Book Review – The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

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Goodreads Review:

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer. 

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

Review:

First I’d like to give a huge thanks to HarperCollinns for giving me an ARC of this book. I adore dragons and so any book about them will automatically jump to the top of my TBR list. I’m always hesitant of course because I’ve read some very bad books featuring dragons and so I always worry about how well they’ll be represented. Thankfully, this book represented them excellent and I loved the portrayal of the dragons in them.

In this world, Asha is an extremely skilled dragon hunter as dragons are evil and need to be destroyed. However, is that really the case? Are they really a threat or is something more sinister going on? As the novel progresses, we learn more about the dragons who used to be on friendly terms with humans until recently. Asha slowly goes on a journey as she learns more about herself and her history while discovering the truth about Dragons.

As already mentioned, the portrayal of dragons in this book is fantastic. One particular piece of worldbuilding I loved was the fact that telling the ancient stories was forbidden as it drew dragons and I just really enjoy the concept of dragons being big fans of storytelling. It conjures up an image of a cosy hearth with a large dragon reading to a bunch of tiny baby dragons and if I was able to draw, I could definitely see myself doing a lot of fan art for this novel.

The characters are excellent and I love the interactions between them. In particular, I really enjoyed the portrayal of Asha’s father and their relationship and seeing how it developed throughout the novel.

I read this book in one sitting as I just could not put it down and upon finishing it, my main thought was “Oh no, because I got this as an ARC I have to wait even longer than most people until the second one!”. My review for this is a bit late as I didn’t want to publish it too early (and so ended up being too late) but I’ve got it out now! I highly highly recommend this book and I can see it earning a place amongst my favourite books of the year if I end up making a list.

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Book Review – HWJN by Ibraheem Abbas

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Goodreads Synopsis:

HWJN is the #1 selling Arabic book in Saudi, it is a mix between fantasy, SciFi and romance. While most people get excited about legends of spirits and genies (Jinn) and pass it on as they listen to it with awe and horror (after adding their own spices to it); here comes Hawjan. The young Jinni who is in his early nineties to redefine our understanding of the Jinn world that resembles ours in so many ways, still it is a parallel dimension to ours. He shares his tale so that we can live it through a “human” perspective regardless of the differences between our two worlds.
As human populations expand Hawjan found himself surrounded by humans who had built a housing complex in the area surrounding his village forcing him, his mother and grandfather to live in one of these villas that is now haunted by humans. Hawjan’s efforts to avoid interacting with the human family had failed, finding himself madly in love with Sawsan the human, Sawsan was a medical student, gentle and brilliant, barely a quarter of his age. Hawjan was unable to let her know about his feelings until he learned how to communicate with Sawsan through the Ouija board. He found out about her brain cancer that she had hidden from everyone including her family. As Sawsan’s suffering increased and her health deteriorated her father was easy prey for a sorcerer who tricked him into believing that Sawsan’s illness was a result of the devils who had haunted their new home, and so a deadly battle between Hawjan and the devils and sorcerer who had tried extort money from Sawsan’s father. With the help of Eyad (Sawsan’s colleague) who had agreed to Hawjan possessing him so that they would both risk their lives to save Sawsan and her father.

Review:

So, I found out about this book when writing my post about Muslim Sci-Fi to check out and I recently got a comment from the co-author, Yasser Bahjatt, saying he would be honoured to read my reviews of his books and so I just had to get it along with Yaqteenya which I’ll be reading and reviewing soon. I chose to read this one first because I really enjoy stories with Jinn in them and because it’s also a perfect fit for Saudi Arabia for my Read Around the World challenge.

To start off, as this book was originally written in Arabic I am naturally reading a translation. The English translation is very well done and was a pleasure to read. I noticed a lot of reviews on GR in Arabic that complained about the language used however because I am not reading the Arabic version, this was never an issue to me so if those lower reviews put you off, run a few through Google Translate first as the majority of the issues were purely with the language.

