Hello friends! You may have noticed that my blog has been a bit quieter than normal recently. I’ve been in a tad bit of a slump for this past month, and have been struggling quite a bit to get reviews out in my normal numbers. Just when I thought I’d managed to pick things back up, I managed to contract a very nasty cold that had me out of commission for about four days. So, here’s to hoping that March manages to pick back up a little bit!
Although I didn’t manage to do much reading or reviewing in February, I did manage to work on my baking hobby. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you may not be aware that I’ve recently gotten really into baking sourdough. I’d even say I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Here are a few photos of my bread for your viewing pleasure:
Honestly – if you’re a reader and located in NYC, let me know since I literally cannot eat all this bread by myself. I’m not even joking. Shoot me a message. I’ll give you half a boule or pull-apart or something.
I had a couple other really lovely things happen this month in between all the general slumpiness, however! First off, I managed to win a giveaway for a set of books I have been DESPERATELY wanting – Subterranean Press copies of Senlin Ascends and Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft. They are so ridiculously gorgeous, y’all. I’m still riding this high, and they’re easily two of my most treasured books now. Honestly, just look at them.
Thanks for reading, all, and please consider following me on Twitter or Goodreads! Twitter features my
asshole adorable and sweet cats, Evil and Ninja-Devil. Trust me, you never realized how badly you needed a q-tip obsessed cat in your life prior to meeting Evil.
Last Month’s Reads
Witchmark by C. L. Polk – FULL REVIEW
I had kept my eyes down while Father used suppers to praise his precocious daughter and recount my failures—of the day, of the week, of the year, those disappointments never left to scab over and heal. I fought the tears I couldn’t shed by counting the fan-tailed birds on Mother’s favorite tablecloth. Grace would be a Storm-Singer; I was a Secondary, destined to become my sister’s thrall.
The entire time I was reading Witchmark, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to another historical romance I loved – Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian. Although Hither, Page, doesn’t have the same fantasy elements as does Witchmark, it touches on many of the same themes: trauma, healing, and trust, specifically within the context of PTSD following service in the war. Both have a murder mystery element, and both allow for the two romantic leads to come together as they work as a team both to heal old wounds and find the murderer. Witchmark, however, takes this all a step further by introducing stakes that affect not only the immediate characters, but also the world as a whole. The introduction of magic and prejudice against non-aristocracy magic users adds in a new level of politicking and intrigue.
Miles is the son of a politically connected mage who sits atop the secret magical hierarchy that keeps Aeland stable and functioning, but he is reluctant to “do his duty” to the family and take his place as a Secondary to his sister. In Aeland, Secondaries are mages who have less obvious talent despite having a large pool of innate magic; thus, they are magically bound as glorified thralls to their Primary mage. Witches, low-class mages, are “known” to go mad and are sent to insane asylums in the countryside. Given that Miles has shucked off his connections to his family name, he risks just that fate if anyone at his psychiatry practice discovers his magical aptitude. Although his family would protect him if he were found out, it would mean becoming his sister’s magical slave.
The Shadow Saint by Gareth Hanrahan
“And then the gods went mad. Not all at once. You’d hear stories of miracles out of the east, of new saints and monsters. Old ways getting swept away – but it was hard to tell what was incipient madness and what was the normal churn of events. I think the gods – our gods, in Severast – saw it first. That the sundering was an act of self-preservation. They tried to break themselves in two rather than remain part of an infected whole. Some of them didn’t manage it at all. Others did. There were two Lion Queens, for a little while. But the one from Ishmere was stronger, and without mercy.”
The Shadow Saint is a devastatingly brilliant new installment in the Black Iron Legacy series by Gareth Hanrahan. Although the initial book, The Gutter Prayer, had a few weaknesses in the character development department, these were beautifully resolved and a complete nonissue in this sequel. Eladora is the primary focus of this novel, with Cari as a side character. Several new characters are also introduced: Alic, the spy, and Terevant, a man of Haith. As the Godswar closes in on Guerdon, the goals and aims of these three will align in unexpected ways. Fans of the worldbuilding from the previous novel won’t be disappointed; the expanded scope brings in a great deal of new information and helps fill in the cracks from the previous book.
If it’s been a while since you last read The Gutter Prayer, the author has courteously uploaded a quick refresher summarizing the most important plot points on his blog. I highly recommend it. My review of The Gutter Prayer can be found here, if you’re entirely new to the series.
