Q3 DNFs Wrap Up

This is just a list of some of the books I tried in Q3 that I ended up DNF’ing. If you don’t know, DNF stands for “did not finish.” There’s a variety of reasons I’ll DNF a book and I’ll get into some of them when I talk about why I DNF’ed these books in particular.

Side note: I was planning on making this a yearly thing, but I’ve DNF’ed a lot of books this year so I thought doing it quarterly might make more sense.

Without further ado, here are the books I DNF’ed in Q3 2019, in order of when I picked them up.

A Little Life

#1 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

[Goodreads Link]

Yup, this is it: the book that caused a month-long reading slump. I really wanted to be someone who liked this book, but it was just… not pulling me in at all. I only ever read like 80-ish pages of it and then every time I thought to myself “I should read” after that, I had exactly 0 desire to pick this book up. I think I would have liked this more if I had read it around the same time as when I read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which I rated 5 stars at the time I read it, but which I’m hesitant to revisit as I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much now. Something about “literary” fiction just hasn’t been working for me lately, and I’m not going to force myself. I do hope to eventually get back to this one though!

Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy, #1)

#2 Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

[Goodreads Link]

Some books, I leave the rating blank when I DNF them. Other times, I’ll give them one or two stars. It entirely depends on my reason for DNF’ing the book. I didn’t, for example, give a rating to A Little Life. I did, however, give a rating to Wicked Saints, because it was genuinely bad, and I wanted my thoughts about that to be reflected. I went into detail about why I DNF’ed this book here. If you just want the TL;DR version it’s that the writing was atrocious, nothing was explained, and in the 100+ pages that I managed to read, the author gave me no reason to care about the plot or the characters. Let’s just say I’m glad I got this book from the library because it would have been a waste of money.

Binti (Binti, #1)

#3 Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

[Goodreads Link]

I honestly just wasn’t connecting with this one. Conceptually, I liked the plot and the world and the characters, but I wasn’t feeling much about any of it. I also felt like things were moving too fast and not explained well enough. This book only has 90 or so pages but I just had a hard time getting past the fact that the MC sees a whole ship of people who have become her friends get murdered and then she’s all buddy-buddy with said murderers without question because they didn’t kill her and they actually like her for some reason. I don’t know. I felt like it didn’t make any sense, so I just stopped listening to the audiobook after that. I think, maybe, it was trying to do everything that a full novel would do, but in novella length.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

#4 Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

[Goodreads Link]

Technically I DNF’ed this at the beginning of this month, so it’s not a Q3 DNF, but… semantics. Who cares? Not me. This one is another one that I went into depth about my reasons for DNF’ing over on my Goodreads. If you want the whole list of grievances, you can read about it here. Unfortunately this book was just boring. How can horror be boring? Out of all the genres that shouldn’t be boring, I’d say horror is probably at the top of the list. I’m in the minority about this one, for sure, but it’s convinced me to just not bother with YA horror from now on. The Diviners series is scarier than this book, and I wouldn’t even call that series ‘horror.’ I’m going to stick to adult horror for the foreseeable future, and we can all thank this book for that.

Let me know if there’s any books you’ve DNF’ed recently.

Rant Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor Books

Date Published: July 3, 2018

My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Normally, I don’t like having to defend my opinions on books. After all, there’s no accounting for personal taste. But, I do feel like I have to defend my position here a little bit. First, there’s a couple things you should know about me before reading my review of this book. First, I’m a feminist. Second, I have a degree in physics. Also, Hidden Figures is one of my favorite movies of all time.

So I’m fairly sure that this book was written for someone like me. I was convinced before starting this book that it was going to be a 5-star read, maybe 4-stars if there was some flaws or it didn’t emotionally connect because how could a book about women in a space program eventually living in space possibly disappoint me that badly?

Well, it managed to disappoint me that badly. And I’ll tell you how.

Per usual I’ll start with writing style. The writing of this book isn’t bad per se, but I also wouldn’t call it good. It’s fairly mediocre. On top of that it’s written in first person which generally isn’t my cup of tea to begin with. I do understand why the first person choice was made though, so I’m not going to dock points for that. Anyway, the writing style never really shines anywhere, but it really flounders during the sex scenes between the main character and her husband. Like, those were so bad I had to pretty much skip over them because I wouldn’t have been able to keep going… luckily they were mostly short and fade to black.

