Fantasy & Beyond

A Book Forum for Speculative Fiction

Discuss SFF books and authors here.
By Elfy
#1746
I'm first again. This is the thread to tell us what you read over the last month. This isn't a contest, some of us read lots, some of us not so much. The important thing is that we enjoy doing it. This is a thread where you can share that with the rest of us and we are genuinely interested.
By Elfy
#1747
Seeing as I started the thread I'll go first. There doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in the non SFF stuff, so I've decided not to put those in here. Excluding the non fiction and the mysteries I read 6 books for the month. 7, if I include the Asterix, but as one of those takes me all of about 30 minutes, I don't put them in here.

The Hod King and The Fall of Babel by Josiah Bancroft. Taken as a whole Bancroft's epic fantasy series was an ambitious undertaking and an impressive achievement. The story of Headmaster Thomas Senlin, his journey to the great ringdom of Babel, his search for his wife and how his presence and his search coincided with what was a revolution that completely changed the ringdoms was quite a journey. Having said all that, I felt that it was a book too long. For me, it would have worked better as a trilogy. The last couple of books also had a tendency to tell a bit of each character's story and then jump to another one at a crucial moment. Jordan used to do that in Wheel of Time, and I didn't like it then. Time hasn't improved that for me. It was almost like a steampunk version of Gulliver's Travels. Despite my quibbles I do recommend it.

Ordinary Monsters by J. M. Miro. Oh my God! This was damn good. It's a 600 pages book, and it was one of those that I couldn't stop reading. Magic, monsters, super powers, epic stakes, great back stories, long scope, real multi layered characters. This one had it all. I can't find anything about a sequel, but it ended on a bit of a cliff and there were unanswered questions, so I hope there is one.

Aftermarket Afterlife by Seanan McGuire. The most recent entry in McGuire's InCryptid series and after a few books that kind of spun their wheels, shit got very real. One thing that McGuire has always done well is creating loss and making it hit the reader right in the feels. This happens here and it damn near reduced me to tears.

Murder for the Modern Girl by Kendall Kulper. The premise of this is intriguing. It's set in Chicago in the 1920's. The two main characters are a 'flapper' and a rather unassuming young who has ambitions to become a medical professional. She can read minds and has made a career out of poisoning anyone she thinks deserves it. He's a shapeshifter. The ideas are great and the two mains are engaging, but it's all quite superficial. The bones are there, but as a whole it didn't work for me.

Paladin's Faith by T. Kingfisher. The 4th in T. Kingfisher's Saint of Steel series set in her White Rat world. Each of these has followed a different Paladin in the service of the Temple of the White Rat. who were pledged to the now dead Saint of Steel. It was the turn of Shane and his fellow Paladin Wren. It had everything I have come to expect and love in a T. Kingfisher. She draws her characters well and with humour. The events are believable and she has this ability to create some of the most interesting magical characters. This time it was the ground wights. They’ll have you watching where you walk very carefully.
Last edited by Elfy on July 1st, 2024, 08:39, edited 2 times in total.
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By cupiscent
#1749
I had a nice run of amazing books in June, all very different.
  • Between Dragons and their Wrath by Devin Madson - this one was an ARC that I was really excited about, even though previous of Madson's work has been a little grimdark for me. But this was more mannered society shenanigans, with a fraught political arranged marriage, a cursed laundress struggling with social issues, and a delinquent nobleman dragonrider with a heart of gold. There's also sex and magic all over the place - including plant-based ninja tricks, and glass-plated dragons. I had so much fun with it.
  • Relics of Ruin by Erin M Evans - second in the Books of the Usurper, and it really hit the ground running on all of its amazing politics, history, worldbuilding, amazing magic and humanoid races... the whole bit. Deepening secondary characters while also extending our old faves from the first one, and I really had a wonderful time. Also Evans's thematic games on the complexities of identity are simply astounding.
  • Siren Queen by Nghi Vo - hands down my favourite of her work that I've read. So sharp, so vivid, so full of weight. This is a lustrous braid of faerie and old-skool Hollywood, really digging into all the facets of "glamour" (beauty and lies and magic and wishes and...) and even if the ending felt a little rushed and glib, it didn't stop this being an amazing piece of work.
  • Saevus Corax Deals With The Dead by KJ Parker - another brazenly unreliable Parker narrator, canny and competent and far kinder than he admits to being. I had a delightful time reading this, but the ending felt like a bit of a let-down - a turn toward episodic rather than cumulative. But Parker has earned a lot of trust with previous work, so I'm curious to see where he takes things in the rest of the trilogy.
  • Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel - a really strong and enjoyable read, which is not always the case for me with myth / villain retellings. A lot of my usual problems with those forms still pertain (the need for knowledge of the original piece, the tension/pacing problems when you do know what's going to happen, the reluctance to have a villain hit the wall) but the character was built so strongly, through an excellent narrative voice throughout, that the overall piece was still very satisfying.
I also read a non-fiction book about the reign of King Stephen - or rather, the tumultuous period during which he was nominally on the throne of England - and a non-fic book about supporting autistic girls and gender diverse youth.
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By DrNefario
#1750
Six for me. Back to a more normal count. Helped by finishing a non-fiction book and by a couple of shorter works.

