Tag Archives: fantasy

Review of The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, by Alexis Hall

Book cover of The Affair of the Mysterious Letter

I pre-ordered a copy of Alexis Hall‘s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter.

Description from Goodreads:

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. 

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade. 

Review:

This book came to me challenged. It simply had so much to live up to. Alexis Hall is one of my favorite authors. But more importantly, several years ago I came across a snippet they’d written that has haunted me ever since. I don’t remember if it was a piece of their then WIP or a standalone scene that had just come to them. But either way, it stuck with me and I’VE WANTED THAT STORY ever since. When I read the synopsis for The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, I desperately hoped this was the story that scrap of writing fit into. And if my memory of that scene serves, I think it is.

The challenge for The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, of course, is how can reality possibly stand up to something imagine by another (however vaguely) for years? In some ways it accomplishes this task admirably, in others it was me who posed an impediment to my own enjoyment.

John is everything I could want in a puritanic Watson- esque hero. Ms. Haas is everything I could hope for in a cryptic, sorcerous Holmes. Hall’s writing is crisp as ever, the story engaging, and (as so many others have said) the story is marvelously queer. However, I struggled with the frequent breaks in the narrative in which John attempted discourse with the reader (especially in the beginning) and the Lovecraftian world full of reality bending gods was at times hard to pin down. (On a side note, I kept waiting for Piccadilly and Co. to make a cameo. I really hope there wasn’t one that I missed. LOL)

All in all, however, once I’d gotten used to the pace, I truly enjoyed this book. Everything about John Wyndham is lovable and 100% hope I sensed a future romance in the works for him. I ship him and [deleted to avoid spoiler] hard core. I don’t know if Hall plans more books in this series. But I’d look forward to reading them if there are more.

Review of The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie

I borrowed an audio copy of Ann Leckie‘s The Raven Tower through my local library.

Description from Goodreads:

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever. 

Review:

This had a slow, but consistent pace. But I found that I continued to find chores I could do to keep listening to it. I enjoyed that the narrator was utterly unexpected and that the main character was just a tad off-centre from power. If you’re looking for a rollicking, fast-paced novel, this isn’t it. But it you like interesting, thought-provoking narrations it very well could be. This was my first Leckie book, but it won’t be my last. And Adjoa Andoh did a great job with the narration. In fact, while I’m sure I’d have liked the book regardless, I wonder if I’d have loved it as much as I did had I not listened to it.

Review of The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie

I purchased a paperback copy of The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie.

Description from Goodreads:

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water. 

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea. 

Spoilerish Review:

Those in my book circle seem to love this book and I can see why. Perfectly readable writing, YA lesbian leads, a bad-ass female pirate captain, racial/identity/economic diversity, acknowlegement of power differences, dads and brothers who play domestic roles while women work, all things it’s nice to encounter, and even better when gender norms are perverted, not just swapped. The characters are natural in their role and the author doesn’t play it up for points. 

But the simple overall fact of the matter is that, despite liking aspects of the book, I didn’t enjoy the book. I felt that Cassandra’s sudden siding with her captors simply because she’d gotten to know some of them was beyond plebeian. Her sudden willingness to kill her own because she’d become attached to one person made me grit my teeth. It’s far too weak a motivation. 

And the ending? Well, I feel like the villain won. Nothing in the ending felt satisfying. I didn’t feel like Cassandra accomplished anything or grew. In fact, she put herself in the hands of her enemy. Nope. I was not happy with the ending.