Audiobook Review: Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Title: Sword of Destiny
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: May 19, 2015
Print length: 384 pages
Audio length: 12 hours, 58 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Geralt is a witcher, a man whose magic powers, enhanced by long training and a mysterious elixir, have made him a brilliant fighter and a merciless assassin. Yet he is no ordinary murderer: his targets are the multifarious monsters and vile fiends that ravage the land and attack the innocent. He roams the country seeking assignments, but gradually comes to realise that while some of his quarry are unremittingly vile, vicious grotesques, others are the victims of sin, evil or simple naivety.

In this collection of short stories, following the adventures of the hit collection THE LAST WISH, join Geralt as he battles monsters, demons and prejudices alike…

Ready to toss another coin to your Witcher?

Geralt is back! In this second collection of Witcher stories, Geralt of Rivia once more battles monsters, saves people who can’t save themselves, fights his inner demons — love and destiny — and returns again and again to the people who are central to his life.

This set of six stories covers a lot of ground, some already familiar from the Netflix series, some new to me, and all delightful. As with the previous collection, The Last Wish, there are some fairy tale references included that make these stories extra fun.

While each story stands on its own, there are key characters (Dandelion, Yennefer, Ciri) who appear repeatedly. While the stories seem to be presented roughly chronologically, they’re only loosely connected — yet I’m guessing as a whole that they’re important in laying the groundwork for the novels that come next in the book series.

As for the stories themselves, the book opens with the wonderful The Bounds of Reason, which corresponds to the 6th episode of the TV series, “Rare Species”, aka the one about the dragons. The plotline isn’t exactly the same, but the main points hold true, and it’s awfully fun.

There’s also a story that focuses on Geralt and Yennefer, a story set in Brokilon Forest where Geralt and Ciri meet for the first time, a Little Mermaid-ish tale, and more. Throughout, the recurring theme is Geralt’s struggle to understand destiny — does it exist? Are we obligated to follow it? Is destiny enough to bring two people together, or does it require something more?

I had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook, as I did with The Last Wish, and I loved it. Narrator Peter Kenny does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life. I just love his voice for Geralt, although all are quite good, and even when there’s a crowd scene or a big action sequence, there’s never any doubt who’s speaking.

As an added plus, the narrator SINGS in the story about a mermaid, since that’s what mermaid language sounds like. It’s amazing.

Now that I’ve finished Sword of Destiny, I abolutely intend to continue with the series, and most likely I’ll stick with audiobooks. Blood of Elves is up next. Can’t wait!

Book Review: Defy or Defend by Gail Carriger

Title: Defy or Defend (Delightfully Deadly, #2)
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Gail Carriger LLC
Publication date: May 5, 2020
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A vampire hive descending into madness. A beautiful spy with a sparkly plan. The bodyguard who must keep them from killing each other.

New York Times bestselling romantic comedy author Gail Carriger brings you a charming story of love, espionage, and Gothic makeovers set in her popular Parasolverse.

SPY

Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott, code name Honey Bee, is the War Office’s best and most decorative fixer. She’s sweet and chipper, but oddly stealthy, and surprisingly effective given the right incentives.

VERSUS KNIGHT

Sir Crispin Bontwee was knighted for his military service, but instead of retiring, he secretly went to work for the War Office. Mostly he enjoys his job, except when he must safeguard the Honey Bee.

Neither one is a vampire expert, but when the Nottingham Hive goes badly Goth, only Dimity can stop their darkness from turning bloody. And only Crispin can stop an enthusiastic Dimity from death by vampire.

In a battle for survival (and wallpaper), Dimity must learn that not all that sparkles is good, while Cris discovers he likes honey a lot more than he thought.

“This intoxicatingly witty parody will appeal to a wide cross-section of romance, fantasy and steampunk fans.” ~ Publishers Weekly, starred review (Soulless)

Spinning off from the Finishing School series, featuring deadly ladies of quality, this story stands alone, but chronologically follows Poison or Protect before the start of the Parasol Protectorate Series. It’s Cold Comfort Farm meets Queer Eye meets What We Do In The Shadows from the hilarious author of the Parasol Protectorate books, perfect for fans of Julia Quinn, Jodi Taylor, or Meljean Brook.

