Review: Amberlough (The Amberlough Dossier #1)

I have been waiting to read this book ever since I saw the cover of the hardback and learned it was a book about queer spies. Then the paperback came out and it was a bit pricey (for a paperback) and had a different (inferior, IMHO) cover, all that’s in the past though, because I’ve since bought and read it.

6192b9xkjhal

Amberlough is the story of three people: Cyril DePaul, a spy, Aristide Makricosta, an emcee at Amberlough City’s most popular cabaret, smuggler, and Cyril’s lover, and Cordelia Lehane, a dancer and drug runner at the same club. Amberlough City is the illustrious, decadent, and thoroughly corrupt center of Amberlough, one municipality of four that makes up the nation of Gedda, and it is under siege by the One State Party–nicknamed the Ospies–who seek to unite the four governments into one, socially conservative nation. When Cyril is made during a mission to infiltrate the Ospies’ ranks, he makes a deal to turn turncoat in exchange for his and Aristide’s lives, enter Cordelia, who could hold the key to Cyril’s plans, if she can be trusted, and if they all aren’t swept away by the rising tide of a fascist revolution.

This is a book about assholes. This is a book about assholes fighting nazis in all but name. This is a book about assholes who actually aren’t all that bad considering they are fighting nazis in all but name. I mean, almost everyone can be seen in a better light when compared to nazi scum.

Even so, it took me so long to warm up to these characters. Actually, it took me so long to warm up to Cyril in particular. Aristide? A true bicon (as we say on tumblr). Cordelia? Amazing, love her. Cyril? Cyril is a (self-admitted) coward who throws in with fascists in exchange for letting him and Aristide flee the country, because it’s not like his boyfriend is a smuggler who could probably get them out with a snap of his fingers.

Oh wait, it says right there in the back cover text.

So basically I spent most of this book saying stuff like “oh my gods Cyril why what are you doing stop” I did eventually warm up to him, but I still found Aristide and Cordelia more compelling and likeable as characters, even though, as I said, everyone’s a bit of an asshole in this book. In fact, this is another one of those books I’d recommend reading if you want an example of how to make assholes sympathetic characters while still being assholes.

As I said, next to actual nazis, pretty much everyone comes across in a better light by comparison.

There’s a real sense of place in this novel. I love the way Cordelia peppers her speech with slang and crude euphemisms from her lower class neighbourhood in particular. No one seems to care if Aristide decides to go to a restaurant wearing a dress and makeup. Gendered clothing? Pfft! Not in this city! Speaking of gender, a side plot involve a polyamorous triad trying to make their way out of the city in the wake of a major victory for the fascists (polyamory and same-sex marriage is approved of by one of the major religions in Amberlough).

One criticism I have is that a lot of info is dumped on you at the start regarding politics and factions and I found myself re-reading passages a few times to make sense of everything. Alas, politics is not my forte.

Another issue I had was with Aristide’s stutter, not the fact that he has a stutter, but the fact that it is an affected stutter–not actually a disability–which he uses in order to disguise his upbringing. Aristide does have constant back pain, however, and Cyril has obviously been negatively affected by his past failures as a spy. So while I was disappointed by the stutter, I did like that the characters were disabled in other ways.

Overall, I loved Amberlough. It’s easily been one of my favourite reads this year, and the sequel’s currently sitting on my desk waiting for me to pick it up. Did I mention the next book involves movies and matriarchies? It’s going to be awesome.

Review: Starless by Jacqueline Carey

This will be my last review before I move to a new home this week, so it seems appropriate that my last review in this house (where I have lived for at least 30 years) is a book by one of my favourite authors.

81dmavzeiel

In the realm of the Sun-Blessed, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a brotherhood of warriors in the deep desert, all for the purpose of serving as protector to Princess Zariya as her shadow. A truth has been kept from him, however, Khai is bhazim, an “honorary boy”, born a girl, but raised as a boy. In the Court of the Sun-Blessed, whose royal house does not age, Khai must navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity, but in the west, the dark god Miasmus is rising, and Khai, Zariya, and an unlikely band of prophecy hunters might be the only ones capable of stopping him.