I’m a big fan of Jinn in stories and so I was thrilled that this book was written from the perspective of a Jinn named Hawjan. Hawjan’s family home has recently become “haunted” by humans moving in to the area and so although his mother and grandfather move to the roof to escape them, Hawjan lingers in the room that used to be his which now belongs to Sawsan, a young medical student. Hawjan begins to grow close to Sawsan and when one of her friends brings an Ouija Board, he is excited to have the chance to communicate with her. The novel follows the story of their growing friendship and the challenges Hawjan faces in order to protect her from the much more dangerous Jinn.

The worldbuilding in this was excellent. I am unaware how much of it was based on myths and how much was the authors own imagination but the world that was described was brilliant and I loved the differences between the Jinn world and our own. One aspect in particular I liked was the fact that it mentioned that Jinn could be all sorts of different religions. Hawjan himself is a Muslim Jinn and descended from a Jinn that met the Prophet. This plays an important role in the story and it was very interesting to see supernatural characters be represented as also religious in a very natural fashion.

If you are looking to try reading some Fantasy/Sci-Fi in translation then this is an excellent place to start. It’s brilliant for #muslimshelfspace and if you’re looking to expand your horizons and read books from other countries then it’s a great pick. Even then, if you’re simply looking for a nice enjoyable story then I highly recommend this. I could barely put it down and managed to finish it very quickly as I enjoyed it so much.

Book Review – This Savage Song by V.E Schwab

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Kate Harker and August Flynn’s families rule opposite ends of Verity, a grisly metropolis where violent acts summon real monsters: bloodsucking Malchai; clawing Corsai; and soul-stealing Sunai. The truce that keeps the families at peace is crumbling, and August is sent to spy on Kate. But when Harker’s men try to kill her and pin it on the Flynns, August and Kate find themselves running from both sides, in a city where monsters are real…

Review:

A lot of people I follow are huge fans of V.E. Schwab and so she’s been on my to-read list for ages. I finally picked up this book during a sale on Amazon as I mistakenly thought it was a stand-alone novel and thought it would be a great introduction. Alas, I was wrong about it not being part of a series but it certainly was a great choice for a good introduction as I ended up loving it.

I’m a sucker for worldbuilding and this dystopian city split in half and stalked by monsters was something that fascinated me. The idea of actions actually having consequences and creating monsters is a fantastic idea and V.E. Schwab develops it really well in this novel. Indeed, I was rather disappointed actually that we didn’t get to spend more time learning about the world as it was brilliant although hopefully there will be more of that in the next book!

The characters though, the characters are where it really shines. You have your classic guy and girl from opposing sides meet and sparks fly, but in this case it seems purely a platonic friendship which I really enjoyed reading about. I’m really hoping that their relationship remains platonic in the next book as the lack of an awkward romantic subplot is what appealed to me most about the book. The rest of the characters are all excellent too and again I’m hoping we get to see more of them in the second book.

I’m not going to say much about the plot because I went into this book completely blind knowing nothing about the plot and adored it, and so I would like people reading this review to be able to have that same experience.

I definitely recommend this book, although I doubt I really need to do that given how many people I know who adore V.E. Schwab. Fun fact – she almost lived with my boyfriend quite a few years ago but they ended up choosing somebody else instead as their flatmate!

Book Review – Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation is the first anthology to broadly collect solarpunk short fiction, artwork, and poetry. A new genre for the 21st Century, solarpunk is a revolution against despair. Focusing on solutions to environmental disasters, solarpunk envisions a future of green, sustainable energy used by societies that value inclusiveness, cooperation, and personal freedom. 

Edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland, Sunvault focuses on the stories of those inhabiting the crucial moments when great change can be made by people with the right tools; stories of people living during tipping points, and the spaces before and after them; and stories of those who fight to effect change and seek solutions to ecological disruption.

