I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (January 19, 2021)
Length: 10 hrs and 23 mins
Narrator: Olivia Vinall
When they were young, they thought they were invincible. Now a group of former pro snowboarding friends are reunited a decade after the height of their careers. But only five of them have made it—Milla, Curtis, Brent, Heather, and Dale. Missing are Odette, who none of them have seen much of since the catastrophic accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down, and of course, Saskia, who is dead.
Like the others, our narrator Milla had received an invitation several weeks ago with instructions to arrive at Le Rocher, the remote ski resort in the French Alps where they had all trained and competed that fateful season. Before, she had thought she knew who invited them, but now she’s not so sure, because when the five of them get to the resort, the place is deserted, and the cable cars back to the bottom of the mountain have stopped running. They are also greeted by an icebreaker game meant to draw out their secrets and separate from their cellphones, but when they finally realize it is a trap, it is too late. Whoever had set it up seems intent on reminding them all of Saskia, who had vanished on the morning of the big competition ten years ago, never to be seen again. So much time has passed that the young woman had been declared dead, the mystery of her disappearance remaining unsolved.
But the truth is, anything could have happened to Saskia that day. Each year, people are lost to any number of dangers on the mountain, including sudden avalanches or hidden crevasses. There were also rumors that Saskia could have been murdered. The popular and successful snowboarder had many admirers, and perhaps one of them had gotten a little too close. However, what everyone is thinking but no one wants to say is that Saskia had a lot of enemies too. She was ruthlessly competitive and would do anything to win. No one knew this better than Milla, her greatest rival, or even her own brother, Curtis. When it came to Saskia, her closest friends were often the victims of her ambitions, and now, someone has gathered them all in a place of dark memories to find out the truth of what happened to her. But who could it be, and why have they deliberately isolated them and left them stranded in the middle of a snowstorm?
After the outstanding read that was The Guest List left me in the mood for another locked-room mystery, I came to Shiver by Allie Reynolds knowing that it would be the perfect book for me. Aside from the tantalizing premise, I was drawn to setting. Did I mention I love thrillers that take place in cold, snowy places? And the more remote the better! I also liked the snowboarding angle. Now, I’m not athletic at all, and if there’s one thing I dislike more than doing sports, it is doing snow sports, because I hate the cold. But somehow, Reynolds made reading about halfpipes and nose grabs exciting, even when I have little interest in the topic itself. I think it has a lot to do with the way the story puts you into the competitive mindset. According to her bio, the author has had experience snowboarding and competing, and it shows. You couldn’t convey the tension, exhilaration, or the cutthroat atmosphere with such accuracy and immediacy, unless you’ve lived it before.
It also helps that it was so easy to get into the protagonist’s head. The story is told through Milla’s eyes via two timelines, one in the past and one in the present. Ten years ago, it was her dream to become a professional snowboarder, gaining sponsors and representing Britain on the international stage. Unlike her peers Odette and Saskia though, she did not have the resources or the recognition, so her season at Le Rocher was meant to be her final shot at the big league, and the desperation is palpable. Unfortunately, Milla is also impulsive. Like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, nobody calls her chicken. She’ll take on any challenge, no matter how ridiculous or ill-conceived, because she’s got a lot to prove. And as you’d expect, this gets her into a lot of trouble, even when her original plan was to do nothing but eat, sleep and train. Another thing she did not expect to find was Brent and Curtis, two best friends in the men’s competition who both show their romantic interest in her. In a place of so much competitive drive and pressure, there’s also a lot of sexual tension flying around, which makes this mystery even more delectable.
Not surprisingly, all the secrets and lies come home to roost in the present, as the five remaining members of the group meet again, discovering for the first time the wrongs they had committed against each other in the past. While they may still call themselves friends, it’s painfully clear there is not a shred of trust left between them. From the start, we know that many bad things happened ten years ago, and even if we aren’t aware of the specifics, Saskia’s shadow is ever present, weighing heavily on the events of the story. One or more people in the group know the truth of what happened, a puzzle that is gradually, teasingly revealed to the reader as the plot progresses.
