Perception|| Terri Fleming [Pride & Prejudice Retelling Mini Review]

Perception by Terri Fleming

Historical Fiction

400 Pages

Published 2017

⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Synopsis

Mary Bennet does not dream of marriage. Much to her mother’s horror, Mary is determined not to follow in the footsteps of her elder sisters, Jane (now Mrs Bingley) and Lizzy (now Mrs Darcy). Living at home with her remaining sister, Kitty, and her parents, Mary does not care for fashions or flattery. Her hopes are simple – a roof over her head, music at the piano, a book in her hand and the freedom not to marry the first bachelor her mother can snare for her.

But Mrs Bennet is not accustomed to listening to her daughters. When one of Meryton’s wealthiest residents reveals her son is returning home, Mrs Bennett is determined to hear wedding bells ring for one of her girls. Thrown into society, Mary discovers that promises can be broken, money can conquer love, and duty is not always a path to happiness. But by the time she realises her perceptions might be false, might she have missed her chance at a future she’d never imagined?

Comments

The main protagonist is Mary Bennet, the middle daughter of the family. In the original she is described as plain, and is mostly interested in music and reading. She had no interest in social occasions beyond finding an audience to display her accomplishments, of which she was rather vain.

This book takes place a few years after the end of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There are many familiar characters, plus a few new ones. It mirrors the original in many ways and plays on familiar riffs of Pride and Prejudice.

Perception keeps to similar themes such as gender roles, marriage, social and class divisions, social climbing, and family. However, at its heart, it is a romance.

Yes, you heard me – a romance revolving around Mary Bennet. It was sweet and very well written. I was a little dismayed at the whole makeover part, but I enjoyed reading about Mary’s internal growth and change as a character. I felt it was perhaps a teeny bit dramatic, and sometimes I found myself wondering how believable it was. But this might not be an issue for others.

My only real issue was the portrayal of the majority of women as frivolous and stupid. It’s been a while since I read the original, but I’m pretty sure this type of talk was present. It still makes me uncomfortable.

The language is more accessible than Austen, but still keeps the historical feel. It’s very readable, and I’d recommend it to fans of Austen, and historical romance.

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Descendant of the Crane|| Joan He (Mini Review)

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Young Adult Fantasy

416 pages

Publication: 9 April 2019

#1 in series

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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.

General Comments

I could wax poetic about this Chinese inspired fantasy for hours. Well, it would be less poetic and more incoherent ramble. This book seriously has it all. At least, a bit of everything I enjoy. It was completely addictive and so easy to read. I literally devoured it in a few hours.

What I loved

  • Complicated family dynamic: Hesina has complex and varying relationships with all the members of her family. The relationship with her mother is strained, bordering on loathing. It doesn’t help that her mother lives in some far off mountain monastery or something and acts like a bit of a b****. Hesina has, on the other hand, completely idealised her now-deceased father, which is obviously never an accurate or realistic representation of reality. She’s got a strained relationship with Sanjing, her biological brother, for something that happened when they were kids. Added to this, she has two adopted siblings. Lillian is absolutely awesome and very supportive, while Caiyan, her adopted brother is very logical and Hesina’s closest adviser.
  • Court politics: When this is done well I really enjoy all the intrigue and deals and sacrifices that come with being part of an imperial court. I wasn’t perhaps terribly surprised by all of it, but it was still a lot of fun to read.
  • Legal trial: In a lot of fantasies the legal system doesn’t get a lot of focus, so I was absolutely fascinated by the trial/inquest part of DotC, and I loved Akira being Hesina’s legal representative. He’s intelligent and it sort of leaves me in awe.
  • Murder mystery: I don’t read a lot of murder mysteries (I watch them though), so this was another element that I loved. Hesina’s quest to find out what happened to her father is a goal I can get behind, and I enjoyed reading how it played out. It went in a direction I was absolutely not expecting AT ALL, and I loved it.
  • Detailed mythology/ back story: This mostly pertains to the founding of the current dynasty, and the laws and advice the founders, know as The Eleven, left behind to run a fair and just society. It added so much more depth to the novel, and was fascinating in and of itself. I’d actually love to read that story if Joan He would consider writing a prequel.
  • Forbidden blood magic: Certain people, called sooths, have the ability to see the future. It’s an inherited blood-related magic, and it was fascinating. It really spoke to inequality and the dehumanisation of vulnerable groups.
  • Themes: There are quite a few themes running through the story. A big one was whether the concept of a just and equitable society is achievable, and what sort of sacrifices a person is willing to make to achieve their goals. What price is too high?
  • Complex characters: The bad guys aren’t wholly bad, the good guys aren’t wholly good. They’re human, and they’re messy, and they’re complicated. Everyone had realistic motivations and their reactions were always consistent with their personalities, which is pretty important to me.

