My Discworld reading adventure: Book #1, The Color of Magic

The Color of Magic
Published 1983
294 pages

My Discworld Challenge:

As I mentioned last month, I made the big decision to finally start reading the Discworld series! Beginning August 2020, I’ll be starting a new Discworld book on the 1st of each month, going in order of publication date.

And ta-da! I’m underway!

Synopsis:

Terry Pratchett’s profoundly irreverent, bestselling novels have garnered him a revered position in the halls of parody next to the likes of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Carl Hiaasen.

The Color of Magic is Terry Pratchett’s maiden voyage through the now-legendary land of Discworld. This is where it all begins — with the tourist Twoflower and his wizard guide, Rincewind.

On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There’s an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet…

My rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

My reaction:

This was… cute? Fortunately, enough people have mentioned that the first Discworld book isn’t among the best, so I wasn’t too disappointed by the experience.

The Color of Magic introduces the world of Discworld — a flat disc of a planet that’s carried through space on the shoulders of four elephants standing on the back of a huge turtle. As a concept, it’s pretty cool. The first book introduces the basics of the planet and its residents, as well as its gods and magical systems. It’s pretty intricate and also nonsensical, so I can’t swear that I managed to follow it all.

As for the plot of The Color of Magic, it’s light and silly, focusing on the failed wizard Rincewind and the tourist Twoflowers (and Twoflower’s walking Luggage, which has a tendency to devour anyone who tries to attack Twoflowers). They encounter trolls and dragons and barbarians, and find themselves literally at the end of the world, and it’s all quite fun.

This book didn’t blow me away, but I was prepared for that, so I don’t feel let down or dissuaded from continuing onward. I’ve yet to encounter a Discworld fan who says the Rincewind books are their favorite!

One book down! And plenty more to go…

Up next:

September 2020: The Light Fantastic

Book Review: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss

Title: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #3)
Author: Theodora Goss
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: October 1, 2019
Print length: 448 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mary Jekyll and the Athena Club race to save Alice—and foil a plot to unseat the Queen, in the electrifying conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Nebula Award finalist and Locus Award winner The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.

Life’s always an adventure for the Athena Club…especially when one of their own has been kidnapped! After their thrilling European escapades rescuing Lucinda van Helsing, Mary Jekyll and her friends return home to discover that their friend and kitchen maid Alice has vanished— and so has their friend and employer Sherlock Holmes!

As they race to find Alice and bring her home safely, they discover that Alice and Sherlock’s kidnapping are only one small part of a plot that threatens Queen Victoria, and the very future of the British Empire. Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine save their friends—and save the Empire? Find out in the final installment of the fantastic and memorable Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series.

Now THIS is how you end a trilogy! Author Theodora Goss delivers another rolicking escapade with the brave women of Athena Club, adding even more “monstrous” women to the mix.

For those new to these books, the main characters are all the daughters of famous men — mad scientists and members of the Alchemical Society, who used their own daughters as subjects of their dastardly experiments. Their goal? Biological transmutation. The outcome? Unusual women with strange, hidden talents and gifts, such as Beatrice Rappaccini, who thrives on rain and sunshine and gives off poison with her breath, and Catherine Moreau, transformed from a wild, free puma into a young woman with decidedly sharp teeth and claws.

This found family also includes the two daughters of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, each one representing a different facet of his personae, Justine Frankenstein, Professor Van Helsing’s daughter Lucinda, and a young housemaid named Alice who turns out to have unusual powers of mesmerism.

In this 3rd book, the woman of the Athena Club have just returned from their adventures in Vienna and Budapest (described in book 2, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman) — but there’s no time to rest! Alice and Sherlock Holmes are missing, and there seems to be a terrible plot underway involving evil mesmerists, an Egyptian mummy, and a bunch of powerful, treasonous men who want to overthrow the Queen and purify the British Empire.

Luckily, our band of heroines are on the case, and they go chasing off to Cornwall to rescue their friends, save the Queen, and defeat the bad guys once and for all! It’s all high-spirited fun, with the quips and bickering that the characters seem to love so much.