I thought about how to describe this book and it’s difficult to talk about it without sounding dismissive. I suspect the story will sound familiar to anyone who has even a passing interest in the genre: you follow a protagonist as they come of age, then it is revealed that they have a Special Destiny, there’s even a Prophecy telling them about their Special Destiny, the only thing is how do they get from where they are to a point where they can fulfill their destiny? Therein lies the rest of the story. It’s a story that’s so familiar it’s become cliche, but it’s being written by Jacqueline Carey and I trust her (even if I hated the Agent of Hel books). In Carey’s hands, this typical story becomes an exploration of identity, of destiny and fate, and of found family, it’s as much about those things as it is about deities who walk the earth and near immortal royalty.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was so engrossed in this novel that I read it over the weekend, only stopping to eat and sleep. It seems like it’s been a long time since I was so captivated by a cast of characters that I couldn’t wait to get back to the book because I had to know what happens next. I fell in love with the characters and the world, at first the world of the novel feels small, but as Khai grows, the world grows too. It’s a shame that one book can only explore so many cultures in depth. The cultures of Starless run the gamut from matriarchal, monarchist, fiercely egalitarian, warlike where leaders are chosen through trial by combat, etc. The deities also (fittingly) leave an impression. They are alien and strange: from a pillar of fire with skeletal limbs, to a many-armed construct-like entity, but also familiar in that they reflect their domains or spheres of influence.  They remind me of the deities in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, but not quite as esoteric.

Before I talk about the parts of the book that bothered me, I want to talk about some positive representation in the novel. Khai, the narrator of the tale, is nonbinary. The majority of characters are characters of colour. Zarkhoum, the setting for most of the book, is pretty obviously inspired by the Middle East (I’m guessing Iraq). Many other cultures are mentioned that don’t appear to or have analogues that I recognize. Princess Zariya is disabled, in the hands of a lesser writer, her disability might be conveniently forgotten until she needs to be rescued in the final battle or something, or else she would be treated like a burden until she was miraculously “cured”. This doesn’t happen in Starless. While Zariya’s disability presents certain challenges, she finds ways to assert her independence and work around her limitations.

I think my main problem with this book is how it handles Khai’s experience of being nonbinary in a very binarist culture where gender roles are strictly defined and the sexes are segregated (especially in the cities). To be clear, Khai was assigned female at birth, but raised as a boy (what his culture refers to as bhazim), and not told about this by his teachers until he reaches puberty. He starts questioning how he can be a warrior in a girl’s body. His inner conflict is only exacerbated when he arrives at the Court of the Sun-Blessed and has to endure being examined (since only eunuchs can attend the women for obvious reasons) and exposed to many naked women in the baths (which makes him very, very anxious). Even though scenes like these are part of his struggle with his identity, I can’t help but feel that many trans people would find this invasive “genital check” cringey at best and triggering at worst. I should also note that of the times he presents as feminine, twice it’s at the insistence of others, and once as a disguise. I’m not going to start policing this fictional character’s gender, but at times it felt like Khai was less accepting of his identity than I would have liked. He does also make some homophobic remarks, although it comes across as more of a product of his culture and other cultures have different opinions on sex and gender (including a race who can change sex at will). There’s also an important side Zarkhoumi character who is bisexual.

Starless is conventional. It’s a story you’ve heard before, but it’s a story told well, and sometimes that’s enough. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for something new and original, but if you want something that feels familiar and doesn’t require committing to a series, I recommend Starless.

Review: Arrow’s Fall (Heralds of Valdemar #3)

[rape mention, suicide mention]

This review has been a long time coming, a long time, but I remembered I said I was going to read the entire Valdemar series to date and it’s time to get back into it, I feel.

51mu2g2be5cl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Since the events of the second book, Talia has completed her year of fieldwork and returns to Haven as the Queen’s Own Herald in earnest, but she returns to a court beset by intrigue, and soon finds herself caught up in managing the kingdom’s problems, just as she’s about to unmask the force behind the plots, however, the Queen sends her on a diplomatic mission to investigate the worth of a marriage proposal from the prince of a neighbouring kingdom.

