Review: “Otherworld” by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

Otherworld by Jason Segel
Otherworld (Otherworld, #1) 
by Jason SegelKirsten Miller (Goodreads Author)


2.5 stars out of 5


Okay, let’s talk about Otherworld. Um…it’s a thing? It’s…honestly not that great?

Were I to judge this book on most of the third act, maybe this would bump half a star, but unfortunately, I’m judging this book in its entirety and OH BOY do I have some complaints.

First off, the pacing. This book has god-awful pacing. It’s backloaded to a fault, which means you’re slogging through who knows how many pages to get to the point that narrative decides to explicitly lay out the entirety of the story in the biggest info-dump you’ve ever seen. Granted, some parts of the info-dump are actually interesting, if not particularly shocking.

Yes, this is a book that relies on “twists” that are so constantly telegraphed throughout the narrative, they shouldn’t even be called twists. It’s painfully obvious to see where the book is leading, and it makes me both sad and frustrated to say there wasn’t anything interesting enough about the world to help me see past this.

And it makes the backloading of the narrative even more obvious — Simon literally just runs around Otherworld with no sense of direction or purpose other than to “save the damsel in distress” (who’s not actually in distress and is taking care of herself but GODS FORBID he consider that option), and so I’m left reading like, “Okay…is the plot going to show up sometime soon?” When it does, it’s whenever Simon is outside of Otherworld, which made returning to it an experience I dreaded more and more as the novel progressed.

When the story kicked into high(ish)-gear at the end, I thought it was entertaining…until it did this so that it could sequel-bait the audience onto a cliffhanger that really didn’t need to be there. This novel did not need to be the first of a series. Perhaps had it been a little longer and had better pacing, the writers (and the publishers) would have realized that. Instead of an “eh”/very clunky book one of two…why not take the time and produce just one book of better quality?

Second, the characters. Most of the characters are consistently inconsistent. Our protagonist, Simon, is every other whiny, lovestruck teenage boy out to be the hero we’ve met before and, therefore, engages in wildly reckless and potentially dangerous behaviour to “rescue” his “damsel in distress.” And while Kat (Cat? I listened so I don’t know spellings) may seem worth it — i.e. she’s actually smart and can 3000% take of herself and really doesn’t need him to rescue her at all — the book literally pulls out one of the most wretched tropes at the end.

You know that trope where they’re trying to make the antagonist see the error of their ways and he attacks them and OF COURSE injures the girl to the point of nearly killing her and that’s what snaps the antagonist out of their shit behaviour?

Yeah, that trope. This book does that. And I wanted to screech in irritation. In a book filled with old, tired tropes, this is the one that really struck home and bothered me the most. It’s so stupidly unnecessary and really spoiled my enjoyment of the back third of the novel, which was proving to be, frankly, the only entertaining part until, you know, THAT TROPE happened.

The best character in this series is a side-character, Busara Ugubu, who is smart, ruthless, gusty as hell — oh yeah, and she’s asexual. I think she’s also aromantic, but either way HELLO TO THE ACE REP. This badass filmmaker chick needed to be in more of the story and I’ll sign any petition that wants to make her the protagonist for the unnecessary af sequel that this book is getting. Seriously, make Otherearth or whatever its title is about Busara’s quest to save her father. That’s all it needs.

This is a book that could have been so much better. It has glimmers of interesting aspects, including the effect of advanced virtual reality technology and the effect it has upon the brains and personalities of the users and even the dangers of becoming addicted to one’s form of escapism — but these aren’t explored in any meaningful way. It devolves into a simple story of “good teens vs money-hungry corporation” and goddamn was that boring because we’ve seen this all before.

If the two writers had taken the time develop their thematic content in a way that streamlined the plot, this could have been a really good standalone science fiction novel. Had they dumped their protagonist and instead focused on their side character whose familial motivations as well as skills both in and out of Otherworld made her the most compelling character in the story, this could have been a really entertaining story.

But, alas, this feels like a book that was pushed out to cash-in on the success of other popular virtual reality-based science fiction stories (*cough*Ready Player One*cough*) when it could have used some more thought put into what it was perhaps trying to do. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly nothing special either.


Review: “Kill the Angel” by Sandrone Dazieri

Kill the Angel by Sandrone Dazieri
Kill the Angel: A Novel 
by Sandrone Dazieri

4 stars out of 5

**Thank you to Scribner for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

Okay, before we say anything else, I need get something off my chest: that cliffhanger ending…was so rude. SO. SO. RUDE.Honestly, how dare you, Signore Dazieri. How dare you. I feel so betrayed. I trusted you — probably shouldn’t have, but I trusted you, and you just pushed me off the cliff in the last page.