Overall, it’s readable as a writing style, but in my opinion it borders on too simplistic. And that’s coming from someone who generally likes more straightforward styles over poetic and flowery ones.

I also had trouble connecting to the characters, including the main character which shouldn’t at all be an issue in a first person narrative. Writing in first person can often be a crutch for novice writers who don’t know how to portray a character’s thoughts or experiences without using the word ‘I’ but that wasn’t the issue here. The issue was that I straight-up didn’t like Elma. I couldn’t find her relatable- which, as a woman with a physics degree is probably the last thing the author was aiming for- and in fact I found her selfish, annoying, and too fucking perfect.

The least relatable thing about Elma is that she’s so smart that no one else can match her. She went to college at 14. She does math in her head. Oh, you have to solve differential equations with a piece of paper and a pencil? You’re actually a dumbass in comparison. This annoyed me to no end because even the smartest people I knew in my own physics program worked through the math on paper. Maybe there are people out there who can do linear algebra no problem in their head, but they’re few and far between, and they’re far from the average woman in physics, I’ll tell you that.

In fairness, I generally hate stories about exceptional main characters. I have this problem with fantasy novels, too, where the MC has to put in essentially no work to master things others have put years and years into practicing. I just find it really hard to root for characters who have it easy. Which, when we’re talking about a woman physicist in the 1950s, even a genius like Elma shouldn’t have it easy, right? I think Hidden Figures did a much better job of portraying this, and I actually liked all the main characters in that movie. This book, though, had me rolling my eyes.

The biggest obstacle that Elma faces throughout this novel has nothing to do with her gender at all. It’s her anxiety. Honestly the amount of time spent talking about how she has such bad anxiety in front of reporters and cameras and how it makes her throw up really came at the expense of the actual plot of the novel and the feminist narrative. Elma is a woman physicist in the 1950s and this is the biggest obstacle we could come up with for her to face?

Then there’s her husband Nathaniel. I was hoping we’d get a realistic look at marriage in the 1950s, but instead Nathaniel’s traits boil down to he’s an engineer and he’s Jewish. Other than that he has no personality, no motivations outside of supporting everything his wife does including when she forgets to pay the electric bill, and he has absolutely no agency. Their relationship is so unrealistic. Even the most supportive of couples will argue once in a while. Even the healthiest of couples don’t agree on everything. Yet, Elma forgets to pay the electric bill (which she always does because she can do math in her head and Nathaniel can’t) and Nathaniel barely bats an eyelash about it.

The other supporting characters honestly aren’t even worth mentioning, except for Parker. I found him genuinely interesting, but we’re supposed to hate him because he’s trying to keep Elma on the ground and out of outer-space. The only male character in the whole book with agency is, of course, the antagonist.

Writing a feminist book doesn’t mean that the only male characters with agency should be antagonists and that male significant others or romantic interests should be some robot-like unquestioning domestic servant following you around like a puppy-dog.

This is the second book I’ve picked up in less than a month where the feminism part of the story was something I was excited about and then disappointed me greatly. I am a feminist. This does not mean I think only female characters should have any type of agency, or that the only male characters with agency should be on the side of the patriarchy. Ideally, men and women characters should be equally well-developed. In my own experiences, sure men were the causes of some of my biggest problems in my undergrad career in physics. But there were other men who were some of my best friends, some of my biggest allies, and even one I considered to be a mentor. This lack of nuance in “feminist” stories is starting to get on my nerves. Granted, if you can’t develop your main female character, expecting a well-developed cast of supporting characters male and female is probably expecting too much.

Additionally, there’s such a heavy-handed attempt to show Elma off as super woke. This would be fine if it felt natural, but it doesn’t. It’s forced and it’s a weird insertion of our current climate of progressive social values being projected onto a character living in the 1950s. Either way, it should have certainly been executed in a way that didn’t just amount to Dr. Martin Luther King’s name being dropped every other page. It was just as heavy-handed and lacking in nuance as the attempt at feminism.

