Featured reader reviews: Page 7

Listed below are the latest featured reader reviews on the site. Some are positive in praise, some are negative in criticism, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are well written and explain their reasoning. We can never have enough reader reviews as they add to the quality of the site, making it ever more useful for visitors.

Weaveworld by Clive Barker

9 stars

A sheer unique, exquisite read. Barker creates an enthraling, yet horrifying world...inside a rug! Fantastic chracters and imaginative surprises abound. I read it twenty years ago and it made an indelible impression. I have re-read it multiple times since and it stands up to the test of time. Highly recommended.

David
United States

The Once And Future King by TH White

10 stars

This is mythology for all time and, especially book one, for any age person interested in stories. It should be on any list of 50 books everyone who likes to read should read.

Bette
United States

Poison by Sarah Pinborough

5 stars

Honestly, in my mind, Poison can be summed up as simply as the original, and conventional, fairy tale (spoiler alert!): there’s a wicked-natured Queen who has married a man with a daughter she loathes simply because she is more beautiful, and basically everything she is not...which, to me, are the most ridiculous and unrealistic motivations for assassination and/or poison (this particular book was not meant for children like the original fairy tale, so why give us such a petty and condescending catalyst?). There are dwarves and a huntsman. She poisons Snow with a curse (spoiler alert: it’s an apple) and the rest of the story can be read in the Grimms version. The only surprises? Sex, attitude, and a dark prince. The ending is unsatisfying (and largely under-explored), and much to my dismay, the characters are simply more detailed versions of their original counterparts with (arguably) no creative twists to their natures/ambitions whatsoever; they seemed flat to me, and the epitome of fairy tale tropes. This retelling of Snow White seems to be a slightly darker version of the original (heavy on the “slightly”), and offers nothing to the imagination other than it being a more adult version of Snow White. All that aside, it is well written and despite everything, still enjoyable; considering the short 175 or so pages, it’s still worth a read. Granted I have not read the following books, Charm and Beauty, which may very well build off of this very simplistic and uncreative narrative. A decent book though, just don’t expect some expertly devised rendering of a clichéd tale.

Samantha
Canada

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

9 stars

Great book. It's a classic and to say that Ray Bradbury is a good writer is an understatement. The way the author combines themes of human condition and humor is undoubtedly a work of art. The story itself has a very iconic plot involving the exploration of Mars by humans, but results in conflict among the Martians who have already claimed the planet as their home.

Bill
United States

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

10 stars

This book is easily one of the best I have read in a long time. It got me back into reading and it was the first book by Leigh Bardugo that I had read, not I have read 4 more and plan to read another 2. The character development of Kaz is amazing and he deserves to have a good life from here on out

