[Friday Flash Review] The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie

Untitled-1❧ Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
❧ Author: Emily Skrutskie
❧ Publisher: Flux
❧ Publication date: February 8th 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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Cas has fought pirates her entire life. But can she survive living among them?

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea

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the abyss surrounds us❝In A Nutshell❞

✎ Pirates! Sea monsters trained to defend against pirate attacks, bred for purpose and trained hands-on by a single person they bond with. Cas is taken captive by a pirate queen and told to raise the Reckoner pup she somehow managed to steal, or die. Cas is forced to choose between loyalty and her life.

✎ Broken social/political system across oceans and floating cities where the pirates so very obviously aren’t just The Bad Guys else why would this book have been written come on.

✎ Diverse ☒ (biracial MC, sexuality, f/f romance – not #ownvoices afaik)

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❝What I loved❞

✎ The Reckoners are amazing. Everyone says “Pacific Rim” when you mention sea monsters, but I didn’t like Pacific Rim but so this was much better. The relationship between Cas and the Reckoner pup is intriguing and also pretty fun to read. This book is fun in the best sense of the word. It is exciting and I’d have happily read another hundred or so pages, so it was a little disappointing that it was so short (under 300 pages for the ppb ed).

✎ The careful way the potential romance is handled, in the possibly-problematic situation of Swift and Cas definitely not being equals on the ship and Cas, in fact, being a prisoner. It makes it fairly difficult for the two to have a clear and easy romance, but they do manage and even though a lot is held back on both sides, there’s still enough romance on the page for it to not feel entirely frustrating. The romance is hate-to-love, which can be a little “oh my god get on with it; pick one!” but the initial attraction here really shows that the eventual romance doesn’t just spring out of nowhere: what holds them back more than anything else is the odd power dynamic (captor/captive) and their own views of one another.

✎ The Reckoners. They are everything. But so is a Chinese American MC who is also queer. The cover is also so good.

✎ The fact that it’s pretty clear there’s much more to the world than the black-and-white version we see through Cas’ narrative and the suggestion that we’ll get to see more of this develop in the second part The Edge Of The Abyss.
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❝What I didn’t love❞

✎ Cas’ absolute loyalty at first and her determination to take the pill and end her life instead of being taken by the pirates just… it doesn’t work for me. I’m never really a fan of the theme of people putting things like keeping what amounts to trade secrets higher than their own lives, and, whilst I get that it’s how Cas has been raised, I like people to call out BS like that internally and realise how brainwashing it is. Eh, maybe I just don’t like authority in situations like this, so the whole “if you’re captured, you must sacrifice yourself!” my first reaction is “why?” followed by “hell, no”. Maybe it comes from me being the kind of person to question absolutely everything ever, ever, ever who knows.

✎ Not really something I didn’t like, but I wish, wish, wish this book had been longer because I enjoyed it so much and wanted more.

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❝If you liked this…❞

…then you might also like: Zenn Scarlet, by Christian Schoon, which is kind of similar-ish with the theme of the “monsters” and a girl who’s really good at what she does. The sequel Under Nameless Stars is not recommended as highly, however, since it honestly bored me rigid and was so much worse than the first book I didn’t even buy it after reading and reviewing the ARC. But! Zenn Scarlett can definitely be enjoyed as a standalone, so go ahead!

[Friday Flash Review] And I Darken, by Kiersten White

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❧ Title: And I Darken (Conqueror’s Saga #1)
❧ Author: Kiersten White
❧ Publisher: Delacorte Press
❧ Publication date: 28th June 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

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and i darken❝In A Nutshell❞

✎A re-imagining of the story of Vlad the Impaler, actual man-person and not the would-be vampire of myth. In this, his daughter, Lada, is set to rise to the legendary heights of Vlad in his stead, in a historical revisiting of the setting and his rise to power. Lada is a fierce princess with a very soft, handsome and clever brother, Radu. Lada and Radu are sent into the heart of the Ottoman Empire by their father as part of his politicking, when his own influence and position begins to slip. They are essentially hostages to ensure his cooperation.

✎ Lada is not a typical princess. She is a skilled warrior, violent and even vicious, and she refuses to let her home go. She wants the power and position of a man and refuses to play the courtly games her brother is so skilled at, whereas he shies away from battle and war unless absolutely necessary. They are very close as siblings but the relationship can be strained at times. They will defend one another at all costs.