I am distressed.

Keep in mind, though, this a good(?) distress. This is the distress of high anxiety that results from one or more of my favourites being in serious danger and Dazieri giving me no solace as to whether or not they are anywhere near the edge of the realm of “okay.”

If I had to guess: they’re not.

Kill the Angel is the highly-anticipated follow up to Dazieri’s previous novel, Kill the Father, which introduced us to snarky, neighbourhood badass, Colomba Castelli, and her unlikely partnership with the ever-strange and yet strangely delightful, Dante Torre. They were a seemingly mismatched pair that worked together so wonderfully both as an investigative team and as a duo of highly damaged people attempting to heal and function within every day life.

Something I highlighted as one of my favourite aspects of Kill the Father was that both Castelli and Torre suffer consequences of significant trauma in the form of PTSD-related panic attacks, claustrophobia, reckless and potentially destructive behaviours, et al. and yet none of these things feel like “quirks” slapped onto them for the purpose of being able to claim their haunted. These issues cause Castelli and Torre a significant amount of trouble throughout Kill the Father as well as here in Kill the Angel.

We see through their struggles how the road to recovery is not a simply slope up, but a convoluted road that winds around and how, sometimes, characters can also still “regress.” Castelli and Torre suffered significant trauma, and their issues with the aforementioned panic attacks, calustrophobia, and potentially harmful behaviour still plague them, yet in an wholly understandable and believable way. These are not behaviour put on them for the sake of shock or to make them “haunted when convenient” — so they can sit around a table and share their stories, yet never suffer consequences from their trauma-related issues — but things which even still cause them inconvenience or difficulty.

This book features all the great twists and turns that Dazieri brought in Kill the Father, including conspiracy theory elements, chases, explosions, terribly devious and intelligent antagonists, and more small glimpses into the past of just who is Dante Torre. Where I think this book stumbles in comparison to its predecessor is the pacing. It certainly starts off with a great bang, much like the first novel, but seriously languishes in the middle. I often found myself skim-reading large portions of the novel in order to move it along, which is something I definitely didn’t experience while reading Kill the Father.

Once the novel picks up again, however, it really picks up, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be yelling at Signore Dazieri for that ending until you’re metaphorically blue in the face before weeping that you’re probably going to have to wait a while for the third instalment.

Review: “The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
The Miniaturist 
by Jessie Burton

3.75 stars out of 5
Please note this review has been truncated due to the presence of spoilers. If you wish to read the review in its entirety, you can find it on Goodreads.

The Miniaturist started your story, but now you must be the one to finish it.

I’m not sure whether I want to say this a 3.5 or 3.75 or just full-blown 4-star read.

You see, I enjoyed this book. I was invested in the characters, I eagerly followed their journey and uncovered their secrets, and I even got antsy as we neared the novel’s end because, well, I wanted to know how it was going to end. Hell, I even re-listened to the first chapter and marvelled at how great it was in context of having read the entire novel.

But at the same time…this book was…pretty predictable.

The Miniaturist is a historical fiction novel with a few elements of magical realism that, admittedly, don’t really go anywhere — don’t mistake me: I’m not saying that as a criticism. I’ve always found magical realism as something fluid and the fact that the magical realism elements add to the atmosphere of the story moreso than the ultimate plot. I liked that — I liked that The Miniaturist herself is never fully explained, that the way she interacts with the protagonist and other characters is mysterious, seemingly magical, and unsettling.

But that ultimate plot? It’s really easy to figure out where it’s going. While I don’t think The Miniaturist depends upon the “twists” — yes, in air-quotes — that crop up within the narrative, it certainly does draw them out as if they are things that are meant to surprise us. I found this incredibly frustrating as I feel the narrative telegraphed these “twists” well-enough that they were easy to discern. All one had to be doing was paying attention while they read, and I was listening which, in theory, probably should have made it more difficult for me to pick up on all of these little threads and what was likely happening.

I can’t even think of most of the other, smaller “twists” because, again, I didn’t consider them particularly shocking.

But what did shock me is how much I wasn’t bothered by the fact I was easily telegraphing the direction of the plot to myself long before it was all given to me explicitly by the author. I was wrapped up in the atmosphere of 1680’s Amsterdam and the the secrets kept within the Brandt household — yes, they were secrets that were easy to discern, but it made the relationships between all the characters all the more intriguing. I was sucked in to watching how these characters — these delightfully flawed human beings — would hurt and help and aid and injure each other on various emotional levels, whether or not they always meant to. That is to say: watching a family and all its dysfunctionalities (I know it’s not a word, but I’m using it) was, by far, one of the best aspects of the novel.

