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Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series has been one of my favorites for a couple of years now, and I leaped at a recent opportunity to check out Come Tumbling Down, the 5th novella. Warning: Some spoilers for earlier books in the series follow.

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Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a school for children who have ventured to other worlds and come back again. The school has three rules. No solicitation. No visitors. No quests.

Rule #3 gets broken a lot.

Some time ago, Jack Wolcott killed her twin sister, Jill, in order to protect the other students at Eleanor’s school. With Jill in her arms, Jack returned through their door to the Moors, where Jack intended to resurrect Jill and maintain the balance of power there. At the outset of Come Tumbling Down, Christopher (a fellow student, and a bit of a musical necromancer), has moved into Jack’s old room in the basement, and is suddenly interrupted by a lightning storm that generates a door from the Moors. Through the door steps Alexis, Jack’s beloved, bearing a Wolcott twin in her arms. Which Wolcott twin is slightly more complicated, and where our quest begins.

With the aid of Cora (a mermaid doomed to life ashore unless her own door returns for her), Christopher quickly rallies Kade (the Goblin Prince in waiting) and Sumi (the future savior of the world of Confection) to travel to the Moors. There, they plan to defeat Jill and her vampire Master, save Jack, and restore the now-disrupted balance of the world. That is, of course, if they all survive the many other monsters that dwell there.

Seanan McGuire continues to weave an incredible tale across the many worlds of the Wayward Children series. Come Tumbling Down is no exception to the brilliance. This latest novella is just as tightly paced, filled with a diverse cast and McGuire’s signature snarky humor. I loved this book just as much as I’ve loved the rest of the series to date, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

“New things are the best kind of magic there is.”

Thanks to NetGalley and Tor.com for an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Steel Crow Saga is brilliant, y’all. I had the phenomenal happenstance of meeting Paul Krueger in person back at Denver Pop Culture Con, and knew almost instantly that I was going to love his newest book. I thought that Seven Blades in Black was going to be the most anime-esque fantasy novel that I read in 2019, and I was happily wrong. Steel Crow Saga hits on a lot of classic anime tropes while still managing to be wholly original.

Jimuro is the Iron Prince, heir to the throne of Tomoda. He’s a steelpacter, like many of his fellow Tomodanese. By bonding his soul with metal, he can sharpen/harden/heat the blade of a sword he wields, and fire bullets with unerring accuracy. He is, however, a peaceful man at heart, and longs to return from his exile in Sanbuna, even if it means serving as a puppet king in his late father’s place.

Tala is a Sanbuna soldier, a sergeant assigned to ensure Jimuro’s safe return to the capital of Tomoda. Through the Sanbuna tradition of shadepacting, she has an animal soul bonded to her own. Her companion, Beaky, can be summoned to fight alongside her, or to provide aerial reconnaissance. Tala harbors a deep grudge against Tomoda for the deaths of her parents and her brother, Dimangan.

Xiulan, like Jimuro, is royalty. As the 28th princess of Shang, however, she is nowhere near the top of the line of succession. With her own shade, a white rat named Kou, she operates as a detective of the Li-Quan. She hopes to find Iron Prince Jimuro and deliver him to her father, the Emperor of Shang, in order to raise her own standing.

Lee Yeon-Ji is a thief from the streets of Jeongson. Her chief rule of looking out for herself has gotten her through until now, but she’s on the verge of being executed before Xiulan arrives. The princess needs her help to track Jimuro. At the promise of a shade of her own, something no other Jeongsonese has ever had, she leaps to the detective’s aid.

En route to Tomoda, Sergeant Tala is forced to take drastic action to ensure Jimuro’s survival when a splintersoul attacks her. This man has done what was believed to be impossible, and bonded to more than one shade. Now a walking army unto himself, he seems set upon destroying Jimuro’s guard, and Tala and her team are quickly overwhelmed. Soon, she and Jimuro are left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, Xiulan and Lee are attempting to intercept Jimuro so that they can turn him over to Shang.

