Senlin Ascends

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The Tower of Babel stretches up into the clouds so far that no one on the ground can see the top. While Senlin has taught his students about the tower, he has never been there himself. However, he and his new bride Marya are heading to the Tower for their honeymoon. The Tower is advertised as an exotic entertainment paradise with shops, plays, baths, and much more in each of the floors or “ringdoms.” However, Senlin very quickly loses his bride in the crowds around the Tower. Senlin makes his way up the Tower alone in order to hopefully reunite his wife.

This series is getting rave reviews on Goodreads, and I’ve seen it popping on a few “underrated reads” lists too. Considering the book is a little odd and meandering, I am surprised at the high reviews. I often read weird books, and they often have middling to low ratings because of their oddities, but that isn’t the case here. Maybe this isn’t the right kind of weird for me because I just couldn’t get into the book.

As I said, the plot is a bit all over the place. Shortly after the book begins Senlin loses his wife. I wouldn’t have been nearly as calm or collected as Senlin if this happened to me, and all he has to go on is an itinerary that he and his wife agreed to follow and his wife’s last words about meeting her at the top of the tower if they get lost. I’m not sure what I would do in that situation, but I don’t think I would continue with the planned activities if it were my spouse who got lost in this strange and sometimes frightening place. However, the ringdoms were interesting and described in good detail. Senlin’s journey has some surprising twists within it because the Tower is not what he expected from his research. I can tell the author put a lot of creativity into the development of the Tower.

As Senlin goes up through the ringdoms of the tower he encounters thieves, murderous actors, harsh punishments for those who break the rules, and only a handful of trustworthy people. We see Marya only through Senlin’s memories as he thinks back on how they met, courted, and married. I disliked this as it felt like Marya was reduced to being the quest item Senlin seeks instead of his beloved wife who is missing in an unfamiliar and dangerous place. The secondary characters that he met along the way had personality and were fairly memorable. Senlin himself is a headmaster who is serious, timid, and at times naive. I did not connect with him as a character and found myself wishing that Marya was the one on the quest to save Senlin. As much as I give Senlin a hard time, his character developed as he climbed the tower. He becomes less timid and can use his intelligence effectively.

You’ve probably noticed that the review is fairly positive, but I gave the book an unexciting rating of three stars. Many readers will find this to be a refreshingly unique book, but I’ve concluded it just wasn’t right for me.

The Tiger’s Daughter

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This was the third and final book that was recommended by Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR).

O-Shizuka is the last member of her royal bloodline in the Hokkaran empire, and she is a fierce warrior empress who isn’t afraid to go against her family. Barsalayaa Shefali is an equally fierce member of the nomadic Qorin tribe who is a very accomplished mounted markswoman from a young age. O-Shizuka and Shefali’s parents were friends, and their daughters were raised together for many of their formative years, making the bond between the women very strong. As they came of age it became clear that demons were returning to their lands and threatening their people. O-Shizuka and Shefali believe that they can rid the world of the demon threat if they are fighting side by side, but the demons are not the only threat they will need to worry about.

This is a tough one! Give me an Asian-inspired fantasy any day, but this also promised a Lesbian romance! So, why didn’t I enjoy it? For one, the novel was mostly written in the form of a letter from Barsalayaa Shefali to O-Shizuka. From the start, we know that they grew up together, but they are now separated. The letter tells us why, but it is written in second person. I can imagine that some readers will dislike the fact that it is written in second person, but what bothered me more was that the letter recounts everything. If this were actually a letter to O-Shizuka, would Shefali really recount every instance of them together like this? Shefali’s perspective obviously would give O-Shizuka some insight into her lover’s mind all those years ago, but at times I felt that the amount of detail included in the letter would be redundant to O-Shizuka if she were indeed the reader.

My other main issue was that the Asian influence wasn’t utilized in the best or most respectful way. However, I will let the top review on Goodreads that explains the cultural issues speak for itself. I am not from the cultures that the novel is inspired by, nor am I an expert myself, but from what little I do know, a few of the aspects mentioned in the linked review bothered me too. Maybe you feel differently? Feel free to comment on this post if so because I’d love to hear about more perspectives on this to educate myself better.