Rachel
UK

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

9 stars

I don’t think I even knew about this book until about a month ago. I think stumbled upon it by accident in someone’s blogpost about upcoming Asian inspired fantasy releases, and I was immediately fascinated. And while it took me a bit to immerse myself in it, I am so glad to have discovered this book and gotten hold of the ARC. The world building is one aspect that impressed me a lot. As the author is Filipino-American, I was expecting some inspiration from his country and their culture, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that each of the kingdom present in this book is drawn from a different Asian country, and it’s developed so well that we are able to distinguish them pretty well. I particularly loved that one of them was based on India but it’s also the one kingdom which is least talked about in the book, so I kept wishing for more. The other interesting aspect of this world is the pacting (or their version of magic). The people of Sanbuna and Shang are capable of shadepacting with animals - which is like forming a soul bond with an animal’s shade and then being able to call upon their familiar to fight alongside them. The Tomodanese on the other hand pact with metals, which helps them in controlling their weapons or using it to power their vehicles. The people of Dahal use their power internally to enhance their personal capabilities. Jeongsonese are the oppressed minority who are capable of pacting but have always been denied the right to gain the knowledge to do so. This distinction between the use of magic across various kingdoms is very helpful in developing differing motivations for each of them, letting us as readers experience varying perspectives and probably finding our own favorites. The writing style of this novel was also slightly different from what I’m used to but I’m unable to articulate exactly how that was. It is very introspective and we are subjected to many inner monologues of the characters - which I really enjoyed for the most part and helped me understand them better and invest in their development - but it also got long winded at times and may have contributed to the size of the book. I’m usually not a fan of dense writing, so the descriptive writing style should have put me off but I kinda enjoyed it and it made the settings feel more real. The main theme of the book is colonialism but despite the dark themes, there is also a very humorous undertone in the writing. The pacing is also a little slow throughout but it is relentless, with things changing quickly and the characters having to adapt and evolve all the time. This is also essentially a quest/ journey novel and those seem to be my thing this year, so it’s not a surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed this journey with the characters. And the best part was that the author managed to give very distinct voices to each of them, so we are never confused about whose POV we are reading. I’m currently unsure if this is a standalone or a series, but the author did a wonderful job ending it very satisfactorily, so I’m happy if this the actual end; but there are also multiple threads that can be pursued to further this story and I would be delighted to jump into this world all over again. The characters are definitely the best and my most favorite part of this book, but I don’t wanna talk about them much. I think the beauty of this book is in discovering the various layers of each character and realizing what lays at the core of them. One thing common between all the POV characters is that they are real, flawed, pretty morally grey, not immune from being prejudiced and treating those different from them in a vile manner - but all of them go through a journey of unlearning all the wrong things, understanding others’ perspectives and building relationships with unlikely people. I felt very invested in knowing where the characters were going and what they might do next, so I never wanted to put the book down even though it was all a bit slow going. The characters do fall into familiar fantasy tropes like a grumpy soldier, an arrogant prince, a Sherlock inspired detective type character and a petty thief who gets roped into working for the other side - so it can feel a little predictable, but I enjoyed this slight predictability but also felt highly satisfied with the way things turned out for each of them. Though the author chose not to be very subtle in discussing some important themes, it didn’t in anyway lessen the impact of what was being told through the story. The impact of colonialism is very brutally described, along with the blatant disingenuous reasons that power hungry nations can come up with to colonize and occupy another country. It’s very evident that whatever noble the initial intentions may have been, the reality of occupation is always ugly. But the most important point that I think the author tried to make was that even if the colonizer is defeated by a revolution, war always brings out worst impulses and it doesn’t take much for the oppressed to turn into an oppressor. The nature of war and it’s impact on soldiers, and the utter lack of direction and purpose that they might feel during peace time is also deftly talked about. I also loved how the author decided to give equal weight to all kinds of relationships. The importance of family and sibling bonds, and how losing them can have far reaching consequences forms an important part of the character’s choices and the kind of people they turn out to be. I also enjoyed the way human/animal bonds are shown - while some people can truly treat their familiars as slaves and impose their will upon them, others form bonds based on mutual respect and it was wonderful of the author to show us both perspectives. The book is also very queer and I loved how normalized it was in this world. It was lovely to see lesbian, gay, bi and trans characters all be able to be their true selves without any judgement. I guess I’ve gone on long enough in this review. Basically, all I want to say is I really really enjoyed this book a lot and I’m glad I got this opportunity to discover a new to me Asian author. As it has been marketed, if you like anime or Pokémon or are a fan of Fullmetal Alchemist, then this book might be for you, but I can’t vouch for it because I know nothing about them. However, if you do love reading about an ensemble cast of characters going on a physical (as well as metaphorical) journey to discover some hard truths about the world and find themselves changing accordingly, then this might be the perfect book for you. It also works very well as a standalone, so you should definitely give this a try if you aren’t ready to invest your time in a new series.

