Rutger has always been a bit different. Wanting more than his current provincial life holds, he practices swordfighting, ensuring he's ready for ... he's not quite sure what. Until he meets Swanhild, an enigmatic young woman who knows exactly what she's training for - war. The two meet every day in the forest to practice magic and Rutger feels like he finally belongs somewhere
Let's start with the good bits:
In this fantasy-world women are fighters, rulers and have jobs and nobody comments on it ever. The main-character isn't motivated by a fridged woman but by the death of his elder brother.
The gratuitous German the author uses is correct. Mostly. Well there are some typos. And a few instances of 'this is not wrong but this sounds odd to a native-speaker' (Heikchen, the language Britannisch).
And...uhm...well It's not sexist and the author is aware that Google Translate isn't a good source is a start right?
Now let's go to the bad bits:
The gratuitous German is in at least half of the cases exactly that: gratuitous and unnecessary. Naming the big bad Drachengott instead of Dragongod or something completely made up? Why not? I also had no problem with the German names for the different fractions (Ketzer (heretic), Gottlose (godless) and I just hope that Jüngen is deliberately spelled that way and the author didn't mean Jünger (disciple)).
I'm not sure what somebody who knows no German at all is going to think of that (though fantasy-readers should be used to remembering random letter-combinations that make no sense to them...)
But that's not all. The main character sometimes just speaks German because of reasons. It's not to convey that he's speaking a different language than when his dialogue is in English and the German phrases he uses all have equivalents in English. There is no point in him saying 'Guten Morgen' instead of 'Good Morning' or 'Verdammt' instead of 'damn'. The author wanted to show of her German skills.
No brownie-points for you.
(Also: no carrot smothies)
Also in non-linguistic matters: It's all very Generic Fantasy Novel 101. Rutger might not be The Chosen One in the narrow sense of the word but he's still Very Special. In his first magic training session it is already pointed out that he has magic talent like no other.
There is a stunningly beautiful and mysterious woman and of course he falls for her. Why? Because she's stunningly beautiful. We never never see much of their interactions outside their training and when Rutger thinks about Swanhild he thinks about how much in love he is with her and how beautiful she is and not much about...idk her character.
Not that we learn much about Rutger's character. He's mad because his brother was killed by a dragon. He has lots of other siblings but only two of them get names. He feels a bit sad about having to lie to them when he goes away to kill dragons. He loves Swanhild with the pure and true love only a teenage boy can feel towards a beautiful woman who teaches him magic and gives him the opportunity to see the world beyond the village he grew up in. (I am sure this is a 100% healthy and can in no way go wrong ever. Cheers to the happy couple!
And that's it. That's his characterization.
The plot itself is not better. Rutgen and Swanhild encounter problems on their way but they are always solved in a few paragraphs.
Rutgen fights his first dragon and is so scared that he makes a mistake? He catches himself just in time and kills the dragon after all. He was seriously injured in the process? Swanhild conveniently knows healing magic.
They fall from a great height? They land in a pond and aren't hurt at all (because that's exactly how physics works!
It's almost more annoying than plots where nothing bad happens to the main characters at all. There is genuinely nothing that really stops them for even just a few days.
What else? Oh there's a plot-twist that will only surprise you if you've lived in a cave all of your live, never interacted with other humans and consumed no media.
No wait. Strike that. Even in that case you will roll your eyes and say 'You don't really expect me to be surprised now, do you?'
ARC provided by NetGalley.
So our protagonist meets a woman.
Her hair was lustrous black, and her face very pale, and although she looked strange she was the most beautiful woman Rutger had ever seen.
I get it. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any woman our male fantasy protagonist meets must be of stunning beauty. (Though from what I can gather Rutger never left his small village in Schwartz Forest*. He probably hasn't met that many women)
*no I am not making this up. That is its actual name.
She could have been a rich noblewomen stepping out of her palace - she could never have looked at home here in the forest.
OK. She's gorgeous. I got that at 'most beautiful women'.
This was the kind of woman who belonged in perfumed gardens and banqueting halls full of fine tapestries and golden goblets.