I thought this was a terrific wrap-up for the trilogy, with heightened adventures and plenty of surprises and adrenaline-rushes. There are perhaps too many characters to keep track of, as the circle of acquaintances grows and grows with each book, but it’s all good fun.

If I had to choose, I’d still say that the first book in the trilogy, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, is really and truly the best, because of the emphasis on the main characters’ origin stories and their creation of a family of their own. But that doesn’t take away from how satisfying the other two books are, or how well all three fit together to create one glorious whole.

If you enjoy sparkling, witty characters in a Victorian setting, with touches of the fantastic and supernatural, then you just must check out the Athena Club books!

Book Review: The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune

Title: The Extraordinaries
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication date: July 14, 2020
Length: 405 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Some people are extraordinary. Some are just extra. TJ Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is a queer coming-of-age story about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves.

Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?

After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick’s best friend (and maybe the love of his life).

Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl meets Marissa Meyer’s Renegades in TJ Klune’s YA debut. 

Based on having read two of his books, I can now pretty confidently state that TJ Klune writes books that makes me want to hug them. I loved The House in the Cerulean Sea, which came out earlier this year, and now The Extraordinaries is here, with adorableness galore.

Our hero, Nick Bell, has no superpowers to speak of — unless you count his amazing imagination, his neuro-atypical brain that never slows down, and his ability to screw up no matter his good intentions.

Nick is starting junior year of high school with a promise to his dad to do better. No more getting into trouble. No more disrupting class or showing up late. And he really, really means to live up to that promise, but things have a way of not working out the way he plans.

Nick and his father live in Nova City, where his dad is a hard-working cop on the night shift. They live in the After — the years that have passed since Nick’s mother was killed during a bank robbery. Now it’s just the two of them, and while they love each other very much, it’s just not always easy.

Nova City is also the home of two Extraordinaries — superheroes who swoop in to fight crime and save the day. Shadow Star is the good guy, the masked man whose every move causes people to swoon in awe (and Nick to swoon in lust). Shadow Star’s archnemesis is Pyro Storm, the villain who can create and control fire, blocked from evil deeds by Shadow Star’s ability to manipulate shadows to carry out his will. They engage in epic battles over and around Nova City, but lately, these battles have escalated in their seriousness and the amount of damage left behind. The police chief is determined to put a stop to the havoc caused by these Extraordinaries.

Besides having a huge crush on Shadow Star, Nick writes incredibly popular fanfiction about him, and lives for the idea of meeting him eventually. Meanwhile, he goes to school and spends time with his best friends, who love Nick unconditionally, even when his brain and his tongue get him into trouble again and again. He’s a lot. But he’s theirs, and he’s a good guy (so lovable!), and they have his back no matter what.

Where do I even begin to describe how much I loved this book? It’s delightful and funny, but also surprisingly tender and lovely.

The relationship between Nick and his dad isn’t always smooth, but it is always grounded in love and devotion, and it’s really special to read about. While Aaron, the father, often causes Nick to squirm with his frank talk about sex and other matters, he’s coming from a place of support, and he’s determined to be the parent Nick needs, knowing that the two of them have to stick together through good times and bad.

Nick’s friend group is amazing — each quirky and unique in their own way, and so much fun to read about. Also, all queer and proud, in a no big deal, this is who I am sort of way. Each one of them deserves so many hugs! (Except Gibby might twist your arm if you try to hug her, so watch out. She’s tough.)

The writing is funny and charming, and Nicky especially has great lines. He’s a total smart-ass, even when he doesn’t necessarily intend to be.

The Great Romance of Nick and Owen came to an end as quickly as it started. (“You’re a great guy, Nicky, but I’m a wild animal who can’t be caged.” “Oh my god, you are not!”)

Nick really didn’t understand straight people. They didn’t seem to have any sense of self-preservation.

He wasn’t very adept when it came to comforting people he’d made out with. Or, at least, that appeared to be the case. He’d never made out with anyone else. He wondered if he needed to find someone else to make out with and then have them talk about their damaged relationship with their family to make sure.

