Magic Casting Meets Dystopia

A Review of Spell Starter by Elsie Chapman

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Let me just start by saying that I absolutely adored this book! I was introduced to The Caster series relatively recently and as soon as I started Caster, the first novel in the series, I was utterly in love. In love with the characters and their fierce determination but also the world itself. Any story that combines magic users with a climate change based dystopia is right up my alley!

Aza Wu had defied the odds. She beat The Guild’s tournament and emerged as a champion but at the expense of her magic. She isn’t without it for long, though, because mob boss Saint Willow has a proposition for her. Aza can get magic back and help her family and their tea shop, but she’ll have to learn how to use magic that isn’t her own. The effects of using magic foreign to her is painful and, at times, downright deadly, but Aza must solider on for herself and for her family.

When a new tournament, spearheaded by Saint Willow and a mysterious, extremely magical group called The Founders, starts in Lotusland, Aza has no choice but to participate. No longer wanting to be under Saint Willow’s thumb, Aza seeks a way out, but using her magic might just destroy her in the process.

Aza Wu is everything I look for in a female protagonist. She’s tough as nails and powerful and isn’t afraid to be proud about it, but she’s also caring and has immense levels of kindness for her family, for her country, for the environment, and for her friends. It was a welcome change to the more stereotypical female protagonist troupe where the character ends up becoming so tough and powerful they don’t know when to ask for help.

A perfect foil to this is Saint Willow. As a mob boss she’s utterly ruthless and isn’t afraid to reach for immense power, no matter who it hurts in the process. She’s mean, manipulative, and pretty evil. I loved getting to see so many women characters that don’t fit into one or two archetypal boxes but, are instead allowed to be themselves, whether that’s sloppy and evil or soft- hearted and powerful.

I’m not sure if there’s meant to be a third one, but, if there is, I will most certainly read it so I can be transported back to Lotusland and Aza’s fierce power and compassion.

Thank you to Caffeine Book Tours and Scholastic Press for providing me a free ARC of Spell Starter for the purpose of this review.

Spell Starter is out now! Find it below!

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MLM Mafia Madness

A Review of The Friend Scheme by Cale Dietrich

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I want to preface this review by saying that this book wasn’t for me, and that’s okay. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I will never find a good enough reason to think an LGBTQ+ YA book shouldn’t exist. I grew up reading authors like Meg Cabot and Ann Brashares, because they were some of the only books I felt I could relate to. If you had told 13 year old me that 15 years in the future LGBTQ+ books for people my age were a thing, and not just a thing, but prevalent, I would have looked at you so funny. I’m very happy this book exists and that some young adult might pick it up and find what they need in it. However, I had a few problems with this.

Nick Miller is just that, a Miller. A son of the one most infamous crime bosses in Florida and part of a family that has been committing crime and running the underground for decades. He’s never quite fit in, though, and he’s pretty convinced a life of crime isn’t for him. He’s not like his brother, Luke, who picked up the ropes so naturally and even seems to enjoy everything their father teaches them and encourages them to do.

Nick feels trapped, and with no real friends (because of the whole mafia thing) he’s exceedingly lonely. Until, one night, when he meets Jason, a mystery boy he’s never seen around his family’s bar before who takes an immediate interest in him. They start hanging out and getting to know each other, but they both immediately realize that what they thought was a friendship could be so much more. That is, until Nick learns of a rival family plot to infiltrate the Miller ranks as new friends or lovers to try and capture some of the family secrets or weaknesses. Nick immediately knows Jason is a Donovan (the rival family), but could the truth actually be so much more?

I, sadly, had a few issues with this book but I think the biggest one was the ending. It felt a little like Dietrich was ready to be done by the end so he just kind of wrapped it all up with a nice bow even if the package inside didn’t make total sense. There’s a major twist at the end that I won’t talk about because, spoilers, but it happens so fast towards the very end, I barely had time to ruminate in it. Not even 10-15 pages later it’s the end of the book and there’s somehow…closure, but I can’t imagine how because it feels like nothing was done to earn it. I also still have so many questions. There were huge plot points of the book left out of the ending. Like, does Nick ever come out to his dad and the Miller family? Does he ever tell Luke who Jason really is? How do Jason and Nick reconnect and how does Nick even get to being comfortable with that emotionally and mentally? It all just felt a tad rushed in the last 50 or so pages.