So she is still beautiful. One line after being really beautiful.
Her face was fine-boned and intelligent
Yeah. Her face is intelligent. It can probably calculate the square-root of 5-digit numbers. She herself? I wouldn't trust her to hold a map the right way up.
her eyes large and bright, her every movement graceful and poised
Even the fur coat managed to look like a velvet gown as it clung to her elegant figure.
And presumably the sun is shining out of her arse.
The thing is: from what I learned so far she is an outcast even among the rebels who are fighting the Drachengott. She should be like...constantly on the run, trying to avoid getting captured by the Jüngen (which are the Drachengott's people because random Umlauts make everything pseudo-German) AND the rebels fighting the Drachengott who don't like her methods. Where does she find the time to do her hair so that she always appears always like an ethereal beauty and wash the squirrel-shit out of her velvet fur coat?
She is called Swanhild by the way because why not?
Just for the record: they missed a glorious opportunity by not making the tagline of this book All in One and One in All.
I had expected this book to be The Three Musketeers with more (explicit) sex than the original as well as a side-note of d'Artagnan being worried about developing feelings for more than one person (in the original he is rather blasé about that).
A closer look at the blurb might have stopped me from thinking this but my brain just stops working as soon as the word Musketeer appears somewhere. At least that's what I tell myself because otherwise I would have no apology for watching The Ring of the Musketeers. Ehem. Back to topic. Because it is not that kind of book. It is pure, unapologetic smut, set in a parallel universe where everybody wants sex all the time and has sex all the time:
And...that's great if you like that kind of stuff. Only: I don't. Not much. I do have to hand it to the authors that most of the sex-scenes are rather well-written. There is the odd weird metaphor (drinking the sweet nectar of her delta and the inevitable battling tongues) but even as someone who is often very nitpicky about sex-scenes I didn't have that much to complain about.
Except, well, the sheer mass of them. Constant sex-scenes do not make me feel anything except boredom. And they really are constant. The author went through the original novel and asked about every scene 'can I add sex to that?' If the answer was yes she did and if the answer was no it got summed up in a few sentences or skipped completely. Which lead to one occasion where they referred to something that happened only in the original novel but not in Ménage á Musketeer. (To be fair: I assume a grand total of one person noticed that). I also wonder how Athos managed to have a hardcore BDSM-relationship with Milady but still never noticed that she had a Fleur de lis-brandmark on her shoulder. (This by the way falls under 'sentences I never thought I'd write in a review ever').
There is also another issue: consent.
And yes, I am aware that this is smut. Smut set in an alternate reality where everybody is always horny. Which I would have been fine with if the author had gone all the way through with this. Pretended that situations where one partner wants sex and the other didn't exist at all. But she didn't. There is some lip-service paid to the fact that perhaps not everybody might be comfortable with everything when Aramis informs d'Artagnan before his initiation orgy that he can say no at any time. ('Sentences I never thought I'd write in a review ever' #2).
In a realistic context the power-dynamics of this situation would have been so screwed that nobody would have dared to refuse. But we aren't in a realistic context. We're in smut fantasy land where everybody is willing all the time anyway. At least on-screen. Milady's past gets a redemption-retcon: she did not seduce a priest into fleeing with her, she fled alone because he tried to rape her. Now I don't mind at all that Milady gets turned into a good character. But the way how it is done here combined with what kind of book it is just very unfortunate.
All that combined with the fair number of typos (among other things d'Artagnan is sometimes spelled 'D'Artagnan') the book is simply not that overwhelming. If you're searching for pure Porn (almost) without plot you could do worse. But also better (and I am guessing a lot of it for free on AO3...). And for me decent sex-scenes alone just aren't enough.
1. This is a free novella that works as a set-up for the story of Aly and Zed that is continued in the following books. It makes me want to check out those following book because I love the author's writing-style and the fact that she knows about ballet and clearly loves it but also acknowledges that professional ballet can be a bit fucked up (like any professional sport I guess). And I like Aly and Zed.