Review:

I’m a huge fan of Solarpunk, I really enjoy the aesthetics of it and so when I saw this anthology I knew I just had to get it. I consider myself very lucky to have received a copy of the ARC and it’s a book that took me a while to get through as I wanted to savour each story.Firstly,

Firstly, this is not just a collection of short stories. Poems and art also feature in this collection and so for that reason I would recommend a physical edition if possible. My Kindle is rather old and in black and white and so I was not able to fully appreciate the artwork although hopefully it’ll look better on newer Kindles. I’m also not a fan of reading poetry on Kindles as I feel the layout of the page is very important and I just prefer having it in physical form.

As this is a collection, I don’t want to discuss any of the pieces in too much detail as I feel that as with any collection, everybody will have different likes and dislikes and so if I focus on what I enjoyed, it might put some people off due to having different tastes. I will say that the stories covered a wide range of scenarios and I adored seeing all the futures that the authors had imagined. One in particular, involved living in shuttles in different layers of the atmosphere, was a setting I particularly enjoyed.

Indeed, I feel that the only complaint I can have about this book is that it has left me with a huge hunger for more Solarpunk stories which I know is going to be difficult to fill. If you know any, I would be more than happy to receive recommendations from you!

Anyway, this is a collection that I highly, highly recommend to anybody who enjoys Sci-Fi or is interested in Solarpunk. If you don’t know what Solarpunk is, then I highly recommend reading up on it because it’s by far one of my favourite genres and leads to some incredibly beautiful artwork.

Book Review – Iraq +100 ed. by Hassan Blasim

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Iraq + 100 poses a question to ten Iraqi writers: what might your country look like in the year 2103 – a century after the disastrous American- and British-led invasion, and 87 years down the line from its current, nightmarish battle for survival? How might the effects of that one intervention reach across a century of repercussions, and shape the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens, or influence its economy, culture, or politics? Might Iraq have finally escaped the cycle of invasion and violence triggered by 2003 and, if so, what would a new, free Iraq look like? 

Covering a range of approaches – from science fiction, to allegory, to magic realism – these stories use the blank canvas of the future to explore the nation’s hopes and fears in equal measure. Along the way a new aesthetic for the ‘Iraqi fantastical’ begins to emerge: thus we meet time-travelling angels, technophobic dictators, talking statues, macabre museum-worlds, even hovering tiger-droids, and all the time buoyed by a dark, inventive humour that, in itself, offers hope.

Review:

First I’d like to thank Macmillan-Tor for the ARC of this book. It had been on my to-read list for a while as it looked perfect for my Read Around the World challenge and so when I saw it was being re-released I jumped at the chance to get an ARC.

This is a collection of short stories all set 100 years in the future and all written by Iraqi authors and translated by a variety of translators. It’s incredibly fascinating to see all the different ideas they have about what Iraq will be like in the future as they are all so different and varied – and I found it amusing that quite a few all ended up with the same ideas for the US.

Because it’s a collection of short stories, it’s naturally hard to discuss too much without spoiling them but I will say that I really enjoyed all the stories in this collection. Some were definitely stronger than others, but they were all excellent and it was very refreshing to read about Iraq from the perspectives of those who live there themselves rather than from a Western perspective.

This book is a perfect choice for those wanting to read more Muslim authors and I’m very pleased to use it as my pick for Iraq on my Around the World challenge. There is also a fantastic introduction to the collection which discusses the literary scene in Iraq which was very interesting.

Book Review – Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

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Goodreads Synopsis:

An apprentice sorceress is dragged into a vicious quest across an endless sky in this Star Wars-inspired space fantasy

The Axiom Diamond is a mythical relic, with the power to show its bearer any truth they desire. Men have sought for it across many continents for centuries, but in vain. When trainee sorceress Aimee de Laurent’s first ever portal-casting goes awry, she and her mentor are thrown into the race to find the gem, on the skyship Elysium. Opposing them are the infamous magic-wielding knights of the Eternal Order and their ruthless commander, Lord Azrael, who will destroy everything in their path…

Review:

First I’d like to thank Angry Robot for giving my an eARC of this book which turned out to be much better than I ever thought. I saw it and thought “Hmm, space fantasy sounds fun – especially with skyships!”. I was expecting something steampunky and fun, but I didn’t expect it to be just as fun as great as it turned out to be.