That and the characters themselves: I really cared these characters. These beautifully flawed, tragically human characters were such a joy to follow, and I didn’t realise how much I liked them until the novel was nearly over and I caredabout what was happening. I cared whenever they were hurt or in a tough situation — all of the sudden I felt these strange little mini-spasms in my chest, these pangs of pity and sympathy.

So despite a plot that was terribly easy to figure out, which sometimes made me antsy while waiting for the protagonist to discover it, I still liked this book. I didn’t love it, but I definitely liked it, and I look forward to reading more from Jessie Burton in the future.

Also going back and re-listening to the first chapter with the context of the entire novel is something I can’t recommend more highly: it should just be mandatory for reading this book.

Review: “Iron Gold” by Pierce Brown

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
Iron Gold (Red Rising Saga, #4) 
by Pierce Brown (Goodreads Author)

5 bloodydamn stars out of 5
Please note this review has been truncated due to the presence of some spoilers, so if you want to see the full review, you can head on over to goodreads and hit those spoiler tags I conveniently put up for you 😉 

“Sometimes, little one, it’s best if the worlds think you a little mad.”

Okay. Right. No, wait, we’re not ready yet.

*pours self a glass of whiskey*
*takes a sip*

Ahhh, yes…that’s better.

Mmm. No. No we’re not there yet.

*goes into the corner and screams unendingly into the void*

OKAY. NOW we are as ready as we’ll ever be to talk about this book. I mean, I should know better: isn’t this always the case with a new Red Rising book? I convince myself that I’m prepared only to discover that I am oh-so-woefully not. Nope. Never. Never emotionally prepared for a Red Rising book.

War eats the victors last.

I’m not even sure where to start, but I guess I could start with stating how excited I was for this book. You see, maybe it’s just me, but I love a good revolution/rebellion story. I mean, hello, Star Wars has been banging those out for decades and I still eat it up like it’s the best thing in the world, even while acknowledging it can often be a little on the side of simple black-and-white “good guy v bad guy.” Nothing wrong with that, mind, but when it comes to books, I like to have something a little more morally grey — I want my protagonists incredibly flawed and to do things that make me want to wring their necks; I want antagonists whose perspectives I can understand and who make me constantly question my own morality when I agree with them, even on the smallest of things.

So that’s why, when something’s just tied up neatly with a bow and has no implications of far-reaching socio-economic-political consequences at the end, I’m left going: okay, but…what else? What comes next? You don’t just break something for it to magically put itself back together. In the case of Morning Star, despite the relatively triumphant end of the novel, it was an end that cost, and it was an end that still hinted at difficulty in the future for the characters. After all: if you break an empire, you bloodydamn buy it.

And buy it our characters have. Ten years on, we see that the biggest questions being asked about the new Solar Republic are: does it even really work? What exactly has risen from the ashes of the burnt empire?

This is not the start of a new trilogy so much as a continuation of the story begun in Red Rising, and it’s a continuation I am absolutely, 100% here for. These are the issues I love to see addressed in a story: I want to watch my flawed faves (who, you know…didn’t die) deal with problems that grate against their very being, that force them to make a lot of difficult — and in many cases, VERY STUPID — decisions. Decisions, mind, that are all completely in line with their characters as we’ve come to know them in three previous books.

“It is our duty to embrace the scars our choices give us, to embrace and remember our mistakes, else we live believing our own myth.” She smiles to herself. “He says a man who believes his own myth is like a drunk thinking he can dance barefoot on a razor’s edge.”

Which means, if you’re like me, you will spend a lot of this book internally screeching and wanting to wring various characters’ necks while also slapping some sense into them. Ten years on, and they are definitely still themselves, if not a little older, and in some ways a little wiser. Darrow is having to deal with the fact he is a man of war in what is meant to be a time of peace; he’s still hot-headed and doesn’t always think things through before leaping right into the fire, and, as always, every single one of his actions has far-reaching consequences.

Darrow has always been like some sort of Akhilleus (Achilles): burning and raging so bright that he drowns out everything around him, causing a plethora of collateral damage. And while he bears every one of those deaths and those losses, it doesn’t always make him stop. He thinks what he is doing is right, even when those around him tell him otherwise, or attempt to steer him elsewhere. Much of the novel is about Darrow’s own nature working against him in a time of relative peace: he’s a warrior and a fighter, which spells trouble when he has to navigate the politicking of the Solar Republic he helped to found.