Nick wondered if it were possible to disappear into the floor. He tapped his foot against it. Solid as always.

Nick groaned. “This sucks. Not only am I the comedic relief/love interest, I’m also the clueless comedic relief/love interest who is a pawn in a game I didn’t even realize was being played. God, my life is so cliche.

I feel like I could go on and on about how awesome this book is, or spend another 10,000 words or so just picking random paragraphs from the book to prove to you how fantastic and whimsical and hilarious and touching the writing is.

But let’s leave it at this: Nick is a damaged, imperfect guy living in a superhero world, and he’s extraordinary in his own ordinary way. I love him bunches and bunches, and I’m thrilled to know that The Extraordinaries is apparently the first book in a trilogy. I will absolutely read more about these characters and this world, and wish I didn’t have to wait for 2021 for the next installment.

Meanwhile, I’m clearly going to need to start working my way through TJ Klune’s backlist, pronto.

Audiobook Review: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Title: Blood of Elves
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: 2009 (first published 1994)
Print length: 324 pages
Audio length: 10 hours, 55 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

For more than a hundred years humans, dwarves, gnomes and elves lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over and now the races once again fight each other – and themselves: Dwarves are killing their kinsmen, and elves are murdering humans and elves, at least those elves who are friendly to humans… Into this tumultuous time is born a child for whom the witchers of the world have been waiting.

Ciri, the granddaughter of Queen Calanthe, the Lioness of Cintra, has strange powers and a stranger destiny, for prophecy names her the Flame, one with the power to change the world – for good, or for evil… Geralt, the witcher of Rivia, has taken Ciri to the relative safety of the Witchers’ Settlement, but it soon becomes clear that Ciri isn’t like the other witchers. As the political situation grows ever dimmer and the threat of war hangs almost palpably over the land, Geralt searches for someone to train Ciri’s unique powers.

But someone else has an eye on the young girl, someone who understand exactly what the prophecy means – and exactly what Ciri’s power can do. This time Geralt may have met his match.

Blood of Elves is the 3rd book in the Witcher chronology, although the book spine calls it The Witcher, #1. Which is just confusing. While Blood of Elves is the first novel in the series, it’s preceded by two story collections that form a crucial introduction to the world of the Witcher and the events in Blood of Elves. If you tried to start these books with Blood of Elves, you’d be hopelessly confused. So don’t do it — start with The Last Wish.

Got that?

Blood of Elves is loosely Ciri’s story — Ciri being the young girl who comes under Geralt’s protection after her family and her kingdom are destroyed by the invading Nilfgardians. Geralt of Rivia probably is way down at the bottom of men to choose as father figures, but Ciri and he are destined to belong to one another, and at the end of the previous book, he finally accepts this destiny.

In Blood of Elves, we follow Ciri’s education, first at Kaer Morhen, the stronghold of the Witchers, where she trains in the ways of Witchers, learning to fight with speed and cunning. But Ciri also has nightmares and spells where she seems to be channeling a magical voice, so Geralt calls on magician Triss Merigold to help.

Under Triss’s tutelage, Ciri learns more about herself as a person and as a young woman, and Triss is able to ascertain more about the strange trances that Ciri falls into. Eventually, Geralt brings Ciri to the Temple of Melitele to learn more formally, and finally, the enchantress (and Geralt’s true love) Yennefer arrives to train Ciri in the use of magic.

Meanwhile, Geralt is off on adventures, trying to both keep Ciri hidden from those who seek her for nefarious purposes and to discover who is behind the search for her.

While there are action sequences scattered throughout, Blood of Elves feels strangely static. There are long sequences where various parties just talk and talk and talk — mostly kings and advisors and magicians, deciding whether to go to war and what Ciri’s future might bring, if only they can find her and control her.

I enjoy reading Witcher books, but maybe because this one only follows Geralt about half the time, it didn’t quite feel compelling enough, especially in comparison to the terrific two books that precede it.