Frankly, the author’s mediocre writing ability was just not good enough to pull off taking on these important topics.

Now there’s the plot. The plot, in this case, comes as less important than the heavy-handed feminism and Elma’s severe anxiety. Which is interesting, seeing as the plot is that’s it the end of the world and they have a limited amount of time to colonize other planets before the ocean starts to literally boil.

After the first section of the book when the meteorite strikes, which is high-action and actually intriguing, there’s a time-skip. After the time-skip it’s back to business as usual. There’s no sense of urgency, really, and that made it really hard for me to continue turning the pages. The pacing was so uncomfortably slow, but by the time I realized just how bad it was I only had 100 pages left in the damn book so I pushed through it.

We spend so much time on Elma’s anxiety and her problems with Stetson Parker that it’s almost like the fact that the habitable world is literally ending has been all but forgotten by the author. Which is unfortunate, because that’s the book I signed up to read, not a book about a woman with crippling stage-fright (but who also happens to be a natural on camera?)

I’ll save you some time. We don’t get to space until the last line of the book. What was the point of the 300-ish pages between that and the beginning of the time-skip? We don’t even spend a lot of time focusing on preparing for colonization of space in those pages.

I was going to give this book a generous 2 stars. But after writing all this I just realize that I’m so disappointed that I can’t bring myself to do it. This is a one-star read for me, and I wish it were the 5-stars I was expecting. If you’re looking for a story that empowers women in STEM and has important themes of equality, just watch Hidden Figures. If you’re looking for a story about going to space or the end of the world, find some other sci-fi novel.

This ain’t it.

Down the TBR Hole #1

My Goodreads TBR has been quickly getting out of hand so in an attempt to get it under control I’m going to start doing these once or twice a month.

The Rules

  • 1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  •  2. Order on ascending date added.
  •  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
  •  4. Read the synopsis of the books.
  •  5. Time to Decide: keep it or should it go

I’m adding my own twist on this and adding a 6th piece: if I’m on the fence about a book after reading the synopsis, I’ll read the preview of a book and make that part of my decision.

This first one and possibly the next few will be a little bland with me not getting rid of much as I have culled my Goodreads to-read shelf a few times in the last few years.

Now that I’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s just get started.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)

#1 The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

[Goodreads Link]

Okay, this is a book I’ve been meaning to get to for ages and the only reason I haven’t is that I’m always hesitant to start new series that are unfinished and that haven’t been updated in years. From what I know the fourth book of the series is coming, but I’m not keen to start reading this series and catch up just to have to wait for the rest of the books. I definitely am excited to get to this series eventually, I’m just waiting for the right time to do so. Maybe when the final book is on its way and I can read it knowing that there will be an end to the series.

Verdict: KEEP

Uprooted

#2 Uprooted by Naomi Novik

[Goodreads Link]

This book is right up my alley. There’s fantasy, there’s woods, its protagonist is a young woman, there’s a man whose magic keeps their whole village alive. This is giving me some Deathless vibes, and that’s one of my all-time favorite books, so honestly there’s no way I’m letting go of this one. I’m not quite sure why I haven’t read it already, to be honest, and I think the longer I’ve put it off the less likely I’ve been to pick it up. I definitely want to change that soon, and it feels like a fall read to me so maybe sometime in the next couple months I’ll finally get around to reading this.

Verdict: KEEP

West (East, #2)

#3 West by Edith Pattou

[Goodreads Link]

This is the sequel to East which was one of my favorite books when I was younger. I still want to read this, but I plan on re-reading East first since it’s been probably 12 or 13 years since I’ve read it. That’s a long ass time. Even though I haven’t ever re-read it, it’s still one of the few books I still think about a lot. So I’m definitely looking forward to re-reading East and giving West a read as well.

Verdict: KEEP

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, #1)

#4 Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

[Goodreads Link]

This is a book recommended to me by my boyfriend. According to Goodreads it’s been on my to-read shelf since 2017, but I’m fairly certain he may have told me about it even before then. In any case, I definitely want to read it because of that, but also because of my own reading goals, one of which is read more science fiction. Plus I finally bought a physical copy of this book only a couple of weeks ago, so this will definitely be a book I get to sooner rather than later.