Of course, that was always Mustang’s strength, and her attempts to work with what she has left ten years after the Rising are so compelling — my one little (and I do mean little) complaint with the book is that we did not get more of her. What we got was absolutely fantastic, and Mustang continues to be one of the best characters of this saga, but I wish we’d gotten a little more time with her, especially given the events of the story and the fact that we also get to spend some quality time with her and Darrow’s son, Pax (PRECIOUS SMOL BEAN). I have great hope (and great anxiety) for this child and he grew so much over the course of the book that I felt like such a proud parent by its end. Also Sevro’s daughter is a bloodydamn badass and I forever want her and Pax as some sort of team. It’s great.

Of course Sevro and Victra are back and it’s really in Sevro that I think we see the most development. Here is a man who has always been on the wild side: a delightfully vicious shit who spat in the face of so much of the Gold society and expected manners of behaviour. We love him for it, because it cut through all the masks of decorum, all the bullshit that defined Gold. He was also a young man on the extreme — he was the perfect way to temper Darrow by being the living embodiment of going way too far. And yet, in Iron Gold, while Sevro has certainly lost none of his edge and bite, we see how fatherhood has softened him in the best ways. We see him thinking beyond just his own delight int he art (and sport) of battle, slaughter, and war. His most poignant moments are when he talks about his children, and how he wants nothing more than to ensure they do not grow up as he did: without a father.

Pardon me, my heart is melting.

But, like I said: these are still the characters we know, love, and frequently want to throttle for their decisions. Because there are some seriously costly decisions made in Iron Gold, and the consequences of those decisions are still unfolding, as we’ll see in the later two books of this saga. Hell, even the actions of the past still echo forth their consequences far out across the Solar System.

My name is Lysander au Lune. I was named for a contradiction: a Spartan general who had the mind of an Athenian. Like that man, I was born into something that is both mine and not-mine, a heritage of world breakers and tyrants.

Which is where we find Lysander au Lune and Cassius au Bellona. They’re out on the Rim, a place we only glimpsed in Morning Star and to that I was positively stoked to return. The Moonlords are seemingly cut from a different cloth when compared with the other Gold families we meet, and those differences are what make them fascinating; their’s is a different history and different culture due to their place in the solar system. And yet, within those nuances, we also see the similarities: they are Gold, and they behave as one would imagine the Iron Golds of the past would.

Lysander’s story is one of the most emotionally heartbreaking, frustrating, and fascinating. Here is a 20-year old man who lived the entire first half of his life being told he would inherit everything — that he would, one day, rule the world. How does that affect one in the earliest, most formative years of their life? Especially when, suddenly, all of that is ripped away, and everything/everyone that you knew is dead and gone. Your entire life philosophy suddenly null and void, said to be “incorrect.” That’s a lot of heavy shit to lay on the shoulders of a 10-year old, even one that’s Gold.

And, while I love Cassius, he may not have been the best choice to care for Lysander. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, so we can now see all the cracks in the foundation of what Cassius attempted to teach Lysander, but it comes down to the simple fact that Cassius still needed to repair himself. Cassius was our mirror-image of Darrow, someone who was broken down from the inside out, who craved honour in an honourless world, and who, ultimately, had to make the difficult choice of turning against everything that he knew. It cost him, and it shows. This was a broken young man who took a young child under his wing and attempted to mould him before being able to look inside and repair himself. As a result, we see how the relationship between Lysander and Cassius has frayed to the point that, as Lysander notes, he has “outgrown” Cassius.

Lysander’s journey is ultimately one of self-discovery and self-affirmation: he doesn’t really know who he is, and throughout the novel he struggles with reconciling the disparate parts of himself. Do I necessarily agree with the decisions he makes along the way, especially in the back third of the novel? Not at all. I think they’re frustrating and stupid and piss me off, but I 100% understand his perspective. I understand why he’s making the choices he is, and why he thinks they are the (esoterically) “right” decisions. By the end of the novel, we see how Lysander’s boyhood has been utterly shattered; “all that was left of him is dead, and the life of the man must begin.”

Side note: if you’re like me, there are things that happen in Lysander’s storyline that will make you weep buckets.

“I know it may be impossible to believe now, when everything is dark and broken, but you will survive this pain, little one. Pain is a memory. You will live and you will struggle and you will find joy. And you will remember your family from this breath to your dying days, because love does not fade. Love is the stars, and its light carries on long after death.”