Wicked Fox|| Kat Cho (Mini Review)

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Young Adult Urban Fantasy

429 pages

Publication date: 25 June 2019

#1 in duology

⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Synopsis 

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl–he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to humans. He’s drawn to her anyway.

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

My Review

This was a difficult book for me to review because there were parts I loved, and parts I felt were a bit underwhelming. As a fan of Korean Dramas, it felt very much like a mishmash of every drama I’ve ever watched. That is both a good and a bad thing.

It had a lot of the tropes, archetypes, and recycled plot elements I’ve seen in dozens of dramas. I don’t necessarily dislike them, I just enjoy seeing them turned on their head because I don’t find them surprising anymore.

I did enjoy the mythology elements- gumiho, goblins, ghosts and shamans (no, shamans aren’t mythological, they still exist in Korea today, I’m just being lazy). They were familiar, but Cho had an interesting twist on them, so I was excited to find out more. The short passages between chapters (written in italics) about gumiho lore (both real and specific to this book) were fascinating.

I didn’t mind the love story. It was a cute reluctant friends- actual friends- lovers romance. I saw some of the twists coming a mile off, but the big reveal did sneak up on me and surprise me. I always appreciate an author that can pull that off.

Despite the occasional dark and somewhat violent scenes, I’d describe Wicked Fox as a light, entertaining read. I recommend it to fans of Asian inspired stories and especially to fans of Korean Dramas.

Retelling Mini Reviews|| The Tea Master & the Detective/ Unmarriageable/The Cold is in Her Bones

Today I’m bringing you three mini reviews of retellings. One could argue that they are all literature retellings, though one is almost 3000 years old. Nevertheless, here are the reviews.

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Retelling of Sherlock Holmes

The Tea Master and the Detective is a stand-alone short story set in an alternate universe called Xuya. If the setting takes your fancy there are other stories set in the same universe.

Going in I wasn’t aware that this was in any way a retelling, but anyone with a passing knowledge of Sherlock Holmes will be able to recognise the similarities in the characterisation of Shadow’s Child and Long Chau as Watson and Holmes respectively.

Shadow’s Child is a sentient mindship who was discharged from the military after a traumatic injury, while Long Chau is a mysterious intellectual with a drug addiction. The two team up to solve a series of mysterious deaths in deep space. I found both main characters interesting, and the plot was fascinating. Sadly, I feel that everything was very rushed, so I had trouble engaging with the story.

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

Set in Pakistan during the late 90s, Unmarriageable is a fun retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The story sticks pretty closely to the original, so there are no real surprises in terms of plot, and the writing is very easy to read. The themes of pride, prejudice, social/class differences etc are also carried over from Jane Austen’s original.

I liked the portrayal of Pakistani religions and culture, though how accurate Muslim/Hindu relations were is questionable. The descriptions of things like location, food and dress were very well done and helped transport me.

My only complaint is that I thought the names were a bit on the nose. Here are some examples:

Alysba Binat – Elizabeth Bennett

Qitty – Kitty

Lady- Lydia

Jena- Jane

Mari- Mary

Fahad Bingla- Charles Bingley

Valentine Darsee- Fitzwilliam Darcy

Jujeena Darsee- Georgiana Darcy

Jeorgeullah Wickaam- George Wickham

Nisar & Nona Gardenaar- Mr and Mrs Gardiner

Sherry Looclus- Charlotte Lucas

The Cold is in her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale

⭐️⭐️💫

Retelling of Medusa myth

The first thing I should make clear is that this is not a retelling. It’s not even a reimagining. It takes some motifs and very general themes and weaves a story of its own.