The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
We live in an era where ships can slip into the opaque folds of the universe, and sail along the fringe ripples of time. We can generate muscle tissue, & spool the threads into new limbs. Sunder continents with a single YonSef explosive device. Life has changed, but not our capacity for absurd cruelties.
When I began reading The Vanished Birds, I was unsure what to expect. The blurb didn’t prepare me for the book’s content, and hardly brushed the primary themes. Jimenez explores not just the idea of a found family, but, more importantly, discusses the ways we can be driven to hurt those we love. He has written a severe, yet tasteful, critique of the idea that the ends can ever justify the means.
The themes and stories told were shockingly poignant. Everyone has a trauma lurking in their past, which has caused them to make the decisions they do in the present tense. I had expected a magical realism novel with scifi flavor, and instead was treated to the horrors of capitalism run rampant. I highly recommend this book, but be warned that it is not a light or easy read.
The Dragon’s Banker by Scott Warren
It struck me then that this was as much a heist as any tale of high adventure. Except we were conspiring to deposit money into the vaults of any bank that would take it. I love my job.
Thank you to @captainthumbs for writing this guest review and allowing me to post it to my blog! I hope you all enjoy. If you are interested in writing for Black Forest Basilisks, please use my Contact Me form to reach out and provide examples of your reviews.
The world presented in The Dragon’s Banker is one that fascinates, containing just enough information to set it apart, to spark curiosity, and make a reader desperate to learn more. Intricate, engaging world-building has always been a dear love of mine, and Warren more than satisfied on this front. He writes with a deft hand, with subtle mentions of wizard academies, alchemy, and dwarven vaults. However, what truly makes this book shine is the narrator and protagonist: a humble banker.
Black Flowers Blossom by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
I got up, filled an empty gin bottle with water, and put the cut flowers in it, arranging their spidery petals so they spread out just right. They were going to die no matter what I did. Maybe they were already dead. But it wasn’t like I could go back and tell the florist to un-cut them now—might as well make them last as long as possible.
If you ever wanted a love story across multiple reincarnations between an occult detective and a demon, well, here you have it folks. This is a beautifully realized, off-beat love story between two people with quite unusual tastes. As they connect and reconnect across their lives, their love grows ever deeper and ever stronger – two halves of the same rather unusual whole.
Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
I am the locusts and the frogs and the rivers of blood. I’m here now.
My reaction on finishing Riot Baby can be summed up with two simple words: Holy shit. This is a novella that I will have to reread at some point. Riot Baby is a humbling, visceral collage of two lives and the system that exists to crush them at every turn. It is a battle cry, a scream, and a sob for the black community. When people talk about #OwnVoices, this is what they mean.
Everything about this novella clicked for me. It worked, beautifully, painfully. Some novellas try to compress a larger story into something that feels incomplete, leaving the reader dissatisfied and wanting more. Onyebuchi, however, sidesteps that with liberal use of time skips and a vignette format. Each scene is, to some degree, self-contained. To a reader, the end result is that it feels a bit like a living, breathing photo album. It’s a piece of ergodic literature, requiring that the reader actively participate and put together the puzzle pieces, filling in the blanks on their own. The structure is intentional and creative, allowing for a much larger story to be set into a smaller number of pages.
Prosper’s Demon by K. J. Parker
I have an idea you aren’t going to like me very much. That may prove to be the only thing we’ll have in common, so let’s make the most of it.
Prosper’s Demon is an absolutely stellar example of KJ Parker’s signature wit. As always, Parker’s protagonist is more than a bit of an asshole, but you have to love the wry, humorous prose he’s couched in. This would be a great entry point for someone new to Parker’s short fiction, given how thoroughly it epitomizes the tone and characters he’s known for. Although this novella shares a universe with My Beautiful Life, they are both stand-alone and independent of one another.
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H. G. Parry
“. . . be very careful about the answers you chase right now. Do not drink of the intoxicating draft; dash it from your lips before you taste its true bitterness. Questions are dangerous, and their answers are more dangerous yet. But you won’t stop. Nor will I. Nor will your brother, I suspect, though he and I have never met. It’s in our natures to chase the secrets of the universe.”