Having said that, though, I really enjoyed Nick and Jason’s relationship. Despite the backdrop of crime, they’re still just two boys trying to figure themselves out while not being a total dolt in front of the other. Which, I can relate to immensely as I spent a huge portion of my middle and high school years being an utterly awkward clutz.

I think if this book had been just a little bit longer and given me more time to sit in the angst or showed me Jason or Nick actually fighting or working to be around the other one again, I would have given this a higher rating. But, I just felt a little cheated by the end.

Thank you to NetGalley and Feiwel and Friends for the free version of this eBook for the purpose of this review. The Friend Scheme is out today, July 28!

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A Magical World I Could Get Into

Review of Shielded by KayLynn Flanders

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First of all, hold on a second. Scroll back up and look at the cover for this book. Isn’t it drop dead gorgeous? This colorful, artistic, illustrated cover is what initially drew me to the book. I’m just so in love with the way it looks. I feel like it’s not an art style that’s common on book covers.

Anyway, let’s move on to the actual book!

Princess Jennesara longs for a life outside of the stone walls of the Hàlendi palace, but, unfortunately a great many things prevent her. The normal things, like an overbearing father, and the not so normal things like a magical gift that she has to keep secret from everyone else. Her magic, although strong, wouldn’t prove very useful in battle. She can sense the rest of her family’s emotions, in a way that she describes as “tethers”. This, to me, was very similar to The Unwilling, in that there is an actual physical and emotional bond between a brother and sister. Admittedly, the similarities end there. I did, however, vastly enjoy Jennesara and Ren’s sibling relationship. It was refreshing and fun to read.

Seeing as she’s never allowed to leave the palace, Jennesara spends her time doing what any self-respecting princess would; sword and combat training. She’s damn good at it too.

However, everything changes when her father surprises her with a betrothal agreement to a prince in an allying nation across the island, Turia. Prince Enzo of Turia eagerly awaits the arrival of his new bride so she must leave…tomorrow!

Jennesara never makes it to her destination, however, and in the wake of her absence, a devastating war breaks out, guided by the hands of three ancient mages who have awoken after a few centuries of banishment. Could Jennesara hold the key to stopping them and righting the balance of the island?

I really enjoyed this book. I think it was a very solid opening to a series and I got involved in all of the characters, especially Enzo. Sorry, he’s just too damn cute. The world was very easy to slide into and feel comfortable in. I even enjoyed the magic system, although I feel like all we got to see in this first one was the very tip of the magic iceberg. Jennesara is a solid protagonist. She is quite literally put through the ringer in this book and I remember asking myself several times how much more this poor girl was going to have to endure. Through it all, though, she never loses sight of who she is as a person, which I thought was refreshing to see in a YA novel with a female protagonist. Too often, female leads fall into a troupe of having no sense of self and the plot points of the book help them find it. I felt like Jennesara was already extremely comfortable in who she is as a person, she just needs help figuring out a few things. It’s kind of like putting the horse before the cart.

My only qualm with the book is the little one or two page intermissions between the chapters. I found it hard to track where those little snippets fell on the timeline and give them a frame of reference to the rest of the plot. There’s one in particular that involves a character that shouldn’t be able to be in that snippet by that point of the book but there’s no mention of if this little snippet takes place before the reason they should no longer be in that snippet has happened. If that makes sense while keeping it spoiler free. They helped move the plot along, but sometimes they left me a little bit more confused about where I was in the timeline or if I was missing a bigger plot reveal because I couldn’t figure out when in the timeline something was happening.

That’s the only reason I knocked this solid fantasy staple from a five to a four. I felt, at times, that I was missing something, but the action and characterization in the actual chapters more than made up for it. I can’t wait to read the second one and see what other adventures Jenna, Ren, and Enzo can get up to.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Children’s Books for a free eBook version of Shielded for the purpose of this review.