Several other reviews have described this as being Final Fantasy crossed with various other franchises and I would definitely have to agree. I am a huge fan of Final Fantasy games and I could see a lot in this novel that could have been inspired by various games.

The plot revolves around trying to protect the Axiom diamond to stop the Knights of the Eternal Order getting it. The characters are just fantastic and I had so much fun reading about their adventure that honestly the second book could just be them chilling at a bar talking about life in their world and I’d still love to read it. The worldbuilding is brilliant and is something I hope we get to see more of in future books because I’d love to learn more about the magic systems and about the history of the worlds.

It’s hard to write a good review of this book because the entire time I was reading it, I was just having so much fun and couldn’t put it down, but that meant that I didn’t pay as close attention to things as I usually would when planning on reviewing it. However, I’d say that’s a very good sign given that I enjoyed it too much to focus on how good it was at various things.

I already know several people who I’m going to make read this when it comes out, and I can’t wait on the next book. This is a book that I would very highly recommend and is one that I will happily re-read multiple times. If you enjoy Fantasy or Sci-Fi, I would definitely suggest giving this a chance. It’s a fast and fun read and I just had so much fun reading it.

Book Review – Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Stories to Captivate the Imagination: Welcome to the worlds of Saladin Ahmed
A medieval physician asked to do the impossible. A gun slinging Muslim wizard in the old West. A disgruntled super villain pining for prison reform. A cybernetic soldier who might or might not be receiving messages from God. Prepare yourself to be transported to new and fantastical worlds.

The short stories in this collection have been nominated for the Nebula and Campbell awards. They’ve been reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and other anthologies, recorded for numerous podcasts, and translated into several foreign languages. Now they are collected in one place for the first time. Experience for yourself the original voice of one of fantasy’s rising stars!

Review:

I was looking through a huge list of SFF short story collections and when I saw this, I just had to get it. I really enjoyed Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed and so knowing he had a short story collection, I needed to read it. Even if I wasn’t already a fan though, that description is incredible. I read it aloud to my partner and he immediately got the book too. Did I mention the best thing about this collection? It’s currently free on Amazon so it’s super accessible to everybody!

As they’re all short stories, I’m not going to discuss them much as I find reviewing collections of short stories difficult as it’s hard to review a short story without spoilers. I will say however that his writing is absolutely delightful and I enjoyed every single story in this collection. It’s very difficult to choose a favourite too as they were all so brilliant. Two of the stories are set in the world of his novel, however even if you haven’t read it you will still be able to enjoy them as stand-alone short stories.

I would highly recommend this collection of short stories to anybody who enjoys SFF, it’s very diverse and presents stories from different viewpoints than we usually get to read in this genre. It’s especially useful for anybody who was interested in the #MuslimShelfSpace challenge on twitter.

Book Review – Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes by Krista D. Ball

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Get ready to step into the back alleys of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens’s London, and explore the alternative worlds of steampunk in this new guide book by fantasy author Krista D. Ball. Ball takes readers on a fascinating journey into the world of the Have-Nots, and explores the bustling, crime-ridden London during the Georgian and Victorian eras. Discover the world of knocker-uppers (it’s not what you think), mudlarks, and costermongers. Learn how to scrub floors and polish knives, pick for bones, and catch rats. Learn about race and social status, and the difference between a lady’s maid and a scullery maid. With her usual wit, insight, and snark, Ball gives historical, romance, and steampunk authors the tools to create vibrant, realistic worlds. Whether you’re an author, a Janeite, or just a fan of history, Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes gives you a fresh look into the dark past.

Review:

So, one of the Fantasy Bingo squares is non-fiction relating to Fantasy and so this was my pick for it. I got a free copy from the author during a celebration of 2 years since she quit her job to focus on writing and finally got around to reading it.