✎Diverse ☒ (race (the majority of the book takes place in the Ottoman empire with only a few characters from outside), queerness, positive depiction of Islam); not #ownvoices.

✎ History and politics and love and war and a thousand things besides.
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❝What I loved❞
✎ Radu is gay. He is gay and he is a main character. Did I mention he’s gay? G A Y. Also, he’s gay.

✎ Lada is terrifying and brilliant and you want her on your team for absolutely anything ever that involves horrible killing and maiming because she will win and also scare you just a little.

✎ A positive, historical(ly accurate- afaik) depiction of Islam.

✎ This book is rich with intrigue and tension and filled with suspense. It is a luscious adventure into the past where the world comes alive in full colour. The level of detail and research was impressive and shone through, showing how much ground work and reading (and visiting!) White must have done. There is a fierceness to the narrative that Lada conveys and it is at times both horrifying and readable, whereas Radu’s gentler wit weaves an almost poetic story alongside his sister’s. The two are a contrast, yet entirely complementary. Radu’s sexuality is treated as a learning of his own self and it is not badly written. There is a lot of truth to Radu’s slow realisation of his feelings for Memed (not a spolier; sorry not sorry) that really shows how carefully his story was approached by a writer who is very obviously not a gay boy!

And I Darken is so gripping it’s impossible to put down. If we’re not being held hostage by the tense narrative of Lada and Radu’s childhood years, we’re kept at the edge of our seats as we’re invited right into the heart of the intrigue of the court as Lada and Radu aim to, at first, survive, and then eventually, to thrive. This was one of my very favourite books of 2016.
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❝If you liked this…❞
…then you might also like: I don’t read much historical fiction so I genuinely have no idea? Maybe possibly, for “history with a twist” (which is the closest I can come), check out Anne Lyle’s Alchemist of Souls books. They’re not YA, but they rep queer MCs and I enjoyed entering a slightly-alternative Elizabethan England when I read them way back.

[Friday Flash Review] The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

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❧ Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
❧ Author: Holly Black
❧ Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
❧ Publication date: 13th January 2015
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough

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20958632In A Nutshell

✎ Role reversal twins: soft guy princey type; warrior girl knight. Small town in rural America where the forest is full of dark secrets and danger. Having spent their childhoods in the woods, Ben and Hazel know that things aren’t always as they seem, even if the town of Fairfold is so used to its long history with faeries that the things that happen are simply just accepted as they are.
✎ Queer romance! Changelings! Cursed sleeping faerie princes!
✎ A mysterious faerie, loved by both twins but without much of a lasting, terrible sibling rivalry love triangle (where the straight ship is launched, because isn’t it always if this happens).
✎ A brilliant juxtaposition of contemporary fantasy and fairytale and folklore, with life in Fairfold every bit as normal as any other town in rural America. Except for the faeries, of course. And the occasionally missing tourist, but hey.
✎Diverse ☒ (queerness and secondary characters who are PoC)

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What I loved

✎ Everything. Absolutely everything. This book is enchanting and delightful and reads every bit the way a modern faerie tale should. Ben and Hazel are compelling, interesting characters and they are so well-written as siblings.
✎ Q u e e r  r o m a n c e. I can’t stress this enough, really. Any book that gives me queer romance is automatically going to get bonus points, let alone if its a m/m romance.
✎ Faeries! Anyone who knows me knows that faeries are my thing. I am an actual changeling so really that shouldn’t be a surprise. I eat up stories that involve the fae, whether they’re fantasy or urban fantasy or that grey area between. Basically, faeries.
✎ Black’s writing style is just meant tot write books like this: it’s very gently lyrical whilst being utterly engaging and even “mundane”, but in the best of ways. It’s as though she brings faerie completely to life in a modern setting without losing or compromising on any of the magic and wonder and even terror of what faeries can really be like.
✎ The point that Ben and Hazel’s parents are generally guilty of “benign neglect”. I am always eager to see the various ways in which parents can totally mess up with their kids being displayed: it’s important to demonstrate and explore the fact that violence and/or abuse aren’t the only ways in which parents can hurt or damage their kids. Not being there can be just as damaging and even if the parents themselves are great people that does not mean they’re great at being parents.
✎ Hazel’s strength and bravery and general kick-assness, matched with her brother’s artistic softness.