Lyria is our first, truly new perspective of the four POV characters — we have not met her in any way prior to this novel, nor have we heard about her tangentially. And hers is, perhaps, the most important perspective of all the four characters, especially as it pertains to that big question: what happens when you break the empire? Because it is those on the ground, those who are at the bottom who are most affected, whether it be both positively or negatively. Lyria is a character who saw our previous heroes as just that: heroes. Darrow was the “father, liberator, warlord, Slave King, Reaper; Mustang was “Virginia the Lionheart”; Sevro and the Howlers were like holy knights. These people — these terribly flawed humans, who we as readers have known intimately and grown to love, were made out like living gods in the eyes of the most exploited and abused by the system of the Society.

So when your gods are revealed to be wholly human and disappoint you? That is more than a tough pill to swallow. Ten years on, Lyria’s perspective shows us how, ultimately, few things have changed for those on the ground level. Yes, the kind of ignorance and childlike blind acceptance of the Society has been stripped away, but in that knowledge of their own self-worth, the lowColors also know all too keenly that their situation has not necessarily improved in a drastic way. The danger of being the living god who “rescues” these lowColors and yet does not immediately give them something akin to paradise, means they will harbour resentment — absolutely understandable and in many ways justified resentment, but resentment and anger nonetheless.

And Lyria is angry — her anger could, at times rival Darrow’s for its intensity, though she certainly is better at reeling herself back in as opposed to taking physical action as a result of her anger. She holds everything in, and the pain of all that anger and resentment and loss festering within her is visceral and palpable. I will admit, it took me a while to fully gel with Lyria, because it’s not always easy to love the character who’s angry at all your previous faves even while completely understanding and sympathising with her feelings. I get it, I truly do, and I think her perspective is one of the most vital to the entirety of the narrative, because she helps to force the reader to reexamine all of our faves’ decisions, because now we truly see how said decisions affect everyone else.


“If you didn’t like how things were going, you could have stuck around, made a difference. But I guess it’s easier sitting in the cheap seats, throwing bottles.”

Finally I need to talk about Ephraim, a character we met kind of tangentially in Morning Star as the fiancé of the dearly departed (and sorely missed) Trigg ti Nakamura — I’m still not over it! — and brother-in-law of Holiday ti Nakamura, who thankfully returns in the novel as one of the most level-headed characters in the series, and one of our wonderful connected threads between several of the perspectives. Ephraim is another character who holds on to his rage and his pain: he has become disillusioned with the Rising and long-since abandoned it.

Like Lyria he may, at first, be a hard character to connect with, for while we understand his pain and feel it keenly, Ephraim behaves in absolutely condemnable fashion as a result of this pain. He makes a decision to take a job that, once we realise what that job is, made me want to beat him to a bloody pulp. Yes, I pitied him; yes, I completely sympathised with his feelings…BUT THAT DOES NOT MAKE THE THINGS HE DOES OKAY.

But Ephraim did give me the character of Volga and…wow, what can I say about Volga. I am full-blown going to lead this #VolgaProtectionSquad because this sweet bean of a “small” Obsidian is wonderful and beautiful and deserves to be protected at all costs. And her calling out Ephraim as a “monster” for what he’s done, for calling out his shitty behaviour towards her and other people as a result of his pain, and just being an all-around beautiful soul is MY GORYDAMN AESTHETIC AND I LOVE HER.

Please don’t take her from me, Pierce Brown. Please. I will beg and plead and cry and bribe you with things if I must…please don’t take her from me.

War summons the demons from angels

What else can I say about this book? It absolutely wrecked me emotionally — but this isn’t that unusual given how this series always makes me feel. I’m forever in a state of high anxiety: terrified to keep going because of how relentless the books out, but also terrified to stop reading because I feel a physical need to keep going and essentially inhale Pierce Brown’s glorious prose. It’s not too often you find books, let alone multiple books in a series, that tell a consistently breathtaking and intriguing story, with a wide, diverse range of characters you love, hate, and everything in between, while also addressing a plethora of prescient and thoughtful themes.

This is more than just a worthy continuation of the series — it’s a daring and necessary one. We broke the empire, now we’ve bought it, whether or not we like it.

Pulvis et umbra sumus.

Review: “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Guide, #1) 
by Mackenzi Lee (Goodreads Author)

2 stars out of 5
I really wanted to like this book.

It was one of a lot of people’s most anticipated books of 2017; when people got it and read it, they loved it; I don’t think I’d seen a single negative review from people whose opinion I trusted and respected. So I went into this book with not necessarily sky-high expectations, but at least the expectation that I would enjoy it.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t. I really didn’t.

And I know exactly why I didn’t enjoy it, because it all boils down to: our garbage, trash-can of a protagonist, Henry “Monty” Montague.