Wool 4: The Unraveling - Hugh Howey
Wool 5: The Stranded - Hugh Howey - Nowadays these are just part of the book Wool, but way back when they were published separately and then combined into an omnibus. I read the first three parts ages ago, but these two were longer - novella-length, maybe even short novel length - and since I found the style a bit plodding, I took a break that ended up lasting years. The pacing got better as the stories went on. This is post-apocalyptic fiction about a community living in an underground vault. I liked it, but I'm not in a huge rush to continue the series.

Sorcerer to the Crown - Zen Cho - I expected this to be a lot more fantasy-of-manners than it actually is. A little disappointing, if I'm honest.

The Mill House Murders (Mansion Murders #2) - Yukito Ayatsuji - Non-fantasy. Another disappointment. This is the follow-up to the brilliant Decagon House Murders, but I spotted the big twist immediately, and I think most people who've read a few whodunits would, too.

Board Games in 100 Moves - Ian Livingstone & James Wallis - Dorling-Kindersley coffee-table book about Board Games. Lavish and informative, but lacking depth in some places, and a few years out of date. Good, though.

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi - Shannon Chakraborty - Trying to get ahead of the Hugo finalists a bit. This was good fun - mediaeval pirates in the Indian Ocean - but was a bit slow to get going.
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By lejays17
#1753
This months books

Only a Monster - Vanessa Lem
YA about a young woman learning hat she is part of a family of “monsters” (people with powers - there are a number of families with different powers, they run in family lines), and the legendary “monster slayer” who is hunting them all down to kill them.
I thought the time travel concept was interesting, the monsters steal time from normal people to travel backwards / forwards in time. But only for the amount stolen, eg if you steal 10 days, that’s how far you can travel. And you can only use the tme all at once.
Bittersweet romance, which reminded me a bit of Will & Lyra from his Dark Materials.
There’s a sequel, which I will get when it comes in the smaller book size.

Even Though I Knew the End - CL Polk
Novella set in 1940’s Chicago with supernatural elements.
Helen is an investigator who’s latest case involves hunting a serial killer while knowing she will die in 3 days dime when her deal with the devil comes due.
I’ve been watching my way through eleventy-million episodes of “Supernatural”, and I had the inevitable flashes of their ideas of angels and demons and their human hosts while reading.
Enjoyed it a lot - I’ve enjoyed all their books so far

Aftermarket Afterlife - Seanan McGuire
Like Elfy, I felt this was an upturn after the last 2-3 entries in the series.
The conflict between the 2 factions is escalating, and more bad things are happening.