That aside, I did enjoy parts of this reading experience. I haven’t read a lot of epic fantasy that has had lesbian romances, and I actually liked the romance itself. It is clear that the warrior women are very committed to each other, and they are stronger, both mentally and physically, than many of the other characters give them credit for. Their romance is fiery and bold, and I loved that. Although, personally, I just prefer romance as a subplot in fantasy, so I wanted more of the fighting and demons in addition to the romance. I also enjoyed what we saw of the characters’ abilities in battle and in magic, but I just wanted to see more of it all! The magic isn’t well explained in the first book, but since this is a trilogy, there is a lot of room for development and growth of these aspects in the subsequent novels.

All that being said, I am not overly excited to read the second book in this series after finishing the first. The Tiger’s Daughter was just a three star read for me, but if you prefer more romance in your fantasy and don’t mind the somewhat epistolary format of the novel, you might enjoy this book more.

 

The Night Tiger

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This was the second book I was recommended by Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR).

The Night Tiger follows two characters in 1930’s Malaysia, Ren and Ji Lin. Ren is a houseboy who assists doctors practicing medicine in Malaysia. Before Ren’s first master died, he told the boy that he needed to be reunited with his severed finger within 49 days of his death. Otherwise, his master’s spirit would restlessly roam the world forever. Ren is also haunted by strange dreams of his dead twin brother. Ji Lin dreams of being a doctor, but she is held back because she is female, her family’s personal problems, and her mother’s gambling debts. Because of all this, Ji Lin works as a dancehall girl to escape her household and earn money for her mother. Though she only dances with her customers, being a dancehall girl has negative connotations, which complicates her romantic prospects as well. Through mysterious circumstances and a dream-like connection, Ren and Ji Lin’s worlds collide.

This book ticked so many of my boxes. First, the writing was just my style. There were some beautifully written and descriptive lines, though nothing was overly flowery, and the way the mythology was incorporated in the narrative seamlessly blended it with reality. If you like books that are unclear whether the magical realism parts are real or not, you’ll enjoy this aspect in The Night Tiger. It felt like there was more distance between the characters and the reader in the structure of the narrative than I would have liked, but the characters themselves are well written and believable. Ren’s chapters are in third person perspective, while Ji Lin’s are in first person. The way the author plays with their perspectives was also very interesting. For example, a secondary character might be viewed very differently by Ren and Ji Lin because they have had different experiences with that character. These different experiences impact the way the characters act in events and dialogue.

The plot and pacing were also well constructed. The plot is primarily driven by the mystery of the missing finger with its magical realism elements peppered in, but along the way we see that Ren and Ji Lin have problems in their personal lives. I found it easy to be invested in their struggles, and I enjoyed seeing how the mystery impacted their lives and their futures. I found the pacing steady but slightly on the slower, more literary side. There is a romance that develops, and I found it to be a satisfyingly slow-ish burn, which I really liked.

This book will definitely be one of my favorites from this year. I would give it 4.5 stars out of 5. Although, maybe I should just give it 5 since I’m not sure how to express what I didn’t like about the novel. Either way, I would highly recommend this to lovers of quiet, magical realism novels that have historic and mythological influences.

 

Mexican Gothic

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Earlier this year I read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel Gods of Jade and Shadow, which I really enjoyed but had a few minor problems with. However, I think Mexican Gothic really shows the writing talent that Moreno-Garcia has, and she seems to be getting a lot of well-deserved hype for her newest novel.

Mexican Gothic takes place in Mexico in the 1950’s. Noemí Taboada loves parties, fashion, and flirting, but when her father takes her aside and tells her that her cousin, Catalina, has sent an erratic, strange letter, Noemí gives up her city life to visit her cousin in the Mexican countryside. Catalina had married into an English family (the Doyles) a few years before and moved into her husband’s family home called High Place. Once upon a time High Place was funded by a bustling, rich silver mining operation that employed many locals. Now High Place is a rundown, moldy mess of a house with no electricity and only a few silent servants. Catalina’s new family claims she is sick with tuberculosis, but Noemí has other suspicions. Noemí must navigate the family’s strange rules, the possibly haunted house, and the patriarch’s odd beliefs in order to find out what has happened to her cousin.