Now, I’d wager you might be thinking: “But, Mad, he’s supposed be an insufferable trash can at the start of this book because it’s all about him learning and growing as a person.”

Mmm…but does he really? Because, at the end of this book, the only thing I saw that had changed was he’d gotten everything he’d ever wanted and learned, well, nothing. There was no lesson taught to Monty. He didn’t adjust his views of the world in any way, even when being repeatedly called out on them by both his best friend, Percy, and his badass queen of a younger sister, Felicity — seriously, this girl is a queen and Monty does not deserve to call himself related to her in any way.

Monty is a rake, to put it politely, and a spoiled, pampered, privileged af, rich white brat who does whatever the hell he wants with little-to-no consequence to put it not-so-politely. He drinks to much, he sleeps with whomever he wants, consequences be damned, and ultimately sees almost everyone in his life, save Percy, as either disposable, usable, or insufferable.

He gives no thought for the well-being of the other people who get caught along with him in his various sexual escapades, especially the women and how their reputations are much more adversely affected than his own; nor even how the situation would be completely different if, say, his friend, Percy — who is a character of mixed-race — was the one who had been caught in such a compromising position. And, oh yes, Felicity and Percy drag him for this, but it neverseems to set in, because there is a point where in the back fucking third of the narrative Monty is still oblivious and Felicity actually says: “If he doesn’t understand it, don’t explain it to him.”

LOUDER FOR YOUR TRASH CAN BROTHER IN THE BACK, FELICITY BB. Truly, a queen that he does not deserve.

But what I find most frustrating about this trash can of a protagonist, is how blatantly manipulative the narrative is in trying to force me to feel sympathy for him.

For nearly the entirety fo the narrative, Monty is never made to own up to his actions in a way that produces serious consequences that actually stick. Instead, characters frequently show Monty undeserved amounts of sympathy and pity, simpering at him how he’s had “a rough go of it” and yet never seem to expect an apology from him in return. Yes, there is at least one moment, where I understand feeling sorry for him, but this is something that is pervasive within the entirety of the narrative, and I find it vomit-inducing. God-forbid Monty just actually become a decent human being — silly, Mad, what am I thinking.

Even characters later, who know him only for a moment, add to the train of people consistently telling Monty that he “has value” (beyond his good looks) — of course he has value in thinking on his feet and getting out of tight spots. Do you know why that is? It’s because he is a human trash can whose consistently abominable behaviour has required him to learn the art of being a good liar and a con man in order to detangle himself from precarious situations. What’s shocking to me is how, if anybody tries to say this to Monty, he merely waves it off as “Oh, haha, I know.” He doesn’t hate himself for it, he doesn’t apologise for it, and it’s clearly not something that truly phases him with the grand exception of when it potentially interferes with his blossoming romance with Percy.

And yet the most horrifically manipulative part of this entire false journey of development for Monty comes in the form of his father. Let’s start with this: we are introduced to Monty’s stern, overbearing, and clearly perpetually-disappointed-in-Monty father very early in the narrative. Monty’s father makes it clear that if his son steps even one toe out of line during his Grand Tour, that he might as well not bother returning home, as he shall not be welcome. He makes particular note that he does not want to hear about Monty being caught with any young men during his Grand Tour. Therefore, yeah, right off the bat: Monty’s father is probably a massive douchecanoe. We don’t get any more interaction with him to confirm this, and all that we hear about him later comes from the lips of people who hate him; therefore we can remember that everyone is already biased against him.

That being said, I am in no way defending Monty’s father when Monty reveals that the man beat him to a bloody pulp after finding out he was sleeping with boys, which eventually led to his expulsion from Eton, an elite all-boys school in England. Abuse of that nature is not okay, but it is the only instance we hear of it, and it’s brought in as a way to say “Oh poor you” to Monty and soften the reader to him. Call me a cold, heartless person, but I’m not swayed by this. I’m not swayed because we already established that Monty’s father is a bit of a douchecanoe, so I wasn’t at all surprised by this. I was, however, surprised by how the narrative seemed to think this gave Monty some sort of moral high ground.


Monty’s behaviour is still appalling and reprehensible, and the narrative should know better than to say that such a revelation cancels out everything we have experienced from him up to that point.

And this is fairly early in the narrative — BUT WAIT…it gets better.

The “climax” of this novel — I use air quotes because I was yawning through most of it — features the final nail in the coffin of the defamation of Monty’s father. We learn that (surprise, surprise), he was just as big of a rake as Monty and that clearly. Must make all of Monty’s behaviour alright, because he’s mad at his father and his father is just as bad as he is.

