The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.
Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.
When I read the first book in the Winternight trilogy, I found it to be a good dark fantasy story based on fun and interesting bits of Russian folklore. It was exciting, it was spooky at times. Vasya was a great heroine who was easy to root for.
Book 2, in comparison, was a bit of a letdown for me.
The setting and atmosphere in this book were just as great as they were in its predecessor. The members of Russian folklore continue to make enchanting appearances across the snowy landscape and politics of a medieval Russian winter. We have spirits both helpful and mischievous, mystical horses, warnings imparted by vengeful ghosts, and a sorcerer who has found a way to cheat Death.
On the other hand, the biggest disappointment here was the character of Vasya. Her development in this installment is more of a regression. She tries to experience a freedom not readily available to women in her time, but winds up almost dying several times in the attempt, and being saved time and again by the male potential love interest. Why can she not save herself just once, after being such a strong character with a great sense of agency in book 1?
Speaking of love, I found the romance aspects in this story lukewarm at best. An unconventional, clever country girl labeled a witch and a frost-demon? I could ship that so hard! But their encounters here are rather lacking in any sort of exciting tension. As this is Young Adult historical fiction I certainly wasn’t expecting smut, but the romance is missing much of a spark at all.
There was still enough for me to enjoy in this book that I plan on reading the next in the trilogy, but I will keep my fingers crossed that Vasya’s character arc improves, and the romance heats up (I’m hoping that’s not too much to ask of the winter king!)
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.
Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.
When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.
Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.
Color me impressed with my first encounter with Fonda Lee’s writing!
In Jade City, Lee does an incredible job creating a world that is wholly believable. She manages to flesh out the geography, culture, politics, commerce, international relations and religion of Kekon and its surrounds, without ever resorting to infodumping.
Then she adds a dash of magic. In this world, jade can be used to amplify a person’s energy, focusing it into superhuman powers. Green Bone warriors train in martial arts with a twist, incorporating feats of Lightness, Strength, Deflection, Channeling and Perception. The result looked in my mind a bit like the fighting seen in such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Against this lush backdrop Lee has painted for us is what is essentially a gangster family saga, with lots of East Asian influence. The Clan of No Peak is led by the Kaul family, while the Mountain Clan answers to a ruthless woman named Ayt Mada. Each group takes tribute from areas of the city of Janloon that it considers its own territory, in exchange for protection and endorsement. Each controls a significant portion of the nation’s most valuable commodity of jade. The characters on all sides of the conflict are pretty great, which is not to say they’re all good people.
The most compelling relationships for me were the ones among the Kaul siblings. Lan, Hilo and Shae are as different as can be, but family still holds an implacable bond to the Kekonese, no matter how one might try to escape it.
“Screw you, Hilo,” she snapped. “I can kill my ex-boyfriends myself.”
If forced to come up with something I didn’t appreciate about this book, the only thing I can think of is my confusion over the apparent lack of cell phones. By all appearances Janloon is a modern place, with luxury vehicles and airports – but every time they use a phone, they need to first locate a landline, even when contacting one another with new developments can literally be a matter of life and death. This is as far as can be from a big deal for me, but it did pull me from the story long enough to stop and wonder.
Jade City is an adult fantasy novel with a bit of sex and a fair share of violence. It is the first installment of a planned trilogy, and tells of what amounts to the opening salvo in a larger war to come. I look forward to finding out what happens next with the clans of Kekon.
“All he knew now was that remorse had a natural limit. After a certain amount of time, it finished eating a person hollow and had to alchemize into anger that could be turned outward lest it consume its host entirely.”
From the author of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy comes the first in a new duology.
The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?
The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?
Welcome to Weep.
What a fun and magical ride this was!
We have librarians and warriors, gifts both dark and magical, gods both terrible and beautiful, and, of course, dreams. Wrapped inside this fascinating story, within swaths of lovely imagery, is a message about discrimination and forgiveness.