I admire the message it was trying to convey – encouraging girls to have a voice and show their feelings. But there was absolutely no subtlety. It involved girls basically being told to shut up and not ever show feelings of anger, despite the glaring differences in the treatment between boys and girls. The fear of the girls of this particular village was partially justified because young women often manifested a curse. Nevertheless, girls displaying anger were sent to a prison where they were abused.

The story was a bit convoluted, and I didn’t really enjoy it very much. The writing is very simple and straightforward though, so it was a quick read.

Fairytale Mini Reviews || Blanca & Roja/In the Vanishers’ Palace/Girls Made of Snow & Glass

Today I bring you three mini reviews of fairytale retellings. Enjoy.

Blanca & Roja by Anna Marie McLemore

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Retelling of Snow White & Rose Red, and Swan Lake

Blanca and Roja is the story of the del Cisne sisters, who are cursed. There are always two sisters in every generation of every branch of the family. When they are teens one sister becomes a swan and flies away with the bevy, while the other sister is left behind. All their lives Blanca and Roja are determined to beat the curse and remain together. Their story is also mixed up with that of Page and Yearling, two boys who disappeared into the woods and were changed by its magic.

It’s difficult for me to review this book, which is why it’s taken me months to write this tiny review. Let me start by saying it is a beautiful book. It feels sort of delicate and fragile. I’d call it whimsical, but there are some dark undertones in both the plot and the atmosphere throughout. I can’t say that I was particularly enthralled by the plot, because it just isn’t that kind of book. It’s very very character focused, and the fantasy elements are both present, but very subdued.

What I loved was the relationships. I felt the bond between the sisters in an almost visceral way. The way you can love someone and kind of hate them in the same breath, but in the end family is family, and you would do anything for them. I loved the relationship between Page and Yearling too. Even though they weren’t family, it felt as if they were.

I thought the transgender/genderfluid representation was absolutely superb. It was nuanced and so sensitive. My sister had recently told most of her friends and family about her identity, so reading this was particularly poignant to me at the time. Page was my favourite character in this novel for his (sometimes her) complexity and personality.

Finally, I really appreciated McLemore’s inclusion of menstruation. It seems like a strange thing to say, but a lot of books just ignore the fact that women bleed every month. The fact that Roja experienced dysmenorrhea and suffered horribly really resonated with my own experiences. I’ve never seen that kind of straightforward representation of what it means to be a woman in any other book. Ever.

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

This futuristic Vietnamese-inspired retelling of Beauty and the Beast sounded absolutely wonderful. I’m not going to say this was a terrible novella. It really wasn’t. The beast was a dragon-shifter who lived in a broken palace created by a race of insane creatures who messed with reality. The ‘beauty’ character was the daughter of a healer who needed the dragon’s help. The premise and the worldbuilding were solid, if a little confusing at times. I struggled to connect much with the characters because I don’t feel there was quite enough time to develop them. As a result there seemed to be jumps in the progression of relationships and the story in general. I think it is worth a read if you like retellings, and mind-bending physics/magic. Unfortunately for me it was more of a tantalising taste of a really interesting world, rather than the whole meal, so to speak.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Retelling of Snow White

I had really high expectations going into this because I have heard such wonderful things about it. It was by no means terrible, in fact, it is a good book. I was just left with a feeling of wanting more.

It’s told from two perspectives – Mina, the stepmother, and Lynet, the princess. Mina feels disconnected from everyone, and yearns to feel love – something her magician father has never given her. Lynet yearns for freedom. She’s tired of the expectations on her to be like her dead mother – she’d much prefer to be like her stepmother, Mina.

I liked that there was an exploration of the meaning of love and family, as well being true to yourself and meeting your own expectations before others. I also liked that there was a blossoming love story between Lynet and another girl, although I feel it could have been explored a bit more.