2. If you just focus on the bare plot you get:
a) Two teenager who have been friends for ages and have both more than friendly feelings for one another but are reluctant to act on them because they're afraid to ruin their friendship.
b) They eventually act on them while also acting incredibly stupid. Though...in a more or less believable way at least
c) Then things crash. More or less literally and you stand there going
At the end all comes very sudden and doesn't really have a satisfactory conclusion. And yes this is just a free novella that's supposed to make you want to read the following books but I still find there's a difference between 'ending on a cliffhanger' and 'ending mid-action without any conclusion for anything' and this book felt a lot like the latter.
The Iron Ship captured me pretty quickly because of its fascinating world-building. Instead of the generic medieval-ish setting so many fantasy novels go for. The setting reminds more of the industrialization. Just with added necromancy.
Talking of this: Magic takes an active role in the book. It's not just a vague presence like in some high fantasy novels. Wizards exist in this world and they aren't even that rare. Now I'm not saying that magic in fantasy always needs to manifest in the form of spell-casting. I'm just saying that that I enjoy it if it does happen to manifest in the form of wizards who can raise people from the dead and ask them questions.
There are also amazing characters: the novel mainly revolves around five siblings who have all chosen different careers. A soldier, a playwright, an engineer, a businesswoman and a guider (a wizard who can guide the spirits of the dead into the afterlife...and also do necromancy). The playwright has OCD and depression. This is clearly stated in the text and even influences the plot, something I never saw in a fantasy novel.
Their sibling-relationships are also really well portrayed: they agree, they disagree but they do care about each other.
However pretty soon there were a few buts that clouded my enjoyment. The world-building was great but it was again a world where women don't count much. I am getting tired of worlds that have two moons, talking dogs and magic that can reanimate the dead but women being considered as important as men is apparently outside the realm of the possible.
Similarly: the main characters? Two women and almost a dozen men. It's sad because those two women? They are amazing. (Towards the end a third one appears who will probably become important in the following books but that still doesn't balance it out).
Then there's the matter of the plot. For a long time not that much happens. People move from one place to another. A big ship is built. A fraud is uncovered. A woman invites a man to visit her observatory (both not a euphemism and very much a euphemism). Vague references to necromancy, magic in general and dead gods are made. I don't think fantasy always needs to have huge things happening but all this is...well. Very little. And there weren't even many hints about larger things to come. I kept reading and wondering what would happen eventually but couldn't do more than make vague guesses. Something must happen with the ship. After arriving at point B something must happen to the character who went there.
And it stays like this for over 3/4 of the book. And then suddenly a lot of things happened. Most of them bad and most of them ended with lots of people dead.
But even then I still didn't have a much clearer idea of where the plot will be going in the following books. Yes, some things are hinted at but overall it feels more like I read a prologue and the first few chapters of a book instead of all of it.
But despite this I still enjoyed the book and plan to read the next one (hoping that the pacing will be better). I am unhappy with the treatment of the female characters but most other things are refreshingly different from many generic fantasy-novels. The author's prose just flows and she manages to convey enough about the world without ever resorting to infodumps.
ARC received from NetGalley
There are many lists with writing tips on the internet. Some are good, others not so much. I once came across one that had some really good advise. It also had one point that said Make everything the could go wrong go wrong. My immediate reaction after reading that was a burning desire to take out my copy of Henning Mankell's The White Lioness and hit the creator of this list over the head with it. And then force them to read the book (which would be so much more painful) and then ask if they still think that everything should go wrong. Because The White Lioness is a book where everything that can go wrong does go wrong and it's horrible.
Of course it is annoying if your characters would be dead after 10 pages if it wasn't for countless incredibly lucky circumstances and a lot of authors don't seem to get that.
However it is equally annoying if the case would be wrapped up neatly after 10 pages if it wasn't for a number of riddiculously unlucky circumstances.
I did not tell all this because I like talking that much (well I do like it but that's not the point...) but because Those We Left Behind is another of those books where just about everything goes wrong. It doesn't reach quite the level of The White Lioness but there's too many instances of people deciding to do something at the moment where it's causing the most harm. There is actually a moment about three quarters into the book where one of the boys is about to tell everything but is stopped when the DI's boss turns up just at that moment.