My personal life has been very stressful lately, which has greatly impacted my reading. I guess I’ve been in a reading slump, but this book pulled me out of it. I could not put it down once I got past the first few chapters! It felt like each chapter hinted a little at what was going on in High Place, and I kept thinking “just one more chapter, I’ll get some answers, then I’ll stop.” The sense of suspense and unease was woven throughout the narrative, and I really wasn’t sure if the author would kill off the characters I liked. The novel was very atmospheric. I’d call it “creepily claustrophobic.” I really enjoyed the novel’s pacing and the tension was addictive. The climax was satisfying, and the explanation for all the strange events was delightfully devious, if unsettling.

I also really enjoyed the characters, but Noemí was of course my favorite. I loved how she was so un-apologetically herself. She liked fine clothes, parties, flirting, her cigarettes, and she didn’t really care if other characters judged her for it. She was also so committed to her cousin and the people she cared about. She was also much more brave than I would have been in that situation. Catalina was unfortunately not given much time on the page. She is mentioned in Noemí’s flashbacks and memories enough that you get a sense of who she is, and her actions within the novel showed what a strong person she really was, but I thought she could have been developed more. The Doyles are also an interesting bunch. It was fun trying to figure out who to trust in the house and what all of their motivations were. The “bad guys” were pretty terrible, which made them satisfying to dislike and cheer against.

Though perhaps not an all-time favorite, I have to give it five stars. One small thing I didn’t like would be the romance. Although I actually liked the idea of them being together, it felt a little out of place and could have been developed more. Also, as I said earlier, I think Catalina could have been utilized more. I would have liked to hear more about how she fared in the Doyles’ household before Noemí arrived, for one thing. But with the book only being about 300 pages, it could have felt odd for Catalina to have her own chapters or to be centered on more. Having Catalina be more passive added to the suspense since the reader only knows what Noemí has found out, but I was interested in the goings on in High Place when it was just Catalina by herself. Like I said, those are just small gripes compared to how much I enjoyed this novel. If you’re looking for a spooky, quick read with a great lead character, pick this up!

Shades of Milk and Honey

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I recently discovered a book recommendation service called Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR) from one of my favorite YouTube book reviewers, Kayla from BooksandLala. She did a video in which she used the service, read the recommended books, and reviewed the experience. I thought it was a great idea, so I also used the service. I specified that I wanted recommendations that were a mix of historical fiction and fantasy because I love that mashup of genres. So, I was recommended three books by the service: Shades of Milk and Honey, The Night Tiger, and The Tiger’s Daughter. I will be reviewing all three on my blog so that you can get a sense of the recommendation service experience. I’m of course not sponsored by them. I just wanted to try something new!

This novel takes place in Regnecy era England in which magic exists and is considered a worthy skill for a woman to have. Jane Ellsworth has just about given up on finding a husband for herself because of her plain looks, but her younger sister, Melody, has a few possible suitors. Jane is a skilled glamourist, meaning that she can use magic to create sensory experiences to entertain at parties, cloak herself in darkness, or make a room look, smell, and feel like another place. Melody is very beautiful, but she lacks talent at glamour and is jealous toward her talented older sister. Jane gets caught up in her sister’s scheming and a friend’s secret, and along the way she just might find love of her own.

I liked this novel, but it didn’t blow me away. The overall tone of the story is light. No one is saving the world from an ancient evil. Instead, the plot is more concerned about who will end up marrying who and if so-and-so’s party will be a success or not. The stakes were low, but the reading experience was actually fun and relaxing. My main complaints are that I wanted to know more about the interesting magic system, I wished the writing and plot had more depth, and that the romance was less of a plot point.

The main characters were developed well enough, but I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with them and the secondary characters to learn more about them. Jane is our main character, and she is level-headed, talented at glamour, and cares a lot about her friends and family. Her sister, Melody, is a little more flighty and flirty, and she loves having the attention of her suitors. The men in the story could have been fleshed out more though. One man is a young, handsome playboy, another is a mature and polite gentleman, and another is a mysterious and prickly glamourist. I was happy with the romantic outcome, but I’m just not one for romance, especially when the romance is really the driving force of the novel.

