Shelf Control #299: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

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!

Title: The Angel of the Crows
Author: Katherine Addison
Published: 2020
Length: 448 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. This is not the book you are expecting.

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings under a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent.

Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

How and when I got it:

I received an ARC in early 2020.

Why I want to read it:

This is an odd choice for me for a Shelf Control book. For once, I’m highlighting a book that I started but ending up DNFing.

So why pick it for Shelf Control? It’s simple. It’s all about the author.

I love, love, love The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, so back in early 2020, when I saw she had a new book on the way, I immediately requested an ARC, and was thrilled to get approved for it. Then I started seeing reviews, and realized that this might not be a book for me.

What I didn’t know in advance is that this is a Sherlock story (but with angels, vampires, etc) — and I’m just not a Sherlock fan. So when the book blurb says “This is not the story you think it is. These are not the characters you think they are. ” — are they just being coy? Why hide this information from readers?

In any case, once I understood what this book was, I lost interest pretty much right away. So again, why feature this on Shelf Control when I already decided not to read it?

Well, I’m open to being convinced to give it another try, that’s why! I’m interested in hearing from anyone who’s read it: Is it worth reading? Is it worth the effort, especially given the length and that I’m not excited about the Sherlock aspect?

It bugs me to just give up on a book by this author… but we’ll always have The Goblin Emperor!

What do you think? If you’ve read this book, do you recommend it? And if you haven’t read it, would you want to?

Please share your thoughts!


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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Want With Me While Stranded On a Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books I’d Want With Me While Stranded On a Deserted Island. I love this! This topic is really making me think… or over-think? If I was stranded… which means reading the same 10 books over and over again… potentially forever…

Hmmm, what to pick, what to pick? Here are my ten:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Not a surprise for anyone who knows me… I’ve already read this book (and series) multiple times, but if I’m going to be stuck on a deserted island indefinitely, I think I need Jamie and Claire for company.

The Lord of the Rings (one-volume edition) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Is it cheating to pick an all-in-one edition of three books? I’m declaring that this counts! I’ve been wanting to go back and reread LOTR, and with endless reading time to fill, it seems like a perfect opportunity to really dig in and enjoy.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’m tempted to just fill my list with all-in-one editions of all my favorite authors, such as a complete-works-of-Jane-Austen volume, if I had one… but I’ll hold back and stick to actual individual books…

In which case, I’d have to pick just one Jane Austen, although it’s a tough choice and I might want to swap for Persuasion. But really, can’t go wrong with any Jane Austen books!

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I’ve been obsessed with this book since reading it last year and then re-reading it this year. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of re-reading it!

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I’ve read this book several times already, but each time, it affects me in new and different ways.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

I still have my edition of The Riverside Shakespeare from my college days, and it’s not exactly a light, portable volume. Still, if I were stranded on a deserted island, at least I’d finally have time to get to all the plays I haven’t read yet! (I know I said I wouldn’t do any more all-in-one books, but I had to make an exception for Shakespeare.)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I think this is a book that I haven’t spent enough time with yet in my life. I’ve read it only once, and I’ve always meant to go back to it again, at least once. And if not while stranded, then when?

The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye

Yet another book that I’ve sworn to re-read at some point. Since it’s over 900 pages, this will last a good long while!

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Such a beautifully written book! I listened to the audiobook my first time around, and I think lying on the beach of my deserted island with this book in hand would give me a whole new opportunity to enjoy it all over again.

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht

This just seems like a really practical choice for a deserted island situation. Although if I were truly being practical, then this list should include a medical book, something on identifying edible plants, and perhaps a book on sending smoke signals?

What books would you want along on a deserted island? Please share your TTT links!

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Book Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

Title: The Witness for the Dead
Author: Katherine Addison
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: June 22, 2021
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Katherine Addison returns to the glittering world she created for her beloved novel, The Goblin Emperor, in this stand-alone sequel.

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honestly will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered.

Now Celehar’s skills lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

Katherine Addison has created a fantastic world for these books – wide and deep and true.

Thara Celehar is the Witness for the Dead of this book’s title. He’s gifted with the ability to find out the truth of a death by making contact with the deceased’s body. He says a prayer of compassion, then asks the dead to answer questions. Sometimes, it’s too late, and there’s no one left in the body to answer the query. But sometimes, he’s able to get answers or at least an impression of the person’s last moments. He then bears witness for the dead person, testifying to what he’s learned in order to solve a mystery or resolve a dispute. His basic goodness allows him to carry out his duties with dignity.

However, despite being located in a smaller city far from the capitol, Thara is not completely shielded from the backbiting and political striving that characterizes the prelacy of Amalo. There are some who are jealous of Thara’s connection to the emperor; others fear that he might gain power and seek to tear him down. No matter how he tries to stay outside the fray, he’s drawn in repeatedly.

As the book opens, Thara becomes involved in several unsolved cases. In one, a family needs him to discover who their patriarch’s intended heir is, as the will is in dispute. In another, sadder case, a brother seeks his sister’s body, believing that the man she eloped with may have done her harm. And in the story that becomes the overarching plotline of the book, a beautiful young woman’s body is pulled from the canal — was her death an accident, or was she killed? And if it was murder, who did it?

As he investigates, he becomes drawn into the worlds of the opera, the rich patrons, the seedier bars and teahouses, the gambling establishments, and the law enforcement of Amalo. He persists in pursuing the truth, even when his own life and reputation are at stake. Despite his fears and doubts, Thara is always true to his calling, and his intelligence and bravery enable him to see his inquiries through until he can find the truth on behalf of the dead.

The world of The Witness for the Dead is the world of The Goblin Emperor… and I can’t even begin to describe or explain how much I love this world. Author Katherine Addison has meticulously crafted a world with a finely developed culture, religious underpinnings, class stratifications, nobility and commoners, courtiers and princes. There’s a strange beauty to the descriptions of the people and the society, and I am particularly head over heels in love with the language of The Goblin Emperor‘s world.

In her books, the author creates a vocabulary and grammar that is dizzyingly strange and difficult, making the books seem almost impenetrable at first — but if we stick with it (as I encourage everyone to do), the names of the people and places and institutions, as well as the forms of address and the contrasting formal and informal speech patterns, all create a sort of linguistic magic. As I re-read The Goblin Emperor via audiobook, I was enthralled all over again, not just by the story, but by the very sound of it all. Truly an incredible experience.

Back to The Witness for the Dead: I loved this story. It was fascinating seeing Thara Celehar about his work. We see him in action in The Goblin Emperor through his interactions with the Emperor, but here, we’re privy to more of his inner life and learn more about what sort of person he is and what drives him. It’s an engrossing character study, enhanced by clever mysteries for Thara to solve.

I suppose my only complaint about The Witness for the Dead isn’t really about this book at all: I just missed Maia (Emperor Edrehasivar VII) so, so much. I would gladly read a multiple-volume history covering the reign of the emperor… but I’d also happily settle for just one more novel!

I can’t imagine reading The Witness for the Dead without having read The Goblin Emperor. I do know at least one person who’s planning to do just that, and I’ll be interested to hear her thoughts. I don’t think this book would work as a stand-alone, since I can’t see how someone could truly make sense of the world (not to mention all those names!!) without having read the previous novel. But, I’d be happy to be proven wrong!

I highly recommend The Witness for the Dead, but please do yourself a favor and read The Goblin Emperor first. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do!

Note: As part of a preorder sales promotion, I also received a digital copy of a new short story called Lora Selezh. It’s a compact story about Thara witnessing on behalf of a petitioner, and I really liked it. I don’t know if it’s available elsewhere, but if so, don’t miss it.

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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!