A Golden Fury

This book has a pretty explosive opening, one that hooked me in immediately.

Theosebia “Thea” Hope is a young alchemist living and working with her mother, Margeurite, also an alchemist, in revolutionary Normandy, France. Her mother seems to be on the hunt for a new patron, but seems to want to send Thea away. Her reasons for doing so become a little clearer when she assaults Thea after creating the White Elixir, a substance that turns any base metal into silver, and descending into a mysterious madness.

Thea has a rocky and competitive relationship with her mother, but she also wants to cure her mother’s madness, so she decides to follow her mother’s former apprentice Will to the UK, and first lands in Oxford, where her estranged father lives and works.

Her initial relationship with her father doesn’t fare much better, and after meeting his patron and assistant, all hell breaks loose when said patron, an Italian noble, steals Thea’s notes and attempts to make the White Elixir. The apprentice, Dominic, kills the noble in self defense. Feeling defeated, Thea and Dominic flee Oxford for London, where Will is staying.

Turns out that Will had sold her out to a German noble, who wants the Philosopher’s Stone for himself. But, as Thea and Dominic soon discover, there’s a curse, or something that causes every ambitious alchemist to succumb to madness in their quest for the Stone, and that there may be a *heavy* price to pay for creating it.

So the bulk of the novel from here on out takes place at the German noble’s London residence, and while Will suffers from consumption and Dominic succumbs to the mysterious madness, Thea’s the only one who can actually make the Stone. So she does, under the watchful eye of the German noble’s hired henchmen, who are not all entirely evil themselves. This part is pretty exciting, as Thea ends up in the grip of the mysterious madness while she attempts to create the Stone.

At first, I thought this was going to be another annoying “men are all evil” feminist novel, but it’s not. Yes, the narrative is first-person perspective, told by Thea, and yes she is understandably upset when her father hesitates to claim her as his daughter when they meet, so we do get a lot of “men suck” thoughts from Thea, but she realizes that not all men are bad. The head henchman, Valentin, is rough, stern, mostly loyal to his employer but also quickly learns to respect Thea and repeatedly tries to keep her from losing her mind to the madness. He also has a grudge against Will due to Will’s treatment of one of his employer’s daughters, who he was in love with.

Dominic is consistently a decent character throughout the story, and is pretty much Thea’s only real friend, right up until the end, so she remains very much motivated to use the Stone to cure him of the madness.

You can tell Thea’s father, Professor Vellacott, is a decent guy who has been blindsided by the fact that he actually has a daughter, one nearly grown, and is unsure as to what to do or how to handle it. But Thea is pretty resistant, believing (with some justification) that all he wants is the work she and her mother had done to make the White Elixir, which is the final “step” to getting the famed Stone.

I also kind of had to roll my eyes at Thea’s assertion that the Europeans disdained the writings of an Arab alchemist that had gotten further along in creating the Stone than any other alchemist. It does serve as a handy explanation as to why alchemy didn’t get very far in Europe, but it still bugged me. It’s a minor part of the novel and I got over it as the story went on, but I can’t help myself – I have to mention it.

As I said, this is told via a first-person perspective, and the novel is at its strongest when Thea’s in the grips of the mysterious madness. We do eventually discover the true nature of the madness and of the Stone itself. I don’t want to spoil the novel, so I’ll leave you with this: Thea and the others learn that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thea makes the right decision in the end.

So I highly recommend this, and I am so grateful to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for letting me review the book!

The Lost City

The Lost City - Cover Art

This review is part of a blog tour.  Thanks so much to the publishers for letting me read it!

I had heard of Amanda Hocking’s Trylle Trilogy but hadn’t read it. It was originally self-published and then she got a book deal, and has been writing ever since.

Now she has started another trilogy in the Trylle universe, called The Omte Origins and The Lost City is the first installment.