Hurray for Gail Carriger, the almighty parasol, and the ongoing legacy of the Finishing School!

In the Finishing School books (which are AMAZING and which you need to read RIGHT NOW), we meet a group of school girls who are trained in the fine arts of flirtation, social niceties, and assassination (among other important skills).

The author treated us to the 2016 novella Poison or Protect, the first in what I hope will be a long continuing series (Delightfully Deadly). Poison or Protect was all about Preshea, one of the Finishing School girls who as an adult has made a career out of her deadly skills.

Now, with Defy or Defend, we get Dimity’s story! Dimity was one of the quieter characters in the Finishing School books, a good and loyal friend, a fan of sparkling jewels and accessories, not entirely sure that a career in espionage was really what she was looking for.

Picking up her story several years later, Dimity is a young lady with a talent for unearthing all sorts of wonderful intelligence by way of her charm and flirting abilities. She’s a star performer when it comes to undercover work, but she doesn’t ordinarily deal with the supernatural set until she’s assigned a special new case.

The Nottingham vampire hive is in disarray, with their queen in seclusion, their drones all departed, the remaining few vampires in grave danger of going Goth — that is, becoming overly morose and tending toward wearing disturbing amounts of black velvet. This won’t do. A hive out of control is a menace, and if they can’t be fixed, the Bureau for Unnatural Registry may have to send an agent to end the hive and its vampires once and for all.

Dimity is on the job, along with Sir Crispin Bontwee, a former military man who works in intelligence as safety — that would be the muscle, basically. He’s assigned to protect Dimity while she does the more delicate work of infiltrating and saving the hive.

I could go on and on and tell you all the clever and adorable ways in which Dimity saves the day. (Wallpaper and bustles are involved, among other things. And lots of tea, of course.) But I won’t — I’ll leave you to discover the joys of this sweet, lovely story!

Defy or Defend is a completely wonderful and welcome addition to the larger world of the Parasol Protectorate. As always, the author gives up quippy dialogue, great fashion, silliness galore, and unexpected treats. (And there just might be a certain muscular man performing ballet in a tight bathing costume…)

The tone is sexy with just a little steam, nothing particularly graphic but certainly some sexual content described in non-explicit terms. Which is fine — the characters are warm and likable and we just want them to be happy!

As a bonus for fans of Carriger’s world, a few other familiar faces show up for fun cameos. I suppose that’s one of the perks of writing about immortal supernatural beings — you can set your story in whatever decade you’d like, and still have a favorite character make an appearance!

Defy or Defend is really a fun read, and will definitely lift your spirits. Here’s hoping for many, many more Delightfully Deadly books ahead!

Book Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Title: The Goblin Emperor
Author: Katherine Addison
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: April 1, 2014
Length: 483 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor is an exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

I have seen people RAVING about this book for years. And you know what? They’re all 100% right — The Goblin Emperor is amazing!

Maia, at age 18, has spent the last ten years of his life in exile, raised by his cousin, a cruel man who resents Maia and his role as Maia’s guardian. Maia’s mother was the 4th wife of the emperor, but he didn’t care for her and sent her away almost immediately. Maia has met his father exactly once in his life, at his mother’s funeral.

All this changes when a messenger arrives to inform Maia that his father and his brothers have all died in an airship crash. Maia is now the sole surviving descendant of the emperor… making him the new emperor. And he’s totally unprepared.

What follows is a whirlwind for us as readers as well as for Maia, as his life is turned completely upside down. He’s thrust into the role of emperor and introduced to court life, with its power plays, obsequiousness, and scheming. There are a vast number of people he’s expected to know, rituals to follow, and decisions to make.

What’s more, it means that Maia will never know a moment of solitude ever again. He is constantly accompanied by his personal guards, has a household who dress and feed him, and his every moment is scheduled down to the second, it seems. He is dressed in fine garments, adorned with the crown jewels, and put on display for formal events and ceremonies — and he has to get through it all without letting anyone see how scared and unprepared he is.

I loved, loved, loved this book, although at the beginning, I was afraid it was going to break my brain. This is not an easy book.