It’s hard to believe this is Allie Reynolds’ debut, for I truly feel that Shiver can stand on its own against many other thrillers of its type by more veteran authors. The audiobook was also amazing; I finished listening to this one in just one session while making holiday meal preparations, and my heart was in my throat almost the entire time. In addition, Olivia Vinall did a great job as narrator, voicing Milla perfectly, and you could tell she was enjoying the story while reading because her enthusiasm seemed authentic. Bottom line, I can’t recommend this book enough. If you are a fan of locked-room thrillers and mysteries, you’ve got to check this one out.
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of The Sorcerer’s Song
Publisher: Tantor Audio (November 24, 2020)
Length: 14 hrs and 54 mins
Narrator: Gildart Jackson
Reviews to sequels can be tough sometimes, because I find there’s only so many ways to say, “If you enjoyed the first one, then it’s a safe bet you’ll like this one too.” But this is exactly the case with A Chorus of Fire, follow-up up to The Bard’s Blade. As the second novel in the trilogy, it acts as a bridge, but there’s no “middle book” syndrome here as we’re pushing full speed ahead with the plot threads established in the first volume while also seeing a lot of development in the overall series arc and characters.
The story opens soon after the events of the previous novel. Lem, a once humble bard from Vylari had to become someone else to survive the harsh and cruel conditions of Lamoria, the world beyond the veil. Time and training has transformed him into a hardened assassin—the Blade of Kylor. He has killed in the name of a god he doesn’t believe in, more times than he can count. All of it was done to save Mariyah, the woman he loves who had followed him to Lamoria, only to become captured and imprisoned.
But unknown to Lem, Mariyah is far from helpless, nor is she truly the prisoner as he believes she is. Like him, she has been learning to survive, becoming a practitioner of magic. She too is doing everything she can in order to be granted her freedom and be reunited with her love, even if it requires challenging the boundaries of their relationship.
What’s clear is that our protagonists are no longer the innocent and untroubled youths we first met in book one. They’ve both been through so much and had their eyes open to hardship and pure evil. They have lost their idealism and sheltered views of the world. However, what remains unchanged is the strength of their bond. This is a tale of two people trying to find their way back to each other, and while it is a trope as old as time, it remains popular because the audience loves a couple they can cheer for. And when it comes to Lem and Mariyah, it’s even easier to root for them because they’re both so likeable and relatable.
Speaking of likeable and relatable, I have to give a nod to Brian D. Anderson’s effortless, flowing writing style. There’s nothing fancy about the prose, but it’s so easy to fall into. It almost does the story’s contents a disfavor, since we get deeper into the history and the politics of the world, and at times the details come across as overly simplistic. But given how rare it is to come across a good, accessible epic fantasy, The Sorcerer’s Song trilogy may fill a much-in-demand niche for readers who are interested in the genre but are looking for something lighter.
There’s also much to be said about the classic quest narrative. I love how both Lem and Mariyah’s storylines follow similar trajectories, but each one has their own unique challenges. The musical motifs remain strong throughout, as evidenced from the book titles as well as events in Lem’s chapters, while Mariyah’s mostly focus on magic. There are moments where I think the dialogue border on cheesiness, but somehow they don’t feel as objectionable or too out of place among the old-school vibes.
I said this about the first book, and I’ll say it again with A Chorus of Fire: For pure escapism, it doesn’t get any more perfect than this. We’re not talking about anything flashy or a series that will revolutionize the genre, but much like the idea of comfort foods, some books simply serve as great comfort reads. This very much describes The Sorcerer’s Song, which I’ve settled into like a warm, cozy blanket. The last time I felt like this was probably with Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations, so if you like that style of traditional fantasy, I highly recommend also checking out The Bard’s Blade and A Chorus of Fire. I really hope these trends will continue into the final installment, and I’m looking forward to see how the trilogy will conclude.
Audiobook Comments: There’s a certain charm to Gildart Jackson’s confident, engaging narration. It appears he wasn’t the narrator for the first book, but nevertheless, he seems to have gotten a pretty good grasp for the characters which is impressive. I liked his voices for both Lem and Mariyah’s chapters, and overall it was a great performance.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Bard’s Blade (Book 1)
Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.
Received for Review
My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!
Just two new arrivals this week! Now, imagine every time you fell asleep, you would wake up to a new alternate reality and you had no ability to control where you would end up. This is the premise of Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt which I’ve been looking forward to reading, so it is with much gratitude to Angry Robot for sending me a review copy! Tim may be stopping by with a guest post in the new year too, so stay tuned.