Shielded is out tomorrow, Tuesday, July 21! Check it out!

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A Fully Realized Creation

Review of The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal Graphic Novel

Rating: 5 out of 5.

First, a little backstory.

I discovered The Adventure Zone (TAZ) as it was maybe 3/4 of the way through the Balance campaign. I caught up just in time for Stolen Century and the Finale and by then I was hooked. For those of you that have never listened to The Adventure Zone, this probably sounds like a lot of nonsense words so let me explain.

The Adventure Zone is a podcast of three brothers and their dad playing Dungeons & Dragon and is broken into various arcs for one large campaign, think of them like seasons to a TV shows entire series. The story follows three playable characters, Taako (played by Justin McElroy), Magnus (played by Travis McElroy) and Merle (played by Clint McElroy), and the Dungeon Master, Griffin McElroy. The podcast gained an insane internet following because of its inclusive characters, intense story lines, and gut-busting humor.

Anyway, the backstory.

I started listening to The Adventure Zone when I was working a job I absolutely hated with a commute that I hated even more. The drive took me a little over an hour each way, and given that each TAZ episode is around an hour, I was able to get through two in a day, usually. I sped through. They were the only thing that made my commute any semblance of bearable, listening to those three goofy dudes and their dad have fun, create insane stories together, and just enjoy each other’s company.

The second half of the Balance campaign had such a profound impact on me that I have something tattooed from the campaign on my body, the symbol for the Bureau of Balance. Pictured below.

When the graphic novel series was announced around three years ago I was so beyond excited, not just to see all of the amazing exploits in a visual form, but also because I was just so damn proud of these three brothers and their dad for creating a story so poignant and uplifting and funny that it transcended mediums.

As anyone who loves TAZ will tell you, the third arc, Petals to the Metal, is when shit started to get “serious”. For Here There Be Gerblins (Arc 1) and Murder on the Rockport Limited (Arc 2), everyone was still trying to find their footing and get involved with the story. Petals the Metal is where you FIRST start to see little tid bits of plot that don’t have pay off for (in podcast time) a good few years. So to see them visually represented finally really did an emotional number on me.

Petals to the Metal follows the three main characters, Taako, Magnus, and Merle as they travel to the city of Goldcliffe to try and reclaim an insanely magical artifact called the Gaia Sash. It’s been claimed by a woman named Sloane who used to be a Battle Racer (essentially a Mad Max version of pod racing from Star Wars). She’s using its powers but, as the characters know, anyone who tries to use one of those magical artifacts falls under its “Thrall” and loses control of their magic. To try and get the Gaia Sash away from her they enlist the help of Hurley, a halfling Monk in the Goldcliffe militia. Except, Hurley and Sloane have a fair bit of history. Hilarity and antics ensue, but the ending was still perfect and visually represented everything I could have ever asked for.


I cried a total of six times and I can tell you exactly when…

  1. Sloane and Hurley kissing for the first time
  2. Sloane and Hurley saving Hurley from the Silverpoint poison
  5. Lucretia and Merle talking about the Gaia Sash
  6. Sloane and Hurley reawakening as their badass cherry blossom forest nymph selves
  7. The appearance of The Hunger/John

I am not ashamed to say I cried a good few times, and this story deserves it. It deserves all the tears. The next few installments of the graphic novel are going to absolutely murder me and I cannot wait. Because, guess what, THE NEXT ONE IS KRAVITZ Y’ALL.

June 2020 Monthly Roundup

June was a…wild month, to put it lightly. I started off the month by losing my job and with everything else going on in the world, sometimes it was hard to concentrate, especially on reading. When I’m reading if a book isn’t holding my full attention my mind tends to wander and, during this time, my mind had a lot to sort of dwell on and wander to. Because of this I didn’t read too much in June, though I still managed to cross quite a few off my TBR.