If I had to summarize my feelings on the final book in the original Heralds of Valdemar trilogy, “better than the second book” comes to mind, and, let’s face it, most of the second book is too people snowed in in a cabin having important character development happen working out their issues, so almost anything is going to top that, even a bunch of grown adults who would have fewer relationship problems if they just talked things out. As a bit of an aside, do you know how many headaches characters could avoid if they just talked things out? A lot, a lot of headaches, but as usual, if they just talked things out there would be no plot. In this case, we have people angry at each other for no reason and an Incredibly Obvious Villain who does basically nothing until the last third of the book.

I found myself agreeing with other reviewers that this is supposed to be the book where Talia comes into her own as Queen’s Herald, and instead we get “Talia is Very Busy and refuses to talk things out with the men closest to her”, everyone is miserable, and the book goes on like this until the Queen is like “Oh shit, better resolve this marriage proposal thing” and this is when Stuff finally happens.

Unfortunately, Lackey’s habit of torturing her characters returns in time for the finale of this trilogy, as, yes, Talia is tortured and raped by the baddies (you know, because they’re evil) and attempts suicide. Yay. From now on I’m going to just accept that this is a Thing that happens and roll with it.

I hate to be that person who says “it gets better” to anyone picking up this trilogy (or this series) for the first time, but I much prefer The Last Herald-Mage to this trilogy. It has a bit more going on (even though the first book’s villain made me laugh), the pacing is better. Chapter Eight is still burned into my memory. I will say that Arrows of the Queen was a great start to the series, it just didn’t last IMHO. I don’t hate it enough that I want to quit entirely, though.

Since I already read and reviewed The Last Herald-Mage, I’ll be reading Vows and Honor next (even though Oathblood was published years later).

Review: Chimes at Midnight (October Daye #7)

Welcome to what Seanan McGuire sees as the “second stage” of Toby’s journey. I find it hard to believe that I’m already seven books in, it’s been a long time since I’ve read this far in a series (most have either ended by now or I’ve lost interest).

10184403

Once again, things are looking up for October, and once again, things go horribly wrong when dead Changelings start popping up in the alleys of San Francisco, dead from goblin fruit overdose. However, in the process of trying to do something about it, she ends up exiled from the Kingdom of the Mists, problems have followed her home again, and it turns out the Queen of the Mists might not have a legitimate claim to the throne after all. The answers she seeks can only be found in the legendary Library of Stars and the deepest, darkest corners of the Kingdom itself, if Toby can manage to fly under the Queen’s radar long enough to discover the truth.

I think the reason I’m only getting to this review now (besides the usual trying to read about five things at once) is because this book was very slow for me. The main plot hinges on one particular individual deciding to go through with main plot business, and it takes until close to the end of the book before anything is actually done. Even so, it’s clear the stakes keep rising with each book and building to something big. It feels like that moment of anticipation during a horror movie when you know something is going to happen and there’s going to be a scare but it’s just not coming.

Also can I say that I love Toby and Tybalt’s relationship? I love that Tybalt actually respects Toby instead of just forcing her to do things “for her own good” the way so many other “bad boys” in urban fantasy and paranormal romance do. I think they’re now my favourite straight couple in anything I’ve read ever. It seems like it’s been such a long time since I read a book with a straight couple who actually communicate and respect each other.

Honestly, I think my biggest problem with this book is that I was underwhelmed by key elements in this book. The Library of Stars is an interesting concept, but I guess as someone who went to library school, I was expecting a bit….more, but that’s more of a personal gripe. i did find the pie kind of ridiculous, all things considered. Also I feel like the big twist involving a character would have been more effective if it hadn’t been relentlessly foreshadowed for the past seven books, but again, my own personal gripes.

Anyways, sorry for the really short review. It’s been a busy month and I slacked for so long getting this review out I can’t remember most of it. Oops! The next review will be something more “current” I promise!

Review: Ashes of Honor (October Daye #6)

I’ve read a ton of series over the years but I can only name a few that I’ve ever finished. Most of the time, I don’t finish a series because there’s some problematic element that is like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sometimes I feel like they don’t have anything interesting to offer, and sometimes they just get swallowed up in the sea of other books in my ever growing to-read pile.

10184345

October Daye is trying to get her life back in order after suffering significant personal losses. She’s been keeping busy by training Quentin, paying the bills, and, as usual, acting as Sylvester’s knight. Predictably, something once again interrupts her regular routine, and this time it’s the changeling daughter of her fellow knight Etienne who is in serious trouble. To make matters worse, there’s also trouble brewing in the Court of Cats.