Author Katherine Addison has pulled off an incredible feat of world-building, creating a language and political system that are intricate and hard to follow, but which make their own sort of sense once you get the rhythm of it all.

Thankfully, there’s a guide to grammar, people, and places at the back of the book — although I admit that when I first saw this, I felt completely overwhelmed.

There are tons of names and families and relationships to keep track of, plus it helps to understand the forms of address:

Of course, I had to go looking for Goblin Emperor fan art, and fell down the rabbit hole for a while. Here are a few that jumped out at me:

https://twitter.com/AceArt3mis/status/1104470827205083137/photo/1
https://www.deviantart.com/shiftingpath/art/Winternight-582912404
Found on multiple Pinterest boards – source not identified

I simply can’t say enough good things about The Goblin Emperor! Be warned — this is not an easy read. Absolute attention is required, or you’re likely to drown in the sea of names and places and titles and concepts that are all completely new. It all makes total sense once you get into it, but at the beginning, I was definitely struggling to stay afloat.

Is The Goblin Emperor worth the effort? Absolutely! It’s a well-crafted high fantasy story, with a world that follows its own internal logic and rules, and a lead character — Maia Drazhar, of the house Drazahada (the ruling house of the Ethuveraz (Elflands)), otherwise known as His Serenity Edrehasivar VII — who is vulnerable, kind, inquisitive, and bold in his own quiet way.

Now that I’ve read this amazing book once, I know I’ll want to read it again. The first read requires a lot of learning, figuring out what this world is about, how the names and titles work, how different people connect. Now that I’ve got it, I’d love to experience it all over again, this time concentrating more on the nuances of the story and the character development. Maybe audiobook for a re-read?

Consider me fully and completely on the Goblin Emperor bandwagon! Now I know why so many people consider it a favorite. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet… well, jump in! It’s glorious.

PS – Added after the fact: I’d love to see a graphic novel adaptation of The Goblin Emperor!

Book Review: Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Title: Chosen Ones
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: John Joseph Adams
Publication date: April 7, 2020
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The first novel written for an adult audience by the mega-selling author of the Divergent franchise: five twenty-something heroes famous for saving the world when they were teenagers must face even greater demons—and reconsider what it means to be a hero . . . by destiny or by choice.

A decade ago near Chicago, five teenagers defeated the otherworldly enemy known as the Dark One, whose reign of terror brought widespread destruction and death. The seemingly un-extraordinary teens—Sloane, Matt, Ines, Albie, and Esther—had been brought together by a clandestine government agency because one of them was fated to be the “Chosen One,” prophesized to save the world. With the goal achieved, humankind celebrated the victors and began to mourn their lost loved ones.

Ten years later, though the champions remain celebrities, the world has moved forward and a whole, younger generation doesn’t seem to recall the days of endless fear. But Sloane remembers. It’s impossible for her to forget when the paparazzi haunt her every step just as the Dark One still haunts her dreams. Unlike everyone else, she hasn’t moved on; she’s adrift—no direction, no goals, no purpose. On the eve of the Ten Year Celebration of Peace, a new trauma hits the Chosen: the death of one of their own. And when they gather for the funeral at the enshrined site of their triumph, they discover to their horror that the Dark One’s reign never really ended. 

Fantasy books are filled with Chosen Ones — seemingly ordinary people plucked from obscurity to fulfill some great destiny — oh, say, like saving the world. But after the world is saved, what happens next?

It was a strange thing, to know with certainty that you had peaked.

In Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, life after saving the world is filled with paparazzi, celebrity appearances, and Instagram fame… or for our main character Sloane, a daily existence avoiding the spotlight whenever possible and struggling with the severe nightmares and PTSD that still plague her.

Sloane is one of the five teens who defeated the Dark One — a mad, magical being who created gruesome havoc through Drains, magical forces that obliterate everything in their path, leaving behind uncountable death and vast swaths of destruction.

Ten years after defeating the Dark One, Sloane is still not at peace, and her co-Chosen are having varied levels of success. Sloane’s boyfriend Matt has always been the Golden Child of the group — the super handsome, super nice, charismatic leader who organized the team and led them through their battles. Then there’s Esther, glorying in her Insta fame while caring for a sick mother, Ines (who, honestly, didn’t get much time in this book and therefore remains mostly a blank for me), and injured, fragile Albie, who shares a bond with Sloane based on the worst day of their lives.

