Late August Reviews (2021)


Welcome to the Books That Burn Fortnightly Roundup! Releasing every two weeks (one week early for Patrons). Remember to head to Transcripts That Burn for all available transcripts of the podcast.

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I had one DNF, I finally accepted that I won’t read MAZES OF POWER (2020) by Juliette Wade and I stopped a couple of chapters in. Maybe I’ll be able to read about a pandemic which is affecting various social strata in different ways at some later date, but not right now.

Recent Reviews

I read even more by T. Kingfisher, this time it’s a fantasy about a girl with baking magic who has to save her city in A WIZARD’S GUIDE TO DEFENSIVE BAKING. It’s equal parts whimsy and sorrow, since the coolness of the magic she can do (like make gingerbread golems and have sentient sourdough starter) is balanced by the terror of having the whole city relying on her because a lot of other people do what they were supposed to.

SHATTER THE SKY by Rebecca Kim Wells is a YA fantasy novel featuring a teenager on a quest to rescue her girlfriend and hopefully bond a dragon along the way. The worldbuilding is pretty light, so this is good for anyone who wants dragons and magic but doesn’t want to read a doorstopper for their fix. I plan to read the sequel soon.

2021 Hugo Update

This year I’m going to vote in the 2021 Hugo Awards, so I’m trying to read as much as I can of the finalists. I read a bunch of short stories from the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, since I’ve already read the novels. I finished the numbered short stories and then read the unnumbered short stories. That was a great decision because I finally got to enjoy the whole sequence of stories about Patrick and Dianda’s courtship, intertwined with Patrick and Simon’s very intense friendship. They didn’t get their own reviews because most of them are under 50 pages. In case anyone else is voting (or just wants to join in), here’s a reading challenge for Best Novel (it has some of the other awards as bonus prompts), and here’s the reading challenge I made for Best Series (it has the novels in each series as required, and any short stories as bonus prompts). I love Seanan McGuire’s writing, and I spent almost two weeks (one week per newsletter timeframe) reading almost entirely Octobe Daye short stories (that’s why this fortnight is a little light on full reviews). If you like urban fantasy by Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, Jeaniene Frost, and/or Eileen Wilks (or you want to like them but prefer books without sex scenes) definitely give the October Daye series a try.

I continued reading The Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells. I finished the fourth book, EXIT STRATEGY. If you want a sci-fi book that gives backstory and context exactly when you need it and not a minute earlier, give this series a try. I love Murderbot and I’m having a great time with these. EXIT STRATEGY was originally supposed to be the series finale, and it does a good job of tying up loose ends. It’s in a specific narrative arc with the first three books, but the character is so compelling that I’m glad the series continued afterwards.

THE CITY OF BRASS by S.A. Chakraborty is a fantasy balanced on a knife’s edge, with a prince and a con artist working at occasionally-aligning purposes in a city filled with djinn and Daeva, with the partially human underclass just trying to survive. It’s the start of a trilogy and I’m so glad I’m reading it now that the whole series is available. I love the characters (even when they’re assholes), and it was nice to settle into a longer book, especially one that starts a series.

Current Reads

I didn’t make any progress in THE WITCH KING by H.E. Edgmon. I like it, but it also makes me very dysphoric (due to accuracy) so I’m taking it slow. My next update will either be a review or a DNF, I can’t keep dragging this out.

I moved pretty quickly on to THE KINGDOM OF COPPER by S.A. Chakraborty (book two of The Daevabad Trilogy) because I couldn’t wait to see how the trilogy continues. The characters all have different sets of information from each other, and it’s so cool to see how they’re both manipulating and being manipulated by the secondary characters. It’s leaning into the political wrangling in a way I love, secure in the foundation laid by the first book.

I’m still reading DISTANT GARDENS, I made a little progress but I need to sit down and finish it on a weekend, otherwise it’s hard to get a sense of what I think of the whole collection (since it’s an anthology).

THE RUIN OF KINGS by Jenn Lyons has a strange narrative style where the narrator isn’t the main character and technically wasn’t there. It’s a bit like if Koh the Face Stealer from Avatar: The Last Airbender” was telling the story of its victims’ lives. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s actually part of the inspiration for the framing device. So far it’s fine but it’s hard to get into when Daevabad is right there and I’m already invested.

I’m halfway through THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE by John Scalzi (book one of The Interdependency). There’s a point-of-view character who’s very off-putting because it feels like her personality is a gender-bent version of the asshole captain who bullies people and screws everyone on the crew. I don’t normally like that kind of character when it’s a guy, and I’m not more interested now that she’s a woman. I like the other two POV characters so far, so I’m hanging on and I might actually finish the book but I don’t know yet. I’m reading this for the Hugos and I already know I like most of the other entries better (this is in the same category as Murderbot, and October Daye, for starters), so the actual reason to try the book may have already been satisfied.

NETWORK EFFECT is the fifth Murderbot book, the first full novel of the series, and the pacing is pretty good so far.

In Case You Missed It

This is a new section where I talk about a book I read around this time last year (in case you missed it then). This fortnight we’re heading back to AMONG THE BEASTS AND BRIARS by Ashley Poston, a fantasy horror title alternatingly narrated by a girl and a fox who suddenly finds himself human as they try to fix things for the kingdom. If you wish fairy tales had more zombies and even more running in terror, give this a try.

Pluggables and Podcast News

If you’re looking for a place to buy any of the books I’ve reviewed, please consider our Bookshop page (if you use our links to purchase books we get a small commission). Let us know if there’s a category you’d like to see curated and we’ll see if we can get some titles together.

As for the podcast, hopefully you’re enjoying our most recent episode, NOT YOUR SIDEKICK by C.B. Lee, as well as the first half of our interview with author Sara Codair, released back in June. If you’d like to receive the second (spoiler-filled) half of the interview, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Patrons receive this newsletter one week early, as well as a list of upcoming podcast episodes for the next three months.

Thanks for reading, the next roundup will be in two weeks!


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