At this point, I don’t need to tell you that I enjoyed this book, it’s pretty much a given unless the author pulls a Yasmine Galenorn and has some serious -isms in future books. There are a bunch of plot threads in this book. There’s the familiar “a child is missing and Toby must find them” thread, there’s “the Court of Cats is in trouble and Toby’s going to help fix it because she cares about Tybalt” thread, and related to the first, there’s “Etienne wangsting about how he’s going to tell his liege that he had a kid he didn’t know about until she went missing” thread. Naturally, there’s more faerie politics. Toby’s got a lot on her plate this book, but then again, when does she not?

Luckily, she’s not alone, and in this book she’s joined by the late Countess January’s widow, Li Qin Zhou, who is a constant presence in this book, whereas May and Jazz are more in the background. Still, some good representation in a genre that tends to be very heternormative is a good thing.

One thing I love about the series as a whole is the way it handles romantic relationships. Toby is still in mourning in more ways than one, and even though Tybalt is a classic “bad boy” love interest, he treats Toby with respect and doesn’t fall into the trap of so many characters like him who seem to confuse abusive behaviour with “romance”. I think they are officially my most tolerable heterosexual couple now.

Also the Luidaeg continues to be the best character in this series. Fight me.

There’s not much else I can think to say about this book (it’s been some time since I started this review) except that it’s more faerie goodness from Seanan McGuire, who is awesome.

Review: One Salt Sea (October Daye #5)

What’s this? A new (to me) October Daye novel, but with mermaids this time? Sold. Not that I wasn’t intending on reading the whole series regardless, but mermaids. I love mermaids.

10783217

Once again, October Daye is doing all right. She’s a Countess with her own knowe, she’s dating again, she’s even agreed to take a squire. Naturally, as usually happens, a situation arises and it’s up to her to fix things. The situation in this case is that the sons of Duchess Dianda Lorden of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist have been kidnapped, and if October doesn’t find them in time, the Undersea will go to war against the sidhe of the land.

The world of this series grows with every book, and in this book we’re introduced to a whole other society of sidhe in the Undersea. The Undersea has a very different culture from the land sidhe, with harsher laws but, naturally, great beauty. This isn’t Disney’s The Little Mermaid, that’s for sure. The Undersea adds a whole other dimension to this world, and I hope this isn’t the last I see of it. As the Sea Witch, the Luidaeg gets a fair amount of page time as well. I’ve probably said this a dozen times already, but she’s one of my favourite characters in the entire series, and Quentin, Quentin is adorable, and I love May and Jaz. Honestly most of the characters are just incredibly likeable.

In previous books I complained that October did very little investigating. That seems to be a thing of the past now, now she examines crime scenes, gets her friends to examine evidence (and use their unique talents to help with the investigation), interviews a shady underworld contact, and attempts to escape a would-be assassin while pushing a mermaid who is currently using a wheelchair in one of the most tense action scenes in this series.

In terms of complaints, I felt once again that the villain (even the villain the reader isn’t expecting) was obvious. Once again, Rayselline and the Queen of Mists do bad things because they are nuts. The end chapters also pile on the sad moments (and in one instance, I felt it was a very abrupt “oh yeah so-and-so died”), the one good thing is these events do seem to definitively resolve some subplots so, yay? Again, it might be the fact that I’m practically reading these books back to back, but it seems as if at least one subplot could have stood to go on for a couple more books at least, especially since the character involved was mostly part of the background until now.

Also, this is random, but I think this cover is one of my favourites. It’s bright where the others were dark. It’s just a really cool cover. I really like the covers of this series in general. They avoid the sexualized, impossible poses of most women on covers in the urban fantasy genre.

I’m not really sure what else to say about this book. It seems like when I started writing this I had something much longer planned, but it is late, that might be my problem, writing reviews late at night.