Things go horribly awry for the group after the 10-year-anniversary commemorative service, and suddenly, Sloane, Matt, and Esther find themselves literally in another world, facing a new set of circumstances — and quite possibly, a new manifestation of their nemesis, the Dark One.

Oh, this book is complicated! There are parallel universes and magical artifacts, a whole new (and totally rad) system of magic, strange equipment and sources of power, and even an undead army. On top of that, Sloane, Matt, and Esther are no longer the teen Chosen Ones, unjaded and fresh and ready for a challenge. Instead, they’re adults, world weary and mostly resentful as hell that anyone would try to push them into fighting again. It’s just not fair — they’ve already defeated their Dark One!

I loved the characters and the totally odd world-building, which involves our version of Chicago as well as an alterna-Chicago set in a magical version of Earth. (Like I said, it’s complicated). The magical system is pretty cool, involving sounds and frequencies and funky devices called siphons that focus magical intent and energy.

The author includes nods to all sorts of fantasy fiction tropes. Obviously, the idea of a chosen one, prophecies, teens saving the world, a nameless Dark One… we’ve seen these before in many variations.

There’s also this, about the origin of one of the powerful magical artifacts:

He therefore places his soul inside an object that is nested in other objects; for example, he places it in a needle, then buries the needle in an egg, then hides the egg inside various creatures or, in some stories, a trunk. He is unable to die if the needle that contains his soul is intact.

So… a Horcrux?

I also had to laugh at this line — an homage to Stephen King, perhaps?

So tragic that he was able to bring his recently deceased pet cat back to life only for the act to kill him shortly thereafter.

And again, a reference that reminds me of Diagon Alley and the various establishments there:

Maybe it was like the movie-set feel of the Tankard — all their magic stories were set in old-timey fantasy worlds or eras so ancient the magical acts were associated with old gods and angels and demons, so they reached backward to figure out how to be magical instead of forward.

I raced through this book, completely invested in the characters (well, mostly Sloane, who is prickly and difficult and stubborn, tormented and strong and fierce), and so loving the parallel worlds and the strange magic of the story.

I probably could have done without the romantic element that comes into play toward the end of the book, but fortunately that wasn’t the main focus, so it didn’t become too distracting.

I’m not sure that I completely understood all of the villain’s motives and machinations or that the ending totally made sense to me, but I think reading back through it or at least skimming the last several chapters again will help me puzzle it all out. And that’s okay! I love a story that’s not obvious, and where there’s always something else to discover.

Chosen Ones is the first book in a new series. It has a great ending, and while much seems resolved, I can also see how the story has plenty of room to continue. I’m not usually wild about first books in series, especially when they feel like they leave me hanging. In this case, while I definitely want to know what happens next for these characters — especially given the mind-blowing finale — I also feel like this part of the story wrapped up really well.

I’ve never read anything by this author before (and don’t particularly intend to). The blurbs describe Chosen Ones as the author’s first book for adults. Honestly, it reads mostly like YA, but I suppose it’s considered adult fantasy because of the heroes’ ages (roughly 30). Otherwise, I don’t see much of a difference between the content here and in many of the YA fantasies I’ve read, in terms of so-called age-appropriate subject matter.

In any case… I totally enjoyed Chosen Ones, and can’t wait for the next book! Check it out!

Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: March 17, 2020
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

In these crazy, unsettled times, who doesn’t need a perfect pick-me-up of a book?

If you’re looking for something special and heart-warming, have I got a book for you!

The House in the Cerulean Sea is utterly lovely and altogether charming. It makes me smile just thinking about it.

The main character is a buttoned-up pencil-pusher named Linus Baker, who is a caseworker for DICOMY — the Department In Charge of Magical Youth. DICOMY is a marvel of bureaucracy, supposedly invested in the well-being of magical children, but really focused more on containment and concealment.