Also thanks to 47North and the kind folks at Wunderkind for sending me an ARC of Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler, whose books I’ve enjoyed before. This one returns to the fantasy world of his Kingfountain novels with an epic new series, and I’m really excited to check it out.
In the digital pile, with thanks to Hachette Audio I grabbed a listening copy of How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black, a novella that takes us back to the world of The Folk of the Air series that follows Cardan during his childhood and also certain events from The Cruel Prince. I’m mostly interested in the story so audio will do just fine, but I would highly recommend the print if you want to see all the accompanying illustrations. I’ve seen the real book, and it’s gorgeous!
Also thanks to Entangled: Teen for sending me a widget for The Afterlife of the Party by Marlene Perez. This one looks like a lot of fun!
This Week’s Reads
Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read! Let me know what you plan on checking out. Until next time, see you next Roundup!
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.
This week’s theme is:
I’m doing something a little different today, as this week’s theme is actually a freebie or a day off. But seeing as it’s Christmas, I wanted to dress my blog up in some colors that are a bit more…festive! So please enjoy this collage of covers I’ve put together for my chosen theme, and whatever you celebrate, I hope everyone is having a wonderful day full of warmth and joy and love! The BiblioSanctum wishes you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Dystopian
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Berkley Books (December 1, 2020)
Length: 384 pages
A mysterious pandemic. Social unrest and widespread poverty. A new initiative to send gifted youth into space in the hopes of building a new world while the old one burns. All these are catastrophes and events unfolding in We Hear Voices. As the story begins, a woman named Rachel watches over her gravely ill son Billy in their tiny apartment in London, praying for him to survive the night. The boy had contracted the J5X virus, a strain of deadly flu which has already claimed the lives of many children. The family, which includes Rachel’s other two children, her mother, and her boyfriend Al have already gathered to say their last goodbyes.
But then miraculously, Billy recovers. Before long, he is back to being the average six-year-old boy he used to be—except for one major difference. Now he has an imaginary friend he calls Delfy, whom he claims to have pulled him back from the brink of death by encouraging him to get better. At first, Rachel is unconcerned, believing it to be a phase. She also feels blessed that her son was spared when so many others have succumbed to the virus. However, it isn’t long before Delfy starts becoming a problem, telling Billy inappropriate things and instructing him to act up and behave badly at school—or so the boy says. Rachel takes her son to see a professional, but the situation only gets worse. Soon, it’s clear that Delfy is more than a child’s coping mechanism; she has become Rachel and her family’s worst nightmare.
You’d think I should have known better, picking up a book about an outbreak of a mysterious deadly virus during a pandemic. Fortunately, J5X only plays a small part in this story, mostly just serving as its backdrop. Much of the plot is actually about…well, everything else. Lots of things are happening here, and while most of it’s good, some of it not so much.
First, what I liked: there’s a good mix of genres for everyone, and I especially enjoyed the strong horror vibes. There’s just something so creepy about unnatural children that make them the perfect staple for a scary story. The imaginary friend angle was also very clever, particularly in the way the author relates it back to the pandemic. I also loved how the author wrote Delfy, and that initial uncertainty over whether she is just a figment of a child’s imagination or something more sinister. The things she makes Billy do are pretty atrocious, and the wickedness of them only escalates as the story progresses.
I also liked the setting. It’s unmistakably dystopian, as even as the pandemic rages, it’s clear there are many other problems ravaging this world. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the government has actually started a space exploration initiative to develop a generation ship and recruit young people for a centuries-long journey to a new planet where humanity can start anew. Rachel’s oldest daughter, Nina, is a bright young teen who has been chosen to be a part of the ship’s crew along with her boyfriend, and through her eyes we get to see the unfolding of space program storyline.
Unfortunately, this was also where the book started to lose me. Here’s what I didn’t care for: there was so much going on, but not really enough time or attention to sufficiently explore all the different subplots. I was mostly interested in Rachel’s plight and her struggles with Billy, and I wanted to know what was going on with Delfy. Nina’s sections were distracting and became more and more an annoyance to the point I started to resent every moment the story took me away from what I really wanted to read. For this reason, I had a rough time of getting through the second half of the book which branched into even more subplots, following Dr. Graham who was the specialist in charge of Billy’s case. As you might have guessed, Rachel’s son is not the only patient of Dr. Graham, whose research has led him to track down many other children with imaginary friends that only manifested after recovery from the virus. It’s a mystery that eventually comes together at the end, but I can’t say I was a fan of the way the resolution was handled. The answers came too quickly and too tidily for my tastes, not to mention the ending felt more gimmicky than satisfying.