This book was an utter joy to read. Brilliant action sequences, a Pokémon-esque summoning system, and heartbreakingly beautiful characters make Steel Crow Saga an absolute treasure. I can’t wait to see what Paul writes next, even if he never returns to the blend of Asian cultures that is this world. Check it out.

When I was 11, I met Brian Jacques. I had been a fan of the Redwall books for a couple of years at that point, and a friend invited me to go to the Tattered Cover in Denver for a signing. It was February 21st, 1999, and a three hour car ride with my friend and his grandparents each way seemed like nothing.

The signing was in celebration of the release of Marlfox, the 11th book in the series. While I couldn’t afford to buy a copy of the brand new hardcover release, I took a copy of my favorite book in the series, Salamandastron, to have him sign.

I was ecstatic. I had borrowed my parents’ camera, and sat a couple of rows back taking occasional photos as Mr. Jacques talked about his life and the book series I’d devoured over the previous two years. He quoted the entire second chapter of Redwall from memory, with a young man in the front row reading along at his behest to ensure that he didn’t miss a word (he didn’t).

After listening to him talk for another half hour or so, it was time for the signing. I took my battered paperback to the table, spoke a few words that have long since faded from my memory, and posed for a quick picture.

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Brian Jacques and me, 2/21/1999.

Ah, the days before digital photography when you couldn’t be sure that the author you’d traveled three hours to meet would actually be looking at the camera when the photo was taken. I digress.

So, today, a little over 20 years later, V and I were walking around downtown and stopped in at Poor Richard’s. We got back into the sci-fi/fantasy section, and you know what I saw? A hardcover copy of Marlfox sitting right in my line of sight, faced out and everything. V, herself a die-hard fan of the series, immediately recognized it as one that we didn’t own a hardcover copy of, and was just as excited as I was. Then I picked it up and flipped it over to check the price.

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I legitimately started to cry.

I found one. A signed, hardcover, first edition copy of Marlfox, just like I couldn’t afford to buy as an eleven-year-old. Given that it was still in Colorado, it may very well have been initially sold at the Tattered Cover that day in 1999. I’ll never know. But to whomever sold this book to Poor Richard’s, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. A long-missing part of my journey as a reader is now complete.

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Then.

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And now.

 

Sal the Cacophony has a list of seven names, and a very large gun.

The self-professed “manhunter” (because it sounds more dramatic than “bounty hunter”) brings ruin wherever she goes, and she is hellbent on her revenge.

See, for generations, the Imperium sought to rule the world through magic, and for the most part, they succeeded. The nuls, who lack the Lady Merchant’s gift of magic, began the Revolution, uncovering and crafting mighty weapons to secure their freedom from Imperial forces. Residents of the Scar were frequently caught in the middle.

Then the Empress gave birth to a nul, and declared that her child would still become the next Emperor, despite objections that a mage must lead the Imperium. A conspiracy was hatched. A group of powerful mages led by Vraki the Gate launched a secret plot, hoping so install a magic-wielder to the throne instead. The members of the Crown Conspiracy, as it came to be known, failed in their initial attempt and scattered across the Scar, becoming Vagrants. Despite this setback, it was inevitable that Vraki and his followers would eventually regroup and begin their plan anew. These wandering mages soon became aware that someone, or something, was hunting them down: Sal the Cacophony.

Sal is a wreck of a human being. She bears countless scars, both physical and emotional. She drinks and swears excessively. She’s willing to sink to almost any depth in order to cross every last name off of her list. She may very well be my favorite fantasy protagonist of all time. She is the only one capable of wielding the Cacophony, the fearsome gun from which she takes her name. With the assistance of Liette (Sal’s lover, and the brilliant spellwright who crafts the enchanted shells used by the Cacophony), Congeniality (her carnivorous, Chocobo-inspired mount), and a kidnapped Revolutionary soldier named Cavric, Sal just might be able to track down the members of the Crown Conspiracy before Vraki the Gate can complete his newest plan. They may even save a few lives along the way. Or at least keep the collateral damage to a minimum.