I was very intrigued by the magic system, but the explanation for it was a little vague. It seems like it has something to do with being able to see and bend strands of light like strings of thread? There was a lot of talk about light and how the threads could be “tied off” to do certain things. Though I do not need a Brandon Sanderson-style magic system where all the rules are laid out, I would have liked to know more about how the glamour worked because many times Jane could see the inner workings of the magic, but the reader was not given much information about how she could do this or what it looked like to her. How the magic was used was also very cool. There were a few parties and gatherings in the book and the entertainment for the parties could be a short play put on with glamour or the party location could be spiced up by using glamour to make the room look and smell like a forest. There are several books after this first one, so maybe the magic and world are expanded more later on, but I don’t think I am interested enough to continue reading.

With the world on fire, it was nice to escape to a simpler time with a low stakes story. I gave Shades of Milk and Honey three out of five stars.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

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An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is my most recent dive into steampunk SFF. Set in a world with floating islands, skyships, clockwork “priests,” musketeers and other French influences, shadow and mirror-related magics, and political maneuvering, this novel was a surprisingly good little adventure. Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs was born with a deformed hand and without her family’s bloodshadow magic. Luckily she has her trusted musketeer and father figure, Jean Claude, to help her survive and flourish despite her family’s cruelty. When Isabelle is offered a strange marriage proposal, she and Jean Claude fall into a complex battle for the throne of the Kingdom of Aragoth.

I recently acquired several first books in lesser-known fantasy series. An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors was the first one I tried, and it put my experiment off to a good start. This is a slower, character and politically driven fantasy novel. The character development is quite strong, and both of the main characters are fleshed out and likable. I really enjoyed Isabelle in particular. She is interested in science, math, and philosophy, but these subjects are not permitted to be studied by women. She finds ways to work around this, and she uses her appearance to make others underestimate her. I haven’t seen many disabled main characters in epic fantasy, but since I am not disabled and the book was not “own voices,” I cannot say for sure if the representation was done well. As for Jean Claude, he an old soldier with a good heart. It is easy to see how much her cares for Isabelle, but he doesn’t coddle her. Isabelle doesn’t need Jean Claude and isn’t a damsel in distress, but they work together well and learn from each other over time.

The plot starts a bit slow as we get to know Isabella and Jean Claude, but once Isabelle receives a surprise marriage proposal from a prince of Aragoth things really heat up. The king of Aragoth is dying, and there is no clear successor because the oldest prince has yet to have an heir but refuses to remarry another woman. In this world the royal families possess different kinds of magic in their bloodlines. The Temple oversees the marriages and chain of succession in order to keep the bloodlines healthy. There is a prophecy that “the Savior” of their world will be born from the right royal pairing. Despite Isabelle’s lack of magic, her bloodline is still desirable, and the Temple has taken an interest in her potential to mix with Aragoth’s line. To be honest, the “breeding” part of the plot was a little strange, and I didn’t like Isabelle’s worth being based on the capabilities of her womb, but I think the point was to show that the “breeding” was a bad thing for everyone involved. Isabelle knows her worth is more than that of a broodmare, and she values peace above all else. With her quick wit and resourcefulness she seeks her own freedom from the political schemes of those around her and tries to bring peace to both her and her betrothed’s kingdoms with the help of the ever-loyal Jean Claude.

It took me some time to get into this novel. There is a lot going on, and it took a lot of time for me to absorb everything. A lot of time is spent getting to know the characters, the magic types, and the world building. All of these aspects are explained in detail and not all of it is important later. It felt like the author was trying to do a little too much at once, and some things just couldn’t be fully utilized in 400 pages, but I suspect that some aspects will be explored more in future books in the series. As I said, I am not sure how good the disabled representation is, and I can’t say if the author mishandled the French and Spanish influences. What I can speak on is that there were often lengthy sections of dialogue in which the characters argued or planned something. It felt like the dialogue was used to dump some information on the reader, but it wasn’t always done in the most engaging way. The ending was also abrupt. I would have at least liked an epilogue that explained a little more about what happened after all of the climatic action. I’m sure subsequent books will explain more, but I felt a little robbed by the short reunion at the end of the novel!