July is already going much better, which I couldn’t be more happy about. I hope I can catch up to my reading goal for 2020. I set it at 100 and right now I’m at 43 which is around 9 books behind where I should be (thanks, GoodReads…). However, I also start grad school in August so, I’m not holding out too much hope. Either way, I know I’m going to spend the rest of the year reading some amazing books and that’s really all I want!

1) The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

This was, by far and away, my favorite book of the month. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is an amazing book that is at turns horrifying, hysterical and poignant and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires was no different. It even takes place in the same town, but instead of focusing on two teens grappling with the idea of growing up, this one focuses on a group of middle aged mothers grappling with the idea of stagnating. I really loved all of the women and found myself getting so frustrated at the parts where they weren’t believed and were instead belittled and silenced. It’s a reality for too many women, even now. This book also solidified that I will always find a vampire hot, no matter how weird or creepy they are. Whoops.

2) Docile by K.M. Szpara

First of all, this book comes with some big, fat content warnings that I believe are outlined on the back of the book. But basically they include rape and sexual assault and few other very graphic depictions. One of my goals for 2020 was to discover and read more trans authors and that’s partly how I discovered Docile. Also, I stalk publishing like an absolute animal for Locked Tomb goodies. This book is a commentary on capitalism, plain and simple. Debt is astronomical and people pay it off by offering their bodies up as service, whether for hard labor, house keeping, or prostitution. Either way, it’s all the same, you’re sacrificing your body, your autonomy, your years, and your freedom to pay off you or your family’s massive amount of debt. This book is a wild ride and will definitely not be for everyone, but it has some very good things to say about consent under capitalism and the idea of false choice.

3) Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

I’ll be completely honest, I really wanted to like this more than I did. It was still AMAZING, don’t get me wrong, but I was expecting to be wowed and instead I read a typical Young Adult fantasy book. However, given the whitewashing of YA, there is something to be said about how necessary average but inclusive young adult books are. My biggest critique of the book is that I legitimately did not understand a lot of the choices the characters made, especially Inan. Inan deserves a good punch to the throat and that doesn’t change into book two but I’ll get into that in a second. To a certain extent Zelie and Amari are almost impossible to tell apart in terms of character. The only difference is that Zelie is a little meaner. Having said that though, I LOVED the magic system and the world itself, I just wish the characters had moved through it a little better.

4) Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval is one of those series I see everywhere, especially on Bookstagram, so I figured I should finally check it out. It also didn’t hurt that my significant other had already bought it a while back, so it was just sitting on the book shelf, ripe for the picking. I liked this a lot, in particular because it shocked me. Twists and turns in YA books can sometimes to be easy to predict but with this, I really had no idea what was real and what wasn’t or a clear idea of how it was obviously going to end. The only gripe I had is that Julian is basically indistinguishable from every other roguish, but (of course) self-sacrificing male love interest. In the end though, the relationship between the sisters was enough to keep me around. That and I’m fascinated by Legend.

5) Children of Virtue & Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

There’s definitely something to be said about the fact that I read both of these books in the same month, but I still just couldn’t get myself to jive with any of the character decisions. They still seem nonsensical and even, at times, purposefully made against what they would have done just for the sake of plot. Especially, again, Inan. His choices make no sense and I always end up just wanting to slap him. I also didn’t really like the ending, especially the cliff hanger. I know it’s the middle book but it still felt SO anti-climatic that I felt like I had whiplash from how sudden that cliff-hanger was out of literally no where. Roen is the only character I absolutely love and if anything happens to him, I will riot.

Be sure to stay up to date with everything I’m reading by following me on Instagram @citronella_seance!

May 2020 Monthly Roundup

May was a bit of a slow month for me, I’ll admit. The general state of the world and some things I’m going through in my personal life made it kind of hard for me to find time to read and when I did find time, I couldn’t focus. However, I still managed to read seven incredible books this month and I wanted to highlight them below. They’re not in chronological order but rather in a ranking from best to worst of the month. I will say, though, all of these books were great and fun to read, I had a super enjoyable month with pretty much no flubs. So, on to the list!

1) Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Let me first admit that I haven’t read a single Divergent book. I’m sure I will eventually, it’s just never been a series that piqued my interest and I think it was really a hit sensation when I wasn’t reading as much as I do now. Because of this, though, I think I was able to go into Chosen Ones with a very open mind. It was nothing like what I expected but I ended up absolutely loving it. What I thought was just going to be a book about chosen ones trying to adapt to normal life in their 30s became a book about parallel universes and twists and turns and paradigm shifts. It was crazy and I definitely didn’t expect that much world building.

2) Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Robinson

I picked up Sorcery of Thorns from Book Outlet for less than $5 because I had heard so many awesome things about it and, honestly, who can say no to a book for under five dollars. Also, why is it such a well kept secret that Nathaniel is bisexual. If I had known that I would have read it so much sooner. I also really enjoy Silas and particularly the between relationship Silas and Nathaniel. The magic systems were extremely cool and I loved watching a Young Adult book delve into the subject of legitimate sorcery.

3) The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

After reading Samantha Shannon’s 2019 fantasy epic, Priory of the Orange Tree, I knew I should probably go back and read her earlier series, The Bone Season. This was also part of my Book Outlet order because they just so happened to have all three, The Bone Season, The Mime Order, and The Song Falling available all for under $5. Knowing nothing about the series, I was immediately drawn into it. The different types of clairvoyance intrigued me right off the bat and then all of the sudden there was an alien race and nothing was as it seemed. I get the feeling there’s still so much about the world that the reader doesn’t know and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

4) The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

My significant other read this first and told me I absolutely had to read it, and I’m glad I finally got around to it. This book is equal parts atmospheric and horrific while still being inspiring and a little manic. Fans of horror movies like The Descent or books like The Annihilation or Wilder Girls will absolutely LOVE this book. It’s a solid addition to the badass female protagonist dealing with subterranean terrors and otherworldly flora and fauna.

5) Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye

Date Me, Bryson Keller isn’t my usual read but I received a free eBook through NetGalley and I ended up loving it. I wrote a full review on this LGBTQ+ Young Adult fiction book here.

6) Nevernight by Kay Kristoff

There’s a few reasons I put Nevernight so low on the list, even though I gave it a five star review. The major reason is that I can tell, very obviously, that the main female character was written by a man. Some of the things she goes through and some of the motivations she has are definitely rooted in the male gaze, as is a lot of the world building and plot development. For example, giving her slightly bigger breasts so that she “blends in”, because, you know, to be an assassin you have to blend in and having a flat chest would just make you too inconspicuous. Having said that, though, I still found myself rooting for Mia and rejoiced every time she ended up steps ahead of her competition. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

7) Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

This dark academia book had everything I should have loved, but it ultimately missed the mark for me. The pacing is extremely weird, there is little to no character development, and none of the character motivations seem to ever make sense. I loved the atmosphere and the setting of Catherine House, but this was a miss for me. You can read my full review of Catherine House here.

There you have it, my official ranking of all of my May reads. Be sure to follow me on GoodReads if you haven’t already to stay up to date with everything I’m reading!

Gay Means Happy Too

A Review of Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye

Rating: 4 out of 5.

**Disclaimer** This turns into something a little more in-depth than a normal review because I have a lot of thoughts on the nature of LGBTQ+ romance for teens and I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about it.

Kai Sheridan is your normal teenager, he likes to write, loves his family, and has a small but super close group of friends that he knows he can trust with anything. Except for…the fact that he’s gay. Kai has known for a while that he’s gay but he’s never told anyone about it. He’s pretty sure his friends would accept him, but he’s a little less sure about his family. Either way, he hesitates coming out because he doesn’t want to be known as “Kai Sheridan…the gay one.”

He’s hid it pretty well, until he gets swept up in a school-wide dare and ends up asking out one of the most popular students, Bryson Keller. Bryson hasn’t really dated throughout high school under the excuse that high school relationships are stupid, that they’ll never make it through college. They’re just a waste of time. Despite that, though, Bryson is pretty confident that if he WANTED to, he could have a new date every week. Hence where the dare comes in. For a good chunk of senior year, Bryson has to say yes to the first person who asks him out at the beginning of each week and dump them at the end of the week. They aren’t “real” relationships, it’s just a game.