And don’t be fooled into thinking we’re talking a Hogwarts-type setting here. In this world, there are magical children, but they’re problems to be solved, not gifted youth to be nurtured. And for at least the children we meet in The House in the Cerulean Sea, they don’t (mostly) have human appearances. These children are very clearly other, and they live in a world in which they’re adamantly and obviously unwanted.

Linus’s job is to visit orphanages housing these children and to file reports. His life and his job haven’t changed in years and years — until he’s summoned to a meeting with Extremely Upper Management, who send him on a classified, top-secret mission to Marsyas Island and the orphanage there. Linus’s new assignment is to spend four weeks at Marsyas, filing weekly reports on the headmaster and the children in his charge, and ultimately to recommend whether the orphanage should remain open or be shut down.

Linus is not at all prepared for what he finds there. First of all, it’s on the sea — and he’s never seen an ocean or a beach before. It’s beautiful, and he’s immediately enchanted. And then there are the children. All are strange and different, and at first, Linus is more or less terrified, yet before long, he sees how truly special the children are… once he gets past the somewhat scary and strange exteriors of a few of them.

The story is just lovely. I loved seeing how Linus reluctantly opens up and connects with the children and headmaster of Marsyas, and how his warmth brings out new interests and confidence in each of them. This is a perfect example of a found family story, and it’s marvelous.

The writing is descriptive and lively and funny, but also has great emotional depth. The author does an excellent job of showing us the individuals living inside each of the odd exteriors that the public sees.

My favorite has to be Lucy — short for Lucifer — a six-year-old boy who’s adorable and also happens to be the Antichrist. He’s prone to making such statements as:

“Mr. Baker… Can I get you something to drink? Juice, perhaps? Tea?” He leaned forward and dropped his voice. “The blood of a baby born in a cemetery under a full moon?”

… and

“There,” he said brightly. “You’re welcome! And I’m not even thinking about banishing your soul to eternal damnation or anything!”

Really and truly, this book was a special read, and was a perfect distraction for me from the chaos and confusion of our current world. But I’m sure that even in relatively normal times, I’d love this book! Don’t miss it.

Shelf Control #205: Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Ghost Wall
Author: Sarah Moss
Published: 2019
Length: 144 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.

For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs—particularly their sacrifices to the bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind.

The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?

A story at once mythic and strikingly timely, Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall urges us to wonder how far we have come from the “primitive minds” of our ancestors.

How and when I got it:

I bought this book sometime last year, and can’t for the life of me remember when or where! Maybe I buy too many books…

Why I want to read it:

I think I must have heard about this book through someone else’s book blog. That, or it was in the window display of my favorite local bookstore on one of my visits — that’s probably pretty likely! It’s a slim book, and the title and the cover are certainly eye-catching. Beyond the look of the book, the description makes it sound really terrific and disturbing and otherworldly. I’m glad I stumbled across this book again this week, because I definitely want to read it!

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Audiobook Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Title: The Last Wish
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: December 14, 2008 (originally published in 1997 in Poland)
Print length: 360 pages
Audio length: 10 hours, 17 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves. Note that, while The Last Wish was published after The Sword of Destiny, the stories contained in The Last Wish take place first chronologically, and many of the individual stories were published before The Sword of Destiny. 

For anyone who developed an instantaneous obsession for the Netflix series The Witcher (*raising my hand*), the story collection The Last Wish is an absolute must!

The Last Wish introduces Geralt of Rivia, a solitary man who travels from place to place earning money by fighting monsters on behalf of the humans who hire him. He’s a Witcher, member of a profession of highly trained, magically enhanced people who take on the monsters of the world through their power with spells and swords.

Geralt is gruff, sometimes mean, straightforward, and never afraid of a fight. He has a strict moral code, and uses it to set his own path, even when men of power tried to oppose him or sway him with threats or bribery.

The book is structured as connected tales of Geralt’s adventures, with a through-story between chapters, called “The Voice of Reason”, where we keep up with Geralt after a particularly nasty escapade. Through the interwoven stories, we learn about his past adventures and how he got to this point.

The six stories in The Last Wish seem to be rooted in various fairy tales, but with some pretty big twists and variations along the way. This isn’t too surprising — as Geralt points out, all stories start from a grain of truth.