All in all, this was a unique and creative fantasy novel that had a complex and satisfyingly twisty plot. I may continue the series later, but at this point I am satisfied with this 4 star read. Feel free to comment about how you felt about the French, Spanish, or disabled representation in the book if you’d like to share your insight!

Fantasy by POC that I Added to my TBR

Hello, friends! Lately I have been compiling a list of fantasy books by people of color to buy after I complete my big move from the U.S. Midwest to the east cost. I wanted to share with all of you some of my top picks as a teaser for what reviews are to come. I know I do not read enough books by non-white authors, and there is no better time than the present to act on changing that! If any of these sound interesting, I encourage you to buy some of them yourself. If you do choose to buy some of these titles, please consider buying them from a black-owned book store that delivers orders by mail (which is also what I will be doing). Now, to the books!

A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell
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Let’s begin with a YA short story collection. I plan to pick up this collection in order to expand my knowledge of various black YA SFF authors. I find short story collections to be a great resource for discovering a taste of a new-to-me author’s work, so that is exactly what I plan to do. A few of the featured authors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Amerie, Dhonielle Clayton, Jalissa Corrie, Somaiya Daud, Charlotte Davis, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Justina Ireland, Danny Lore, L.L. McKinney, Danielle Paige, Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, Ashley Woodfolk, and Ibi Zoboi.

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

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This next book is actually by one of the authors featured in the short story collection above, but this novel is listed as adult fiction instead of YA. This historical fantasy novel takes place in New York City on the cusp of WWII. It follows a girl from Harlem who becomes an assassin in the Manhattan underworld. It sounds like there will be secrets and mysteries to discover, but the book had me at “historical fantasy and assassins in the Manhattan underworld.” Yes, please!

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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I read and reviewed one of this author’s previous novels, Gods of Jade and Shadow, earlier this year. While that novel was about a regular girl having an adventure and falling in love with a god of death, Mexican Gothic is about a woman who answers her newly-married cousin’s desperate letter for help. The cousin’s husband may be the cause of her panic, but there may also be some paranormal or fantasy elements at play too? Either way, count me in! This is another historical fantasy novel, but this time set in the 1950’s Mexican countryside.

Conjure Women by Afia AtakoraCWbyAA

This is another adult historical fantasy. It takes place before the Civil War, but it is also said to span multiple eras and generations. It appears to focus on a few different characters and their struggles during this period of history, but in addition to the historical aspects there are curses and maybe some healing magic? I don’t see many books that feature healing magic, so I’m automatically interested whenever I see one. This book initially caught my eye because of the beautiful cover, but after reading the synopsis, it sounds so unique that I have to give it a try.

Jade City by Fonda Lee

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Jade City is the first book in an adult urban fantasy series that has crime syndicates, magical jade that grants superhuman abilities, and clan wars. I have been looking for some good urban fantasy, and this series sounds like just the thing. It has been out for a little while, but I haven’t heard much about the series elsewhere online despite its favorable reviews on Goodreads. I look forward to forming my own opinion after reading it.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

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This book was inspired by a song called “The Deep” by Daveed Diggs’ rap group, Clipping. This sounds like a hard-hitting adult, historical fantasy, LGBT+ novella from what I have read about it. The descendants of the pregnant slave women who were thrown off of slavers’ ships have become something like sirens or mermaids. Since their past was so traumatic, only one of their kind is tasked with remembering it. The novella follows Yetu’s journey as she discovers her people’s past and leads them toward their future.

Big Little Lies

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I will be moving across the country soon, so I have begun to really look at my bookshelf, book buying habits, and the books that have been on my To Be Read list for ages. All this led to me reading Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty because it has been on my shelf for way too long. This book got a lot of buzz a handful of years ago when it came out, but since then the hype has died down. Is it still worth a read? In my opinion, sure it does, but I don’t think it is anything particularly special.