Review: Late Eclipses (October Daye #4)

Sometimes I’ll decide to read a long running, in progress book series, and I’ll feel as if the plot and characters would’ve had a greater impact on me if I’d had a year to wait between books (for them to come out in paperback, at least). This is pretty much how I feel about Late Eclipses in a nutshell.

lateeclipses_237x382

Two years ago, Toby Daye thought she could leave Faerie behind, now she finds herself back in the service of Duke Sylvester Torquill and sharing an apartment with her Fetch. When her friend Lily comes down with a mysterious, seemingly impossible illness, however, she soon finds herself struggling to save the undine and her subjects, not to mention that the Queen of the Mists has plans of her own, and, as if that weren’t bad enough, Oleander de Marelands, the same person responsible for turning Toby into a fish, is back, and just how does Toby’s mother Amandine fit into all this?

There’s a lot going on in this book. The pieces are moving around the board and things are changing. The central mystery isn’t that hard to solve in that the reader will probably know whodunit, it’s the how that keeps the characters (and the reader) guessing. Well, I figured it out as soon as a certain character was introduced, but even then there are a couple of twists and turns to this tale, and by the time it wraps up there are a lot of intriguing developments for future books to explore, and we’re not even halfway through the books that are in print and the series is still going!

As I mentioned in the little intro bit, I’ve been reading these books back to back and I can’t help but feel that I’m missing some of the impact of certain scenes than if I had had the time to wait between installments. Characters I feel like I’ve just come to know start dying left and right. This must be like what reading A Song of Ice and Fire feels like, except I’m fairly certain a few characters in this series have thick enough plot armor to survive for most of it.

That said, the series slowly seems to be becoming a bit more diverse. May Daye (who is honestly one of my favourite characters in this series) brings her South Asian girlfriend to a ball, and characters of colour like Raj are still up and about, but it’s a shame that given the immensity of the world and the variety of Fae on display that it isn’t more diverse. Then again, this is only book four, and I’ve read entire series that don’t even bother. In terms of potentially triggering content, I can’t remember anything specific besides there being a lot of death. It’s one of those books.

This is one of those books where it’s difficult to talk about it without spoiling everything. Suffice it to say that although this book made me sad (and a little angry) I’m intrigued by the possibilities it presents, and the next book deals with selkies! I love selkies, selkies are great!

Review: An Artificial Night (October Daye #3)

Fresh off her last big assignment, October “Toby” Daye barely has time to rest before trouble finds her again. Someone’s been stealing children from mortal and fae alike, and all signs point to Blind Michael, the leader of the Wild Hunt. Unfortunately, getting to him won’t be easy, as there are few roads that lead to his realm, each one can only be taken once, and some roads demand a more heavy toll than others, and once she’s in, she can only stay so long before her magical protection burns away and she’s at the mercy of the land’s formidable fae lord. To make matters worse, May Daye, her own personal Fetch and harbinger of her coming death, has suddenly appeared on Toby’s doorstep.

cover_aan

I wouldn’t say the first two books in this series were a slog but they certainly had their slow points. This one kept me glued to the page. This one has a bit more action and tension, and of the three, this one is definitely the most “fairy tale” like. There’s a set of instructions the protagonist needs to follow in order to pass safely through Blind Michael’s realm. Blind Michael himself follows some very specific rules. Before this book there have been hints of fae protocol (like how you should never say “thank you”) but this book really highlights how Faerie is different from the mortal realm. I also really liked May as a character. As a Fetch, she shares many of Toby’s memories, but she also has more of a bubbly personality than our protagonist. I think Quentin and the Luidaeg are my favourites out of the recurring characters thus far.

I’ve criticized the series so far for October’s lack of investigative work and how the plot seems to happen to her. She takes more of an active role in this book, actually taking the initiative when she’s thrown a curve ball, though she still finds herself in situations where she needs rescuing. It’s not that I’m against characters who need rescuing, it’s just that it seems to happen more frequently to Toby Daye than it should. This book feels more like Toby is coming into her own. The word “hero” is repeated so often it gets annoying, but it really feels like Toby is starting to be the hero of her own story, so to speak. Another thing I like is the lack of a strong romantic subplot. While Toby does interact with men (including an ex) romantically, she doesn’t really have time to spend pages pining over men, unlike some other protagonists who by book three are usually juggling three love interests or at least trying to decide (because polyamory is never an option) between two love interests.

