Review: The Demon Girl’s Song

Kickstarter for Preorders

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Reasons for Inclusion: Queer WoC lead, multiple countries and cultures, F/F relationship

My Review:

(4/5 stars)

All Andín dal Rovi wants is to study at the University in the capital. She finally gets to the city- but as a demon-possessed outcast. And then she is exiled from her country, her home, everything she’s ever known. The only thing she can do is keep moving, hoping somebody can take the demon out of her mind.

The complexity of her world is evident very early on. The first thing Andín sees in the city is a famous women’s rights speaker arrested by Imperial police. The characters see race, class, and gender issues in different forms in different places.

Social unrest is not the only issue her world is facing. Patches of void are appearing at random, indiscriminately swallowing parts of the world, and nobody knows why or how.

The book does a very good job of illustrating the effects of empire, immigration, social upheaval, and (super)natural disasters on a world of many countries and peoples. The countries are both distinct in culture and blended by centuries of empire and immigration.  Politics is not the main focus of the story, but it is of crucial importance to the world. Like the rest of the worldbuilding, it fits naturally into the world both as background detail and a relevant driving force for characters.

I especially liked the character development. Andín starts her tale young and hopeful, surrounded by family but limited by society, and through her travel and association with the demon, becomes powerful and experienced, but very often alone.

The loneliness of travel makes Andín’s interactions with the women she meets along her journey all the more important.

Though friends are few and far between, they are indispensable. Andín meets Yshe, a diplomat’s wife who accepts Andín in all her strangeness; Lynde, tasked with returning the magic sword of legendary hero Judy Shashalnikya; and Vi, a sorceress who might be able to help her find an answer.

And then there’s the demon- the arrogant, cruel spirit who has possessed every Emperor for millennia. At first, Andín and the demon want nothing more than to be separated, but as time goes on, they learn from each other, become accustomed to one another, and learn the other is more complicated than they expected.

I recommend The Demon Girl’s Song for the richness of characters, worldbuilding, and the growth of both.

(I received an ARC)

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Guest Review: WWW:Wake

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by: ExtraPenguin

Reasons for Inclusion: Blind protagonist. Her Japanese doctor is a viewpoint character for a few scenes. Subplot set in China

Review:

(5/5 stars)

It was an intriguing book, and more about discovery than about domination, and emotionally hopeful in a way that hearkened back to Classic SF. The protagonist, Caitlin Decter, is a 15-year-old blind girl who’s just moved to Canada, and receives a chance for an operation that may let her see. When the implant doesn’t work at first, she is given the Jagster datastream piped into it, and thus can “see” the Internet.

I liked the way Caitlin’s blindness informed the book – not merely the whole “she can’t see and here are her accessibility technologies” bit, but her knowledge of Helen Keller colors her interactions and attitudes towards lifeforms.

The book talks a bit on the statistical methods that are relevant for the data analysis done, as well as on sentience and minds, which is the focus. Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind is built upon, as are Helen Keller’s life’s works.

All in all, it’s a refreshingly optimistic book, with a hopeful, awe-inspiring end.

Review: The Nameless City

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Reasons for Inclusion: Chinese inspired setting, multiple races and cultures, class issues discussed, imperialism/oppression is a major theme.

My Review:

(5/5 stars)

 Outside a city that has been conquered over and over again, leaving it with too many names to count, a son of the current occupying forces learns to fight. On a trip into the city, he meets a street girl, one of the people who have lived in the city over the course of countless regimes. Rat reluctantly agrees to teach him the ways of the city. And slowly, both of them learn that the situation is far more complicated than either had thought.

This was absolutely amazing. The art was outstanding, capturing the setting, characters, and action in beautiful detail. I’m definitely going to buy this when it comes out, and I know a lot of other people who will love it too.  

I loved the politics. Kai and Rat start off with the black-and-white views to be expected of children: Kai sees his people, the Dao, as military geniuses who protect the city from chaos, and Rat sees them as wicked oppressors. But Kai is uncomfortable with the hateful words he hears from some of the Dao, and Rat sees that Kai respects her people and doesn’t deserve to be hated.  