I thought Taylor did an amazing job at world-building, with Zosma and Weep and everything in between. I found Lazlo (junior librarian, orphaned and raised by an austere order of monks) to be an extremely likable and relatable protagonist, and his chapters were just as interesting as those of Sarai, the Godspawn girl trapped in a floating citadel.
There is a romance in these pages, but as a YA book, it manages to be just steamy enough without crossing into mature content.
Normally I really despise it when I read a book thinking it’s going to be a standalone novel, just to find out at the end that it’s not. This is the case here, but for some reason, it didn’t really bother me. Maybe because our characters have found ways to deal with this book’s main conflict, with plenty of story left to tell featuring the new conflict introduced with the cliffhanger ending. Rather than being annoyed, I am satisfied with this book and very much look forward to reading it’s sequel!
Linda’s childhood could be described at best as nontraditional, at worst as isolating and lonely. In her fifteenth year she meets little Paul Gardner and his parents, and everything changes.
The reader knows from the very start that something tragic is going to happen, without knowing exactly what. What unfolds is a moving tale that “confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love”.
In the beginning I did find myself wondering, What is the point of this part of the story? Or that one? (i.e. Mr. Grierson, Lily). But the purpose of each thread is revealed by the second half, which then goes on to wring your heart out for the remainder of the book. Overall I found it to be an ensnaring piece of literary fiction about searching for your place in the world, about guilt, about “the difference between what you want to believe and what you do,” “between what you think and what you end up doing.”
“I’ve found that some people who’ve done something bad will just go ahead and condemn everyone else around them to avoid feeling shitty themselves. As if that even works. Other types of people, and I’m not saying you’re this, necessarily, but I’m just putting it out there, will defend people like me on principle because when their turns come around, they want that so badly for themselves.”
A well-written story that is tragic but irrefutably powerful.
I recently read A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas. My good friend Court saw the cover and remarked, “Hey, that book is about me!” You know, since his name is in the title. I agreed, saying it was a biography about him. “You know, not so much with the wings, but a whole lot of ruin.” In response to which he quipped, “Little Wings, Big Ruin.”
I’m sharing this just because it makes me giggle, and maybe you’ll giggle too. “Little Wings, Big Ruin: The Memoirs of Court Chapman*”.
*To protect his identity, I have changed his name. You know, just his last name. Obviously I didn’t change his first name, or else this entire anecdote wouldn’t make any sense. I mean, I’m not a total liar-geez, guys, back off!
“He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness.
Only I did not think it would be so soon.
Or that he would precede us.
Two passing temporarinesses developed feelings for one another.
Two puffs of smoke became mutually fond.
I mistook him for a solidity, and now must pay.”
This book was truly something amazing! Not your average read, but rather something to be experienced.
Be warned: the format of this book definitely took some getting used to. A multitude of narrators pitch in to tell the story, often for just one line at a time before switching to the next character. Interspersed within this structure are lines from Abraham Lincoln biographies and actual correspondence by his contemporaries. At the beginning I did ask myself, “Can I get past the unusual style?” The answer was very quickly revealed to be a yes, and I am so glad for it!
At the core of the story: when President Lincoln’s son Willie dies of typhoid fever he finds himself in the bardo, a place where according to Tibetan tradition we go after dying but before moving on to the next life. The colorful cast of characters young Willie encounters here all have their own reasons for not wanting to let go of the lives they knew (revenge, unfulfilled desires, etc). Many of them deny the truth of their condition even to themselves, instead choosing to believe that what they are experiencing is akin to an illness. The distasteful things they leave each night to rise up and move about are simply their “sick-forms”, left in isolation in “sick boxes” as a form of treatment. These characters offer up much absurdity and hilarity in equal measure.
Histories report that the elder Lincoln went for a prolonged visit in the dead of night to the cemetery where his son was temporarily interred in a borrowed tomb. This story takes place over the course of that night. Though the way the story is told is so very amusing at times, it contains many moments that can be sad or touching, but also hopeful moments.
“All over now. He is either in joy or nothingness.