The author has noted that you can read The Lost City without having read the original trilogy, but that you might miss some of the references in the story. I can concur with this, as the story was enjoyable and fascinating, even though I had not read the Trylle trilogy. It left me wishing I had, though.

Before I continue, let me explain that the Trylle and Omte are two tribes of trolls, and that there are five altogether. The trolls seem to have originated in Scandinavia and made their way to North America along with the Vikings, so their culture is very Scandinavian with dashes of Native American culture. Since I am totally obsessed with Skyrim, I was, and am, especially excited to delve into the world of these trolls, who secretly live among modern day humans. Some troll tribes, such as the Kamin, have special magic abilities. Other tribes, such as the Omte, have distinctive appearances and incredible strength.

This story is told from the perspective of an Omte orphan named Ulla Tulin, who had been abandoned at an inn as a baby. Once Ulla turns nineteen, she’s ready to find out just exactly who she is, where she’s really from and the identity of the woman that had abandoned her at the inn.

Ulla drives from her small town of Iskyla, Nunavut to the hidden troll city, Merellä, of which is in Oregon, along with one of the daughters of her employers, Hanna (she is their nanny, I guess, but they all seem like family). There is an institute called the Mimirin, where a project called the Inhemsk Project being conducted there, and its purpose is help mixed-race trolls integrate into troll society, to try and save some of the troll tribes from going extinct, and, of course, to preserve their history and culture.

Ulla and Hanna make it to this city and quickly meet a strange trollian girl named Eliana, who has plenty of questions of her own. Eliana and Hanna become fast friends, and a lot of the story involves Ulla doing research as an intern, along with Pan, a fellow intern (I think) who is kind of hot and does as much as he can to help Ulla discover her identity and get settled in the city.

Amanda Hocking’s writing is really good, and the city comes alive as Ulla describes it, including the delicious food that Hanna and Eliana make (I thought it was cool that a tween like Hanna was already so good at cooking…sadly, I’m not as great a cook as my mom, and I really hope to get started someday).

Ulla also helpfully fills us in on every relevant aspect of troll history and customs, so newcomers to the series won’t be too lost.

I kind of liked that most of the troll tribes were kind of dark-skinned and dark-haired, like me, along with the two fair-haired tribes, the Omte and the Skojare. No one tribe is better than the other, which should keep the overzealous SJWs off of the author’s back. The inter-tribal politics are also very fascinating.

This is meant to be a trilogy, exploring the origins and history of the Omte tribe, so it does end in a cliffhanger, and I was surprised at the point in which it ends. I was already really into it and ready for the next chapter when it just ended. Fortunately, we readers won’t have to wait too long for the next installment, as it will be released in August.

In the meantime, my copy came with a history of all five tribes and a helpful glossary, and an excerpt from the next installment. I finished the novel while on a long flight, and it’s a pretty quick and easy read.

It’s also appropriate for the target audience, as it’s pretty innocent and Ulla’s main focus is her internship, taking care of Hanna, Eliana and her roommate Dagny, and, of course, her research into her own origins.

I do highly recommend it, especially if you need a quick modern—day fantasy fix.

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

quicksand

I really wanted to like this one. After all, it’s about a school shooting in another country, one you wouldn’t quite expect a school shooting to take place in: Sweden. And yet, there are so many problems with this one, and after trying to read it for a couple of months, I managed to finish it and endured one of the most rage-inducing endings I’ve ever fucking read.

So yes, there will be spoilers. I’m doing you a favor, though. Life is way too short to slog through five-hundred pages of some psychopath bitching about her shitty little rich girl life.

The story is rather simple for such a long novel: eighteen year old Maria Norberg, aka Maja, is charged with murdering her friend, Amanda, and inciting the murder of her boyfriend’s father, Claes Fagerman, richest man in Sweden. The school shooting in question was largely staged by her boyfriend, Sebastian, and for some stupid reason she came along for the ride, and ended up shooting Amanda before turning her gun on Sebastian.