For viewers of the Netflix series, most of these stories will be at least partially familiar. We see the story of Renfri and the battle at Blaviken — which, by the way, is really a version of a Snow White story, which I totally didn’t get from watching the TV series. There’s also the feast at Cintra where Pavetta’s potential marriage is at stake (a great scene in both the book and the series), a Beauty & the Beast-inspired tale, and the story of the striga.

And, obviously from the title, The Last Wish includes the story of Yennefer and Geralt’s first meeting and the role of the djinn, although in many ways it’s pretty different from the presentation on Netflix.

Overall, I loved this book. There are pieces I missed, like Yennefer’s entire origin story, but so much added detail and explanation of various elements that it all evens out. Also, the fall of Cintra and the introduction of Ciri are not included in this book, but will be important in later books, from what I understand.

Jaskier, the delightful bard on the TV series who is responsible for the ultimate earworm, Toss a Coin to Your Witcher, appears in the books as Dandelion (pronounced by the narrator not like the flower, but as danDElion, which makes it sounds pretty charming). He’s still a totally fun character, but of course, I missed the singing!

Regarding the narration, I got off to a difficult start with the audiobook. I typically listen to audiobooks at 1.25x speed, and it took me a chapter or two to really accept that that just wouldn’t work for me in this case. Between the narrator’s speaking patterns and the heavy accents and rather incomprehensible names of certain characters, I finally realized that I’d need to either slow down the listening speed or give up and switch to print.

Once I took the speed down to 1.0x (normal speed), most of my problems were resolved, and I was much better able to follow conversations and narration. I ended up loving some of the voices, particularly the narrator’s approach to Geralt himself.

Fantasy character names can be tricky, so I ended up having to refer to a print version anyway because it drove me a bit batty not to have a clear idea of how certain names might be spelled. Nivellen, Coodcoodak, Eist Tuirseach, Drogodar, Crach an Craite… see what I mean?

Reading the book made me even more impressed with the Netflix series, because it made me appreciate how well they wove together so many different storylines into one cohesive whole. In fact, now that I’ve finished this book, I may have to watch the series all over again to see what I missed the first time around!

The Last Wish was a really fun, enjoyable listen, and I will absolutely be continuing with The Witcher books, either in print or via audio. After all, what else am I supposed to do with my time between now and whenever season 2 comes around?

Faerie two-fer: Wrapping up the Folk of the Air series by Holly Black

I raced my way through this awesome trilogy during the past week and a half, and loved every moment!

I wrote a review for the first book, The Cruel Prince (here)… but by the time I finished book #2, The Wicked King, there was no way I was going to pause for anything but work and sleep until I finished #3 as well.

So, now that I’ve come up for air, I thought I’d share my take on these two terrific books.

Title: The Wicked King
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Length: 336 pages
Published: January 8, 2019
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

The story gets much more complicated in The Wicked King. Jude is no longer the outsider, a powerless mortal girl growing up in Faerie. Here, she now wields great power as the royal seneschal, governing Elfhame through Cardan, who seems to resent and hate her for the situation she’s placed him in.

I enjoyed the book so much, although I’ll admit to feeling a bit frustrated early on by what seemed like a shift away from the more delightful, personal elements of the story in favor of court scheming and politics.

Still, the deeper I went, the more wrapped up I found myself, and I loved the ways that the story and the characters grew and changed throughout. There are some pretty horrifying interludes, and it’s impossible not to recognize how far Jude has come and what inner resolve she brings to every situation… even if she is a bit blind when it comes to understanding her own emotions.

The 2nd book in a trilogy can often feel like a bridge rather than a compelling book on its own. Luckily, that’s not the case here. The Wicked King was a truly engaging, magical read.

Title: The Queen of Nothing
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Length: 300 pages
Published: November 29, 2019
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

He will be destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne.

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold onto. Jude learned this lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is powerless and left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her deceptive twin sister, Taryn, whose mortal life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

And, when a dormant yet powerful curse is unleashed, panic spreads throughout the land, forcing her to choose between her ambition and her humanity…

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black, comes the highly anticipated and jaw-dropping finale to The Folk of the Air trilogy. 