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If you liked this…

…then you might also like: Holly Black’s other faerie tale books, particularly her Modern Faerie Tales books, Tithe, Valiant and Ironside, as well as the upcoming The Cruel Prince, which the first of a new series called The Folk of the Air and is also about faeries. This is slated for an early 2018 release.

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Flame In The Mist, by Renée Ahdieh

Title: Flame In The Mist
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 16th May 2017
Rating:  ★★★★

23308087The first of a new trilogy by The Wrath and the Dawn author, Renée Adieh,  Flame In The Mist is an exciting mash-up of Mulan and 47 Ronin. It isn’t a retelling of The Ballad Of Mulan, but rather a faint echo of Mulan’s spirit (and, you know, the passing oneself as a boy, thing), giving us Mariko, a girl who is bright and brave and unafraid to enter into a world reserved almost exclusively for men. We switch out the concept of a girl replacing her father in the army (with her family’s blessing, unlike in the Disney retelling of the Ballad) for a girl bound for an arranged marriage, who finds herself cast out into the world with little reason to head for her betrothed and all the reason in the world to choose her own path. But what begins as a quest for answers and for revenge, turns into a complex series of events that will change Markio’s life–and her heart–forever.

When Hattori Mariko is told she must marry into the Imperial family, she accepts this duty as any good daughter might: she wishes to honour her family and do what is best for their reputation, in spite of marriage being the last thing from her mind. Especially since she has far better things to do than play at being a doll in which to dress prettily in silks. Things such as continue tinkering with her many inventions, however small. She has a bright mind and wants nothing more than to prove her worth beyond her station and gender. Yet things are as they must be, and Mariko accepts her fate with grace and honour.

Except that inside she is slowly dying at the notion of what her life will become. Hattori Mariko was never meant for the dull security of marriage. She was always meant for more.

When tragedy strikes on her way to the Imperial palace and she is betrayed, Mariko seizes her chance and flees into the night; it’s that, or die. Though she could make herself and the fact that she survived known, she has no idea who it was who betrayed her and if, should she finish her journey to meet her betrothed, she would be again only travelling to meet her doom. With only the knowledge that the infamous Black Clan is responsible for the attempt on her life and the blood spilled in the Jukai forest that night, Mariko takes on the appearance of a boy and thrusts herself into the hidden world of mercenaries and dark power. Soon she finds herself in the midst of the very people she believes tried to murder her, taken into their fold and privy to their secrets.

Only nothing is ever as it seems, and soon Mariko learns that the Black Clan is not what they appear. As she grows closer to the members of the clan, Mariko realises that the world has never been black and white, but is cast in infinite shades of grey. The only constants are power and honour and she begins to rethink everything she ever thought she knew about both.

Meanwhile, Mariko’s twin brother, Hattori Kenshin, refuses to believe that Mariko is dead. He is a skilled tracker and he finds evidence that leads him to believe that she escaped the slaughter that befell her party in the forest. He can’t fathom where she went, but he trusts that his cunning sister has a reason for having vanished. But with the betrothal to the prince being such an important step in their family’s ascension, Kenshin knows he must tread carefully so as not to draw suspicion and shame. Mariko is now by herself in the wild and with unknown persons possibly still eager for her death–the last thing he can do is draw attention to the fact that she survived at the same time as not wishing to jeopardise the marriage by news of his sister’s death. Kenshin, the Dragon of Kai (the moniker bestowed for his prowess in battle and his skill as a samurai), must navigate carefully if he is to bring Mariko home and keep her both safe and leave their family’s honour–and his own–intact.

But a force moves in the shadows, with its own agenda and with eyes where those it watches least expect. The only question is when it will move.

During all this, two boys are bound together by more than blood and through a bond that runs deeper than the honour their parents chose to throw to the wayside before them. One has designs on revenge and reclaiming his rightful title and position, whilst the other wishes only to quell the anger and shame at their pasts and live in anonymity. Yet when all these paths finally converge and become entangled with one another, everything is set to change.