Until the week that Kai asks Bryson out on a rather helpful burst of confidence. Of course, nothing was ever said in the dare rules that it HAD to be a girl, just that it had to be the first person to ask him out. So, Bryson and Kai start dating.

I love fake dating troupes, they’re typically pretty cheesy but my little heart loves them anyway. This one did not disappoint. Bryson and Kai keep their pretend relationship a secret but as they spend time together so Bryson can fulfill the dare, they start to fall for each other. Hard.

Throughout the novel there are some rough parts, they get caught by one of Brysons friends who doesn’t accept him potentially being gay. Kai’s mom finds out and has a less than accepting initial response. But, in the end, everything works out and Kai and Bryson live happily ever after, so to speak.

When I finished the novel, I was conflicted. I felt like some parts were TOO easy, that everything fit together a little too well. But I quickly realized there’s absolutely no reason they shouldn’t. We live in a world full of heteronormative fairy tales. No one questions if it was “too easy” for Cinderella and The Prince to end up together. No one questions if the stars aligned just a little too perfectly for the ultimate jock boy to fall in love with the bookish girl. There are heaps upon heaps of straight stories where, after a little bit of conflict, everything just falls into place and no one really questions it.

Why, then, should an LGBTQ+ romance be any different? Why do we have this pre-conceived notion that LGBTQ+ youth books need to highlight a central struggle that never ends or that the characters need to always be sad or that more “work” needs to be put into the story for those characters to get their happy ending? I think it’s become we have buried a bias so deep inside of ourselves, as a society, that says if you’re different you have to be upset about it. But really, there’s nothing to be upset about. Sometimes two young men can fall in love over the course of a week and everything turns out okay, because why not, our society is FULL to the brim of the exact same story told from the perspective of straight people.

I loved this book and everything it stands for. The only reason I gave it four stars instead of five was because I felt like sometimes the dialogue was a little bit unrealistic for real life teenagers, but I absolutely adored Kai and Bryson. They deserve happiness and they deserve to have it come as easily as it does for every other straight couple that has ever been written.

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for providing me with a free eBook of Date Me, Bryson Keller, for the purpose of this review.

Date Me, Bryson Keller is out Tuesday, May 19.


Dark Academia Experimental

A Review of Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Rating: 3 out of 5.

At face value, Catherine House should be right up my alley. I love Dark Academia so anything that involves private, old, extremely selective colleges immediately puts a book on my radar. Not only does Catherine House check all of those boxes, it’s also a school shrouded in mystery. It’s surrounded by high gates that only students, staff, and faculty can enter. No one in the outside world really has a clear idea what’s going on inside.

Sounds amazing right?! Unfortunately, Catherine House fell a bit flat for me. I had trouble enjoying any of the characters, or even really understanding who they were as people. It’s mentioned by other characters many times that Ines, the main character, is “super cool” but I never really saw anything to evidence that. I didn’t see much evidence about her personality at all, honestly. She’s kind of into art, she’s kind of a bad student, she’s kind of inquisitive, maybe she’s kind of cool. I still don’t really know who Ines is as a person.

If Ines was lacking character personality, the side characters were made of cardboard. I honestly couldn’t tell you what type of people any of the side characters were, with the exception of Theo because his actions, however indirect, at least helped move and shift the plot and kept it exciting.

I loved the actual story. A college doing experiments on its students and studying a brand new, very new-age technology is a rad concept and I greatly enjoyed the few times Ines interacted with the professors and the director, Viktoria. But I feel like the story was stunted by how much time the author tried to fit into it. Three whole years of college is a lot to try and fit into one novel’s time and it ended up feeling rushed and curt. This ended up making the prose feel a little sophomoric. Parts of it read more like a middle grade book to me, but then in the very next sentence two characters will be fucking or a character will be talking about masturbating. It was a very jarring dichotomy.