The Keeper of Night - Kylie Lee Baker
Another YA entry.
Even though she’s 200 years old, her heritage as a mix of two different Death avatars means she’s very long-lived, so she’s really only a teenager. And she behaved that way quite a bit.
I enjoyed the depiction of the Japanese Underworld, and the gods and demons that inhabit it.
Ren wasn’t accepted in London, where she was raised by her English father after her Japanese mother abandoned her as a baby. So she built up an idealised version of her life would have been different if she had been raised by her mother in Japan instead.
So when she (and her half-brother) fled London to Japan, she’s amazed that she is also unwelcome due to her English father. It takes place just as Japan as opening their borders to Westerners, so not really surprising (although, now I’m wondering how her parents met).
I’m keeping my eye out for the sequel, as I’m interested is what happens next with the ending.

Asterix and the White Iris - Fabacano
Newest Asterix - it “broke” my all-women-writers streak, until Elfy pointed out that the translator was a woman :lol: :lol:

The Daughters of Izdihar - Hadeer Elsbi
Debut novel set in an alternate version of Egypt.
Alternating viewpoints between Nehal, a well-off young woman who chafes against the restrictions imposed on her by society. She isn’t interested in getting married or having a family, wanting to attend the newly-reopened Academy to learn how to manage her elemental (water) magic.
She’s married off to a rich family so her parents can pay off dad’s gambling debts. As a condition of her marriage contract, she has her new husband enroll her at tge Academy.
While there, she falls in with a revolutionary group (suffragette movement) who are trying to get more rights for women, ncluding the vote.
The other POV is Georgina, a poor woman who happens to be Nehal husbands lover. She is also a part of the revolutionary group, and an earth-weaver but is scared of her abilities.
It ends on a war setting, and I’m very interested in seeing what happens next. Of the two mains, I preferred Georgina’s stories as I found Nehal at times to be extremely annoying with her lack of understanding the realities of others life’s or experiences.
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By Carter
#1754
Here are mine for the month.

Fall of Kings by David and Stella Gemmell - this was me finishing off the Troy series. It plays around with the Iliad a fair amount since this is where there's the most crossover. It still has the usual style and there's a fair amount of poignancy attached with it being David Gemmell's last series with a few aspects that all but speak directly to his passing. It never fails to move me as a result whenever I return to this, for all that Gemmell's brand of heroic fantasy is not somewhere I spend a lot of time any more.

The Dragon Republic by R F Kuang - I came into this with some trepidation because of my thoughts about the first book. Unfortunately, for me this did not do enough to change my mind. For me, it probably progressed at much too fast a pace and did not give a whole lot of time and effort to downtime and the effects of it during the war setting it evoked. All a bit too dark, a bit too grim for my taste. Kuang still has a huge amount of credit left to burn through, so I'll be finishing the series at some stage but I can't say I'm eager to do so immediately.

Havenstar by Glenda Noramly - I needed a return to something familiar after the previous book and this hit the spot. I know the story well and it hits some fairly standard fantasy journey tropes with some interesting slants. It's something of a bizarre setting and concept (a world being unmade and with more than a hint of appearing to be have been inspired by the ocean floor and the sea life that lives there at times) with a cartographer at its heart. It went some way to providing me with the fantasy detox I was after - even though I grow increasingly disappointed with the final quarter the more often I return to it, which goes a bit big and oddly straightforward as the climax approaches.

The Daughters of Izdihar by Hadeer Elsbai - @lejays17 has already summarised the plot and I'd agree that I found Giorgina's storyline to be the more engaging. With Nehal, I admit to have spent some of the time reading it wishing she could have been a bit more Anahid. As well as that, I found her motivations to be a little thinly drawn at times and seeming to lack some of the depth that Giorgina brought to the story. I felt that the end came on a little suddenly and almost as if it was missing a final chapter or an epilogue. I definitely don't mind a good cliff-hanger, but this just felt it lacked something. Still, a good debut, I enjoyed the setting, and I'm also looking forward to what will come next.
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By ScarletBea
#1761
After a very small April, I'm more or less back to normal...