Verdict: KEEP

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1)

#5 Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

[Goodreads Link]

Okay, so I was a little on the fence about this re-reading the synopsis on Goodreads, but the preview convinced me. This is one that I think I really will love when I get around to reading it; I just keep putting it off for some unknown reason. I don’t read a lot of portal fantasy, not because I don’t like it, but because it’s not a genre I think about very much. I definitely want to give this books and series a chance though, and it’s short which is a plus.

Verdict: KEEP

So in total I am keeping 5 books and letting go of 0, but like I mentioned above, I had a feeling that would be the case for this first post and possibly the next one as these books have already made it through multiple Goodreads culls that I’ve done in the past.

Review: The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia #1) by Sarah Beth Durst

The Queen of Blood (The Queens of Renthia, #1)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Date Published: September 20, 2016

Date(s) Read: August 29, 2019 – September 1, 2019

My Rating: ★★★★☆

The Queen of Blood is the first book in a High Fantasy series. The world has spirits, who exist solely to create and destroy things, and one of the things they want to destroy is Humans. Some humans are born with the affinity to spirits, which gives them the ability to bend the spirits to their will. Only women have the affinity, and so queens are chosen to keep the people (and the spirits, as well) safe. A new queen is chosen from a pool of “heirs” who have been trained extensively and hand-picked by the queen herself.

Despite there being a queen in power there, attacks on outer forest villages have been happening more and more frequently. The Champion Ven and his candidate to become heir (and our main character) Daleina try their best to help these villages, while not breaking the “Do No Harm” command between the spirits and humans.

I don’t want to give away too much, but a lot of politics and magic ensues.

Some people have this shelved as YA on Goodreads, enough that it’s only second to Fantasy, but it actually is not marketed as a YA series and was shelved with adult books at my library. However, I do see the crossover appeal. Our main character is a young woman who for a good part of the book is training at a magical school and then under a mentor. There are trials that then take place before the girls are selected as heirs. There’s background romances, strong female friendships, and a big part of this book is grappling with the idea of growing up and leaving home and coming to terms that home isn’t going to stay the same forever. Also there’s not any vulgarity, gratuitous violence, and there’s only mild sexual situations, so it’d definitely be appropriate for teens.

As far as writing style goes I can’t say I noticed it at all while I was reading it, which generally for me means it was pretty good. There were no distracting attempts at abusing a thesaurus nor were there any glaring flaws. It’s a straightforward style, which I tend to like.

The plot had a decent amount going on. Our main perspective is from Daleina, but we also get chapters from Ven, and occasionally from Queen Fara.

I really enjoyed the world here. The spirits are more a part of the world than they are anything else (except for one, but I won’t say more than that) even as a large part of the plot revolves around them. Aratay is a forest kingdom complete with houses and entire villages in the trees. It was such a fun setting to read and it was easy to become immersed in throughout the story.

There’s enough going on to keep things moving and intriguing, but not so much that I think it would confuse anyone. As far as fantasy goes this one is fairly accessible, and you know, I like that. Not every fantasy has to go out of its way to make the world and plot as complicated as possible (though I do love intricate world-building and plots with a lot of different folds, too, when done well.)

The stakes are high, and I won’t spoil anything, but the ending had all the payoff I was looking for.

The characters felt decently fleshed out to me.

There were points where I didn’t feel super connected to Daleina or where her choices and frustrations didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. But that wasn’t a problem throughout, and the times I felt that way didn’t ruin the overall story for me. Overall I enjoyed her a lot as the main character.

It was extremely refreshing to have a fantasy story revolve around a character that actually had to work hard to achieve their goals. I’m so sick of these perfect men (and women, though that’s more in YA) that are great at absolutely everything without even trying. Oh, and if they’re a man they also get all the ladies with just the bat of an eyelash. Those characters are hard to connect with, annoying to read about, and I don’t even want to root for them because I know they’re going to succeed no matter what. In this story, there was a real chance of Daleina not succeeding; there was a lot of emphasis on how much harder she had to work than all of her peers- not even to excel at the magical school she was at, but only to passably get through her training- and that makes her one of the more admirable main characters I’ve read about. I really cannot stress enough how much I appreciated this.

