I thought I’d gone pretty hard last month with 13 books…. oops I read 14 this month. Audiobooks are reaaaally carrying me here and there are just so many good books I missed the initial publication hype that I finally have time to read now! All of this is to say library digital lending systems are amazing and I’m so grateful mine has such a good collection.

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A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools.
Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

*****

Review:

This is my first Becky Chambers book and wow was I blown away. I’ve heard for years how feel-good optimistic they are and how I definitely need to read them, Well, with the announcement of this new solarpunk series, I have now seen the wonder of Becky Chambers. Though, I don’t know if I’d describe this book as feel-good sci-fi so much as I would quarter-life crisis sci-fi that hits just a liiiiiittle too close to home.

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Star Eater by Kerstin Hall

All martyrdoms are difficult.

Elfreda Raughn will avoid pregnancy if it kills her, and one way or another, it will kill her. Though she’s able to stomach her gruesome day-to-day duties, the reality of preserving the Sisterhood of Aytrium’s magical bloodline horrifies her. She wants out, whatever the cost.

So when a shadowy cabal approaches Elfreda with an offer of escape, she leaps at the opportunity. As their spy, she gains access to the highest reaches of the Sisterhood, and enters a glittering world of opulent parties, subtle deceptions, and unexpected bloodshed.

A phantasmagorical indictment of hereditary power, Star Eater takes readers deep into a perilous and uncanny world where even the most powerful women are forced to choose what sacrifices they will make, so that they might have any choice at all.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

A book about cannibal priestesses and body horror? Say no more. From the marketing, this book should have been a perfect match for me. Unfortunately, I came out more than let down.

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What We Devour by Lindsey Miller | Review + Case Study

Lorena Adler has a secret—she holds the power of the banished gods, the Noble and the Vile, inside her. She has spent her entire life hiding from the world and her past. She’s content to spend her days as an undertaker in a small town, marry her best friend, Julian, and live an unfulfilling life so long as no one uncovers her true nature.

But when the notoriously bloodthirsty and equally Vile crown prince comes to arrest Julian’s father, he immediately recognizes Lorena for what she is. So she makes a deal—a fair trial for her betrothed’s father in exchange for her service to the crown.

The prince is desperate for her help. He’s spent years trying to repair the weakening Door that holds back the Vile…and he’s losing the battle. As Lorena learns more about the Door and the horrifying price it takes to keep it closed, she’ll have to embrace both parts of herself to survive.

**

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I don’t know what else to say. This book was a hot mess. I was hyped for the ace rep, I was hyped for the dark, brutal fantasy, and I was hyped for the bloodthirsty love interest. What I got was….well I suppose the ace rep was solid. The characters were flat and unimaginative, and often times it didn’t seem like even the author had a good graph on their characters. The worldbuilding was severely lacking, both in the political aspect and the general magic with the Vile and Noblewrights.

That being said, there’s not a whole lot I can say without just bashing on this book, so instead, this review will primarily be a case study this country’s logistics using some of the absolutely batshit numbers provided in this book. Please, author, I beg you. Double check your numbers before you make them arbitrarily big.

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A Bargain of Blood and Gold by Kristin Jacques

When Johnathan Newman arrives in Cress Haven, the last thing he expects is for his life to be irrevocably changed. Sent by a clandestine league of vampire hunters to investigate a string of murders, signs point to a vampire lurking amid the townsfolk. Johnathan’s attempt to enlist the locals leads him to an unlikely partnership with Vic, the town’s most eligible, enigmatic bachelor.

As the pair work to solve the mystery, Vic’s secrets come back to bite him. Revealed, the vampire fights his attraction to a man trained to destroy him, while Johnathan’s emotions land him in the middle of forbidden desires. Even if Vic isn’t the murderer, how can Johnathan yearn for his natural enemy?

As Vic leads Johnathan into encounters with terrifying beings straight from children’s nightmares, Johnathan learns that not only is the world stranger than he knew, but that those he once trusted have far darker intentions that will place hunter and vampire at the center of a conflict between realms.

Cress Haven holds more sinister secrets than its resident vampire, a secret so great, it could unleash Hell itself.

****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I am so incredibly weak for vampire/vampire hunter pairings (enemies-to-lovers rears its head) and seeing A Bargain of Blood & Gold with just that trope, I absolutely jumped at the chance to read it!

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Darling by K Ancrum

On Wendy Darling’s first night in Chicago, a boy called Peter appears at her window. He’s dizzying, captivating, beautiful—so she agrees to join him for a night on the town.

Wendy thinks they’re heading to a party, but instead they’re soon running in the city’s underground. She makes friends—a punk girl named Tinkerbelle and the lost boys Peter watches over. And she makes enemies—the terrifying Detective Hook, and maybe Peter himself, as his sinister secrets start coming to light. Can Wendy find the courage to survive this night—and make sure everyone else does, too?

Acclaimed author K. Ancrum has re-envisioned Peter Pan with a central twist that will send all your previous memories of J. M. Barrie’s classic permanently off to Neverland.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Darling isn’t SFF, but with how much I adored Ancrum’s The Wicker King, I was curious to see where she’d take a modern Peter Pan retelling. Having read Darling, I can easily say Ancrum’s now on my author auto-buy list.

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