Flame In The Mist is the first of what is set to be a trilogy that is equal parts political intrigue and adventure, with a lost legacy to reclaim, a powerful betrothal at stake and the true meaning of both honour and friendship on full display within the vivid and exciting world that Adieh has presented. Easily one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2017,  Flame In The Mist blends an rebellion against gender roles and conformity seamlessly with an exhilarating story of exiled warriors and old magic, all whilst delivering a page-turner of a book that left me eagerly awaiting the next.

One thing I will mention is how disappointed I am by the fact that Ahdieh chose not to include any queer rep. Especially given how much the historical context of Japan lends itself to the acceptance and even celebration of queer relationships, especially between men in the context of samurai etc. It’s actually a little lazy and generally demonstrates that most authors won’t even consider even a hint of queer rep. It’s alienating and unfair, not to mention, very unrealistic–especially in the context of the Black Clan and their interpersonal relationships with one another.

(P.S. Not sure whether this next applies more to the writer or the publisher, since italicising foreign words is a Thing in publishing, or if it was an inconsistency of the eArc I received from NetGalley by the publisher, but there seemed to be little to no reason or rhyme regarding which Japanese words were typed in italics and which weren’t. Arguably the words that are more “familiar” and less “foreign” were left un-italicised (e.g. kimono, samurai, sake, etc), and yet words such as ‘tabi’, ‘hakama’, ‘tantō’ and ‘rōnin’ were presented in italics, even though it’s also arguable that these words are just as familiar. To further illustrate the seemingly random choices regarding italics, words such as ‘kata’ were left without italics, when in fact this is a word related specifically to martial arts and form and therefore would be less familiar than perhaps ‘rōnin’. Generally the italics seemed a little confusing regarding where they were used, with little consistency. But then I’m of the opinion that no italics to designate foreign words is better.

Further, it would have been amazing for, in the glossary of terms, perhaps, for the kanji used to write all of the character’s names to be included. As someone studying Japanese (including kanji), it would have been a nice little touch and also I am a nerd so there’s that, too.)

Masquerade, by Laura Lam [Micah Grey #3]

Title: Masquerade (Micah Grey #3)
Author: Laura Lam
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication date: 9th March 2017
Rating: ★★★★

23279496It’s been a long wait between Shadowplay and Masquerade, and there were times when it seemed it would never come, short of Laura Lam electing to self-pub and/or kickstart the third and final Micah Grey novel. Thankfully, Lam’s publisher, also responsible for publishing the fantastic futuristic sci-fi thriller False Hearts swooped in and seized the entire trilogy, meaning that Micah was coming home.

And what a homecoming. Masquerade is a fast-paced and exciting story, full of mystery and heart, from the second we’re taken back to Ellada.

I was worried about the amount of time that had passed, having expected to forget absolutely everything, and since I do not have the ability to re-read books, it was a genuine concern that part of my enjoyment might be diminished by “what is happening? Who are these people?” and “I have no memory of this place!”. There were things I’d partially forgotten, but the way Lam both opened Masquerade and weaved the story, any of those gaps were very easily filled, with my memory being jogged where relevant and not once did I feel I was reading something I only half connected with, in spite of the huge gap and subsequent gaps in what I remembered. It felt every bit the same as having waited a year or so between books, with no clumsy dumps of exposition or info.

And the wait was worth it.

After the circus and then the magic contest with the Masque of Magic, things seem to be looking up for Micah. Except that at the close of Shadowplay, to sour the success, Micah fell suddenly ill and it seemed related to his burgeoning abilities as a chimera. Luckily, soon Micah is well (but for how long?), but at the cost of trusting someone he never wanted to see again. The Royal Physician is someone Micah would rather steer clear from, and with good reason, following the man’s employment of a Shadow to report their actions and whereabouts during the magic contest, even sending someone to get close to Masque in order to glean all the info he could. Yet Micah doesn’t have much choice and his treatment at the hands of the Royal Physician becomes regular affair–one he remains deeply mistrustful of.