It does read very much like a fairytale, and you can take that as a positive or a negative. It’s a very easy straightforward read, and there is absolutely no question about the themes and underlying message. That being said, I felt that for this very reason, it lacked the kind of nuance I was hoping for, especially in terms of character development.

DNF Reviews|| Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, Teeth in the Mist & Miranda in Milan

Triple DNF review time. All three were retellings, and two of them started off really well. Read on to find out more.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Retelling/prequel of Snow White

Vietnamese/Asian inspired setting

DNF 66%

I was really looking forward to reading this book, because I love retellings, and I was interested to see the treatment Dao would give to The Evil Queen’s backstory.

Firstly, I loved the change of setting. The worldbuilding was interesting, and I kind of felt like I was watching an Asian drama with all the court politics and beautiful scenery and costumes. Obviously the plot was a bit limited in where it could go because this is a retelling/backstory, but since that’s part of the reason I like retellings this didn’t bother me.

My problem was with the main character, Xifeng. I didn’t really like her, which I was expecting, because she has to become a villain. What I couldn’t stand was having absolutely no understanding of her motivation, and her wishy washy feelings toward everyone.

For example, she hates her aunt who treats her badly, but then she states that she cares about her, but there’s no indication as to why. We’re just expected to accept it because it’s stated. There are no loving flashbacks to support such a claim. Another example: she loves the village boy, but she doesn’t, and apparently just uses him to get to the palace. But then she is really doing it for him, so he can fulfil his dream to join the army. Or something.

As for her motivation, aside from her horoscope saying she is destined to be Empress of Feng Lu, I can’t understand why she chooses to follow that path. She doesn’t seem to really desire that outcome, so there’s no real impetus to do so. If she truly believed that it was her destiny and in the infallibility of prophecies, I could understand. Overall, I think she lacks conviction. In trying to make Xifeng a sympathetic and likeable character, I feel like it ended up making her weak, indecisive and incomprehensible.

That being said, I’m not ruling out the possibility of trying to re-read this again in the future.

Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich

Retelling of Faust

Young Adult Horror

Set primarily in Wales, UK

DNF 51%

Firstly, background. The Faust legend is about a man who makes a deal with the devil. In exchange for knowledge and a demon’s service for a set number of years he promises to give the devil his soul. There are variations of course, but that is the basic story. So when I saw that this book was coming out I was interested to give it a go.

This book follows three girls living in different centuries, all of whom are connected in some way to Medwyn Mill House in Wales. The first is Hermione Smith, a young wife living in the 16th century. Her story is told through the occasional diary entry, and chronicles her husband’s obsession with building the house on a rocky, inhospitable mountain. The second is Roan, who becomes a ward of Dr Maudley who lives at Mill House. Roan and the other two new wards all have secrets, and some mysterious connection to an ancient secret. The final girl is Zoey, a sixteen year old photography student who journeys to Mill House in the present to uncover the mystery of what happened to her father. Her story is told through transcripts of film diaries.

I was hooked for most of the first half of the book. The atmosphere was haunting, and the mystery was really compelling. I especially liked Roan’s perspective. As I hit the half way mark it felt like not much was happening, and there hadn’t been much in the way of plot progression at all. It didn’t help that I wasn’t that interested in Zoey’s point of view at all.

For a different reader, I think this would probably be a great story. I have seen quite a few 5 star reviews around. It just wasn’t for me. I like a bit of thrill and horror, but I also like a faster pace.

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

Retelling/ Sequel of The Tempest by Shakespeare

Young Adult Fantasy Novella

Set in Italy

DNF 32%

I’ll start by saying I know very little about The Tempest. It isn’t a play I ever read or studied, so my knowledge is very superficial. Nevertheless, I thought a young adult retelling would be an interesting way to find out more. What I discovered was that this is not a retelling. It is more of a sequel.

This book promises a sapphic relationship between Miranda and her new friend/maid Dorothea, along with a mystery regarding Miranda’s mother. Unfortunately I couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for either. There are pretty much only two characters in the  first third of the book. The dialogue between them feels pretty unnatural, and the development of their relationship goes from 0 to 100 in about 2 pages. Aside from that, I had no huge problems.