This is a very well researched book and I would highly recommend it to anybody thinking of writing a novel in this time period. It’s clear that a lot of work has gone into it and the endnotes and bibliography are fantastic (I adore books with great bibliographies and the bonus for this one is that a lot of the books mentioned are now in the public domain)

What makes this stand out though is the author, it reads like you’re sitting with your friend in the pub and she’s excitedly telling you all these awesome facts that she recently learned while doing research for her novel. The author has such a great voice and includes plenty of humour amongst the facts – I also particularly enjoyed reading about trying to re-create the experiences such as follow old recipes and cleaning in a period outfit. I’m a big fan of history and this was a fantastic and vivid way of bringing it to life, it almost makes me want to start writing a novel set in Victorian London just so I can use all this new knowledge!

If you’re taking part in the Fantasy Bingo, I highly recommend this for the non-fiction square. If you enjoy history or are planning on writing a novel set during this time period then I recommend this as a source of excellent information with a good bibliography to lead you to further sources. Finally, if you don’t like reading non-fiction because you think it’s not as interesting, I recommend this as it had me hooked! Basically, I adored this book and would highly recommend it to everybody.

Book Review – Embassytown by China Miéville

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak. Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language. When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.

Review:

I’m a big fan of Miéville’s work and am slowly working my way through all of his books. This one was recommended to me because it focuses on Language and well, that sounded fascinating so I just had to read it! Like all his books, these are novels that you don’t read quickly as there’s just so much to take in. It took me ages to read this book as I got interrupted halfway through and as it requires a lot of concentration, I’d just been too tired from work. Finally though, I finished it and it was absolutely brilliant, as I’ve come to expect from him.

The main character, Avice, is a simile. When she was a child, the Hosts or Ariekei, made her perform certain actions so that they could then use her in their language to express abstract ideas. In the Ariekei language, speech is thought and so they cannot lie and rely on the humans to express more complex ideas. The main focus of the novel is that of Language and how it works. It’s linguistically fascinating due to the fact that it requires two humans, in perfect sync, to be able to speak it and these are known as Ambassadors. These Ambassadors are usually bred specifically for the task and are identical clones of each other, undergoing alterations each day to ensure they continue to look identical.

I was absolutely enthralled by this novel and honestly, even if the plot was awful I would have enjoyed it just for all the interesting analysis of how language works. Luckily, the plot is excellent and explores what happens when a new Ambassador arrives who is unlike any of the previous ones.

It’s rather difficult to talk in too much detail about what happens but the worldbuilding, as always with Miéville is absolutely fantastic and is the main reason I continue to read his work. The descriptions manage to constantly convey that slightly alien feeling about the world and the inhabitants. We slowly learn more as the book goes on and it’s a constant delight and full of surprises.

I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of SFF, as I’m a huge fan of Miéville. His work is challenging so I recognise that it’s not for everybody, but it’s definitely worth it and I recommend sticking with it as it just kept getting better and better the more I read.

Book Review – The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers’ attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now, thanks to Hermione Granger’s new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J. K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore. 

Never before have Muggles been privy to these richly imaginative tales: “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump,” and of course, “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” But not only are they the equal of fairy tales we now know and love, reading them gives new insight into the world of Harry Potter.

Review:

Despite being a big fan of Harry Potter, I somehow never got around to reading it when it came out and then just kinda forgot about it. Luckily, thanks to the Down the TBR Tag I decided to request it from the library to get it off the list, especially since it’s a very short book so didn’t take me long at all.

The stories in this book are okay, they’re nothing particularly special compared to most fairy tales. However, where this book really shines is the fact that the tales contain commentary written by Dumbledore with comments about the academic value of these texts and the history of the various translations. This is actually very similar to what I did at Uni (except I studied medieval Irish tales instead of ones from the Wizarding World) and so I loved it. There’s also various little notes and lovely illustrations in the book.

I can’t believe it took me this long to finally read it, and I would definitely recommend this to any fans of Harry Potter. If you’re not a fan, it’s probably not something you would enjoy as on their own as there are much better fairytales out there but you might still enjoy it for the comments afterwords.