PositiveTor.comThis is a book about the women of Arthur’s court, and the men are a little less interesting. Arguably, Arthur doesn’t need to be interesting. He’s a figurehead, a symbol, a walking legend ... At times, Elaine’s voice can be distractingly modern ... But overall, the story has an out-of-time feel, as if its characters have one foot in a fantastical ancient world and another in a time more like the present. The shiftiness makes sense with Elaine’s visions; time is weird for her in general. But it can keep the book’s world from feeling entirely solid. If you sink into Half Sick of Shadows, it has a stately, thoughtful, almost alluringly drowsy feel, like a strange dream on a hot day. It can be a little slow and repetitive, but in the days after I finished the book, Elaine stayed with me. Her perseverance is a quiet kind rarely given center stage, but she holds onto the story, even as her friends are doing extremely dramatic things, and her level-headed narration and determination lead to an end that both is and isn’t what’s expected. To hold on to that kind of yes-and-no ending, where it feels like many outcomes are happening at once, feels entirely right for the story of one of the women behind the once and future king.
PositiveTordotcomEngrossing, horrifying, and vivid, Kerstin Hall’s debut novel Star Eater is a hard one to talk about. This is in part simply because there’s so much there there—so much inventive worldbuilding, so much carefully structured power, so many things I want to exclaim over. As with many complicated things, it’s occasionally boiled down to something both accurate and not ... Star Eater expects you to pay attention from the very first scene, when we meet Acolyte Elfreda Raughn in the midst of what ought to be a typical day ... There are no infodumps here, but there is a lot of backstory, carefully woven into the plot and revealed gradually as Elfreda is swept up into a complicated conspiracy that reaches to the very center of her world.
RaveTor.comI’m ready to crown Pinsker the master of a certain kind of personal, human-sized, just-out-of-our-realm-of-experience SF ... Satellites has the precise, tempered pace of a book in which each word seems the only word that could have followed the one before it. The clarity of the writing leaves room for a density of ideas—about brain plasticity and access and truth and corporate responsibility; addiction and freedom and trust lost and regained; what a family is and how its members can love and infuriate each other in sometimes equal measure. What’s stuck in my head, though, is Pinsker’s thoughtful consideration of the things we tend to take for granted—who can and can’t take \'everyday\' things for granted, and what that means on a larger scale ... We Are Satellites isn’t a didactic book against tech or new toys, but a graceful exploration of what one seemingly small change means for one family.
MixedTor.comWe rarely hear about what happened to Ariadne after the labyrinth. There are varying stories, and more than one ending for the daughter of Minos and Pasiphae. But you don’t really need to know any of them to understand Jennifer Saint’s debut novel, Ariadne. Packed with myth and tales of misbehaving gods, it is—for better and for worse—a detailed filling-out of the ways Ariadne and her fellow women suffer at the hands of the ancient, mythological patriarchy ... Saint knows her mythology backwards and forwards and barefoot and sauntering off into the trees for bloody rituals, but her tale rarely strays from the expected path. I struggled with Ariadne for several reasons, and one of them is simply that it’s very traditional ... Saint’s style is at once cluttered and formal, with the contraction-avoidance of a certain stripe of fantasy and a tendency for characters to call or ask or shrill or sputter their words. A kind of pulpy richness runs throughout, and makes the story feel distant rather than affecting—a frill of overwrought imagery keeping us from the emotional center of her characters ... Ariadne, in contrast, feels more like a cover song than a new melody. If you like the song already, you may find much to like here. There’s no harm in listening to the same tune on repeat—but you may also feel that an opportunity to do something fresh was missed.
RaveTor.com... part mystery, part gamer-geek-out, part scream of rage at corporate culture and capitalist greed. Mal knows her world is a mess, but she’s never seen any hope of it changing—let alone hoped that she could change it ... She’s believably torn between fear and the certainty that the scary thing is the right thing to do ... part of the delight of reading Firebreak is unraveling secrets along with Mal, whose oh-shit-what-have-I-gotten-myself-into-now narration is immersive, endearing, and wry and, as things go ever further sideways, increasingly intense in a way that’s perfectly matched to the book’s video-game aspect. The intensity of the plot is carefully balanced by the strength and depth of the friendships among Kornher-Stace’s characters ... This world feels real; this world is real, and not that far away. Firebreak reads like a warning, but one that’s simultaneously a gripping, affecting tale full of characters I hope we’ll get to meet again.
Sarah J. Maas
MixedTor.comLike other Sarah J. Maas heroines before her, Nesta arrives at her own book, A Court of Silver Flames, with baggage and trauma and so much to work through—as well as a smoldering will-they-won’t-they-obviously-they-will tendency to banter with a certain Illyrian warrior. At a chonky 700+ pages, Silver Flames is far more journey than destination.The thing about this journey is that it seems to lose sight of Nesta along the way ... In the end, I wanted to like A Court of Silver Flames so much more than I did ... It’s a difficult line to walk, making external forces relevant to—but not responsible for—emotional healing, and on that front, Maas succeeds.