This isn’t the sort of situation that can be fixed with a violent rebellion, not with dozens of other nations vying for control. 

There’s a scene I felt was particularly interesting, where a rebel interrupts a festival to call for violent protest, and is attacked by soldiers. It’s clear that not only are the soldiers wrong to attack him, but that his strategy, well-meaning as it is, isn’t really the right way either.

So it’s left to Kai and Rat, with the help of their mentors, to find a way to bring peace to the city and expose the plots that would turn it to violence. 

Reading this, I was reminding faintly of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Nameless City had the same political complexity, diversity in cultures, and fun, active characters. I’m looking forward to the rest of the trilogy! 

(Review copy from Netgalley)

Review: Tournament of Losers

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Reasons for Inclusion: M/M romance. Culture with normalized gender/sexuality equality. Mostly POC cast. Class issues explored. 

My Review:

(4/5 stars) 

The Tournament of Losers is a fools’ game, and everybody knows it’s rigged, but the stipend offered to contestants is only chance Rath has of paying his father’s debts. He doesn’t much care about the prize, getting to marry into a noble family. But once he’s in the game, he has to keep playing, and along the way deal with bizarre challenges, violent noblemen, and an affair with a beautiful man who may or may not be one of the marriage candidates. 

I was surprised at how humane the contests were. I was expecting all sorts of unfairness, but instead the overseers took cheating and threats completely seriously. The focus was on Rath and how he dealt with difficult circumstances instead of being on the circumstances themselves, and I liked that.

Some of the “secret” tests were a little obvious, but I’m willing to forgive that because they were based around tropes that I absolutely adore.

What I’d really like to discuss is the setting. Tournament of Losers, and a lot of other works I’ve seen recently, take place in a new strain of queer-friendly fantasy worlds that offer an intriguing blend of old sights and modern sensibilities. 

These settings feature all the beloved trappings of classic medieval European fantasy, and yet nobody bats an eyelid at queer identities, women in power, and racial diversity. Of course, these things existed in history too, but in these worlds they’re fully accepted and normalized. (A nonbinary character even appears briefly at one point!) And this sort of worldbuilding is what I dearly want to see more of in future stories.

There’s still prejudice and injustice, of course- much of this story is driven by class issues. Rath is a commoner, doing unpleasant jobs for pennies, while Tress is from the upper class and has time and money to spare. Much of the subplot’s tension comes from their conflicting views of the world and assumptions about each other.

This book has good writing, interesting characters, diverse worldbuilding, and a delightful happy ending, and I recommend it, especially to long-time Less Than Three fans.

(Advance copy received through Netgalley)

 

Review: The Caphenon

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Reasons for Inclusion: F/F relationship. Alseans have a different view on gender/sex than Gaians. Racially diverse secondary cast.

My Review:

(4/5 stars) 

F/F space opera is already one of the fastest ways to get my attention, but F/F space opera with First Contact, empaths, and altruistic, heroic leads? That had me sold from the first few chapters.

Lancer Andira Tal, chief of the warrior caste on Alsea, is woken in the middle of the night to the news that an alien spacecraft is about to crash near their biggest city.

And it turns out the aliens are not  invaders but heroes. The crew of the Caphenon sacrificed their ship to save Alsea from the Vorloth, a species of slavers and destroyers who have chosen Alsea as their next target.

Captain Ekatya Serrado and her lover, anthropologist Lhyn Rivers are no sooner introduced to the Alsean leadership than they’re once again helping them fight off Vorloth weapons.

The two races are going to need to trust each other if Alsea is to be saved, but so many things can get in the way.

I liked this story a lot. Lhyn was probably my favorite character. She’s thrilled to meet a new species, and spends most of her time learning as much as she can about Alsea. 

Much of the book is spent discussing cultural differences between Alseans and Gaians- and that’s not a bad thing. A lot of worldbuilding thought went into how the Alseans’ empathy, ethics, and caste system shapes their culture and their responses to both the Gaians and the Vorloth invaders.

I’m not a big fan of battle scenes, so those seemed to drag, but that’s mostly a personal opinion. The ethics involved in planning battle tactics, on the other hand, were very interesting: sometimes uncomfortable, never simple, leaving questions for a reader to think on.