The story starts at the beginning of her trial, which is, undoubtedtly the most interesting part of the novel. A great deal of it consists of flashbacks that are supposed to establish who Maja is as a person and the deterioration of her relationship with Sebastian. However, these sections are deathly boring and far too much is spent on the mundane, irrelevant details of Maja and Sebastian’s lives.

Maja is like a typical European teenager, I guess – highly atheist and promiscuous. Friendly with drugs. Very, very leftist and self-righteous. Sebastian is the Ugly Racist European.

The author has a massive cornucopia of issues in this novel – immigration, mental illness, family dynamics, drug use, blah blah blah. You’d think you were reading some Swedish chick’s personal Tumblr or something with the way it’s written, because it’s written entirely in the first person perspective – from Maja’s point of view, naturally. So we, the unfortunate reader, are stuck with Maja’s stupid and uninformed opinion about EVERYTHING – the way her legal team looks, the way the prosecution looks, how her prison cell is, etc.

There’s also a lot of bitchy one-liners that I guess are supposed to come off as clever and funny, but aren’t. Maja, if she were a real person, would be the last person I’d ever want to be friends with.

Also, near the end she keeps going on and on about how she regrets shooting Amanda, and reminisces about the things they did together, but honestly, it comes across as a sociopath trying to fucking emote. Like a sociopath trying to convince us that they have feelings and empathy, and failing miserably. Not once was I ever convinced that she even gave a shit about Amanda or Sebastian and his severe problems with his father. All she ever seemed to care about was avoiding a life sentence, and everything she said and did was in service to that.

Not only that, Maja was quite obviously offended at anyone that didn’t actually believe in her “innocence.” She would actually address the reader, telling us we’re not good people and that we don’t have empathy if we think she could seriously and honestly kill her friend.

I had to roll my eyes at the inclusion of the character Samir Said. Now, I’m an eeeeevil right-winger, and I know all about the horrible problems Sweden’s having with their charming and wonderful Muslim migrants. The author, rather predictably, paints Samir as a virtuous, super smart angel. There is one scene in which Sebastian, Maja and Samir are all in the school lecture hall or whatever, listening to some American woman give a lecture about something. Samir speaks up and spouts a whole bunch of standard leftist talking points on immigration and racism. Sebastian, predictably, acts like the Ugly and Angry White Guy. Maja gets super wet for Samir and ends up sleeping with him. Sebastian knows, and tells her to wear a condom. Not that he’s happy about it, obviously, but Maja doesn’t care. Chicks can’t resist that hawt leftist propaganda, after all!

BIG SPOILER INCOMING

Okay, that’s your last warning. So, after the handful of scenes concerning the trial, what is the court’s verdict? Well, no thanks to Samir’s disastrous testimony (he testified for the prosecution; presumably upset at Maja deciding to ditch him for her Rich White Boyfriend), the court finds our little atheist slut INNOCENT of all charges.

Yep. Even though it’s pretty damn obvious that while Sebastian likely kinda-sorta goaded her into picking up the gun, she still shot her best friend and tried to pass it off as “like, I was trying to find the safety switch.”

Really?

You were going to try to find the safety switch. Why? Because you “accidentally” shot your friend, and then shot your boyfriend. Were you going to find the safety switch, or were you going to shoot Sebastian?

Whatever. It’s just a fucking novel, and it hardly matters, I guess. Plus, I only paid about two dollars for this (as of this writing, it’s still on sale for $1.99, so go for it if you’re a masochist).

If you want to read a good book about a school shooting, read Hate List by Jennifer Brown. It’s a YA novel, but it’s GOOD. So very good. I read it a few years ago, and I might have to re-read it.

Anyway, this five-hundred page novel was turned into a six-episode miniseries, of which is on Netflix. I plan on watching it. Given that it’s only six episodes I figure it’ll be better than the book.

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Grace-Year-by-Kim-Liggett

So when I first heard of this book, it was via the NetGalley newsletter. It was on a brief “Read Now” status, which meant that for a certain amount of time – usually 48 hours – you could access the galley without having to be approved by the publisher.