Wow! What a way to end with a bang!

The Queen of Nothing is intricately plotted and — even more impressive — lets each character fully demonstrate their own growth and evolution.

There are surprises galore, plenty of dramatic action and heroics, and enough swoony romantic moments to melt the coldest of hearts.

And talk about suspense! There were several moments where I had to remind myself to take deep breaths and calm down. I mean, there was no way things wouldn’t work out in the end… right?

I’m officially in love with the world of The Folk of the Air. I can’t believe it took me this long to getting around to this trilogy! I’m now eager to gobble up ALL of Holly Black’s books, as soon as humanly possible. (Or, you know, after I make a dent in my obscenely huge pile of books already waiting to be read.)

Seriously, I loved this trilogy, need to own copies of all three books once I reluctantly hand them back to the library… and will probably listen to the audiobooks sooner rather than later too.

If you enjoy faerie worlds with well-built magical systems and eerily beautiful and dangerous people and rules that still remain full of human emotion and relationships, absolutely check out these books!

Book Review: The Cruel Prince (Folk of the Air, #1) by Holly Black

Title: The Cruel Prince (Folk of the Air, #1)
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: January 2, 2018
Length: 370 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself. 

The Cruel Prince is a book that practically everyone but me had already read. But now…

I’m in! I finally read The Cruel Prince, and I can see what all the fuss is about. Call me late to the party, but guys! This book is good!

The book starts off with a horrifying, sad scene: In a normal suburban home, 7-year-old twin sisters Taryn and Jude and their older sister Vivi are lounging about watching TV, when a strange man enters, murders their parents, and steals them away. The man is Madoc, and he is Vivi’s biological father. The mother of the three girls used to dwell in Faerie with him, but she ran off years earlier with the mortal man who became the twins’ father. Now, years later, Madoc has taken what he considers his.

The girls are brought to Faerie and raised among the fae gentry. Vivi, half-fae herself, fits in pretty well, but the twins are always aware of how other they are. They’re mortal, and have no powers. Even worse, they have no innate ability to fight off the magical compulsions and other torments directed at them by their fae classmates.

As the story kicks in, Jude and Taryn are seventeen, still trying to find a way to belong. Madoc has raised them with riches and privilege, but they can never forget that he murdered their parents. Jude wants strength — she wants to prove she belongs in the fae court by becoming a knight. Taryn, on the other hand, wants to secure her place through marriage. And Vivi? She, the one who should belong, wants no part of it at all, instead preferring to sneak back to the human world whenever she can to see her mortal girlfriend and plan a future with her.

Jude and Taryn are constantly tormented by their classmates, especially Prince Cardan and his cronies. But when the king decides to step down and pass along the crown, the intrigue and the danger escalates.

I’m not going to go further into the plot, but let me just say… I was hooked! I could not put this book down once I started. I loved the depiction of Faerie, its beauty and wonders, and how utterly alien and hostile this world would feel to children who didn’t belong.

The casual cruelty of the ruling class is scary and heartless, and I felt awful for Taryn and Jude for having no defenses and no way to stand up for themselves in any meaningful way. And even when some of the crowd appear to be more inclined to be friendly, it seems obvious that no one can be trusted.

Jude is our hero, and she’s awesome. She’s smart and brave, and refuses to scrape and bow, even when that’s the most obvious way to get the bullies off her back. She’s devoted to protecting her family, and doesn’t take the easy way out. I like how she goes through the book having to figure who to trust, and even when forced into pretty bad situations, how to turn those situations to her advantage and achieve her goals.

I definitely want more! I’m really looking forward to reading book #2, and feel pretty safe in predicting that I’ll want to read straight through to the end of the trilogy!

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I also really enjoyed The Lost Sisters, a novella that tells about some of the same events from The Cruel Prince, but from Taryn’s perspective.

It’s really interesting to get the other side of parts of the story, and I’m glad I stumbled across it!