Fans of low fantasy with mundane, yet endearing, characters will find much to love in H. G. Parry’s The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep. I’ll confess, I was very slightly dubious when I encountered this book’s premise. It felt a little cheesy to me. However, when I saw the names who were endorsing it, I couldn’t resist prodding Orbit for a review copy. Alix E. Harrow loved it? So did Matthew Ward? Okay, I was in. And I didn’t regret it one little bit. This book has the one thing I love most in my books: absolutely wonderful characters. The characters took a book that would have been merely good, and made it into something loveable and joyous. I felt that same spark of joy that I encountered when I read The Ten Thousand Doors for the first time.
Dr. Charles Sutherland, or Charley to his family, has a secret. He’s a an English professor who focuses on Victorian works, specifically the works of Dickens. He loves books, and connects with them in a way that most people never will – in fact, he connects with them a little too literally. When Charley becomes fully engrossed in a book, sometimes its characters come to life not only on the page, but in reality.
Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
It was a decision she’d been making over and over for three years now, and she always reached the same conclusion. She hated being Archivist. Hated being forced to choose between killing upstarts to keep the sacred role she’d grown so tired of and letting herself be killed so that the upstart who killed her could take up that role when she was dead. But if there was one thing she was terrible at doing, it was giving up.
Archivist Wasp is a strange blend of post-apocalyptic dystopia, ghost hunting, and metaphysical descent into the underworld. My response on completing it can be summarized as “very weird, very good.” Although intriguing, philosophical YA is nothing new, Archivist Wasp takes this to a new level. Nicole Kornher-Stace crafts a world predicated not only on life and death, but also on the interconnectedness of life and our inability to define ourselves without using others as points of reference. None of us live in a vacuum, and the only way to grow and maintain our sense of self is through those we care for.
This Is How by Marie Brennan
This is how a valravn is made:
A child dies. Lost in the woods, he curls up at the base of an ancient oak, and never rises again. Or she falters in the snow, lying down for a moment by the side of the road, just a moment to rest her eyes. Or, starving and alone, he weeps for someone to help him—but no one does.
A raven comes. Pecking, tearing, red blood on a black beak. Not eyes, as some tales would have it, but the cold red blood of the child’s heart, chilled and stopped by death.
A child falls. A raven feeds. A valravn flies away.
Previously, I’d only ever read Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent novels, beginning with A Natural History of Dragons. While I thoroughly enjoyed them, they did somewhat lack that particular fantastical mystique that I love best about the SFF genre. Brennan, however, has this in spades in her short story This Is How.
Stormsong by C. L. Polk
They carried signs that voiced the anger and fear of the people, painted in hand-high letters: “Bring us the light” and “We are hungry—We are cold.” Most of the signs had one word, lettered in black: “Shame.” It pooled in my gut, sour and hot. I couldn’t tell them why Kingston was dark, their wireless stations and telephones silent. If they knew the truth, Aeland would burn with their fury.
Stormsong lived up to its predecessor, Witchmark, in many ways. I loved the romantic aspects, and I especially loved Grace’s romantic partner, Avia Jessup. However, I have one major gripe that overshadowed the whole experience for me: Grace never once had to truly face any consequences or earn redemption for her horrible actions in Witchmark. It was incredibly jarring seeing everyone pretend as though her actions had unilaterally been above-board. In fact, she’s lauded by the Amaranthians as a savior for having assisted in breaking the aether network. Although she makes a few one-off observations to herself about her past actions and reflecting on how awful they were, she ultimately never has to earn her redemption.
Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse by Rae Carson
My labor pangs are mild at first. They’re intense, sure, but it’s mostly warmth and pressure like my abdomen is hugging itself. I’ve got time. Hours maybe, before I have to flee the enclave and get myself to the birthing hideout.
In the meantime, I’m in our makeshift infirmary, trying to get water past old Eileen’s tight-pressed lips because we ran out of IV and NG intubation supplies a long time ago. She reluctantly takes one sip, two, and that’s all she can handle before she grunts, whips her grayed head to the side, spraying water all over the chalkboard.
This short story is exactly what it says on the tin: it’s about badass moms who are in the zombie apocalypse, and let me tell you – it’s accurate. These are some women who have been placed into impossible situations and are doing what’s necessary to move through it.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are you looking forward to any of the next month’s line-up in particular?
Let me know in the comments below!