I thought, “oh, it’s more feminist oppression porn” and figured it would be an amusing read. And for the most part, especially at the beginning, it was an amusing, eyeroll-worthy read.

But it eventually got pretty good…well, it turned into a mostly-female retelling of Lord of the Flies peppered with the main character’s incessant feminist talking points, but was good enough to keep me reading. At least, for the past week. I first grabbed the galley a couple of months ago, and stopped reading because the setting was just flat-out irritating, but I felt guilty about not reading it, and as the book’s release date got closer, I sucked it up and finished it.

So, what’s it about? Briefly, it’s about a teenage girl named Tierney, who lives in Garner County – not sure where it is, exactly, but they seem to have Scandinavian roots, so who knows…it feels like New England to me. Garner County is pretty much every single feminist’s nightmare – women are considered mere property of men, they’re not allowed to have pets, they’re not allowed to have rose-scented baths or wear perfume, they’re not allowed to choose their spouse and, of course, not allowed to have premarital sex or homosexual relationships. Any violation of the rules results in severe punishments, from beatings to hangings to being burned alive. You know, Salem, Massachusetts shit. In fact, the story seems to take place in that time frame, judging by the technology – or lack thereof.

The eeeeeevil white patriarchy that rules Garner County believes that women have dangerous magic, and have decreed that all girls of marrying age – roughly around seventeen, and after they’ve started their period – must be sent off to an island to “spend” their magic. Oh, but the eligible men of the county are allowed to choose one of them to marry, and this happens the night before they’re shipped off to this island wilderness.

Does this sound mind-numbingly dumb? Well, it does to me. The real reason for this silly ritual – called the grace year – is theorized but is never really revealed. Tierney believes it’s to break the girls. Another character (cannot remember) theorizes that it’s to cull the herd. Given that men are obviously prized above women, it’s not surprising that there’s a desire to limit the amount of women in this society. It seems like Garner County has a problem similar to China and India – women prefer to keep baby boys, rather than baby girls. Anyhow, abortion is obviously not allowed in Garner County, but the author, thankfully, never even mentions the issue of abortion.

So, it’s Tierney’s turn to go on this grace year journey. She has only one friend – Michael, son of the council leader. To her utter surprise, he chooses her to be his wife, being so nice as to say, “you don’t have to change for me.” Like any self-respecting feminist, Tierney is absolutely pissed off at him, given that she had told him of her desire to not marry and just work in the fields or something.

I thought about how the other girls weren’t lucky enough to be chosen by someone that actually liked and valued them as people, and how lucky Tierney was to be chosen by a man who didn’t even require her to change for him, and she was mad about it. I mean, I get it – arranged or forced marriages are bad, but I would have felt as if I had won the freaking lottery if my best friend chose me to be his wife. Just saying.

So Tierney and about thirty-two other girls are packed off and sent to their island hell, and even the journey there is horrifying because of the poachers who grab weaker girls and skin them alive before harvesting their parts to be sold at the apothecary back home.

A lot of the first chapter, I guess you could call it (the book is divided into like, five different parts, mostly designated by the seasons, except for the final part, of which is labeled “Return” or something) is annoying feminist drivel, because the evil society of Garner County is just so overwhelmingly European and Christian. Like we haven’t seen this before eighty quadrillion times.

But once the girls get to the camp, things get interesting. Of course, Tierney, who is skeptical of the girls’ magic from the get go, is the smartest girl in the room, so to speak. And, of course, the other girls just don’t listen to her. They want to purge themselves of their magic so they can go back to the county and be good wives and workers.

A blonde-haired, blue eyed girl named Kiersten serves as the archetypical Mean Girl. She is also a True Believer, completely convinced that she’s got powerful magic, and punishes anyone that isn’t willing to embrace their magic before working to purge themselves of said magic.