RaveTor.comSzabo is upfront about the wolves suggested by the book’s title; they run through the trees in the very first pages. But other, less familiar creatures lurk in these pages, and it takes time—deliciously well-spent time—to understand how Szabo is using familiar images and types to tell their own kind of coming-of-age story. Yes, there’s a grandmother whose warnings ought to be heeded—but there’s a lot more, too, in this slinky and dark YA horror fantasy about love and desire and family secrets ... Eleanor Zarrin’s grandparents came to this country from across the ocean; their history, laden with crows and witches and islands, forms part of Szabo’s deliciously rich aesthetic. Szabo paints in jewel tones ... Just a few pages in, you’re settled in an in-between state, real and unreal, magic and earthly ... Szabo lets us see Eleanor’s mistakes as she makes them, lets us understand how badly she craves belonging and love after a lifetime of being the odd one out ... What Big Teeth is purposefully paced and absolutely full of longing: longing to understand oneself, to have a place in the world, to be part of a family in a way that feels real and true and secure. It’s a book about desire, and how baffling and contradictory desire can feel, how it can blur into a sense of wanting to consume or be consumed. It’s about knowing where the lines are between you and the people and things you love, and how to maintain those boundaries and your own malleable sense of self. These things echo through decades and generations, though the haunting story of Eleanor’s grandparents all the way to the book’s blazing finale ... Szabo packs so much into this strange, compelling, enchanting book: gorgeous imagery, dextrous use of tropes (the meddling grandmother, the handsome schoolteacher, the witch in a castle, and so many more), a mythic streak, and a surprising physicality. It’s not the wolves who feel muscular and raw, but Eleanor, with her contradictory desires, her drive to help free everyone from a heavy past.
RaveTor.comSummaries don’t capture the weight of worlds, the yearning for home, the driving force of stories within this story. It’s a fairy tale without fairies, a book that uses the irrefutable logic of the fairytale form: This is how it happened. Magic simply is. Tidbeck’s tale is a quest and a trap, a two-pronged narrative in which two children find their way out of a timeless world—while one’s former keeper desperately seeks a way back in. It made me feel as if I’d been let in on a secret by someone who understands more mysteries of the world than I do, and it left me grateful for the experience of reading. ... A nesting doll of interconnected worlds and lives, a kaleidoscopic reflection of our reality, made magical and strange. It’s about names, and freedom, and repeating the past; it’s about finding your place in the world, telling necessary stories, and the power of crossroads. Maybe it’s just a story. But it’s the kind of story that feels true ... Tidbeck is never prescriptive, but writes with grace and economy, dipping into more lush phrases when she needs them ... The Memory Theater tells the stories the world needs to remember. Its four players mostly have titles for names—Director, Journeyman, Apprentice, and, for some reason, Nestor. When they perform, they become their roles, regardless of age or gender or even species. They are transformed in the act of telling, performing scripts that simply appear in their playbook. It’s a dream of creative life: work that is necessary, transformative, true, and needed. Each role is vitally important, especially the still-learning Apprentice, who provides hope ... rich, multiversal, all-encompassing.
MixedTor.comThe story Gornichec creates for Angrboda is meaningful, pensive, and powerful, but at times her prose doesn’t quite match up. Her language is simple and straightforward in a way that keeps the narrative in the realm of larger-than-life stories—but it can also leave her characters’ inner lives somewhat opaque ... there are plenty of scenes to delight fans already familiar with the stories Gornichec is working from ... Gornichec knows her material...and knows her heroine. She makes a patient argument that love and motherhood are adventures equal to any god’s shenanigans, and always finds a way to bring her female characters to a truce; more often than not, it’s the whims and foibles of met that set them at odds with each other anyway. Still, it never feels like the reader is brought all the way in to Angrboda’s story, but left just shy of its depths, like the witch hovering above the deep well of her power.
PositiveTor.comA Wild Winter Swan, like so many of Maguire’s novels, could have been crafted in a lab with me in mind: a fairy tale retold! An inventive lonely heroine! A touch of magic in a recognizable world! And yet, it left me a little out in the cold. That isn’t to say that Maguire’s charms aren’t evident. He leans beautifully into imagery of owls and snow, holiday garlands and howling winds, elaborate meals prepared and yet not eaten ... He will set you up just to knock you over, again and again and in every one of his books; everything beautiful comes with a sharp edge ... A Wild Winter Swan is a slim little book, a fairy tale stretched and reshaped into a 20th century American tale about immigration, success, family, and growth. It’s featherlight but sharply detailed, and for all Nonna’s passion, there’s a coolness to the way Maguire spins out his yarn. Here and there, a dated word choice knocked me out of the story, but it was always Laura, crankily enduring her own coming-of-age, who brought me back in.
Sarah J. Maas
MixedTor.comMaas’s first venture into fiction for grown adults, not young adults, but if you were expecting that to mean more sexytimes, you will be disappointed. Mostly it means that the heroine has a job and some responsibilities, that the violence is more detailed, and that everyone swears a lot more ... There are exceptions, of course, but the ballerina faun largely vanishes from the narrative, and Bryce’s sweet fire sprite colleague is lovely but a bit one-note ... Maas’s plotting has never been more intricate. Some clues are laid early and overtly, but the payoff is slow and effective, and the finale more explosive than any in Maas’s previous books. Hunt and Bryce are quickly drawn to each other, but their relationship has a satisfyingly slow build that Maas neatly depicts through sweetly mundane moments ... But it’s still hard to shake the sense that a lot of this is familiar ... No one is anything less than beautiful; almost no one is less than deadly ... would probably be an interesting place to start if you’ve not read Maas before; its 800+ pages pass at a steady clip, and there’s much to admire in the setting and plotting. If you’re a hardcore Maas fan, this is obviously for you. If you’re on the fence, as I was after the Thorns and Roses books, the similarities in her storytelling may make this one less appealing ...That said, I still want to know what happens next.