Additionally I couldn't really warm up to Serena Flanagan, the main character. She made some horrible and stupid decisions that were just inexcusable and even when she wasn't I just couldn't warm up to her. She's just one of the many fictional cops who is always so busy with the job that partner and children suffer. Yes it's truth in fiction but you still could copy & paste the discussions between her and her husband into a dozen other books or films without having to change anything but the names. There is nothing that makes either of them stand out from the crowd.
This is mostly because apart from Serena we have three other POV-characters: Ciaran, the boy who was convicted of the murder, Paula, Ciaran's probation-officer and David, the son of the murder-victim. Especially Ciaran gets a lot of pages and they are just so frustrating because he is such a passive character. Don't get me wrong: it makes sense that he would be but that doesn't mean reading about a character who barely does anything unless told to is any less...boring.
I still read the book in a few hours so it was engaging enough and I did want to find out how exactly it would end but I don't feel the need to pick up any following books.
ARC provided by NetGalley.
9% in is rather early for me to DNF something but I realised something:
There are so many better things to do than reading about the redemption-arc of a male character that is offset by him witnessing the rape of a female character.
Like looking at pictures of kittens.
Let us start of with two rapes (off-page thankfully) because why not?
Also a noblewoman was introduced. I am not sure if she is based on a real person but I really hope she is. Because if she isn't the author would have made up a character and called her Maud.
In a story about the English Anarchy. Which was a fight for the throne between King Stephen and Empress Maud. A fight in which Stephen's wife, who was called - surprise - Maud also played an important role.
(Also Stephen had a daughter named Maud I think...and there were possibly 34436 other vaguely important people called Maud in this conflict).
So I really hope the author didn't go 'Yeah I invent this main character and call her the same name as two important historical figures of the time because LOLZ'
Especially (cozy) crime series are often written in a way that you can read them in any order. Previous events are rarely referenced and characters aren't changed much by them.
The Cambridge Fellows is not one of them. On the one hand this is a good thing. It gives the characters more depth if they are affected by events from previous books instead of everybody pretending like they never happened. On the other if you read them out of order things can get...messy. There are frequent mentions of things that happened in previous books and some of them (partly) spoil the solutions of the cases. Not all references are to cases, things that happened in the personal lives of the characters also get mentioned.
I am not kidding. The fact that Orlando's father committed suicide in front of the whole family has been mentioned more times than I can count and this is only the third book I'm reading. (To be fair: two of them were about deaths that looked like suicides so that would of course bring up memories but it's not the only thing that gets mentioned again and again).
So I ended up alternating between being annoyed because I still intend to read the rest of the series and got spoiled and being annoyed because something I already knew got repeated again.
You, dear reader, will undoubtedly have noticed that I wrote ' I still intend to read the rest of the series' so despite just ranting half a page it can't have been that bad. And no, it wasn't. The repetitions are annoying but I enjoyed the rest a lot.
The sleuths in the book are a gay couple and the book is set in Edwardian times. I read a couple of historical novels featuring gay characters and they can be divided into 'All the gay angst. All the time' (most of them) and 'LOL isn't being gay hilarious?'. And I am not a fan of either of them. Of course you can't ignore that being gay was a crime in many places for a long period of time. But that doesn't mean that all the thoughts of the characters have to revolve around that fact every minute and there has to be an added dose of heavy Catholic gay guilt.
The Cambridge Fellows treads that line very well. Both have accepted their feelings and due to (admittedly very) lucky circumstances don't have to worry about being found out unless they act very foolishly. But there is still talk of how they can't show their affection openly and how they have to be careful in certain situations.
The case itself is decent. I might have more complaints if locked-room mysteries weren't among my favourite crime-tropes and I can happily forgive them some really outlandish solutions because I just like locked-room mysteries a lot.
ARC from NetGalley.
First: this is a romance between a Roman nobleman and a slave. I did think the topic was handled careful enough but YMMV on that point.