Yet ridiculously, allowing Pozzi to treat him is soon the lesser of Micah’s worries, as tension grows within the city due to both the rumours of chimera and the politicking of the Foresters. The problem is: they have a point. For too many centuries, the noble families and the royal family have had much of the power and all of the privilege, whilst many in the country go hungry or find themselves in poverty. This dissent will not be eased without change, and yet when a particularly violent arm of the Foresters, calling themselves the Kashura in reference to the old histories and tales of the chimera and the Elder race, rises up and makes themselves known, the people of Ellada are caught between the need for change and the dislike for violence and bloodshed.

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Things will come to a head eventually and civil war may well be on the cards.

Meanwhile, Micah’s abilities seem to strengthen thanks to the treatment rendered by Pozzi and soon he is experiencing strange dreams that seem to show him the actions of another person as they go about their business in shadow. That business is body snatching. But without any notion of who is behind the actions or why, Micah and his friends are working blind. They’re not in this alone, aided by the mysterious Anisa, the Damselfly apparition from the Aleph who knows more than she says and who sometimes appears only to help them when it suits her best. None of them are entirely willing to trust her, but with their secrets held tightly to their chests, there are few around them who know the full truth and they must take whatever help they can get.

Matters become more complicated when hands behind the scenes begin to play their cards and Micah, Drystan and Cyan are pulled into things far more complicated and delicate than they could have imagined–and with the Foresters poised for action and change (one way or another) it looks as though things may come to a head sooner than anyone hoped.

One of the things that I’d been hoping for most with Masquerade was Micah’s confrontation with his parents, one way or another. I felt that given the storyline that led him from the noble house in the first place, there needed to be some manner of resolution given that Micah had returned to Imachara with a mind to stay and settle into his new life. This happened, in a way, and although there were elements of what I wanted to see, I felt disappointed in how Micah ultimately handled the situation. Which, really, is to say, I was disappointed in how easily Micah was able to set aside his anger and hurt regarding what his parents wanted for the daughter they believed they had. I think that any narrative from Micah suggesting that he understands what his parents were trying to do, and that he knew it came from a place of love, possibly suggests that Lam maybe hasn’t experienced strained relations with parents regarding queerness and acceptance. Micah loses his anger at his mother, understanding her “reasons” for wanting to fixing (or at least this was how it read to me) and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that. Micah’s mother does not really, really, truly admit fault and she does not truly accept Micah–and therefore she deserved no quarter, no acknowledgement and no further consideration from Micah. It felt like Micah gave too much for the sake of resolution and that just didn’t sit well with me, considering how his mother both was and wasn’t–and how she’d been earlier in the trilogy.

Overall, Masquerade was just as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, jumping effortlessly back into the same world we’d been forced to leave behind for so long. Every bit as exciting and compelling as its predecessors, Masquerade was a delight and being given such diverse characters with a q u e e r  r o m a n c e  as casually as any other never, ever, ever, ever gets old and it means every bit as much as it ever did. I very desperately want more of Micah and Drystan and still hold out hope for further Micah Grey novels that see him older, wiser and more established with his place in the world.

A wonderful end to the trilogy and almost everything I’d anticipated it would be.

The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco [The Bone Witch #1]

Title: The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1)
Author: Rin Chupeco
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date:  7th March 2017
Rating ★★★★★

30095464The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco, the first of a new YA fantasy series, has been likened to The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. Usually I take these things with a pinch of salt and decry “advertising!” instead of walking into the book expecting to be given just this. But in this case, the echo of style and verve truly is there—and that’s one of the things that made me love this book so very, very much.  There’s a kind of slow, soft poetry to a story told through the eyes of a single character as they recall the (however distant or recent) past; as if we’re being told a story within a story. We’re told the story by Tea as she recounts it herself and we not only learn about her in snatches and glimpses, but that’s the way we’re invited to see the world of The Bone Witch as well, which is immensely rich and satisfying, as well as tantalisingly slow. The way in which Tea tells her story allows you to curl up and savour every word, simultaneously eager to spend time in the past through her recollection and race back to present day in order to follow the unravelling story wherever it is headed.

Tea is a bone witch, which she discovers when raising her dead brother from the grave, ultimately making him her familiar; in this way he is something resembling alive, though he remains very, truly dead. When a bone witch creates a familiar, the once-more-living creature retains their personality and memories and becomes linked to the witch who raised them. Which is why, when Tea is found by Lady Mikaela, a bone witch on her travels, raising and slaying the monstrous daeva as a bone witch is tasked to do, her brother is forced to remain with her. Neither sibling seems to mind this new and strange turn of events, however, and although Tea is apprehensive about leaving her sisters and family to become an asha-in-training, she is pleased enough to have raised her brother and be headed away from her tiny, insignificant village.