I repeat: NO.

This provides Monty absolutely ZERO moral high ground. It does illuminate how Monty’s father looks at him and sees all of the same failings that he himself possesses, which adds an interesting element of self-loathing to their tempestuous relationship; it’s not just that he’s a douchecanoe, but a douchecanoe who sees a mirror image of himself in many ways, and tries very hard to stamp it out of his son. The methods are wretched and absolutely reprehensible, but this doesn’t excuse anything that Monty does. And I find it appalling that the narrative is written in such a way that it seriously suggests this.

When this novel finally ended, and Monty makes his verbal promise of “wanting to be better” solely because he got literally everything he wanted while destroying a whole lot of lives along the way and suffering only a physical consequence, I wanted to vomit. I was frustrated beyond belief and was so glad that I’d borrowed this book from the library as opposed to buying it, because it would’ve been a 500+ page waste of money.

The only positives about this novel were Percy, Felicity, and the privateers who appear in the back third of the book. I am firmly of the belief that Felicity, our asexual secret-surgeon-in-training queen, should have been the protagonist; I am firmly of the belief that she should have punted her worthless brother of a fence and left him behind the moment he literally committed robbery out of spite and nearly got them all killed as a result while never apologising for it; and I am firmly of the belief that this book had promise but needed Monty to be less of a trash can or show more clear growth throughout the novel to be worthwhile.

Given the pitch of the sequel, I have a feeling it’ll be infinitely better than this book just because it’s all about Felicity, pirates, and a science girl gang.

Review: “Shadowsong” by S. Jae-Jones

Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones

5 stars out of 5
**A huge shout-out to Serena at Wednesday Books for sending me an ARC of this novel for the purpose of review**

For the monstrous, and those who love us.

I am slain.

Do you guys ever read books that are so, so good on an emotional level that you finish them and just have nothing left? Nothing. I am a husk, I have been officially drained and wrung out and felt every feeling under the sun.

And this started with the Author’s Note — no, really. The Author’s Note was the point where this feels train left the station. It’s rare, I think, to have an Author’s Note at the start of a book as opposed to its end, and this is one that is mandatory reading. S. Jae-Jones lays herself bare to the reader in a way that is both insightful and profound, prepping the reader for the madness-filled journey on which they are about to embark.

“Madness is not a gift,” I said angrily.
“Nor is it a curse,” the Count returned gently. “Madness simply is.”

This is a book all about madness. Characters flirting with madness, descending into madness, fighting madness, embracing madness, accepting madness.

What is madness?

As S. Jae-Jones says in her Author’s Note: “Madness is a strange word,” and, truly, it is. Madness can be destructive, transcendent, beautiful in a terrible sense, ugly in the realest sense, and a terribly painful truth. The madness of this novel and of its characters is the madness of both mental illness and a self-discovery, self-realization, and self-actualization.

”Who are you?” Josef asked, but his reflection’s mouth did not move in time with his.
I am you, the other Josef replied.
“And who am I?” he whispered.
The reflection only smiled

Sokrates once wrote gnothi seauton: know thyself. But to know oneself and to accept oneself are not the same thing, and I think that for many, the greater struggle is not so much to know but accept oneself. That is the journey Liesl must embark upon in Shadowsong.

If Wintersong was the discovering of herself, then Shadowsongis Liesl’s great reckoning with and eventual acceptance of herself. And that includes every beautiful and terrible and wonderful and ugly thing about herself. It is a difficult journey, it is a heartwrenching journey, and at the end of it all, it is a cathartic journey.

Yet it is not Liesl alone who must make this journey; so too must Josef and Der Erlkonig, the two other most central figures in this duology. And while Liesl is undoubtedly our protagonist, both Josef and The Goblin King must endure reckonings of their own as a result of the events in Wintersong.

S. Jae-Jones uses an “interlude” structure to weave the backstory of The Goblin King into the present-day narrative almost like a strange fairy tale — how appropriate, given the strange and otherworldly nature of the current Der Erlkonig. And yet within that interlude structure, as well as within the primary narrative, it is the small shreds of humanity to which The Goblin King clings that we, too, as an audience latch onto; those scraps of “sanity” that fight against the “madness”, the person we want The Goblin King to be that battles with the Der Erlkonig we fear he shall ultimately become.