And now, on to The Wicked King!Save

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Book Review: Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid, #9) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid series, book #9)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: February 25, 2020
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Won in a Goodreads giveaway!
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The ninth book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Sarah Zellaby has always been in an interesting position. Adopted into the Price family at a young age, she’s never been able to escape the biological reality of her origins: she’s a cuckoo, a telepathic ambush predator closer akin to a parasitic wasp than a human being. Friend, cousin, mathematician; it’s never been enough to dispel the fear that one day, nature will win out over nurture, and everything will change.

Maybe that time has finally come.

After spending the last several years recuperating in Ohio with her adoptive parents, Sarah is ready to return to the world–and most importantly, to her cousin Artie, with whom she has been head-over-heels in love since childhood. But there are cuckoos everywhere, and when the question of her own survival is weighed against the survival of her family, Sarah’s choices all add up to one inescapable conclusion.

This is war. Cuckoo vs. Price, human vs. cryptid…and not all of them are going to walk away.

It makes me so happy to have a new InCryptid book in my hands, especially since I won this one in a Goodreads giveaway, which pretty much never happens for me!

In Imaginary Numbers, the ongoing InCryptid series turns to two new point-of-view characters, Sarah Zellaby and Artie Harrington. Sarah and Artie are both members of the sprawling Price-Healy clan, a group of cryptozoologists dedicated to protecting non-human species from the persecution of the deadly Covenant, and equally dedicated to protecting humans from the deadlier of cryptid species. To that end, the Prices are all highly skilled with weaponry of all sorts, learning to become excellent shots and to throw knives with precision from childhood.

Sarah is the first non-human main character in this series. She’s a cuckoo, the common term for Johrlacs, which are a human-appearing species that are more or less descended from telepathic wasps. Cuckoos are apex predators. They can take over anyone’s mind and make them do whatever they want, and the effects can be fatal. Sarah was adopted into the Price family as a child, and so was raised with a different set of influences than a typical cuckoo, making her more aware of her responsibility to respect others’ boundaries and giving her a deep, true love for her family. As well as a different and very strong love for her cousin Artie, which the two of them have been too shy and awkward to ever acknowledge.

In this book, Sarah’s return to the family compound after a lengthy recovery from injury brings the attention of unknown cuckoos, who want to use her for their own purposes, and don’t care who they have to kill to make it happen. The action is intense and fast-paced, with a plot that’s occasionally confusing but always fun.

The InCryptid books tend to be a little less dire than Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, which regularly rips out my heart. This series is generally light-hearted, not that there aren’t perilous situations and heartbreaks here as well. Still, with a family that includes a sorcerer whose boyfriend is a human-sized monkey, a grandfather who’s patched together from dead bodies, and a time-traveling grandma who appears to be in her teens, things can’t get all that serious for too extended a time.

The author’s trademark quippiness and cleverness is on full display in Imaginary Numbers:

It wouldn’t stop the cuckoos on the lawn from pouring into the house if they got the signal — it would barely even slow them down — but every little bit helps when you’re going up against telepathic killers from another dimension.

… [T]hat made it better than standing around waiting for the invisible floor to drop out from under my feet and send me plummeting into the void. I am not a big fan of plummeting. If I had to commit to a position, I’dd probably have to say that I was anti-plummeting.

“She seems nice.”

“No, she doesn’t,” I said. “She seems like an unstable old lady who somehow keeps aging backward, and who carries grenades that are older than I am way too frequently for comfort’s sake.”

Normal people get meet-cutes. I get crime scene cleanup.

Imaginary Numbers ends with a sort-of cliffhanger — the main plot is resolved, but ends up dumping a few key characters into a brand-new situation in the last lines… and I’m dying to know what will happen! It sounds as though the next in the series, Calculated Risks, will pick up where this one leaves off. Too bad we have to wait a year for it!

As an added treat, Imaginary Numbers includes a bonus novella, Follow the Lady, which takes place chronologically between books 8 and 9. It’s fun, not earth-shattering, and a nice way to de-stress after the high-pitched excitement at the end of Imaginary Numbers.

This series is a delight, and I’ll echo my previous advice to start at the beginning. These books do not work as stand-alones, not if you want to have any hope of getting what’s going on and the complex, convoluted family trees. All of the InCryptid books are fast reads, so even though this is the 9th book in the series, it really won’t be too hard to catch up.

I love these books! Check ’em out.

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