But it won’t be smooth sailing. Perhaps if Tea was any other kind of witch, then perhaps. Only Tea is a Dark asha, a bone witch who can only draw the Dark runes; runes for raising the dead and other darker, murkier things. And the raising and slaying of daeva. Only bone witches can kill the terrible creatures who rise up and bring death wherever they tread and though Tea has just arrived in the city with her new teacher, she already knows that this will be her fate.

As Tea struggles to manage her powers and undergo all the necessary training to become a fully-fledged asha, she finds that being the new girl is hard—let alone when you’re a bone witch. For all the bone witches are essential, they are treated with suspicion and often open hatred by many people and on the whole, they are merely tolerated as a presence among other asha. Not all of the asha think this way about their bone witch sisters, but Tea finds that for the most part she will make no easy friends among the other asha and asha apprentices.

Tea soon discovers that she is very capable, surpassing the expectations of her tutors in many areas. But life remains difficult under the strict rule of the asha-ka’s matron and there are times that Tea wishes she’d never left her little village. But she’ll never take back having raised Fox.

As Tea continues her story, we begin to see the tension mounting and are given the tiniest glimpses that might reveal what her plans will come to be. Through her eyes we see her past and through the observant narrative of the bard who sought her out, we’re told the story of Tea now, where she hides in exile from the rest of the asha as her plan begins to unfold. Much like Kvothe in The Name of the Wind, we are constantly held within inches of learning more about Tea, both in the present day and in her past, and the result is a compelling, lyrical story that lures you in and keeps your interest through its delectably slow unfolding and merging of past and present, with the smallest hint of what the future might hold.

The Bone Witch takes places in a diversely populated world where the asha take centre stage. In subsequent books I would be thrilled to see the male would-be-asha be afforded a place among the asha, instead of the ranks of the Heartseekers, where boys who can draw the runes usually go. I would love to see a boy join the ranks of the asha in the exact same way that Tea did: with the pretty clothes and enchanted jewellery, instead of keeping the genders separate with soldiers and witches, or by further feminising him in order to make him fit. I want Kai to be a male asha still partaking in all the traditional things that the asha do, without needing to surrender his gender somehow to do so. For me, that would mess with the gender boundaries of what is ‘masculine’ and what is ‘feminine’ in a way that feels relevant to me and more powerful given the typically feminine education and training of the asha apprentices. Basically Kai can be asha, regardless of his gender, doing all the things a girl would. That’s what I want. It’s what I’m hoping for. In addition, since there seemed to be (what I perceived as, at least) the implication of at least an attraction, if not romance, between two of the asha, I’m happy that at least some manner of queer representation was included, though I will be hoping for more in future.

I absolutely loved The Bone Witch, finding it completely enchanting and compelling: the slow, careful pace of the book is what makes it shine, with every detail lovingly rendered on the page, weaving a tapestry which becomes the backdrop to Tea’s journey. This trilogy is going to be fantastic, I have no doubt.

[Review] Timekeeper, by Tara Sim [Timekeeper #1]

Title: Timekeeper (Timekeeper #1)
Author: Tara Sim
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 8th November 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

25760792Timekeeper, by Tara Sim, is a clockworky, period fantasy-mystery-romance-everything that mixes an investigative ‘whodunit’ element with that of myth, magic and mayhem, with the added exploration of everything from parental relationships to what, exactly, being human might mean.

Set in an alternate Victorian England (yay) where time is quite literally a force of power and must be harnessed through clock towers in order to function correctly and keep life flowing and moving as it must, Sim’s debut novel is a brilliant example of making myth and mystery merge with the burgeoning industry associated with steam/clockpunk to create a story that is completely addictive and rich.

Time was once controlled by Chronos, but after his death, time needed new, mortal guardians to ensure that all flowed and ebbed according to its natural order: The Mechanics. They can sense time, touch it and feel its strands and fibres as if it were fabric. They are its guardians, attending to the maintenance of the clocks across the world.