The stakes are high, both on a macrocosmic and a microcosmic scale, with The Wild Hunt appearing like some kind of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to “right” the balance of the universe after Liesl and The Goblin King broke the “old laws” and, thus, spelled doom for not only themselves, but the rest of mankind. They ride through the night taking souls, all the while Der Erlkonig battles with the monstrous within him that seeks to consume every part of his body and soul the more he must ride with The Wild Hunt. It is only his connection to Liesl, and to the music she creates that helps keep that little flicker of humanity alight within him; her music acts as a bridge not only between the world of the Underground and the Living, but also as a bridge between the “human” and the “monster.” It’s dark and thrilling and fantastic.

As for Josef, the reckoning that comes for him is visceral and heartbreaking. Seemingly tangential for much of Wintersong, he truly takes center stage beside his sister as the deuteragonist, just as, honestly, he should be. The connection shared between Liesl and Josef — one of familial love and of music — has frayed in their time apart and in Liesl’s keeping of secrets from Josef. The erosion and repairing of this relationship drives Liesl and Josef for much of the story, but it in no way feels like a forced angst; given the events and revelations of Wintersong, and the hard truths to which both of these characters must own up, the fracture within their bond is understandable.

It is also compelling. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for sibling dynamics, but I was fully invested in the dynamic between Liesl and Josef. I hoped for nothing more than them being able to repair the damage done to their relationship, and to both find some form of happiness — despite knowing that, given S. Jae-Jones’ Author’s Note as well as the ending of Wintersong, this story was likely to come to a bittersweet end.

As for the music? Music remains, ever still, its own character within this narrative. If Philip Pullman used daemons as a manifestation of people’s souls, then so is music oftentimes used interchangeably with the souls of Liesl, The Goblin King, and Josef. It is music through which they can speak to each other; speak ugly truths and pretty lies, their darkest fears and greatest joys, and, ultimately, their love for one another. Love, in all shapes and forms, is the most powerful emotion in this novel, but you can bet your ass it’s not always a happy emotion.

As soon as you submit
Surrender flesh and bone,
That love takes on a life much bigger than your own.
It uses you at whim and drives you to despair.
And forces you to feel more joy than you can bear.
Love gives you pleasure,
And love brings you pain!
And yet, when both are gone,
Love will still remain.

Say what you want about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies (it’s got problems), the lyrics to its titular aria are pretty perfectly applied here. In fact, one could argue the lyrics wonderfully encapsulate the emotional core of the “love stories” that appear within Shadowsong. Whether it be a familial love or a romantic love, these characters feel all of its ecstasies and passions — two words with both positive and negative connotations.

I mentioned in my review of Wintersong that both the myths of Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as of Hades and Persephone, played a big role in the narrative, and Shadowsong continues that, banking particularly on the latter myth. In fact, the story of Persephone, and her transition from a bright spring goddess to the darker Queen of the Underworld, is paid particular attention directly within the narrative. It sets up what is the final evolution and Liesl’s character: the transition from light to dark has begun, now she must embrace the dark as a part of her, even if to the outside world, or even to oneself, it is “ugly” or “monstrous.”

You are the monster I claim, mein Herr.
Perhaps I loved the monstrous because I was a monster. Josef, the Goblin King, and me. We were grotesques in the world above, too different, too odd, too talented, too much. We were all too much.

If you haven’t guessed: I loved this book. I loved this dark journey through the psyches of our three primary players. I loved the interweaving of mythology and folklore with real, raw human emotion. I loved that, when I finished this book, I just sat there staring at the page, breathing in and out, feeling as though I’d been put through the ringer.

I know there are those who may not enjoy this series the way that I do, but something about it speaks to me on a very deep, visceral level. Something about these characters and their descents into their own versions of madness grip me in a way that few novels manage to.

And for that, I tip my hat to S. Jae-Jones for not only writing beautifully, but writing a beautiful story within that lush prose that grips my heart in its talons and refuses to let it go.

Brava, maestra. Brava.

Review: “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie (narr. by Kenneth Branagh)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha ChristieMurder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) by Agatha ChristieKenneth Branagh (Narrator)

5 stars out of 5
I’ve read Murder on the Orient Express a plethora of times. I’ve even listened to another audiobook rendition of it as narrated by Dan Stevens. And that production was lovely; I rate it highly for Stevens’ performance of a fun mystery.
But Kenneth Branagh is one of my faves. He’s a creator who, whenever his name appears, you have my attention. And while I will agree with anyone who critiques/criticises his film adaptation of this novel (even while I personally had great fun with it), I will say that listening to him read it was a pure delight.
Branagh breezes through different sexes and accents as if it’s second nature to him, and I never had difficulty in discerning which character was speaking. Given the number of players in this mystery tale, that’s a major plus. I’m sure that his various voices may not jive with everyone, but I thought they were great fun and made re-experiencing this story nothing short of a good time.