On the other hand, the narration of the audiobooks continues to be outstanding. Narrator Peter Kenny does a marvelous voice for Geralt — strong, sarcastic, understated — as well as very good voices for Ciri, Yennefer, Dandelion, and more.

Having listened to the audiobooks, I think it would be hard to switch over to print. There are so many scenes that are driven by dialogue, and these are exceptionally fun to listen to. And while action sequences can get confusing, there’s enough explanation to keep them comprehensible.

Blood of Elves was somehow not as great as I’d hoped it would be, but I still enjoyed it, and I’ll definitely keep going with the series.

Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

Title: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #2)
Author: Theodora Goss
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: July 10, 2018
Print length: 736 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In the sequel to the critically acclaimed The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Jekyll and the rest of the daughters of literature’s mad scientists embark on a madcap adventure across Europe to rescue another monstrous girl and stop the Alchemical Society’s nefarious plans once and for all.

Mary Jekyll’s life has been peaceful since she helped Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders. Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, and Mary’s sister Diana Hyde have settled into the Jekyll household in London, and although they sometimes quarrel, the members of the Athena Club get along as well as any five young women with very different personalities. At least they can always rely on Mrs. Poole.

But when Mary receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped, the Athena Club must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue yet another young woman who has been subjected to horrific experimentation. Where is Lucinda, and what has Professor Van Helsing been doing to his daughter? Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, and Justine reach her in time?

Racing against the clock to save Lucinda from certain doom, the Athena Club embarks on a madcap journey across Europe. From Paris to Vienna to Budapest, Mary and her friends must make new allies, face old enemies, and finally confront the fearsome, secretive Alchemical Society. It’s time for these monstrous gentlewomen to overcome the past and create their own destinies. 

Oh, what fun! One of my most enjoyable reads this past year was The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, book one in the Athena Club trilogy. In it, we met the daughters of famous men — men who conducted monstrous experiments in the name of science, and left behind daughters bearing the scars of their work.

In book #2, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, this found family of heroic women is at it again. They’ve banded together to form a home and a family, finding happiness and belonging that they’ve never had elsewhere. A plea for help from Mary Jekyll’s former governess, Mina Murray, sets the plot in motion. A young woman named Lucinda Van Helsing is missing, and her father, Dr. Van Helsing, is suspected of being in league with the nefarious Society of Alchemists.

This kicks off the Athena Club’s next adventure, as they head to Vienna and then Budapest to rescue Lucinda and reveal the terrible conspiracies at the heart of the Society of Alchemists.

Along the way, there’s travel aboard the Orient Express, a meeting with Irene Adler (of Sherlock Holmes fame), circus performances, a battle with vampires, and a break-in/break-out from an asylum.

Our heroes show the pluck and bravery that make them so special, whether it’s the careful planning of Mary, or Beatrice’s special brand of poison, or Catherine’s claws, or Justine’s strength and moral fiber, they work well together while pursuing the cause of justice and freedom for the victims and survivors of the mad scientists.

I love how author Theodora Goss turns these famous stories on their heads. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein may have been published as a novel, but the Athena Club understands that it’s a true story, with Justine Frankenstein as living proof. Count Dracula makes a memorable appearance, but he’s not at all the person you’d expect. Sherlock Holmes is one of Mary’s mentors, but he only appears in the beginning parts of the story — it’s Irene Adler whose wits and abilities get a chance to shine.

My only quibble with European Travels is the length. At 700+ pages, it’s a bit of a daunting reading experience, and since the book itself is divided into two parts, perhaps it would have been better as two separate books. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I’d taken a break in between parts I & II — unfortunately, a little reading fatigue set in, so by the end, I was slightly less engaged, and I think that’s due to the size of the book — because the plot itself is exciting and creative throughout.

That’s really just a minor complaint. This book is definitely worth the time and effort!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how funny the characters can be. Young Diana Hyde is a bratty, brave teen with no manners, and she can be counted on to disrupt any serious moment by acting out in some outrageous fashion or another. Plus, the writing is just so much fun. The story we’re reading is meant to be Catherine Moreau’s novelization of the Athena Club’s adventures — and at regular intervals, her narrative is interrupted by the other characters adding their own opinions and criticisms of Catherine’s version of events. It’s clever and silly and just so delightful.