As far as complaints about the narrative, I felt like one of the twists in the second half of the book felt like the author was making excuses for October to put herself in harm’s way again, and the final confrontation seemed anticlimactic. It reminded me of the end of the College of Winterhold quest line in Skyrim, where I stood there and said “wait, that’s it?” but at least there wasn’t as much stumbling around and waiting for the plot to happen.

In terms of triggers, there is violence against children. Toby is physically abused by the antagonist (who also abused his wife). This book is a bit bloodier than the previous books, and at one point Toby describes bleeding from cuts all over her body. There is also a bit of body horror with children being turned into animals. When I say this book is like a fairy tale, I mean it in the sense of “sometimes horrifying story intended for adults” the way that uncensored fairy stories tend to be.

In terms of diversity, there’s Raj, Tybalt’s nephew, who is described as having bronze skin, but once again we have a dead Japanese girl and Blind Michael, the major antagonist, is, well, blind. I wish McGuire would stop killing off her characters of colour. Another thing I wish she’d stop doing is I wish she’d stop equating mental illness with evil (like with Rayseline). Although I doubt that’s going to happen soon.

The first two books in this series were good but this one seriously hooked me. It definitely has some flaws (like consistently failing on the diversity front) but even so I still couldn’t put it down, and I think that speaks volumes for the writing, the world, and the characters in particular.

Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

[tw: parental abuse, alcoholism, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia]

It seems like I’ve been waiting forever for this book since I read some early impressions of it ages ago. It sounded like it was right up my alley: diverse historical fiction with cute boys in love.

29283884

Henry “Monty” Montague is about to embark on his Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend Percy and sister Felicity. The young lord wants nothing more than to escape his overbearing father, have one last hurrah before his responsibilities catch up to him, and flirt with Percy across Europe. But when one of his reckless decisions endangers himself and his traveling companions and sparks a continent wide manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with Percy.

Here is a brief list of things that can be found in this book:

  • running around naked at the Palace of Versailles
  • a tarot reading (that is actually accurate)
  • cute boys kissing
  • badass ladies
  • the worst pirates in the world

The plot of this novel could be summarized as “Man makes stupid decisions, his friend and sister bail him out.” The book isn’t going to win any awards for its plot, although there was an unexpected fantastical element in an otherwise realistic setting. The focus is definitely on the characters, and this book has some great, memorable characters, even the characters with the smallest parts to play have some little quirk that makes them memorable even when their part in the story is over, such as the bank teller that Monty flirts with in order to make an unorthodox withdrawal or Dante, the son of an alchemist with social anxiety. The story is told from Monty’s perspective in first person, and though he might seem like a bit of a rake at first, but as the book goes on we see that he’s scared, trying to deal with his feelings for Percy (and his homophobic society), has a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and is possibly suffering from PTSD, Felicity is a woman in Regency-era England who wants to study medicine but is barred from doing so, and Percy is biracial and epileptic in a racist society that thinks epilepsy is caused by demons or masturbation. The book is not just about a thrilling manhunt across Europe, it’s also about people who find themselves on the fringes of society. I love these characters, I love Felicity’s snark and how Percy is a huge dork and Monty’s hilarious trains of thought as bad and worse things keep happening to him.

Many works of historical fiction are often whitewashed or straightwashed. We’re told that people of colour who weren’t slaves didn’t exist and queer people couldn’t be public about their sexuality, so it “makes sense” that these marginalized populations are invisible or meet horrible ends, that’s just “realism”. That’s why it’s so refreshing that The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue manages to both have a diverse cast and talk about the challenges they would have faced in that time period, and not only that, but Monty is constantly called out by both Percy and Felicity regarding his privilege while at the same time acknowledging that this doesn’t mean his life has been easy. The back of the book has some historical notes to provide context to their adventures.

I think my only criticisms of this book are that Monty can definitely be insufferable at times, particularly at the beginning before he gets a bit of depth to him. I also thought the final confrontation with the main antagonist was very predictable, although as I said, the book probably won’t win any awards for it’s plot. There was a part that came across as a little white saviour-y, where Monty impersonates a Scottish nobleman to keep himself, his friends, and a black crew of ex-slaves turned pirates to avoid being arrested (and in the case of the pirates, killed). Another thing I found a bit odd was the use of modern English slang. Did people say “bloody” back then because Monty says it a few times. It’s not that I expect all historical fiction to only use period-appropriate expressions at all times, it just struck me as out of place.

