Category Archives: books/book review

Review of Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I borrowed Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s Certain Dark Things from the library.

Description from Goodreads:
Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…

Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life.

Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

Her plan doesn’t include developing any real attachment to Domingo. Hell, the only living creature she loves is her trusty Doberman. Little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his effervescent charm.

And then there’s Ana, a cop who suddenly finds herself following a trail of corpses and winds up smack in the middle of vampire gang rivalries.

Vampires, humans, cops, and gangsters collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive?

I’m going to be honest. I picked this book up at the library based on the cover alone. It is gorgeous and caught my eye. The word vampire was there took and that’s all she wrote. I too this sucker home.

This is a technique for picking out books that has often led me astray, but in this case it worked out just fine. I quite enjoyed Certain Dark Things. I mean, Mexican vampires, or more accurately vampires in Mexico City! The main character is from an ancient Aztec clan, but there are African, Canadian, European, Russian, Chinese and vampires from other places too. Ain’t immigration grand? Not all of them represented in the book, but there are at least 10 subspecies of vampires.

One of the main character is a bisexual Latinx vampire, and the other is about the cutest 17yo boy you’ll ever meet. Honestly, with his tendency to be uncertain in social settings and open, naiveté despite living on the streets, I wondered if he wasn’t meant to be on the autism spectrum somewhere. But I think that might just be me, nothing in the book other than how I interpreted his behavior suggests this. Either way, I adored Domingo. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Atl, but Domingo stole the show for me.

I wouldn’t call this a romance, though I think it has romantic elements and a HEA of a sort. But I like it better for how it ended.

The writing is lovely and I really liked the voice a lot. My biggest complaint is that it is cliche to have a villain obsess over hunting a woman down to rape and torture because his advances were rejected. Yes, there’s more to it than that, but that’s a lot of what it boils down to and that’s just motivation that’s been used and used and used and used.

All in all, Moreno-Garcia is on my radar now and I’ll be checking out more of her work.

Review of Rebel of the Sands & Traitor to the Throne, by Alwyn Hamilton

I borrowed a copy of Alwyn Hamilton‘s  Rebel of the Sand from my local library and I won a copy of the sequel Traitor to the Throne through Goodreads.

Description from Goodreads:
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

I was really excited about a Middle-Eastern fantasy, with djinni and magic and….guns? Yeah, the guns threw me off, especially since none of the other technology that would normally develop along side guns seem to be present. But I eventually got use to that.

I liked Amani just fine and I like Jin too. I even liked them together,I won’t say they sizzled or anything like that, but I liked them. I liked the side characters, once they started showing up.

My main issue had to do with the fact that the first half of the book feels aimless. It’s basically just two people running around and confronting whatever pops up at them. Toward the end a goal, I might even say a plot finally developed. But as this is a series, the book ended before the overarching plot really got rolling.

I liked the writing just fine. The cover is awesome (the original one) and, again, I liked the characters and that there is some diversity in the cast. In fact, I liked this a lot more than a lot of YA books I’ve read. Jin is more than willing to let Amani shine and I appreciated that. I like a hero who lets a heroine step forward. But I always have a problem when gender disparities are used as a plot device and not explored. Even worse, when it’s used, it’s not explored, other less objectionable aspects of the culture being borrowed from aren’t included to balance the sexism out (as if the only notable things about the Middle-Eastern setting are the sand, the tents and the horrible way they treat women) and one character is just randomly able to buck the cultural immersion of an entire life. Why her and not other women?

Regardless, I liked it just fine and I’ll be reading the next one.

Description from Goodreads:
Gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. 

When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan’s palace—she’s determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan’s secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she’s a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she’s been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland.

Let me start with the fact that I liked this book. But I didn’t love it. It has some definite second book issues. I actually want to say, “middle book” issues, but I don’t know how many books are planned for the series. But this FEELS like a middle book. It’s long and tedious and starts a few months after the events of the first book, but ends before anything is really concluded.

Worst of all, there was so little Jin and Amani. Well, just so little Jin in general. But one of my favorite parts of the first book was Amani and Jin’s banter and unquestioning trust in each other. I missed that a lot in this book. The court intrigue and mental masterbation about what makes a good leader/ruler (and what the difference might be) was not a substitute as far as I was concerned.

That brings me to complaint number two. I missed the Amani who threw herself into action. The Amani of this book is sedentary and largely helpless and naive. I might not have minded it if so much of the book wasn’t this. But I felt bogged down in her being trapped.

I liked it, but didn’t love it. Still, if I remember the series when book 3 comes out next year, I’ll read it.

Review of Dragon’s Child, by Joseph Mazzenga

Joseph Mazzenga sent me a copy of his novel, Dragon’s Child.

Description from Goodreads:
The year is 2188. A virus creeps through DownCity. Swift. Deadly. The disease is bred through a growing gang of vampire monsters – Infectids who nosh on human hosts both to feed and spread their viral control over the city.

Trace Alden was a cop until he lost his beloved Gloria to the Infectids. Drinking to borderline insanity, his only salvation was to become a Hunter – Neither bounty hunter, nor cop, but a licensed killer. Alden works above the law to eradicate the now organized group of Infectids that look to rid the world of the human pollutant. He must not only fight the terrors in the city but his horrors from within.