The characters really shine, especially the main three. Their motivations, cultural backgrounds, ethical codes, relationships old and new,  all come together in believable interactions that never get boring. 

Anyone who wants thoughtful lesbian scifi should check this out!

(Review copy received through Netgalley)

Review: Soul’s Blood

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Reasons for Inclusion: Keene and Lexa-Blue are both bi. M/M romance. Ships and AIs use ey/em/es. Racial diversity.

My Review: 

(4.5/5 stars)

Spacers Keene and Lexa-Blue, along with their sentient ship the Maverick Heart (known as Vrick to es friends) are summoned to help Keene’s lover Daevin, and land in the middle of a civil war.

As Technarch of the Brighter Light corporation, Daevin has inherited the conflict between the company’s colony state and the psychic Sotari, a people forever changed by genetic experimentation. Terrorist factions from both sides will stop at nothing to destroy each other, and the Sotari group Deathmind and company group SCI don’t care who gets in the way. Even Daevin’s symbolic marriage to the Sotari leader Elai might not be enough.

I especially loved the politics of the conflict. The leaders of both sides want peace, but their efforts are thwarted at every turn by the brutal attacks.

This book is more a techno-thriller than a romance, and I’m not complaining. There’s action and intrigue, traitors and terrorists, hackers and heroes, and all of it is full of emotion. And not just human emotion- AIs are important characters too.

The normalized diversity is just another win for this book. AIs and living ships like Vrick and are referred to with ey/em/es. Among humans, race seems to be a non-issue, as does sexuality. There’s still prejudice, but there are also people working hard to end it.

The use of slang brings you right into the story, especially in the opening scene. And even in the quiet moments, the plot keeps going, the tension rising as schemes intersect and soon Keene, Lexa-Blue, and Elai are struggling to keep the planet from all-out war.

I do wish that Vrick had gotten more screentime, but as this is the first in a series, we’ll probably get more of em in the future.

Anyone looking for an exciting, human, and diverse science fiction story should pick up Soul’s Blood as soon as possible.

Review: Stormdancer

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Reasons for Inclusion: Japanese-inspired setting, themes of class oppression

My Review:

(4.5/5 stars)

Japanese steampunk wasn’t the only thing that drew me into this book. It promised a girl and a griffin fighting mythical monsters and imperial oppression, and it didn’t disappoint.

The islands of Shima are dependent on blood lotus for drugs and fuel. It powers their airships, their weapons, their war against the rest of the world. The common people suffer in poverty, choked by smog and addicted to drugs.

The spoiled Shogun sends Yukiko’s father out on a suicidal mission to capture an arashitora, a powerful animal long thought extinct. They fly into a storm and capture it, but their ship is destroyed shortly after. And Yukiko, who can talk to animals, is left alone in the jungle with the beast, who wants nothing to do with a human after her father caged him and clipped his wings.

The two slowly learn to get along as they wander through the wilds. And when they run into a rebel camp, they have to decide if they’re going to stand up against the Shogun’s destructive rule.

The themes of communication, oppression, and revolution were seamlessly worked into the worldbuilding and adventure, making for a very enjoyable book. The more Yukiko and Buruu talk, the more they understand each other, and even start to become like each other. Over the course of the novel, Yukiko learns of the horrible things the empire has done to the people, the environment, and the other creatures of the land. She has to decide how much destruction and violence are acceptable in the pursuit of justice, what the consequences are for fighting or accepting the system.

Every person has to choose what side to be on, what actions to take. It’s that choice, no somebody’s origin, that decides who they are. A soldier can turn against his master, a rebel can do terrible things, a wealthy woman can secretly support the resistance. And a girl and a griffin can change the world

One criticism: I did find the use of Japanese words a lot more jarring than other Japanese-set works I’ve read recently. Terms would be translated directly rather than being left to context, as if the characters were literally saying the same thing twice.

Asides from  the awkward translating, the writing was beautiful, filled with powerful descriptions of the decadence of the royal court, the poverty on the streets, the wild strength and beauty of the wilderness.

I highly recommend this trilogy!