Fantasy
* A day of fallen night, by Samantha Shannon - prequel to the Priory book, can be read as a standalone. I think in terms of characters I much preferred this one (since I liked them all, while there were a few I couldn't really be bothered in the other), but I feel that the plot would have been better paced as a shorter book: 870 pages that could have been around 600

* The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi, by Shannon Chakraborty - I really enjoyed this adventure of middle-aged pirates, as well as the focus on the Indian Ocean and very much muslim-centred.

* Outcast of Redwall, by Brian Jacques - continuing my re-read, this was a great story of Sunflash badger lord, but I was far less impressed with the villains (I basically skimread those chapters...)

Non Fantasy
* This family, by Kate Sawyer - another one of my January bundle win, it was a family story/drama that I like to watch on TV but isn't as interesting in a book, for me.

Non fiction
* The maps we carry, by Rose Cartwright - I won this ARC that shows a different view on mental health and its treatment. Made me think a lot
By Peat
#1762
Fantasy

Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr - Decided to reread an old favourite and man, for whatever reason, it just was not hitting. I still appreciate a ton in it but it just wasn't doing it for me like it normally does. Shame.

A Betrayal In Winter by Daniel Abraham - Excellent prose, interesting ideas, characters I don't care for

Non-fantasy

The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri - Beautifully evocative, sharp twisty plots, interesting side characters. Salvo (the MC) is bit of a dick in this one though
Sharpe's Enemy by Bernard Cornwell - How to tell an A+ action story
Rhyming Rings by David Gemmell - Just a really interesting look at humanity

Non-fiction

The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten - Very pleasant, wish there was an updated version of this fact checked to the day
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By DaveBates
#1797
Turning Darkness to Light by Marie Brennan - This was a supplement story to a trilogy (I believe) that deals with the rediscovery of a race of half dragon people. Despite following on from a series, I didn't have much trouble understanding what was going on. It's got an interesting structure where it follows the translation of a number of tablets, interspersing events happening on the side with letters, diary entries, newspaper headlines, etc.

I was pleasantly surprised by this, despite having reservations in the first fifty pages. There was a line at the end in particular that stuck with me, stating that for all our human flaws and terrible things we do to one another, even though old stories from myth may not have happened, they persevere and are preserved as an ideal that people aspire to meet. I thought that was very wise. Definitely worth a read if you want a decent standalone or like dragons/archeology.

The Great Unseen by H H Bruun - Oh boy, where to begin with his one. The books I read I pick up from libraries, so I get a wider scope than those who buy for tastes. This was a sort of fairy tale-esque story about a boy sent to a neighbouring land to save it from some deep rooted evil. Meanwhile, the corrupt treasury is looking to thwart the boy to take the kingdom for himself... though he doesn't seem to have any connection to this Deep Unseen. The Deep Unseen itself is never explained, though it does have a number of interesting ideas regarding stone animals acting as agents and a magical house that feels like it's inspired from Narnia.

This is a relatively new release, though the author was supposedly born in 1939, which suggests this is something he wrote as a hobby over his life and his family have released it for a quick pay cheque. It has a publisher, but the amount of errors was rather shocking. And I'm not talking spelling mistakes, here. The editing had many paragraphs misaligned, missing spaces, missing punctuation. Truly, it was shocking.

Adding insult to injury, the story is unfinished, ending with a cliffhanger for a followup that god knows if it even exists. I really can't recommend this, as though a quick read at ~240 pages, it was a struggle to get through.

The Well of Ascension, second of the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson - I'm only 75percent through this, though I can't lie, I feel this second installment really drops down a level compared to the first. Elend Venture is no substitute for Kelsier, though admittedly he is getting more interesting the further it goes on, and Vin seems to be floundering in places between bouts of getting soppy soppy with Elend. There just seems to be something lacking, such as a mission goal, that just doesn't keep my interest the way the first book did.

But I digress. What annoys me the most though is how the opening third is a giant exposition rehash of everything learned from the first book. Reminders are one thing, but the narrative treats the reader if they've forgotten/haven't read the first entry to a silly level, since surely nobody's going to read a part 2 if they've not read the predecessor. All told, I was looking forward to this, but it came out as a bit of a disappointment.
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