Goji has wandered through mystic memories all of her 18 years of life. Barely controlling powers she has yet to understand, she rules the alleys taking on as many monsters with her special abilities as she can. Her only link to her past and who she really is are the brief, ancient memories that come to her in her sleep. Haunted by messages she cannot interpret, Goji’s biggest struggle is to quell the monster inside of her. Unwillingly paired, the aging ex-cop and the young vigilante are sent to end the diseased scourge and ancient monster that leads them. If the demons on the street don’t get them, their demons from within will.

Oh man, I hate to do this. This book doesn’t have many reviews and I hate to be the first bad one (and a long, editorial, somewhat ranty one at that), but I can’t give this a good review. First and foremost, I don’t see anything labeling the copy I have as an ARC, however it really does need more editing. More copy edits to catch grammar and homophone errors. But also content edits to deal with consistency issues, the timeline and just bring the story together. Because here’s the thing, there’s a cool idea in Dragon’s Child and what could be some cool characters. But NONE of it is shining.

I spent a lot of the book confused. There’s no world-development. There’s no character growth. The timeline is muddled, possibly purposefully vague. People show up, disappear and show up hundreds (thousands?) of years later, only to die pointlessly. There is no sense of what characters who have lived hundreds (thousands?) of years have done that whole time. The reader is given one heroine (who you think is a main character) and then suddenly, half-way through the book, we’re given a second. I don’t know if the dragon or the rider was the main villain. I don’t know if the rider was human, and if not what he was. I don’t know if the dragons were born or summoned, and if summoned, from where. I don’t know what their motivation was. I don’t know how the ‘vampires’ were created. I often didn’t know who was speaking. I just spent a lot of the book going, “What” and “Why.”

The cover is awesome and the writing is ok, if a bit overwrought. Though, the referencing of people as ‘the cop,’ ‘the ex-cop’ (which confusingly are the same person), ‘the girl,’ etc really distanced me from the characters and made it hard to connect with them.

Note: most people can stop reading now. The rest is my ranty bit and will likely make this review seem more brutal than intended. Just call it my opinion piece. There’s also a spoiler in it.

I personally had some gender complaints. (But I often do when male authors write female warriors.) And I’ll admit up front that this is something that I am extra sensitive to. So, it might not be an issue for everyone.

First off, the whole she-knight thing, occasionally she-warrior. It was perfectly obvious she was female, so why did she have to be a she-knight, instead of just a knight. (And I won’t even ask if the plains village had an aristocracy that bestowed knighthood. I’ll let that one go.) Why hyphenate her and make her separate and different from any other knight? Plus, it means so many sentence that referenced her ended up with two shes, as in “She was a she-knight.” It’s so repetitive and annoying.

Then you have the two dragons, one a male that is goodness personified and, more importantly for my point, has agency. While the female one is evil and enslaved, possibly willingly, to a man. All infectids seemed to be male, but when they attacked people to eat/rape (this was often conflated) they only seemed to choose females. (Though there were dead men about, their living terror never seemed to be shown.) All police officers were male. Every single female side character was incidental and every single one died, none were developed beyond a name.

The hero’s wife served no purpose but to die and give the hero motivation. She had no character of her own. When the heroines fought, their male opponents often threw the threat of rape at them, but never at the hero. Who knew morally debased, evil personified stuck so staunchly to heterosexual norms? I don’t think they would, I think authors just forget that it isn’t just women who can be victimized in this way.

My point is that, despite having two heroines, the book is written to feel very male. The gaze is male, the voice is male, the hero is a lot more competent, even though the heroines should have had hundreds (thousands?) of years to learn and grow. Even in the final fight, it wasn’t the heroine—who supposedly lived hundreds (thousands?) of years just to defeat this particular evil—who saved the day. It was the main character, who I’ve decided is Trace, even if the book covers hundreds (thousands?) of years of the female characters’ lives and therefore should focus on them. Because apparently hundreds (thousands?) of years of female life and sacrifice isn’t as important as a man’s 40ish years. That’s how the book <i>feels</i>. I’m not claiming intent on the authors part.

In fact, I really think Mazzenga intended Goji to be the main character. Claiming a book is disconcertingly male wouldn’t be an issue if I felt that’s how it was meant to be. Men deserve books directed at them too. But the whole plot points to Goji, suggests that she should the main character. But the book’s focus is unwaveringly on Trace. (So, even if they were meant to share the spotlight, it’s still not working.)

Unfortunately I feel this is simply a failure of the writing. Not to go all Feminist, but maybe even the effect of a man trying to write a book about a woman while living in a male dominated world. He didn’t seem able to force himself to take his eye off the hero long enough to truly develop the heroine I think he intended to be the focal point of the book. I suppose the book is just traditional fantasy in this regard. But it’s this seemingly accidental, oblivious nature of it that bothers me.

If this author sent this book to an editor and took a conscious look at his gender representation, I think it could be something special. But it’s not there yet. Oh well, I’ll put it out in my Free Little Library. Maybe it’ll be picked up by someone who loves it. I’m sorry I couldn’t love it more myself.