Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo

Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themselves far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be.

Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story—beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel—bears more than one face.

*****

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

Review:

Nghi Vo is on my auto-read list and as always, her latest novella Into the Riverlands is spectacular as always. Almost Brilliant is back as Chih ventures into the riverlands, a lawless place ruled by whoever is the current strongest martial artist, or so the stories say. This might be my favorite addition to this Singing Hills cycle yet because of the strong traditional wuxia element present throughout the entire story. The riverlands, or the jianghu, the various martial artists fighting for money and acclaim but also the element of bonds formed through shared combat. I found Into the Riverlands to be the coziest novella in the series thus far, despite any dead bodies that show up, and I enjoyed the greater insight into Chih and Almost Brilliant’s backstories. This series centers around the idea of the details in stories, and how a folktale relates to real life and naturally this book is no different. It definitely took me some time to “get” the twist, but I felt very rewarded for it. Overall, I rate this book a 5/5.

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The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang

This is the story of Misery Nomaki (she/they) – a nobody from a nowhere mining planet who possesses the rare stone-working powers of a saint. Unfortunately, these saint-like abilities also manifest in those succumbing to voidmadness, like that which killed Misery’s mother. Knowing they aren’t a saint but praying they aren’t voidmad, Misery keeps quiet about their power for years, while dreaming and scheming up ways off their Forge-forsaken planet.

But when the voice of an angel, or a very convincing delusion, leads Misery to the center of the Empire, they find themself trapped between two powerful and dangerous factions, each hoping to use Misery to win a terrible war.

Still waiting to be convinced of their own divinity and secretly training with a crew of outlaws and outcasts, Misery grows close to a rebel royal, Lady Alodia Lightning, who may know something of saints and prophecy herself. The voice that guides Misery grows bolder by the day, and it seems the madness is catching…

*****

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

Review:

I had zero knowledge of this book going in, other than my love for Yang’s writing, and man what a weird fucking book this was. Personally, I loved it. There’s a lot of aspects that really shouldn’t work, the intense religious fervor being top of that list, but somehow Yang has managed to craft a brilliant story.

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A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland

Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen’s new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.

To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.

**

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

Review:

DNF @ 35%

I try not to let my opinions of one book cloud my thoughts going into another, but after having suffered my way through Foz Meadow’s A Strang and Stubborn Endurance, the parallels were too strong to not be apprehensive. Both novels are m/m fantasy romance novels written by non-m/m writers, published by Tor imprints, with political intrigue, timid/cowardly nobility, and published within a month of each other. The comparisons are bound to happen. Frankly, if I’d read this one before Strange and Stubborn, its likely this one I would have masochistically forced my way through and the other been given the DNF. Because the same issues of romance in favor of any semblance of well-thought-through plot and low-effort worldbuilding are clearly showing.

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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 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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YA Mini Reviews: What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix by Tasha Suri and Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty

As the abandoned son of a Lascar—a sailor from India—Heathcliff has spent most of his young life maligned as an “outsider.” Now he’s been flung into an alien life in the Yorkshire moors, where he clings to his birth father’s language even though it makes the children of the house call him an animal, and the maids claim he speaks gibberish.

Catherine is the younger child of the estate’s owner, a daughter with light skin and brown curls and a mother that nobody talks about. Her father is grooming her for a place in proper society, and that’s all that matters. Catherine knows she must mold herself into someone pretty and good and marriageable, even though it might destroy her spirit.

As they occasionally flee into the moors to escape judgment and share the half-remembered language of their unknown kin, Catherine and Heathcliff come to find solace in each other. Deep down in their souls, they can feel they are the same.

But when Catherine’s father dies and the household’s treatment of Heathcliff only grows more cruel, their relationship becomes strained and threatens to unravel. For how can they ever be together, when loving each other—and indeed, loving themselves—is as good as throwing themselves into poverty and death?

*****

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

Review:

I’ll start my review by saying I’ve never read Wuthering Heights. I had no familiarity with the story going on and I only finally checked the Wikipedia summary 60% into the book. With that being said, I think I can confidently say that What Souls Are Made Of will be a delight for fans both new and old. Suri uses the scaffold of Wuthering Heights, the characters Cathy and Heathcliff, class differences and outlooks, to really explore how colonization and exploitation of India in the 1800s lead to two people losing, and re-learning, their heritage. More specifically, Suri looks at the 2nd-generation immigrant experiences, of inheriting a culture you’ve never directly interacted with, the vicious suppression of denial and ignorance. There’s such richness in the prose that brings Heathcliff and Cathy to life. I switched to the audiobook about halfway and the power in the narrators’ emotions, especially Heathcliff’s, brought this book to a whole new level. I’m taking off half a star because I didn’t really like the ending, but everything else was just a delight to read. Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5.

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Of Charms, Ghosts, and Grievances by Aliette de Bodard

It was supposed to be a holiday, with nothing more challenging than babysitting, navigating familial politics and arguing about the proper way to brew tea.

But when dragon prince Thuan and his ruthless husband Asmodeus find a corpse in a ruined shrine and a hungry ghost who is the only witness to the crime, their holiday goes from restful to high-pressure. Someone is trying to silence the ghost and everyone involved. Asmodeus wants revenge for the murder; Thuan would like everyone, including Asmodeus, to stay alive.

Chased by bloodthirsty paper charms and struggling to protect their family, Thuan and Asmodeus are going to need all the allies they can—and, as the cracks in their relationship widen, they’ll have to face the scariest challenge of all: how to bring together their two vastly different ideas of their future…

A heartwarming standalone book set in a world of dark intrigue.

*****

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

Review:

My favorite murder/scholar power couple return for another novella, and this time it’s with children and ghosts (and sometimes both). I think I’ve made it very clear through my reviews of the other books in this world (Of Dragons, Feasts, and Murders, The House of Shattered Wings) how much I adore this power couple (especially Asmodeus) and that love has only been increased with this novella. Disagreements on the proper strength of tea (sorry Asmo, but I’m siding with Thuan on this one), Thuan and Asmodeus slowly learning to communicate their issues, and more exposure to the Viet-inspired dragon kingdom under the Seine, there’s so much to love with this new installment.

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Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

It was magic. In every world, it was a kind of magic.

“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.

But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.

Siren Queen offers up an enthralling exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page. 

*****

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

Review:

By this point, I’ve firmly decided that Nghi Vo cannot write a bad book. Or even a just alright book. Siren Queen was all I wanted and more., Literary and luscious, dripping with Old Hollywood glamor underlying the menacing seductiveness of a fae bargain to stardom gone wrong.

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