Seven Blades in Black is an absolute blast of  a book. The creativity and care that Sam Sykes has put into his worldbuilding this time around is undeniable, not that his previous work had been lacking. This book gave me all of the best Trigun feels, y’all. It’s high-action fantasy with a gunslinger as a protagonist. Sykes combines gunfire with one of the most clever magic systems I’ve ever seen. Mages make a Barter for their powers. In a very Fullmetal-Alchemist-equivalent-exchange manner by way of The Monkey’s Paw, they must pay a cost. Maskmages, for example, gain the ability to shapeshift, but the more they do so, the more their own physical features will fade away. Skymages can control winds, soaring above a battle, but will slowly lose the power to draw breath, and eventually suffocate. The world itself is just as scarred as Sal, as it turns out that putting these spellcasters into combat situations tends to screw up, well, everything. Cities crumble, burn, or freeze at the whims of the Imperium. Then there’s the Revolution, whose massive suits of powered armor wield Gatling-style cannons that pulverize anything they aim at. They counter Vagrants and Imperium mages alike with gunpikes, tanks, and Relics, pieces of ancient technology that may or may not be alive.

Sykes skillfully blends military might and magic, thieves and merchants, cultists, and eldritch abominations ripped from their homes and deposited into Sal’s world. The journey is a long one, but well worth it, and I can’t wait for the second book in this series.

Eres va atali.” 

“I used to fly.”

While admittedly, most of them were comics, I read a lot of books in 2018.

Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells.

Assassination Classroom by Yusei Matsui. (Yes, the whole 21 volume manga series)

Welcome to Night Vale & It Devours by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire.

The Armored Saint by Myke Cole.

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

Dreadnought Sovereign by April Daniels.

I listened to both of the Night Vale novels, because Cecil Baldwin narrates them. How could I not listen to his voice for another 16+ hours? If you’ve not listened to Welcome to Night Vale, well, if you like surreal comedy/horror, you’re in for a treat.

I read a lot of novellas again this year. The Murderbot Diaries continue to be incredible, and I’ve got the 4th one sitting on the top of my reading stack at home. Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint blew me away, and I have to read the sequel asap, because Heloise is a fantastic heroine, defying all manner of expectations. Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children is a series I never knew I needed, and it makes me fall back in love with all the portal fantasies I’d first read as a kid.

Dreadnought was a superhero story that I can’t get out of my head. I loved reading Danny’s story as she came to grips with her super powers and her identity as a transgender girl. Sovereign was a solid sequel that left me wishing for more. It would make a fabulous trilogy, and would be an incredible opportunity for a trans actress should an adaptation be made.

While I beat my goal of reading 200 books in 2018, I fell short of my 2017 mark by almost 50 titles. I intend to step things up again in 2019.

Hey y’all. It’s been a while since my last book review, so I’m going to talk to you for a minute about Neal Shusterman’s Thunderhead. Minor spoilers for Scythe will likely occur throughout, given that this is book #2 in trilogy.

Thunderhead is set in a future world of plenty, where death and poverty and illness and war have been eliminated by the Thunderhead, an artificial intelligence developed from what we currently call “the cloud.” Every human has nanites in their blood that reduce pain from any injury, and slowly repair any damage. And if by some unfortunate accident, you happen to die, a drone will recover your body and take you to the nearest facility where you can be revived (your first one’s free!).

However, in order to curb overpopulation, the Thunderhead allows for the Scythes. Scythes are an order of highly skilled assassins (of sorts) who exist to keep humanity’s numbers in check. They maintain a quota of gleanings, permanent deaths for a chosen few to remind people of the mortality that the entire race once faced. Anyone who is gleaned by a Scythe earns immunity for their family for a year.

Book one in the series, Scythe, follows Rowan and Citra, two young teens who are chosen as apprentices to Scythe Faraday, who intends for one of them to become his successor. Their training leads to the widening of schisms within the Scythedom, and soon they find themselves pitted against each other over the right and wrong ways to go about their duties of gleaning.