At the end of the day, I had a good time with the horror elements of We Hear Voices, but there was also a lot of “noise” in the book that unfortunately took away from the enjoyment. Things started out strong, but the story lost some of its focus towards the end and probably would have worked better if it had been more fleshed out or streamlined.
Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!
I will literally read anything about a library! And a ghostly tale is suitable for any season…
“Sixth Sense meets Stranger Things in T. L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, a sharp contemporary fantasy following a precocious and cynical teen as she explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh.
When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?
When ghosts talk, she will listen…
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.
She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.”
In news that should surprise no one, I did not manage to read everything on my “Must Read” lists of 2020 (Jan to March, April to June, July to September, October to December), but considering the number of books we’re talking about, I think I did pretty well! I got to finish the vast majority, but there are still some I regret not being able to get to, the top ten of which I’ve listed below. Who knows though, there’s a little more than a week left in the year and I may still knock a few more off this TBR, and I do plan on getting to these even if it means squeezing some catch-up time into 2021. Have you read any of these, and what did you think? Which ones should I tackle first?
In the ice, east of the Black Rock, there is a hole into which broken children are thrown.
On Abeth the vastness of the ice holds no room for individuals. Survival together is barely possible. No one survives alone.
To resist the cold, to endure the months of night when even the air itself begins to freeze, requires a special breed. Variation is dangerous, difference is fatal. And Yaz is not the same.
Yaz is torn from the only life she’s ever known, away from her family, from the boy she thought she would spend her days with, and has to carve out a new path for herself in a world whose existence she never suspected. A world full of difference and mystery and danger.
Yaz learns that Abeth is older and stranger than she had ever imagined. She learns that her weaknesses are another kind of strength. And she learns to challenge the cruel arithmetic of survival that has always governed her people.
Only when it’s darkest you can see the stars.
In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s visceral, emotionally charged debut.
War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder.
In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall.
And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.
As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.
Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world, in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy
Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.
Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.
The Three Musketeers meets Jules Verne in Curtis Craddock’s concluding novel in the critically-acclaimed high fantasy Risen Kingdoms series, an engrossing tale of courtly intrigue and breathtaking magic.
Isabelle and Jean-Claude undertake an airship expedition to recover a fabled treasure and claim a hitherto undiscovered craton for l’Empire Celeste. But Isabelle, as a result from a previous attack that tried to subsume her body and soul, suffers from increasingly disturbing and disruptive hallucinations. Disasters are compounded when the ship is sabotaged by an enemy agent, and Jean-Claude is separated from the expedition.
In a race against time, Isabelle must figure out how to ward off her ailment before it destroys her and reunite with Jean-Claude to seek the fabled treasure as ancient secrets and a royal conspiracy threaten to undo the entire realm.
Conspiracy. Betrayal. Rebellion.
Peace is just another kind of battlefield…
Savine dan Glokta, once Adua’s most powerful investor, finds her judgement, fortune and reputation in tatters. But she still has all her ambitions, and no scruple will be permitted to stand in her way.
For heroes like Leo dan Brock and Stour Nightfall, only happy with swords drawn, peace is an ordeal to end as soon as possible. But grievances must be nursed, power seized and allies gathered first, while Rikke must master the power of the Long Eye . . . before it kills her.
The Breakers still lurk in the shadows, plotting to free the common man from his shackles, while noblemen bicker for their own advantage. Orso struggles to find a safe path through the maze of knives that is politics, only for his enemies, and his debts, to multiply.
The old ways are swept aside, and the old leaders with them, but those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace, lasts forever.
The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.
After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
Reinmar of Bielawa, sometimes known as Reynevan, is a doctor, a magician and, according to some, a charlatan. And when a thoughtless indiscretion finds him caught in the crosshairs of powerful noble family, he is forced to flee his home.
But once he passes beyond the city borders, he finds that there are dangers ahead as well as behind. Strange mystical forces are gathering in the shadows. And pursued not only by the affronted Stercza brothers, bent on vengeance, but also by the Holy Inquisition, Reynevan finds himself in the Narrenturm, the Tower of Fools.