Mini Review: Here, The World Entire|| Anwen Kya Hayward

Here, The World Entire by Anwen Kya Hayward

Historical Fantasy Novella

Published December 2016

83 pages

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

CW: Rape

Synopsis

After being accused of desecrating Athena’s temple and subsequently cursed with monstrousness, Medusa lives alone on the outskirts of the world, secluding herself from everyone so as to keep both herself and the rest of the world safe. When Perseus comes to ask for her help, Medusa tries desperately to make him leave, but no matter what she does, Perseus stays. As the days wear on and she reveals more about the events that led her to the cave, it becomes obvious that there is a choice to make: stay safe and alone, or re-enter the world with Perseus. One question still remains, however: what does Perseus want?

My Thoughts

This is a short, poignant reflection on three key scenes in Medusa’s life. At only 83 pages, every word is absolutely used to greatest effect. It is written in first person, so we really get to delve into Medusa’s thoughts and feelings.

In the present she is grappling with the appearance of a young man at the mouth of her cave. She’s warring with her fears, of both hurting and being hurt by other people; and her hope that he is what he says he is.

Interspersed with the present are her recollections of the past. She ruminates primarily on two moments that shaped her into what she is now: the events that led up to the curse Athena placed on her; and an incident that occurred in her cave, a place of self-imposed exile.

What I though Hayward did really well was the portrayal of a trauma, and the thoughts and beliefs and emotions of a person who has been deeply scarred by such trauma. Medusa felt both guilt and injustice. While she (rightly) blamed the people responsible, she simultaneously felt at fault. The damage to her self-worth was palpable.

This is not going to be the story for everyone. But I think it is a thoughtful retelling of Medusa’s myth, and a sensitive exploration of trauma and victimisation.

 

Conservation of Shadows|| Yoon Ha Lee

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee

Published April 2013

322 pages

Short Story Collection

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

There is no such thing as conservation of shadows. When light destroys shadows, darkness does not gain in density elsewhere. When shadows steal over earth and across the sky, darkness is not diluted. Featuring an Introduction by Aliette De Bodard, Conservation of Shadows features a selection of short stories from Yoon Ha Lee.

General comments

This is a fabulous short story collection. The stories I loved, I really really loved. Out of sixteen stories over half got 4 stars or above.

The writing is absolutely beautiful. It is sort of jarring, but has this magical quality to it at the same time. The closest comparison I can think of is Tessa Gratton’s writing in Strange Grace.

The themes were quite serious, ranging from colonialism, war, revenge, culture, language. Lee does not pull any punches.

The inspiration behind many of the stories derived from mathematics, physics and philosophy, which was at times fascinating, and at others completely beyond my range of comprehension. Still, I really enjoyed the collection overall.

Since I don’t want to give too much away, I’ll only be giving very brief notes about each story.

Ghostweight (2011) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I had trouble with this one to start with because I was completely unfamiliar with Lee’s style, but it really packed an emotional punch by the end. It is about origami, and ghosts, and spaceships, and colonialism, and revenge. I didn’t see the plot twist coming at all. And the world was a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, which I think was seamlessly blended.

The Shadow Postulates (2007) ⭐️⭐️

The plot in this short story was pretty straight forward, but I just didn’t really like it. To be completely honest, I don’t even really remember much about it beyond two university roommates doing sword dancing.

The Bones of Giants (2009) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion, this featured necromancy, a duo riding resurrected giants, and an evil sorcerer. The world was interesting, and although short, the plot was pretty cool.

Between Two Dragons (2010) ⭐️⭐️

This was inspired by The Imjin War and Admiral Yi Sun Shin, a Korean hero. I didn’t feel that it was a particularly strong piece, because the plot was confusing and it was narrated in second person, which I don’t enjoy.

Swanwatch (2009) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Swanwatch is about exile, music, black holes, and valorising suicide. I liked the characters and their relationships with each other. The whole concept was beautifully executed and really poignant.

Effigy Nights (2013) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Effigy Nights gave me chills. Blending both science fiction and fantasy, we are thrown into a world that epitomises and values the arts that has been colonised by a technologically superior enemy. Our main character is a surgeon, but not quite as we know it. It involves paper people and rebellion against colonialism and destruction of culture. While I don’t believe the author has specifically stated it, I imagine that it is inspired by the Japanese colonisation of Korea, as other stories in the collection are.

Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain (2010) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Lee explores the idea that free will and inevitability are not mutually exclusive in this short, but very powerful story. All I can really say about this one is that it involves a series of guns that have very specific abilities. [*Possible Spoiler* *Highlight to see* For example, one gun not only kills you, but your ancestors as well] It was probably my favourite of all the stories in the collection. I can’t even describe why I loved it so much, but it really hit me emotionally, and the whole idea was so profound. 

Iseul’s Lexicon (2013) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

By far the longest story in the collection, Iseul’s Lexicon is inspired by Imjin War and the Japanese Occupation of Korea. It takes place during war, and melds together language and magic. We follow a magic user, and their attempts to use that magic to influence the war.

Counting the Shapes (2001) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is the oldest story in the collection, and is a little more fantasy than science-fiction. The main character is a mathemagician who is trying to decipher a prophecy using the idea of symmetry to help win a war against demons.

Blue Ink (2008) ⭐️⭐️

Blue Ink was a bit too abstract for my liking. It’s basically about a battle at the end of time, and seventy versions of one girl. I honestly struggled to understand the point of it.

The Battle of Candle Arc (2012) DNF

This is another rather long story and it is connected to the novel, Ninefox Gambit. I found it difficult to get into, so all I can tell you is that the author stated it was inspired by the Battle of Myeongnyang and Admiral Yi Sun Shin.

A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel (2011) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the notes, Lee talks about being inspired by Italo Calvino and basis vectors in linear algebra. It sounds terrifying and complicated, but basically was a series of anecdotes about worlds and societies that use FTL star drives (Faster Than Light), and the way it interacts with and influences their beliefs and culture. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Still, I found this piece very satisfying despite not really being a cohesive ‘story’ per se.

The Unstrung Zither (2009) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

So the basic premise behind this story was the idea that music creates order in society. It’s about colonisation at its core, and revolves around a musician and five adolescent assassins. The world was awesome, and music is used to tune warships and such.

The Black Abacus (2002) ⭐️

I really had a hard time with this one. I still only have a vague sense of what it was about, but basically it was war playing out like quantum chess. It was bizarre and I had no idea what was happening with the two main characters.

The Book of Locked Doors (2012) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Influenced by the anime Code Geass as well as Dungeons and Dragons, The Book of Locked Doors is another story inspired by the Japanese Occupation of Korea. The magic system in this was kind of dark and super interesting, involving dead people being inscribed in books.

Conservation of Shadows (2011) ⭐️⭐️

Inspired by the Sumerian poem, The Descent of Innana, it had a very different feel compared to the rest of the stories in this collection. It was also written in second person which I didn’t really like. I had to look at the notes to work out what had actually happened.

 

A Thousand Ships|| Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Historical Fantasy

Published 2 May 2019

352 pages

Standalone

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Synopsis

This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them…

In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever known will turn to ash . . .

The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all…

Powerfully told from an all-female perspective, A Thousand Ships gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent.

My Thoughts

A Thousand Ships is a feminist retelling of The Iliad from multiple points of view. The central conceit of the story is that the muse Calliope is giving a blind poet (Homer) visions of womens’ stories during The Trojan War so he can compose a great epic poem. It follows goddesses and mortals, wives and daughters and sisters and mothers, enemies and allies, victims and villains, Trojans and Greeks. I think that while it can be read on its own merit, it helps to have a passing knowledge of The Iliad.

The narrative is non-linear and third person (mostly), and follows no less than twenty five characters. But don’t stress! Many of the stories are fairly self-contained. The important part is that these women are all connected by an event that defines and shapes their lives – The Trojan War. (There is also a helpful list of characters at the beginning of the novel if you need it.)

The characters are obviously the crowning glory of this novel. Each woman has a unique voice, and despite many having only a few pages of their own, they are all surprising complex and well developed. I felt a connection with almost every character in this book.