Thunderhead picks up several months after the events of Scythe, with Citra now serving as Scythe Anastasia, and Rowan operating in the shadows, gleaning other Scythes who he deems to be immoral and corrupt. Dubbed Scythe Lucifer, he lives a life on the run while Anastasia is honored for her rather benevolent take on gleaning (giving her victims a month’s warning, and allowing them to choose the means by which they will die).

This book introduces more perspectives from the Thunderhead itself, giving the reader powerful insight into the all-powerful AI’s thoughts and concerns. We also meet Greyson Tolliver, a young man who has devoted his entire life to serving the Thunderhead, and has his loyalty tested to the extreme. While this can feel like it’s drawing attention away from Rowan and Citra, it contributes to the worldbuilding. And while Scythe had a phenomenal dystopian feeling, there were many questions left unanswered that are picked up in these chapters and monologues.

Now Anastasia and her current mentor, Scythe Curie, have been targeted by a mysterious attacker who seems intent on ending them both permanently, while Rowan grapples with the consequences of his actions as Scythe Lucifer. The Thunderhead muses on the Separation of Scythe and State, lamenting its decision to refrain from interfering with the actions taken by members of the Scythedom, finding clever ways to work around the various safeguards that it has installed in society (and maybe finding out more than it was ever meant to know).

All in all, Thunderhead is a powerful followup to Scythe, a worthy companion and, to my simultaneous joy and rage, the second book in a trilogy. Book three is due in 2019, and I can’t wait to see how this all wraps up.

I’ve got quite the to-read list ahead of me for 2018, and I’m really excited about it. There are a few titles to finish from last year, and a bunch of new releases that I’ve been looking forward to.

1.) A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

I was so excited about this book! I still am, having gotten far enough into it at launch last February that I could move past the cliffhanger that Schwab left us on at the end of A Gathering of Shadows back in 2016. It’s very high on my list to finish, because holy god damn, this series is amazing.

2.) Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Another that’s been on my list for forever, and another one that I already own, this one’s getting bumped a bit in priority due to the adaptation that is soon to arrive.

3.) The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

This one’s a fantasy classic, and one that’s been in my collection for well over a decade. Gifted to me by none other than Holyoke’s legendary lady, Velma Biddle, this also happens to be one of V’s favorite books.

4.) The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Because my Ren Faire boss will probably kill me if I haven’t read this one by the time faire starts this year.

5.) Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Because I love urban fantasy, and need more of it in my life.

6.) God’s Last Breath by Sam Sykes

The conclusion to the Bring Down Heaven trilogy. Doorstopper fantasy. My friends playing D&D while drunk, but in book form. Bawdy, raucous, fabulous fun.

7.) Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Have you seen the trailer for Peter Jackson’s adaptation of this one? Wheeled cities running around the world eating smaller cities and taking their resources. What’s not to love about this concept? Bonus points for use of the word “urbivore.”

8.) Thunderhead by Neil Shusterman

The sequel to Scythe, one of the best books I read last year, Thunderhead is a promising return to a dark future where death has been all but eliminated. An elite team of Scythes are tasked with maintaining Earth’s population by selectively “gleaning” those who have chosen to die for the continued good of humanity.

9.) Sovereign by April Daniels

The sequel to Dreadnought, which is one of the most timely and creative superhero stories I’ve ever encountered.

10.) When They Severed Earth From Sky by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

I’m not normally one for non-fiction titles, but this one grabbed V pretty hard when I got it for her from the library. From what I remember being told about it, it’s a pretty amazing examination of the origin of myths.

 

And honestly, y’all, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve got a stack of books from the library that’s taller than me, and I’m not even getting into my re-read list. It’s an occupational hazard, I know, but what can I do?

Oh Boy, Here I Go, Reading Again

This has been a hectic year for me, as evidenced by my rather sporadic posting schedule. Despite this, I’ve been attempting to take in as much literature as is humanly possible. That means that I’ve been tackling a lot of novellas. Tor has been publishing loads of new novellas over the last few months, and I’ve loved every one that I’ve read this year.