I’m giving this book three stars because I very much enjoyed the concept and the college itself. I also enjoyed the ending, even if it did feel rushed. I found myself wishing the college was populated with students who had a bit more of a personality.

I was provided a free galley of this book through HarperCollins and NetGalley for the purpose of this review.

Catherine House is out May 12, 2020!

The Inevitability of American Decay

A Review of Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This novella is described, right on the cover, as being part Willy Wonka and part Huckleberry Finn, and let me say, that description is exceedingly accurate. It’s a description that, at face value, I feel like I should enjoy, but ultimately this sci-fi dystopian novella about magical realism and robots left me wanting more.

About 90% of the novella follows six people from across America as they make their way to a city in the Rockies that has become more myth than reality, Monument City. Making their way across the country, however, proves to be a little less than normal given that billions upon billions of nanotech-like robots have taken over America and mold the land and the people to whatever story or Americana lore it wishes to see. This is where the intersection of sci-fi and magical realism starts to come into play. Honestly, I loved these parts of the novella. One character describes how “The Boom”, the technology that rules the land, turned thousands of people into a baseball stadium just to watch a historic game played out on it.

This take on our already waning bodily autonomy as we enter into the late stages of capitalism was a very interesting facet of the story and I was intrigued by all of the characters, especially Geck and Teeny. Geck is especially interesting to this ever-present technology because he’s a twin. Like the billions of nanos that make up The Boom, Geck and his twin, Kyle, are coded exactly the same but yet still turned out to be two different people with two different personalities.

I found each character’s journey to Monument City to be fascinating, including Prospector Ed, the robot or “construct” that was assigned to find these six characters and bring them to Monument City. I wanted to know more about The Boom and the kind of world America is now and what Monument City really is. I know the nature of a novella means I won’t get all the answers and should figure some out for myself, but I felt like the plot could have been structured with just a little bit more emphasis on the arrival to Monument City.

Overall I really enjoyed this story and loved the combination of magical realism with science fiction. I also loved the message about American culture and history that Alex Irvine was trying to get across, I just wish there was more of it!

Thank you to NetGalley and Publishing for the free galley version of this book for the purpose of this review.

Anthropocene Rag comes out this Tuesday, March 31! Check out the links below to learn more.

Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Goodreads

Listen to the Stories of the Past

A Review of Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I want to start this review off by saying that I am quickly becoming a fangirl. It started with Gideon the Ninth and has increased with exponential speed since then. I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few of their galleys through NetGalley and have also been reading some of the back log, including the fantastic MurderBot series. As a publishing company, they are giving a voice to LGBTQ+ and POC writers and characters in a way that no other publisher really is right now. They’re catalog is diverse, not only in terms of inclusivity but also culturally. There is absolutely no reason why, in the year of our lord 2020, sci-fi and fantasy and horror should still be a bunch of cookie cutter, white, straight, anglo-saxon based, stories. None.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a perfect example of how giving writers of various cultures a platform can only enhance genres and the stories available to us. The story opens with a cleric travelling the countryside. Cleric Chih is making a pilgrimage to the capital to witness an eclipse but they stop along the way when they meet a mysterious woman living by a lake who invites them into her house.

This story is told through Chih’s point of view and everything they find in the woman’s house that they think is of historical significance and should be documented, given that is their job as a cleric, and also from Rabbit’s point of view, the lady of the house, as she shares her story.

I absolutely loved everything about this novella, so much so that I read it in one quick sitting, completely devouring it. The character development that Vo manages to get across without saying too much is a sight to behold. Reading between the lines you can see how Rabbit’s story starts to break through Cleric Chih’s preconceptions about what their job entails.

As a person who is prone to small bouts of depression that I’ll never get to be a passive observer of times past and clenches their fists at the mere thought of the Library of Alexandria, I’m a little jealous of Chih’s job. I wish I could experience the telling of history and mark it for those in the future without having any stake in the game.

Maybe that’s why I loved this novella so damn much. I eagerly await anything else that Nghi Vo puts out, because I know my wanderlust heart will crave it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tor.dom Publishing for providing me with a free galley of this book for the purpose of this review.

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