The book begins with the knowledge that someone has been murdered. We follow Madeline, Celeste, and Jane through the events leading up to the death. Madeline is an outspoken woman who lives in the same town as her ex-husband and his new, younger wife. Coincidentally, Madeline’s youngest daughter is attending the same kindergarten as her ex-husband’s daughter. Celeste is a beautiful woman who appears to have a perfect marriage to a very rich man. Celeste and her husband have twin boys who also attend the same kindergarten. Lastly, there is Jane. Jane is the new and mysterious single mom whose son is attending the same school. During the kindergarten orientation, Jane’s son is accused of assaulting another student, which turns nearly all of the other kindergarten moms, except for Celeste and Madeline, against her. The drama intensifies as Madeline, Celeste, and Jane deal with the residents of their small town and their personal issues within their families.

It was a nice change to read something other than fantasy or science fiction, and this was a very fast read for me, but it also didn’t capture my interest that much. The book opens with a murder at an after-school function, and the rest of the novel covers the events that led up to that fateful night. It deals with themes of motherhood, family, domestic abuse, identity, and feminism, but it is very focused on middle to upper class white moms and their often petty problems. I am of course not belittling the domestic violence in the book, but most disagreements except the domestic abuse felt shallow and trivial. I kept picturing all of these “Karens” squabbling over misunderstandings that could be solved with communication, and they often spent their time inventing their own crusades and drama to get caught up in. However, the descriptions and inner monologues of the characters impacted by domestic abuse resonated with me. I feel as if I have recovered from my own experiences with domestic abuse, but I still found myself becoming emotional at times. If you’ve recently been through trauma, it could be a little upsetting.

Despite how much I might have disliked some of the pettiness of the characters, the main three women were well developed, if not always likable. And even if I disagreed with them, the decisions made by the characters aligned with their personalities and motives. I can see real-life competitive moms act the same way as these characters. The kids were also written well. It was clear that the children were often unconcerned about their parents’ drama and cared about only what applied to them, but the kids were also not as blind to their parents’ actions and feelings as their parents might have believed, much like real children. One thing I really liked about the characterization and multiple perspectives was that, for example, Character 1 might wear something she thought was beautiful, but Character 2 in the next chapter would make a passing comment that what Character 1 was wearing was ridiculous or that they were secretly jealous of Character 1’s style. Throughout the novel there are also short interviews with other moms and townspeople who all have different perspectives of the same event. This gave the reader hints, provided more characterization, and it was often funny.

So, my verdict is 3 out of 5 stars. Big Little Lies was like reality TV. It wasn’t extremely deep, but it was entertaining and easy/fast to consume. It certainly isn’t a diverse read, which makes it feel a little dated by today’s standards, but it does offer some good discussion on female camaraderie and how domestic abuse can be hidden very well by those involved.

The City We Became

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Every city has a soul. New York has five. When a destructive, interplanetary force arrives in New York, the city chooses five residents to be champions of the city’s five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. In this first book of the series we meet our champions, the intergalactic antagonist, get a glimpse of New York’s melting pot of cultures, and explore the power the city bestows on its champions.

This book feels so current. Well, pre-pandemic current anyway. The interplanetary force I talked about harnesses the hatred and fear many people are experiencing because of the political climate in America. This cordyceps-like entity seeks to destroy the city’s avatars from the inside by infiltrating the citizens and policies of New York City. Our heroes are a very diverse cast including New Yorkers who are mixed race, black, white, Indian, and indigenous. They are also diverse in sexuality and through their respective cultures and interests. The characters are artistic, musical, and even mathematically-minded. The diversity is so smoothly incorporated and certainly feels like a genuine representation of all these aspects as far as I can tell. I know the author tries to be respectful and inclusive of the populations she has chosen to write about. The villains of the story are easy to dislike, and whenever they face a defeat, it feels good. With such well developed protagonists and antagonists, this is a great start to an urban fantasy series.