The book itself was...OK but not more. The main couple was cute but none of the other characters had any depth. I mean the vilain's motivations were 'I hate Marcus because he always was a bit condescending and had a holier-than-thou attitude when we were kids'. That's it. Marcus did not kill his favourite goldfish or anything like that. He just didn't like his attitude and so he planned a rather elaborate revenge that would only work under very specific circumstances. Considering that's what gets the whole plot going that's just rather weak.
Also there's the problem of me as reader knowing something the characters didn't. In this case I knew there would be a happy end for Marcus and Lia because the book is a romance and they always have one. The characters don't know this but it was hard for me to believe that because at least Marcus' desperation about that wasn't convincing. He was up there in Britannia, busy with a (weak and predictable) side-plot and did some moping but I never really felt it. I could believe Lia's desperation more easily. I admit that at first I was a bit annoyed how much the separation from Marcus affected her but after all she didn't only loose him but also her only chance of freedom so her reaction was justified. But we only got two scenes with her after the separation the main focus is on Marcus.
The sex-scenes were...nice. Yes the phrase 'shaft of pleasure' is used but it does not mean what you think it means. Basically Marcus has such magical orgasmic fingers that just touching her makes Lia feel a shaft of pleasure ripping through her. Or something. Look Marcus is just really good at this kind of thing and all joking aside: he (and the descriptions of the sex-scenes) are very much focussed on her pleasure which is a great thing.
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review.
So one day I decided I wanted to do a podcast on feminism and vampires, so I asked Catherine, my Bibliodaze co-editor, if she would do it with me and she said “Can we call ourselves The Bloodsucking Feminists?”
And lo and behold, we did a thing!
So Bloodsucking Feminists is our new venture; a monthly podcast dedicated to a semi-academic/semi-fangirl orientated analysis of our favourite undead creatures through a feminist perspective. We'll cover everything from the classics to the obscure and the toe tapping fun within (yes, vampire musicals).
So head on over to download our first 2 episodes (the first is an intro and the second - our official first episode - is dedicated to Carmilla).
In the end no match for Brother Cadfael.
Full Review on Bibliodaze
(Hello everybody. I am not dead yet. There was just an unfortunate combination of me being busy with university, me getting a cold and me getting into the Daredevil TV-show and getting so obsessed with it that I binge-read ALL THE Daredevil fanfiction).
This book is really fascinating and brings up so much things I never even thought about. For example that the choice between writing Slavic X language with Cyrillic letters and language Y with Latin ones wasn't necessary a logical-phonetical choice but a political one and that some countries switched alphabets at one point or another (or tried to).
It should have been sort of obvious because I know that e.g. Serbian and Croatian are so closely related that they're mostly mutually intelligible (and we still have a 'Teach yourself Serbo-Croatian' course lying around somewhere) but Croatian uses Latin and Serbian Cyrillic (and so many added extra letters/accents. Both of them).
Yes. That's the kind of stuff Slavic Studies students find fascinating.
Das Buch ist nicht viel mehr als eine Sammlung von Zitaten. Gerade bei etwas obskureren Persönlichkeiten (und dazu gehört Otto sicher) ist es sicher nicht leicht überhaupt ausreichend Material zu finden und was das angeht muss man dem Autor schon applaudieren. Nur: es wird kein Versuch gemacht diese Zitate in einen Kontext zu setzen und irgendwie zu interpretieren.
Gerade was das Verhältnis zwischen Ludwig und Otto angeht gibt es sehr widersprüchliche Zitate und...die stehen da halt und machen aber sonst nicht viel. Sind manche glaubwürdiger als andere? Wer weiß das schon?
Besonders gegen Ende übertreibt der Autor es dann auch mit den Zitaten. Jeden einzelnen Zeitungsartikel über Ottos Tod und Beerdigung komplett abzudrucken (ja auch die in denen jede Straße durch die der Leichenzug fährt genannt wird) hat jetzt nicht wirklich dafür gesorgt, dass ich mehr über Otto weiß. Recht wenig im Buch hat das.
Alles in allem hatte ich das Gefühl eine Uni-Arbeit von jemandem zu lesen der so gar keine Lust aufs schreiben hätte und deswegen immer die kürzeste Verbindung zwischen zwei Zitaten gesucht hat.