Sahi
USA

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

10 stars

The Divine Cities trilogy is one of my favorite reads from last year and probably one of the most impactful fantasies I have ever read. Though I never went back to reading RJB’s earlier works, I knew I would want to check out his upcoming books. When I realized the ARCs for his latest were available, I had my fingers crossed and I can’t describe the elation I felt when my request was approved. Foundryside is another amazing action packed new fantasy series with interesting characters, a corrupt city and a rich history full of almost godlike beings. Sancia Garbo is a master thief in the city of Tevanne who is on her way to her latest job, which might just provide a solution to all her troubles. When she realizes the object she has stolen might lead to devastating consequences in the wrong hands, it’s obvious that she might not be safe anymore. Captain Gregor Dandolo is a righteous war veteran who just wants to bring some law and justice to his city where none exist and wants to start that by bringing the thief who stole from his warehouse and burned half the waterfront to justice. What starts off as a typical cops and robbers type of chase turns into much more when assassins start looking for Sancia and Gregor is caught in the crossfire. Both of them join hands with an unlikely crew to dig deeper and figure out the conspiracy that might have far reaching consequences to their world. The worldbuilding here is rich and masterful and it comes alive in the skilled hands of RJB. Tevanne is a city divided between the four merchant house compounds who are law unto themselves. Anyone who can’t afford to live in the campos has to make do living in the slums between the compounds called The Commons where there is hardly any food or work and every day is a struggle to survive. The merchant houses have become all powerful and rich using the magic system called “scriving”, which is a way of writing sigils on objects that make them slightly sentient and change their reality – like making a carriage believe it’s always going downhill so that it goes faster and without a driver (or) making an arrow believe it has been falling down from a much longer distance so that it hits with a very high velocity. As the story progresses, we get to know about more complicated scrivings, the scrivers who are responsible for imagining new possibilities while keeping ahead of the rival merchant houses and the washed out scrappers who work the underground market to provide some comfort to the poor people living in the Commons. Sancia is an excellent protagonist. She is fiery, angry and pragmatic, her survival skills are top notch and she is extremely brave. Her past as a tortured slave still haunts her, leaving her with some form of PTSD. Her special talents also make her a unique being in the city, someone who could be used for nefarious purposes but the way her character is written is very realistic and likable and she never falls into the “special snowflake” trope. Gregor starts off as the stereotype of a soldier – proper, polite, righteous, thinks he can bring about a chance by just instituting laws – but he quickly sees through the rampant corruption of the merchant houses, especially by listening to Sancia’s history and resolves that the city needs a revolution. Orso is the master scriver of Dandolo house and comes across as a pretentious academic, but he is ultimately just a seeker of knowledge and has his heart in the right place. His assistant Berenice is talented and confident and can think on her feet even in dire situations rigging up scrived objects to get them out. Claudia and Gio are scrappers but are quick to help Sancia not just for the money, but also the opportunity to do more with their scriving talents. And most important and my favorite is Clef, the artifact that Sancia initially stole who is so much more than just a key and the one around whom much of the story revolves. The story is full of action packed heists and chases, planning daring adventures and figuring out the history of the ancient hierophants, who did much more than just bending the reality of objects. The world and magic system is very original and unique and thoroughly detailed and I loved getting to know more about it. The writing is also very easy to read and not as intimidating or dense as other adult fantasies and I couldn’t put it down once I started. Between all the life and death stakes that the characters are fighting, we also get some wit and humor – I especially enjoyed the conversations that Sancia and Clef had with scrived objects to make them do things they didn’t want to. Just like I expect from RJB, we get some subtle commentary on the effects of slavery, how rampant and unchecked capitalism concentrates wealth and power in the few and lets the ordinary people suffer, how the pursuit of knowledge can run amok and blur the lines of morality. The parallels to our world are uncanny because these are all questions we do ponder on frequently, especially with the rising wealth gap and extreme advances in biotechnology and genomics. The magic system of “scriving” and the way Sancia uses her talents to get around the loopholes in scrived objects is also eerily similar to computer programming, hacking and artificial intelligence and how the creations might get ahead of the creators one day. The author actually calls it “the magic equivalent of database management” and I think that’s a brilliant analogy. The city of Tevanne is so dependent on scriving and rigged objects that even a minute failure in an essential component can bring down the whole infrastructure; this is a direct parallel to our over dependence on technology in everyday life and the constant threat of cyber warfare and collapse of technological infrastructure. The slavery in the plantations is an essential component of trade and wealth for Tevanne and none of the merchant houses care for the conditions of the slaves or how they are tortured which is again how our world works; in most cases, we live in our own bubbles while human rights are violated every day in other parts of the world and we believe that it would never affect us. The deft way that the author incorporates all these themes into a fantasy heist story just shows his amazing talent as a writer. I’m so much in love with this book and it’s characters and I’m definitely looking forward to reading it again. This would be a delight for all Robert Jackson Bennett’s fans and anyone who enjoys reading about well developed fantasy worlds with unique scientific magic systems.

Sahi
USA

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

9 stars

It sure shows how reader's tastes in books differ. 'Travelswithacanadian' rates Tournament poorly whereas I was the opposite. Scarecrow I got half way through and gave up as the hero left Superman for dead and it all got too much for me. The setting in Tournament alone was a history lesson in itself and the Hagia Sophia an amazing, awe inspiring structure. Suleiman the Sultan was a rogue, Roger Ascham a very wise man and the Princess an excellent student.The revealing at the end of the letter that King Henry the VIII sent to the sultan instead of a casket of gold was a highlight for me and topped the book off. I fully recommend it.

Richard
Australia

Boneland by Alan Garner

2 stars

I’m afraid I have to agree with Richard from Australia. Reading Weirdstone shaped my childhood and opened my mind to the amazing possibility that a world of magic, wizards, elves and dwarves could exist in the here and now. The storytelling enraptured me, parts remaining in my psyche to this day; just thinking about the journey through the earldelving still fills me with claustrophobic terror. I understand the comments written here about artistic merits and symphonic nature but, and maybe I was being naive, in Boneland I wanted to be taken back to that magical place where I lost myself as a child, a place, despite Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and more recently George R R Martin, I have never quite discovered again.... and, crushingly, after reading Boneland, it looks like I never will.

Steve
England

Dune by Frank Herbert

9 stars

An epic in the original sense of the word with a full heros arc. I've read this book many times, in particular for a love of the universe and the allegory, but the one weakness is that Herbert's voicing of characters is immature in the first book, which like a Kevin Smith movie, gives the sense of all the characters having a similar voice. I really have enjoyed this book over the years, even if characters at times sound snotty and distant. Index and map books, such as this one, are hard for folks who aren't used to indexes and maps but ultimately assist in creating a very complex universe with some brevity. It's a great book, but better if you're already reading dense stuff: You'll get less turned off by Herbert's tone.

Luiz
United States

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