Plot-wise, it starts a little slow. It takes some time to introduce the reader to the avatars of New York City and for all of them to unite and plan. To be honest, this first book felt like a lot of setup for the rest of the series, but it was good setup, if that makes sense. I wasn’t bored by it, and I was invested in the characters and the villain to keep reading at a steady pace. I wouldn’t call it a page-turner, and there wasn’t a lot of action, but it depends on what you are looking for. It is easy to see that the battle isn’t over after the first book. In fact, it feels like everything just got started by the end of the novel. I’m very eager for the next installment.

Jemisin’s fantasy is just so smart. I might have come for a unique fantasy story, but long after closing the book, I still think about this one a lot. Jemisin’s books explore topics of social justice, inequality, politics, love, hate, fear, and everything in between. She can incorporate all of these themes while still telling a very entertaining story. I gave The City We Became 4.5 out of 5 stars.


In light of the recent events in America, I have also included some links below that I have found informative or helpful this week. Please consider reading the books or donating to the organizations below. 

 

Woven in Moonlight

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Okay, okay. It’s fantasy again, but this time it is Bolivian mythological and historical fantasy…

Ximena has been a decoy for the real Condessa, Catalina, for 10 years. When the Illustrians’ home was taken over by the conqueror Atoc and his magical relic, Ximena’s people fled the city to seek refuge in the hills. Knowing that the conqueror would not rest until the Condessa of the Illustrians was killed, Ximena was raised to be the real Condessa’s decoy. When Ximena is forcibly taken to be Atoc’s new wife, she must find a way to save herself and her people from inside the enemy’s walls. Can she trust anyone– including the masked vigilante whose motives for disrupting Atoc’s plans are still unclear?

I wanted to fall in love with this, but it just fell short in a few areas. My biggest complaint is that there just wasn’t enough to the story. My copy was a small-sized hardback with not quite 400 pages. I liked many aspects, but, in my opinion, they weren’t utilized to their fullest. Here are a few examples.

There is magic, even moon magic, but magic doesn’t play much of a role in the entire novel. We know that several characters have magic, but besides the main protagonist and the main antagonist, we rarely see or hear of anyone else doing magic. And even the main magic users’ powers aren’t fleshed out enough to know how they work or the extent of what they can do. Some characters get tired after using magic, but then others don’t seem to? I wanted the magic to play a bigger role or be explained a little more clearly. There is a lot that could have been done with all of the different magic the side characters possess too.

The main character is a decoy in enemy territory, and she has trained her whole life to be and act like the Condessa. Yet, she slips up often and lets her true self show or gives things away unintentionally. She also warms up to the enemy faction rather quickly, often having flirty/silly banter with them. There’s a romance that also heats up a little too quickly for me to be invested in. I liked the main character’s fierceness and heart, though. The other characters were interesting, but they (and their magic!) could have played a bigger role. A couple of characters were killed off so quickly, and even though we are told how important they were to the main character, I wasn’t attached enough to feel much loss.

I was a little bored around the midpoint of the novel. I expected more complex political maneuvering, but most of the novel is spent with Ximena in her small room as she worries about what to do. She sneaks out a few times rather easily, which I also didn’t think was realistic. She did some spying around, but I felt like a lot more could have been done with her being in enemy territory. She felt rather passive in general when I felt that she should have been doing more planning and plotting, especially since she was a trained decoy.

So, what’s there to like? I liked the writing. It is descriptive and pretty, especially the colors, flavors, and smells of the setting, but it doesn’t go overboard with lyrical prose. I liked that we were in Ximena’s head a lot because it was intriguing to see how she felt and why. She struggled with her own identity versus being a decoy, which made sense. I really liked the magic, but as I said before, I wish it had been used more throughout the novel or played a bigger role in the plot. The whole setting was interesting as was the political plot and revolution aspect, but the plot wasn’t particularly complex. It was fairly easy to see where things were going. However, I really appreciated reading something new in YA fantasy. I’ve certainly never read a fantasy inspired by Bolivian history and myth, so I was happy to expand my love of fantasy by reading this novel.

If you’re new to YA fantasy, or looking for something light in tone and depth but unique, I would recommend this novel. I gave it three solid stars out of five.