Danny Hart is one such mechanic—the best in his class and a natural prodigy; the youngest mechanic in the union—like his father before him. But Danny is particularly gifted, able to not only repair the towers with ease and a delicate, careful hand, but to feel and touch the very fabric of time itself in a way far deeper than his peers. Danny understands time.

Which is why, when an accident traps his father in a Stopped town, now for three years and counting, Danny is certain that if he could just be a part of the controversial construction of the new tower in Malden, that he’ll be able to save his father.

But with fears that Danny might not be up to the task, following on accident that could have cost him his life, Danny’s requests to work on the tower are gently refused by the Lead Mechanic. Before the accident, before he drew the sympathetic stares of his colleagues, there would have been no question as to whether he was fit for the job or not. In order to get the assignment to Maldon, Danny needs to repair his reputation and prove that he’s fine after the accident.

So what if he has nightmares, still, and the presence of so much of the clockwork that exploded and scarred him makes him break out in sweats? He can handle it—he has to. With this in mind, Danny sets himself to any assignment he’s given with determination, desperate to help his father.

Things begin to change, however, when Danny takes a job in Enfield.

Clock spirits don’t exist—not really. Every mechanic knows the stories, but they’re a myth, a fiction. Only, Danny might be forced to change that assertion when he meets Colton, the clock spirit of the Enfield tower. Filled with deep loneliness, Enfield’s clock spirit begins finding any way he can to draw the mechanics—to draw Danny—to the town. So much for Danny’s focus on work and saving his father… Before long, the two are drawn together and Danny’s visits to the tower have less to do with the clock and more the boy who powers it.

But when a similar incident to the one that almost killed Danny occurs and there’s no visible culprit or motive, things begin to take a sinister turn. With clock towers being attacked, maybe it’s only a matter of time before another town is Stopped. And perhaps Danny won’t be so lucky a second time.

It soon becomes clear that Danny must solve the mystery before something unthinkable happens and before long, there’s more at stake than just Danny’s father. With the help of Colton, a rival mechanic, and his best friend, Danny delves headlong into untangling the distorted threads to find the truth about what really happened to him—and to his father.

Timekeeper is an expertly-written debut that is both thrilling and enchanting. Sim has a talent for crafting real, feeling characters and capturing the subtle and nuanced realities of every emotion from loneliness to grief, as well as weaving realistic and deep relationships between the characters. This is always something I hone in on immediately: parental relationships. Sim writes a seamless strained relationship between Danny and his mother, as well as his absent father. Parents suck sometimes—whatever the reason—and Danny’s mother is no different.

Obviously, Timekeeper features a m/m romance. Sound all the bells and alarms for a realistically-written gay romance, because by gods, they’re rare enough and rarer still written well, without essentially resembling the shounen-ai/yaoi fanfics written by teenage girls after binging Junjou Romantica for three weeks. This isn’t a gay romance written for girls (as so many are: fight me, go on, do it), it’s just a boy-meets-boy kind of story that gets it right, not agonising over any ridiculous notions such as how do I write a gay romance?! (spoiler: the same way you write any goddamn romance).

Additionally, this isn’t a story about Danny being gay—it’s a story where Danny just so happens to be into boy-shaped people. This fact alone would likely made me give the book five million stars and recommend it, even if I hadn’t personally liked it. When we have queer SFF on the regular that just so happens to feature queer characters without being a story that centres entirely on their queerness, then I’ll shut up about it. Until then, I’ll say: I do not want queer fiction; I want fiction that happens to be queer.

And that’s precisely what Timekeeper is.

Timekeeper is also a brilliant story that makes Sim look like she’s been published for years, not, in fact, her debut novel. The world is richly-plotted and expertly conveyed, mixing her unique magic and myth effortlessly with the more modern setting of a Victorian England only slightly different from our own. Her prose is deep and magical, adding a touch of wonder to the manner of setting that would usually present as either high-society propriety or the nitty-gritty of the streets. Timekeeper is enthralling and delightful and in one book, Sim managed to both write a story that finds a natural end, at the same time as setting the stage for subsequent books to follow.

Needless to say I am highly anticipating more from Sim—both in the Timekeeper world and in whichever additional worlds Sim decides to explore. This book was bloody brilliant. Buy it.