As a whole, I loved this book, and I love the series so far. With dynamic, strong, quirky characters and a plot full of intrigue and action, it’s a truly compelling read.

Can’t wait to dive into the third and final book, The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl!

Book Review: Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Title: Laughter at the Academy
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: October 31, 2019
Length: 376 pages
Genre: Horror/fantasy (short story collection)
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.

Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.

This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.

There are two things I think I’ve established by now over the course of many years of writing book reviews: 1 – I love Seanan McGuire. 2 – I’m not a big fan of short stories.

So when Seanan McGuire releases a collection of stories, what’s a fan to do? Buy it immediately, then stick it on the shelf and delay, delay, delay…

Well, I’m here to say I’m an idiot. Because OF COURSE I ended up loving this book once I finally sat myself down and gave it a try. It’s Seanan McGuire! What’s not to love?

This collection brings together stories from 2009 through 2017, and as the author makes clear in her introduction, all stories take place outside of her “pre-existing universes” — so you won’t find October Daye or the Incryptid’s Price family members anywhere in these pages. All stories appeared in other publications and anthologies over the years, and it’s a treat to have so many available in one glorious collection.

Quick aside: I purchased the pretty hardcover special edition from Subterranean Press as a splurge, but it’s also available in e-book format for a much more reasonable price.

These 22 stories cover a wide range of themes, topics, and tones. Some are funny, some are sad, some are terrifying, and some are just downright creepy. Absolutely none are boring or skippable! One of the things I loved about this book was the mix — from story to story, it’s always something new, and so many surprises!

I’ll share just a few highlights about my favorites of the bunch:

The title story, “Laughter at the Academy”, is all sorts of awesome about mad scientists and a condition called “Schizotypal Creative Genius Personality Disorder”. It’s brutal and fun and, well, mad.

“Lost” is creepy and disturbing and sad, as is any story about children all over the world acting strangely at the same time. It made me think of Torchwood and Childhood’s End, although it isn’t really much like either one.

Seanan McGuire is excellent at unleashing hell on the world, so a story about viruses ravaging humankind is scary and perhaps too timely right now, but I loved “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells” all the same. Super frightening. And prescient — this is from her introduction to the story:

I also believe that the modern world’s disdain for quarantine and willingness to support structures which encourage its violation is going to do a great deal of damage one day… and that with the new diseases emerging regularly from a variety of sources, that day may not be particularly far in the future.

And as the story itself describes:

If they were to stay home, avoid the company of strangers, and wait for a vaccine, they might stand a chance. But no one listens to the doctors, or to the newspaper headlines begging them to stay indoors.

One of the coolest stories in the collection — so weird and unexpected — is “Uncle Sam”. Ever wonder why women go to the bathroom together? Read this and find out.

There’s also a story about Valkyries, a western sci-fi story…

Cherry’s first to the cattle call, her guns low and easy on her hips, her hair braided like an admonition against untidiness.

… military mermaids, a steampunk invasion of carnivorous plant-based aliens…

“A… diplomat?” Arthur blinked at me as our carriage rattled to a stop, presumably in front of our destination. “But the first thing you did was eat my sister’s maid.”

… a Peter Pan story, a Twitter-based ghost story, more end-of-the-world/end-of-humankind scenarios, a GoFundMe for bringing on eternal Halloween…

… and the story that’s given me nightmares ever since, “We Are All Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War”. There are dolls. And they’re scary as hell. This is creepy and brilliant, and if I ever get over my first reading of this story, I’ll come back and read it again!

Seanan McGuire’s writing is as amazing as always, and this collection shows her range and ability to try on any genre or style and make it work.

Obviously, I loved this book, and I’m so glad I got over my reluctance to read short story collections. Laughter at the Academy is a must-read for Seanan McGuire fans, but you don’t have to have previous experience with her work to appreciate the funny, scary, and strange worlds presented here.

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!