The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them

*****

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

This review will contain spoilers for book one, The Jasmine Throne. Read my 4* review here.

Review:

Holy hell Suri delivers with book two of this series. The Oleander Sword is a chonker and I just inhaled it. Something about the prose and the character work made this so smooth to read and the setup for book three promises amazing things to come

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The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

The people suffer under the centuries-long rule of the Moon Throne. The royal family—the despotic emperor and his monstrous sons, the Three Terrors—hold the countryside in their choking grip. They bleed the land and oppress the citizens with the frightful powers they inherited from the god locked under their palace.

But that god cannot be contained forever.

With the aid of Jun, a guard broken by his guilt-stricken past, and Keema, an outcast fighting for his future, the god escapes from her royal captivity and flees from her own children, the triplet Terrors who would drag her back to her unholy prison. And so it is that she embarks with her young companions on a five-day pilgrimage in search of freedom—and a way to end the Moon Throne forever. The journey ahead will be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.

Both a sweeping adventure story and an intimate exploration of identity, legacy, and belonging, The Spear Cuts Through Water is an ambitious and profound saga that will transport and transform you—and is like nothing you’ve ever read before.

*****

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

Review:

I picked this up with absolutely no expectations other than some friends being abnormally excited it on Twitter, and damn were they right. This is, hands down, some of the most creative, evocatively written, and experimental SFF I have read in a really long time.

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Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by RF Kuang

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?

Babel — a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal response to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.

*****

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

Review:

Oh Babel, my most hyped book of 2022. There were no let downs here, only an overwhelming build of dark academia intensity until that incredible incredible finale. For any dark academia fans, this is an absolute must read.

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The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu

It has been foretold: A child will rise to defeat the Eternal Khan, a cruel immortal god-king, and save the kingdom.

The hero: Jian, who has been raised since birth in luxury and splendor, celebrated before he has won a single battle.

But the prophecy was wrong.

Because when Taishi, the greatest war artist of her generation, arrives to evaluate the prophesied hero, she finds a spoiled brat unprepared to face his destiny.

But the only force more powerful than fate is Taishi herself. Possessed of an iron will, a sharp tongue—and an unexpectedly soft heart—Taishi will find a way to forge Jian into the weapon and leader he needs to be in order to fulfill his legend.

What follows is a journey more wondrous than any prophecy can foresee: a story of master and student, assassin and revolutionary, of fallen gods and broken prophecies, and of a war between kingdoms, and love and friendship between deadly rivals.

*****

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

Review:

This is yet another book I requested for the cover art alone. Look at the way the hair flows, the highlights of gold and red! I’ve yet to uncover the artists’ name (put the name of the cover artist in your book descriptions publishers!), but it kind of looks like a Tran Nguyen piece with how the face is shaded? Cover aside, The Art of Prophecy is a solid start to an epic fantasy series inspired by wuxia, ancient China, with hints of steampunk.

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Beneath the Burning Wave by Jennifer Hayashi Danns

I was incapable of imagining what I had never seen…

Kaori and Kairi are the first twins to survive infancy on the ancient island of Mu, where gender is as fluid as the crashing waves. One was born of fire, the other of water.

But there’s a reason why none have survived before. A prophecy that has haunted the elders since time began. A rivalry destined to sink the entire island beneath a twin catastrophe of volcano and tsunami.

As hatred spills from the forbidden twins like the deadly poison of sacrificed sea snakes, they must decide what matters to them most…

The fight for the island – for tradition and duty.
Or the fight for freedom – for love and light.

*****

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

Review:

DNF @ 27%

This is now the second book I’ve read this year where an author has promised to explore how society forms when the modern understanding of gender roles is re-interpreted and immediately decides to regress to a strict cisnormative society.

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Audiobook Mini Reviews: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik, The Book of Night by Holly Black

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destablize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

*****

Review:

A bizarre mix of an imagined futuristic 25th-century utopia and 18th-century French Enlightenment Era philosophy that really shouldn’t work but holy shit it does. Mycroft Canner is perhaps the most unreliable narrator to ever unreliably narrate a story, as he retells this story to some fictional reader, filled with interjections of cultural details and pleas to the reader to ‘just put up with me, please’ (you should). We follow him as he investigates supposedly unrelated events, mentioning seemingly off-handed details for flavor text, that when the ending arrives and all those loose threads suddenly come together so seamlessly it’s literal magic. Palmer completes the impossible task of threading the needle between creating high-concept political sci-fi with so many factions and individual agents and communicating those groups and ideas to the reader in a way that is easy to follow and makes sense. This is a rare case where I think that audiobook is a terrible format for this book (especially when you’re listening at 2.3x speed). Palmer likes to play with formatting that the audiobook can’t communicate well and this is such an information-dense story that it’s worth sitting down with the text if possible. Overall, I rate this book a 5/5.