The Tower is an asylum for the mad, or for those who dare to think differently and challenge the prevailing order. And escaping the Tower, avoiding the conflict around him, and keeping his own sanity might prove a greater challenge than Reynevan ever imagined.
In true The Da Vinci Code fashion, a taut thriller filled with rival factions vying for control of the truth in a giant global conspiracy.
There were giants on the earth in those days—at least that’s what the Bible says. But, where are they? Did they ever really exist at all?
When out-of-work math teacher Ethan McCloud is sent a mysterious box, he and his ex-girlfriend begin to unravel a mystery 10,000 years in the making—and he is the last hope to discovering the world’s greatest conspiracy. Chased by both the Six-Fingered Man and the Council of David, Ethan must survive the chase—and find the truth.
Harrow the Ninth, the sequel to Gideon the Ninth, turns a galaxy inside out as one necromancer struggles to survive the wreckage of herself aboard the Emperor’s haunted space station.
She answered the Emperor’s call.
She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.
In victory, her world has turned to ash.
After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.
Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?
A brilliantly imagined saga of honour, glory and warfare, Call of the Bone Ships is the captivating epic fantasy sequel to RJ Barker’s The Bone Ships.
Dragons have returned to the Hundred Isles. But their return heralds only war and destruction. When a horde of dying slaves are discovered in the bowels of a ship, Shipwife Meas and the crew of the Tide Child find themselves drawn into a vicious plot that will leave them questioning their loyalties and fighting for their lives.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 17 of Dresden Files
Publisher: Ace Books (September 29, 2020)
Length: 418 pages
Published within mere months of each other, Battle Ground follows hot on the heels of Peace Talks, though in truth the two can probably be seen as Parts I and II of a single volume. I guess that’s what happens when you’re dealing with too much epicness for one book to handle—and that’s no exaggeration. This novel can only be described as non-stop explosive action, the kind that never lets up.
Even summarizing the plot will be difficult, because it’s honestly little more than a series of battles coming one right after another as Harry Dresden and his allies unite for a final showdown against an all-powerful enemy bent on destroying Chicago and killing everyone in it. And when I say “unite”, I do mean that everyone who has ever featured in a Dresden Files novel in the long history of the series seems to make an appearance. And then they fight. And they fight. And then they fight some more. After a while, everything starts to look less like a war and more like a chaotic game of Super Smash Bros.
In other words, there’s not much of a story to speak of at all.
I’m thinking that’s probably why I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I should have. Battle Ground is proof positive that you can indeed have too much of a good thing, and while I enjoy action as much as the next person, I can only take it up to a point. Once the conflicts start becoming a little too repetitive, I actually get bored, which was not something I ever expected to happen to me with a Dresden Files novel, but there you have it.
With hardly any downtime in between all the excitement, I found I had to make do with creating my own breaks, which is probably why I took so long to read this book because I would be putting it down all the time. Mind you, it wasn’t because I thought all the action was bad, because on the contrary, Jim Butcher is a genius when it comes to writing fight scenes of all kinds, from your sweeping battle sequences right down to your one-on-one magical duels. But you know, there’s just so much stimulation I can take. I really did want to get onboard with the with all the excitement and thrills, but at the same time I need balance, which requires actual storytelling and character development.
Which brings me next to my mini-rant. Credit where credit’s due, Butcher did try to inject moments of profundity and depth from which our titular protagonist can learn and grow. In fact, there is one MASSIVE plot point which served to accomplish this. And I hated it. I hated the fact it was done for the sake of making Harry hurt. I hated that it was used as a set up for future installments. Thoughts like “Why can’t Harry ever be allowed to be happy?” and “Deserved better” were raging through my mind even as I struggled to come to terms with the fact that what I read actually happened, and that it actually happened in the cheap, crappy way it did. I suspect it was also a huge factor in the more negative reviews you see for this book, and I’m sure some of them will reveal what it is so you can go find out from them if you really want to, but I’m not going to spoil it here. All I’ll say is that I was pretty upset by it, and I can’t bring myself to give this book a higher rating because of the indignant anger and sadness it caused. That said, no one can deny that it was a bombshell which will forever change the course of the series, and I’m willing to see if Butcher will in fact do something meaningful with it. Granted, it will take a lot, but in spite of everything, I still want to give him the benefit of the doubt.