Among my favorites:

The Builders by Daniel Polansky
Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

The Builders is a revenge story at heart, about a group of friends attempting to overthrow a corrupt leader and identify the member of their group who betrayed them the last time they tried. It’s gritty, violent, and dark, and it’s fabulous to watch the team come back together. Why? Because they’re all animals. That’s right. The Builders is essentially Redwall crossed with your favorite grim western film.

Mapping the Interior starts humbly, introducing the reader to a young Native American boy whose mother, following the suspicious death of their father, has moved him and his younger brother into an off-reservation trailer house. Junior sleepwalks, and one night he sees someone while in the middle of his wandering. His father. It’s a haunting story in the truest sense, and the voice is one that’s sorely missing in much of contemporary literature.

River of Teeth hooked me on premise alone. A debut piece from Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth is an alternate history of the Deep South, a what-if tale in which hippos were imported to the bayous of Louisiana to be bred for meat in areas that were too swampy for cattle. Much like The Builders, this one is a tale of revenge featuring a motley crew of adventurers, trading the galloping stallion of the more traditional western for the lumbering but ferocious hippopotamus as a mount. This one has a sequel, Taste of Marrow, that picks up immediately where the first leaves off, and I can’t wait to read it.

Next in line to read: All Systems Red by Martha Wells, book one in a series called The Murderbot Diaries. I’m hooked!

Do you have a favorite novella? Tell me about it in the comments!

In the 18th century, it was rather common for young wealthy English folks to embark on a Grand Tour of continental Europe between their school years and their careers or higher education. Henry “Monty” Montague’s Grand Tour, however, is anything but common. Monty’s formal education at Eton ended rather abruptly, due to being caught in a rather compromising situation with another one of the boys. Now his future as his father’s heir is in jeopardy, and his tour is his last chance to redeem himself.

So it is that Monty departs for the continent, knowing that if he doesn’t manage to behave himself (at least in his father’s eyes), he’ll be left penniless. He’s accompanied by his younger sister, Felicity, herself off to a school in France, and his best friend Percy, who will be leaving England for law school at the end of their tour.

Monty naturally feels a bit overwhelmed by the mounting pressure on him to completely turn his own life around. However, understanding the plights of others isn’t something he’s ever been good at, and Felicity and Percy each have their own deep concerns about what awaits each of them at the end of their trip. None of them expect Monty’s knack for attracting trouble to draw them into a web of intrigue that leads them from France to Spain to Italy, pursued by highwaymen, pirates, and vengeful nobles. And none of them, least of all Monty, expected him to fall desperately in love with Percy along the way…

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee was everything I wanted it to be and more. Adventure, mystery, and romance all fall neatly into place in this YA treasure. It’s available now, so do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Note: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

I missed my blog anniversary last month, and while this is a milestone I usually like to celebrate, this year on January 20th, I was a bit preoccupied.

I’m a month in to my new position with the library, and I could not be happier. I feel like I’m making a really positive impact on my teen patrons here, though I really miss my old group. I’m gearing up for my first book club meeting, and we’re reading Neil Shusterman’s Unwind (meanwhile, I’m tackling his new title, Scythe, for my own sheer joy). I’m helping plan programs and events for Teen Tech Week in March, putting together bulletin boards and book displays for the teen area, etc. It’s been great!

Plus, you know, there was this whole wedding thing that happened last week. So, V and I finally got married. It’s been officially in the works since August, when I finally proposed to the girl who’s been my closest friend for over a decade.

I’m working on more book reviews, I promise. There are so many coming out soon! I just finished reading M-E Girard’s Girl Mans Up, and I can’t wait to tell you more about it. Plus a follow-up to my review of The City Stained Red when I review the sequel, The Mortal Tally (because the final book, God’s Last Breath, is out in July). And A Conjuring of Light is out in two weeks! So many good books lately, I’ve barely been able to keep up.

Anyway, thanks for sticking around for so much of the last six years. I’ll try to get the anniversary post in on time next year.