As I’ve mentioned (and as you can see up top with the list of trigger warnings) the characters frequently deal with Regency-era prejudice and discrimination. Percy is frequently called “negro” and “coloured” and asked about Africa when he was born in England (and the son of a minor noble, to boot), and he also has to deal with ableism on account of his epilepsy, Monty is naturally referred to as a “sodomite” and is an alcoholic and abuse survivor. There is also a scene where Felicity gives Monty the old “Have you tried not being attracted to men?” line and some disabled viewers might be disturbed by Monty’s eagerness to “cure” Percy’s epilepsy through the power of alchemy. If this last bit concerns you, be assured that he gets an earful over it.

In spite of the fact that bad things kept happening to these characters that I love, The Gentleman’s Guide to Virtue and Vice is still a great book and an easy recommendation for anyone who wants to read some queer Regency historical fiction with just a bit of fantasy to keep things interesting. I’m super excited for the sequel/side story The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, starring Felicity. Also Scipio desperately needs his own book. Why can’t all YA fiction and historical fiction be as cool as this book?

Review: Arrow’s Flight (Heralds of Valdemar #2)

[tw: rape, incest, abortion, child death]

I said this before in my review of Arrows of the Queen but it’s so weird reading this trilogy when I’ve already read The Last Herald-Mage trilogy. I’m not sure if I’d recommend you do the same, but it’s been an experience.

51mu2g2be5cl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

Talia is ready to assume her role as Queen’s Own Herald, but one final test remains: a year and a half internship riding a circuit with a full Herald. In Talia’s case, her mentor is Kris, the Collegium’s heartthrob and Dirk’s partner in crime. Unfortunately, with vicious rumours dogging her steps and her fraying control over her abilities, it’s going to take some work before she’s ready to assume her responsibilities, if she manages to survive.

I’m going to be right up front about this and say that this is probably one of the most boring second books in a trilogy that I’ve ever read. It starts out promising, with Talia and Kris moving from village to village dispensing justice, but then the duo and their Companions (and chirras–basically llamas) are snowed in and remain so for the majority of the book. The result is about two hundred pages of Talia being anxious and stressed about her powers and whether she might be misusing them and not much of anything being done. I heard on tumblr that Lackey mentions that these early books were “experimental” and it definitely shows. It feels like someone wanted to write a closed circle plot but didn’t quite know how to make it engaging beyond having two people (and horselike beings) grow increasingly frustrated with one another. I actually preferred the moments when they were on the road, dealing with the ordinary problems of ordinary folks. It’s like when an author creates some interesting secondary characters when the story is actually about the most boring character and their boring love interest.

I suppose I can’t get mad at a book from the late 80s for things that were probably revolutionary at the time (like acknowledgement of polyamorous relationships) but at the same time, I feel like the entire plot could’ve been avoided if Talia’s instructors at the Collegium realized “Hey this girl doesn’t know what a Companion does, maybe we should teach her the basics?” and I honestly feel like this is the sort of story that would be better as a short story or the sort of event that characters reference but never really explain. I also found the way Talia finally “masters” her powers disturbing, and a definite case of mood whiplash as the book suddenly goes from two people angrily dunking each other in the water to dealing with a murder, an incestuous rapist who committed the murder, and an abortion in the same chapter. Oh and apparently trauma from finding the body of your drowned child can be magically cured by….giving you another baby, who might be the reincarnation of your lost baby? I don’t know, it’s magic, okay? Magic is the explanation.

But hey I guess there was character development, or at the very least Talia will stop reminding the reader that she has no confidence in herself. Seriously, I take back everything bad I said about Magic’s Promise, because it’s way better than this. Also she uses the g-slur a few times in the book.

This book is a difficult one to recommend unless you’re committed to reading the trilogy. It definitely has that “early work by a celebrated author” feel to it (on top of being the second book in a trilogy). It’s best to go into it understanding that it’s an experimental product of its time and definitely weaker than other books the author has published since. In that respect, I am glad The Last Herald-Mage sold me on the series before I picked up this omnibus, otherwise I’d probably be more discouraged by Arrow’s Flight. Fortunately I’ve heard Arrow’s Fall is much better.