My favourite chapters were Penelope’s letters, written in the second person, to her husband Odysseus during his twenty year absence from home. She conveys both her annoyance and her grief over his prolonged absence, and her letters are peppered with sarcasm and desperation.

The most moving scene, surprisingly, was one between Cassandra and Clytemnestra after Agamemnon’s victorious return to Mycenae. I wish I could go into more detail, but it was heart-renching in both its sadness and its beauty.

I also want to briefly mention the atmosphere that permeates A Thousand Ships. Haynes has somehow managed to take an awful event and suffuse it with both horror and beauty. Despite the almost overwhelming sense of grief and pathos there are moments of brightness – hope, humour, relief, love. The contrast is one of the things I think makes this novel so successful. Haynes has managed to find exactly the right balance between two extremes. Too far in either direction and the whole story would fall flat.

The characters were thoughtfully rendered, and the whole narrative was beautifully crafted. I wholeheartedly hope that Haynes continues to produce compelling and thought-provoking Greek retellings such as this. I can say with confidence that both A Thousand Ships, and Haynes’ previous novel, The Children of Jocasta, are currently my top two favourite reads of 2019.

I’d recommend it for fans of Greek mythology, feminist retellings, as well as those who enjoyed Madeline Miller’s Circe, Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, and Haynes’ previous novel, The Children of Jocasta.

 

 

 

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach|| Kelly Robson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach By Kelly Robson

Sci Fi Novella

Published March 2018

233 pages

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nominated for the 2019 Hugo Awards for Best Novella

Synopsis (from GoodReads):

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

General Comments:

I’ve been trying hard to look for interesting Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories which explore the impact of pollution and environmental destruction on the planet, as well as human societies, so I was pretty excited when I picked up this little gem. I think it’s going to be the kind of novella that people will either love, or it will bore them to death. The pacing is quite slow to start, and there’s a lot of focus on the scientific/bureaucratic kind of stuff, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The second half focuses on the time travel expedition to Ancient Mesopotamia. The novella primarily follows Mihn’s POV, but there are short chapters (a page or two at most) in between that are from a Mesopotamian Chief’s POV.

Characters

(*Quick note* This is a new section I’m trialing in my book reviews, so if you think this section is helpful, please let me know in the comments below)

Mihn is a somewhat jaded 83-year-old ecologist and river restoration specialist. She was part of a generation know as Plague Babies, due to diseases that ravaged the world at the time, and as a result has prosthetic lower limbs due to stunted growth.

Kiki is an eager young administrative assistant who becomes the third member of Mihn’s research team.

Hamid is a hermit biologist who is obsessed with horses. I thought he was hilarious.

Fabian is a tactical historian representing TERN (the research group that discovered time travel).

What I liked:

  • The world was both fascinating and believable. I liked the exploration of the interplay between environment and human society. For example, the actual physical effects of environmental change, such as diseases, as well as humanity’s varying responses.
  • I enjoyed the intergenerational female friendship that develops between Mihn and Kiki. It felt realistic, and very relatable. I think that there’s often a perceived gap between different generations which prevents people pursuing friendships, so it was nice to see the walls Mihn has built between the two break down.
  • Though it won’t be to everyone’s liking, I found myself quite fascinated by the scientific and bureaucratic elements of the story, such as grant proposals and management of ecological projects.
  • I also liked the time travel portion of the story, which takes place in Ancient Mesopotamia. This section had a lot more action, and the pace picked up and really took off. Since the foundations of the worldbuilding and characters were laid in the first half, the plot was able to take centre stage in the second half.
  • Since there were only six named characters, the development and relationships received a fair bit of focus, though Mihn and Kiki were the clear leads.
  • I thought the inclusion of short chapters from the perspective of a Mesopotamian Chief were pretty cool, as were the hints at their politico-religious system.

What I disliked:

  • Sometimes I was a bit confused and unclear about what was happening (for example, I didn’t realise Mihn had six prosthetic legs until quite late in the novella).
  • The extreme body modification one of the characters goes through was quite confronting, although the motivations were believable.

 

Let’s Chat!

Have you read this novella? Have you read any other Hugo Award Finalists? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!