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A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows

“Stolen me? As soon to say a caged bird can be stolen by the sky.”

Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead.

Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock.

With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love—as both will learn—is quite another.

Byzantine politics, lush sexual energy, and a queer love story that is by turns sweet and sultry. A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is an exploration of gender, identity, and self-worth. It is a book that will live in your heart long after you turn the last page.

*

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

Review:

I rarely go into a book thinking I’ll dislike it. Every year without fail, Tor’s upcoming releases hype leave me incredibly hyped and I’m rarely disappointed with the outcomes. A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is one of those rare occasions of disappointment. The first 88% of this book was, if boring, lacking any outright faults. I would have walked away giving it two stars and hoping other readers found the story more compelling. And then the last twist occurs and I all but threw my Kindle across the room in sheer anger. Because I can’t fully express my thoughts without delving into the last 12%, this review will contain spoilers for the full story. Spoilers will be marked and hidden, to the best of my ability.

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The City Inside by Samit Basu

“They’d known the end times were coming but hadn’t known they’d be multiple choice.”

Joey is a Reality Controller in near-future Delhi. Her job is to supervise the multimedia multi-reality livestreams of Indi, one of South Asia’s fastest rising online celebrities—who also happens to be her college ex. Joey’s job gives her considerable culture power, but she’s too caught up in day-to-day crisis handling to see this, or to figure out what she wants from her life.

Rudra is a recluse estranged from his wealthy and powerful family, now living in an impoverished immigrant neighborhood. When his father’s death pulls him back into his family’s orbit, an impulsive job offer from Joey becomes his only escape from the life he never wanted.

But as Joey and Rudra become enmeshed in multiple conspiracies, their lives start to spin out of control—complicated by dysfunctional relationships, corporate loyalty, and the never-ending pressures of surveillance capitalism. When a bigger picture begins to unfold, they must each decide how to do the right thing in a world where simply maintaining the status quo feels like an accomplishment. Ultimately, resistance will not—cannot—take the same shape for these two very different people. 

**

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

Review:

DNF @ 17%

I think I need to give up on near-future SFF. This isn’t the first book I’ve read in the genre but something about these books just makes me roll my eyes when I read. The City Inside in particular is a difficult read due to the stream-of-consciousness narrative. Events don’t so much as happen as they are just dumped on you by our MC Joey, who I found myself increasingly annoyed at. The ‘look at how good of a leftist I am I can recognize propaganda and that social media algorithms are bad unlike everyone else in this society’ monologue is just not interesting. Complaining about a (granted stupid) company policy receiving *so many hot takes* when that’s your job?? was the last straw. A shame, especially when the cover art is so pretty. Overall, I rate a 2/5.

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A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.

Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?

*****

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

Check out my 5* review of book one, A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Review:

I’m not sure what it is about my timing and reading these books, but every damn time I end up unexpectedly crying. I write this review several months after having read it, but reader, the moment I finished this book I bought plane tickets to go home and see my family. These books are so unafraid to call you out and say, hey, you know that existential life question you’re not ready to tackle? Let’s address it head-on.

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Orbit Mini Reviews: The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah, August Kitko and the Mechas From Space by Alex White, Notorious Sorcerer by Davinia Evans

Neither here nor there, but long ago…

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

*****

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

Review:

The Stardust Thief is a delightful debut novel that weaves together storytelling a la 1001 Nights with an epic adventure. The worldbuilding here is stunning, building a rich Arab-inspired setting filled with jinn magic and supernatural monsters. With each new secret Louilie and her companions uncover, there’s a tale to show its story. Personally, I loved Qadir, Loulie’s steadfast companion and sometimes lizard. His relationship with Loulis was incredibly endearing but also Qadir on his own is just the best. Stardust Thief ends on worldbuilding cliffhanger and I can’t wait for book two! Overall I rate this a 4.5/5.

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