As you can see, if the ultimate goal of this book was to get the reader all amped up and hot and bothered, it certainly succeeded. Now, whether you will be affected in a good or bad way is a question that’s more contentious. While some might be invigorated and inspired by all this relentless action and the numerous changes, personally I was left feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. Of course, I’m still glad I read the book because it’s the Dresden Files, and come hell or high water I’ll be seeing this series though to the end, but a part of me still felt immense relief following the end of Battle Ground. Despite its epicness, this installment doesn’t rank anywhere near one of my favorites, and I’m actually kind of glad that it is behind me now so I can look forward to a new era for Harry Dresden where anything can happen next.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Redhook (October 13, 2020)
Length: 528 pages
You know how much I adore a good witchy tale, and with The Once and Future Witches, author Alix E. Harrow has delivered another rich and powerful novel to satisfy my heart’s desire. From the mind who brought us The Ten Thousand Doors of January comes this historical fantasy that will appeal to fans of feminist fiction and family sagas that blend together magic, folklore, and alternate history.
Once upon a time, there were three sisters. When their mother died, the girls were raised by a bitter and uncaring father who treated them like dirt. Beatrice Belladonna Eastwood is the oldest daughter and also the bookish one, who left to pursue a career as a librarian. The middle daughter, Agnes Amaranth, also went out into the world and got a job as a factory worker. That left youngest and wildest James Juniper all by herself to deal with their cruel and abusive father, and she has never forgiven her sisters for it.
Now it is the year 1893, and society is on the cusp of great change. In New Salem, the sky rips open and a mysterious tower manifests in the town square while a suffragist rally occurs nearby, and having dedicated her life to studying the history and folklore of witching, Beatrice “Bella” knows it for a sign that magic has returned to the world. As fate would have it, the moment also reunites the three sisters who all happened to witness the phenomenon. Bella works at the local college, while Agnes finds herself preparing for single motherhood after discovering she is pregnant, and Juniper is a wanted woman on the run from the law. Whatever love there was between them is now gone, and the story begins with the three women barely tolerating each other.
However, they are forever bound by their shared lineage and a common goal. Together, the Eastwood sisters must find a way to heal past rifts in order to bring back real magic and repel the dark forces that seek to corrupt it for their own gain.
Above all else, The Once and Future Witches is a story about the importance of family and the role of forgiveness in building a future. It is also about fighting for those without a voice. The three sisters in this tale—Bella, Agnes, and Juniper—are individuals each with their own strengths and weaknesses, but together they are a force to be reckoned with. Harrow develops their personalities with a combination of the environment and their life experiences, making them believable and easy to relate to. They feel like genuine people reacting realistically to the hardships and obstacles thrown in their path. It’s not always pretty, but life—and magic—is chaotic.
Speaking of which, the idea of magical spells being hidden and preserved through history in nursery rhymes and fairy tales isn’t exactly new, but I liked how some of these stories were reimagined, which seemed to fit well in the alternate history context. I also thought it was important that magic didn’t belong to the any one person or group, like how men knew how to cast magic as well as various cultures that carried out their own unique traditions. With so much knowledge of witchcraft lost to time, there was also a layer of mystery that our characters had to unravel. I enjoyed watching the sisters discovering their power and developing their skills even as they worked towards reconciliation.
There’s also a good story here, and it’s beautifully written. In fact, my only criticism of it might be a lack of original ideas to set it apart, as thematically it does feel pretty similar to several other “witchy” feminist fantasy novels I’ve read in recent years. And while I appreciated the focus on our protagonists and their personal growth, I wish more attention had been paid to developing the setting as well as the actions of other characters like the suffragettes and the efforts of Cleopatra Quinn and her compatriots. Still, there’s no denying there’s a lot going on here, and in making this story all about the Eastwood sisters, I can even understand why there would be a need to sacrifice detail in other areas.
At the end of the day though, The Once and Future Witches was a fascinating read, and while the story might not be perfect, I think its emotional depth and uplifting messages of sisterhood are more than enough to make up for its minor flaws. Recommended for fans of historical fantasies and strong women characters, especially if you enjoy books with magical or witchy themes by authors like Naomi Novik or Louisa Morgan.