(So why grieve?
The worst of it, for him, is over.)
Because I loved him so and am in the habit of loving him and that love must take the form of fussing and worrying and doing.
Only there is nothing left to do.”
Besides what he felt over the loss of his child, this book also takes a look at what Lincoln may have thought about the war his country was embroiled in while he was at its helm, and those who blamed him for the deaths of so many American soldiers on both sides. There is no shortage of good lines on the subject of grief here. A few I appreciated:
“Everything nonsense now. Those mourners came up. Hands extended. Sons intact. Wearing on their faces enforced sadness-masks to hide any sign of their happiness, which-which went on. They could not hide how alive they yet were with it, with the happiness at the potential of their still-living sons. Until lately I was one of them. Strolling whistling through the slaughterhouse, averting my eyes from the carnage, able to laugh and dream and hope because it had not yet happened to me.
Trap. Horrible trap. At one’s birth it is sprung. Some last day must arrive. When you will need to get out of this body. Bad enough. Then we a bring baby here. The terms of the trap are compounded. That baby must also depart. All pleasures should be tainted by that knowledge. But hopeful dear us, we forget.”
And one last bit about the nation that may offer a bit of hope:
“Across the sea fat kings watched and were gleeful, that something begun so well had now gone off the rails (as down South similar kings watched) and if it went off the rails, so went the whole kit, forever, and if someone ever thought to start it up again, it would be said (and said truly): The rabble cannot manage itself.
Well, the rabble could. The rabble would.”
The icing on the cake: it turns out this author teaches at Syracuse University. I hail from Syracuse myself, and the hospital I work at is basically across the street from the University. I stop at the local Starbucks every morning on my way in to work, and now I wonder if maybe I’ll cross paths with him there someday 🙂
“Am I a person?” Borne asked me.
“Yes, you are a person,” I told him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”
This was a wild dystopian speculative fiction story that asks some important questions and is quite touching at times. The land has been laid to waste by drought, conflict, and loosed biotech from the now-defunct Company. Rachel and Wick team up to take a stab at survival in this newly arranged city, and a real sense of tension is conveyed. Wick tries to maintain a hold on their territory through the dealing of information as well as his own psychoactive biotech, while Rachel scavenges for salvage off of which they can live. It’s during one of her outings that she finds something rather extraordinary.
This book left me bit confused as to the details of some of the science fiction elements. The who, what and why of the Company was never made clear, nor were specifics of some of the biotech it turned out. I think this was mostly a conscious choice by the author, but it did leave me a bit unsatisfied. Near the end I realized that the character of Mord had once been human, and it seemed like that fact had been revealed much earlier but I had somehow managed to either miss it or else forget it completely. The fact that the giant and vicious flying bear used to be human, and a former coworker of Wick’s at that, seems like a point that should be too significant to be missed/forgotten.
The story does many things right, though, and the best part by far was Borne himself – sweet and innocent and endlessly amusing.
“Those are three dead skeletons on the wall, Borne.”
“Yes, Rachel. I took them from the crossroads. I thought they would look nice in here.”
And yes, I maintain a belief in Borne’s inherent innocence. (And as it says in the book’s blurb, “in a world so broken that innocence is a precious thing.”) Borne simply does what he was designed to do, but because Rachel raises him with a human’s sensibilities, he feels great guilt and shame about his own nature. Which gives me all the feels!
“We all just want to be people, and none of us knows what that really means.”
And I sincerely hope to be able to subscribe to a book box someday(when I’m not so broke), because it turns out Quarterly’s most recent fiction Literary Box was curated by Vandermeer and included some of his own drawings of just what Borne looks like in some of his many forms. How fun is that?!
If you like science fiction of the speculative and dystopian variety, amusing plant/animal/salvage/biotech thingies, and The Feels, then give this one a read!
This website is supposed to be for my writing, but I have another blog where I post whatever random things I feel like sharing. I just published a new post there, unrelated to my books. If you’re interested in checking out Oh My Blog! go have a look!