Meanwhile, Tierney keeps going on and on and ON about how there’s no magic. Well, it turns out she was right. The water in the well they drank from was full of hemlock silt, of which made the girls seriously ill, but because she kept challenging Kiersten’s rule, she was banished to the woods.

Every spooky occurrence ends up having some sort of rational or logical explanation. Tierney is not stupid – she was taught how to survive by her father, and does manage to survive out in the woods on her own. She ends up trying to escape and comes face-to-face with a poacher named Ryker, who she encountered on the way to the camp.

So, instead of spoiling the whole book, let’s say Ryker saves her life rather than skins her alive, they fall in love, have sex, and Tierney realizes that not all men are utter scum. Ryker does bring out the best in her, helping her see that Michael isn’t the villain she thinks he is, and offering valuable insight on her father’s character.

Tierney eventually becomes less self-centered and self-righteous, channeling her rage against the system into helping the other girls wean themselves off of the effects of the hemlock. She survives and returns home with a surprise that could have well gotten her killed if it weren’t for the intervention of Michael and the grace year survivors.

I thought the end was pretty strong as Tierney realized that there were a lot of people in the county – mostly women – fed up with the current state of affairs. She also learns that change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and you might not even live to see its benefits, but you can at least pass these lessons down to your children, so that perhaps they can enact change. I think this is a good message for the people the book is aimed at – teenagers.

I started reading this, fully prepared to totally hate it and while I do not hate it, I don’t outright love it either. This would have been awesome if it weren’t for the obvious anti-Christian, anti-European angle. Feminists will love this, but eeeeeevil right-wingers like me will roll their eyes at it, at least in the beginning, and some might not even bother with the rest. I won’t recommend anything either way – I’ll leave that entirely up to you.

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

wicked saints

Wow, that was one very interesting book. It starts out rather slowly, but the end is fantastic.

So anyway, this is about a girl, Nadya, who is the last cleric of Kalyazin. Her nation is at war with neighboring Tranavia, and up until now her life has been uneventful but full of dread, for she has been raised in a monastery, learning to use the power bestowed upon her by the gods.

Then the Tranavians invade the monastery and Nadya flees, meeting up with a guy and a girl from another country, and a mysterious Tranavian soldier. Together they decide to head to the capital of Tranavia to assassinate their king, and hopefully end the war.

Meanwhile, the Tranavian High Prince, who had invaded Nadya’s monastery, wants to catch her and bring her back, but his father the King of Tranavia calls him home for a tournament designed to find him a bride. When he gets home, things are suspicious, and he soon realizes that his father wants to get him out of the way.

I liked that the main character, Nadya, had such a close relationship with the gods. She prays to them, and they answer. Sometimes she has brief conversations with them, and they all have their own personalities.

I also liked the vast and rich world-building, especially the little quotes from the book of saints that preface every chapter. The use of blood magic is kind of gory – blood mages, of which are all from Tranavia, basically have to cut themselves and bleed on pages of their spellbooks. This kind of magic is forbidden in Kalyazin, and to Nadya, blood mages are heretics. Tranavia is a nation that has turned its back on the gods, complete with a blood magic powered veil to keep their influence at bay.

I also think the book has a fantastic villain, one that kept me guessing, as you don’t realize he is the villain until late in the book. At first, I thought, oh maybe he’s going to be a good guy and we’ll get the old Crisis of Faith trope, but no.

Nadya does get cut off from the gods, and she does do things that defy their will, and she also ignores the warnings they give her, which culminates in that brief Crisis of Faith. She does not turn away from the Gods, even after she’s tainted with dark blood magic, but her relationship with them, and her regard for the people of Tranavia is changed.

I think this is the first of a series, so it does have a satisfying ending, but still ends on a cliffhanger. Serefin, the High Prince that burned her monastery might just become an ally, and that will be interesting.

I want to thank the publisher for providing me a review copy through NetGalley, and I am sorry for taking so long to review this.