That said, Champion Ven was absolutely my favorite character of the whole thing. He’s disgraced toward the beginning of the book, and spends the rest of it adventuring among the outer forest and trying his best to save villages from spirit attacks. He tries his best to do the right thing and to be noble, but he has one major thing holding him back, a past affair with the Queen.

On that note, Ven and Queen Fara’s romance didn’t really translate well, in my opinion. The chemistry felt fabricated. There was a lot of telling rather than showing, and I didn’t feel any romantic or sexual tension in the scenes I think I was supposed to. It was in the background enough that it didn’t bother me too much, but I did sort of find myself rolling my eyes whenever they were together or whenever Ven thought about how beautiful she is.

Daleina and Hamon on the other hand were a couple I really liked. Their chemistry felt real, at one point they have an argument and that tension feels real and relatable as well, and I just really appreciated what we got of their romance, and I’m also glad it stayed mostly in the background.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, and I am planning on continuing this series. This series deserves way more attention than it’s got- if this first book is indicative of anything- and I’m so glad I gave it a shot. I literally only decided to see if it was at my library because I had nothing else to read and sorted my goodreads shelf by random to pick the first three books that came up. And I’m glad I did.

August Wrap Up

I read four books in the month of August, which certainly isn’t a lot, but it is more than I read in June and July combined so I’m pretty happy with that.

Beastly Bones (Jackaby, #2)

The Beastly Bones (Jackaby #2) by William Ritter

Page Count: 320

Dates Read: August 2-6

My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This is the second book in a YA paranormal mystery series. The series is fun and lighthearted and often involves culprits that are mythical creatures. I really enjoyed the first book in this series but this one was a disappointment. I didn’t feel connected to the characters at all, including Abigail who we’re supposed to relate to in comparison to Jackaby. The supporting characters didn’t seem that important, and I didn’t really care much for the mystery. I may continue this series in the hopes it gets back to what I liked about the first book, but I’m not in a rush to read the next one.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Page Count: 171

Dates Read: August 7-8

My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This is a book about a girl who grows up with a very strict and devout mother. Their religion, at times, seems like a cult. The main character starts to question everything she knows when she realizes that she loves women. The premise was very interesting to me as were the themes, but unfortunately the execution of this left a bit too much for me to be desired. I think I need to take a sabbatical from reading literary fiction, because I’ve been having a hard time with it in general recently and have had a tendency to just roll my eyes at how unnecessarily high-brow it all is. I ended up DNF’ing a literary fiction book in July, and I haven’t read any that have really felt like books I want to be reading in a few years.

Vengeful (Villains, #2)

Vengeful (Villains #2) by V.E. Schwab

Page Count: 478

Dates Read: August 9-13

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

This is the sequel to Vicious, which I read in April but which was published 5 years before this. While the first book of this series was also about 3-star read for me, this was noticeably worse. The new female characters were especially disappointing. Marcella had so much potential, but ended up just being a plot device who was characterized entirely by two tropes (the jilted lover and the femme fatale.) There was nothing about her that made me care about her ever though I really wanted to like her. June, who is— from how this book ends— actually supposed to be important doesn’t actually do much of anything nor do we learn all that much about her and certainly not enough for me to so much as pretend I wanted to care. I don’t think we needed this book or the one that may come after it. Vicious was not only fine on its own, but better on its own. I’ll probably read the next one, but to me this is just obviously a cash grab and I’m not wholly impressed.

Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #2)

Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor #2) by Mark Lawrence

Page Count: 415

Dates Read: August 17-29

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Ending the month on a strong note! I was so happy with this book, especially as I hadn’t been fully enamored with Red Sister when I read it. I think it was just a matter of timing, and reading this after a whole bunch of books I didn’t quite love made it that much better. Or maybe it was genuinely better than the first book. I really enjoyed Nona and her budding friendship with Zole and her continuing friendships with the other novices. I loved the final scenes. Joelie Namsis was a great antagonist; I found her extremely irritating but I’m also interested to learn more about her (which I don’t know for sure that we will.) The world of this series continues to keep me wanting to know more about it. I’m super excited to continue with this series and will being doing so after I catch up on a couple others.

That’s all I read in August! Have you read any of these books? Or what did you read in August? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue

Genre: New Adult Fiction, LGBT Romance

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Length: 423 pages

Date Published: May 14, 2019

Date(s) Read: May 26, 2019 – Jun 2, 2019

Goodreads Synopsis: A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him. 

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


My Rating: ★★★☆☆

My Review:

I don’t read a lot of New Adult nor a lot of romance. Not because I don’t like it but because I just don’t tend to pick it up. There’s something about romance between characters I’m already otherwise invested in that just makes it a lot more meaningful to me, so I prefer it in the background of other stories instead of as the main focus.

So I went into this book hopeful but a little skeptical.

Now, I have to say that this book read like a fan-fiction and I mean that in the best way. It was captivating, the characters felt like people I could know in real life, and they talked like people I do know in real life (which is amazing to read in a book, and I hadn’t realized how much I needed that until I read this.) It is a very real portrayal of the Older Gen Z/Younger Millennial crowd. Alex and Henry talk like real young people. There’s one part of the book where the author inserted a group-chat text thread and I loved that to pieces because it’s actually how my friends and I talk in our own groupchats.

I know it’s probably a strange thing to focus on, but that is what I loved most about the book.

It’s not the only thing I loved though. Alex’s realization that he was bisexual was both funny and realistic and reminded me of my own realization about my sexuality. For me it was very “Oh, so much makes sense now” when I put two and two together in a sort of underwhelming realization. And it was a similar realization for Alex, you know it was sort of an identity crisis but not at all portrayed as the end of the world, and I’m so glad that the author portrayed a bisexual character so damn well.

The romance itself was lighthearted and fun. The enemies-to-friends-to-lovers trope is one of my ultimate weaknesses as far as tropes go, and it was done so masterfully here. I swear this author has definitely written fan-fiction before, I refuse to believe otherwise, and once again I mean that in the best way.

This is definitely one of the best romances I’ve read recently (not that I’ve read many) and it’s definitely worth the read, even for people who might not normally pick up romances.

Review: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Descendant of the Crane

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company

Length: 416 Pages

Date(s) Read: May 1, 2019 – May 9, 2019

Date Published: April 9, 2019

Goodreads Synopsis:

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.


My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Review:

Knowing that this was a YA Debut, I went into this with some reservations, but I was completely pleasantly surprised by this book.

The writing style is absolutely wonderful. Honestly I wouldn’t have guessed that this was a debut if I had just happened to pick it up without hearing about it. The writing style itself shows that author has put in a lot of work and practice into the craft. It’s great to read writing like this, especially after the last YA Fantasy Debut let me way down in terms of writing, and frankly if I were to recommend this book for one thing, it would be the writing itself.

The plot was intriguing, and it’s not an idea I’ve seen done that often in YA fantasy. The idea of soothsayers not just being able to tell the future but to manipulate time using their magic is such a cool magic system, and the Chinese inspiration throughout the plot, the worldbuilding, and the magic was beautifully executed.

However I felt like the pacing of it wasn’t quite right. Some places I was bored and ended up skimming, and other places I wasn’t sure I was actually keeping up with what was going on. There needed to be a little more balance in the execution, but otherwise I really enjoyed the plot of a young queen trying to fill her father’s shoes, while also attempting to solve the mystery of his death.

The setting was just brilliant. I don’t have anything bad to say about it. The world felt so vivid and I just really enjoyed learning about the world. It wasn’t an intense exercise in worldbuilding by any means, but I’m hoping we’ll get more of that if she decides to write a second book.

The characters, in my opinion, were the weakest link for me. It’s been less than a week since I’ve read this book and I forget pretty much all of their names already. None of the characters feel all that developed, except for Hesina, and I think more could have been done to develop them on the page. What’s strange is that I definitely didn’t feel this way when reading the book, but now that I’ve had a week to digest it, I’m definitely seeing that.

That said, there were moments while reading that I felt the emotions that the author was trying to convey. I teared up twice while reading it. Even though some of the character’s didn’t feel developed, Hesina cared about them enough that when something happened to them I felt for her more than for them.

I’d definitely recommend this, for the writing style, the unique and diverse setting, and just for a good time.