Early September 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 couldn't get into the adult fantasy novel THE RUIN OF KINGS (2019) by Jenn Lyons. The perspectives kept shifting in a way that made it hard to follow. Technically they're labeled at the start of each chapter, but the narrators didn't feel different enough, and I was annoyed by the footnotes. I normally like footnotes, but it made it harder to get into the world to have one thing said and then immediately contradicted.

I was a little over halfway through RIOT BABY (2020) by Tochi Onyebuchi when there were back-to-back scenes involving a topic that's very triggering for me so I stopped.

I finally accepted that I'm not going to finish THE WITCH KING (2021) because the main character's dysphoria is too close to mine and it's in the stressful zone that's neither catharsis nor escape for me.

Pending Reviews

I finished but haven't yet reviewed IRON WIDOW (2021) by Xiran Jay Zhao. I loved it but I need a little longer to pull my thoughts together. If you want to read a smash-the-patriarchy battle mech saga with polyamory, put this on your to-read pile.

Recent Reviews

EQUAL RITES (1987) by Terry Pratchett is the first book in The Witches, a sub-series within the larger Discworld series. I'm reading each of the sub-series in order, but Discworld is so massive that if I try to read the whole thing in publishing order I'll keep getting stuck waiting behind other people's library holds. Technically every book in the series can be read on its own, but it's nice to have continuity by reading the thematic groupings together.

I love Neal Shusterman's books generally, I've been reading him on and off since I was a kid, and this time I read UNWIND (2007), the first book in a dystology (four books and some connected stories) about the system after the (definitely fictional) pro-live vs pro-choice wars that led to a horrific dystopian compromise that leaves everyone unhappy and a lot of kids absolutely (but not legally) dead.

Retellings are great, Peter Pan retellings are generally favorites of mine, and I finally got around to reading WENDY, DARLING (2021) by A.C. Wise. It expands and complicates the commentary on the roles and expectations for women and girls in early 1900's England which was very present but not great in the original. I think it's hard to be a good Peter Pan retelling without doing something interesting with gender because of how much these thoughts were there from the start, and overall I like what this retelling does. If you'd like to see what I thought of this in comparison with other retellings, check out my ongoing Retelling Rankings.

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. 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).

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells continues to be great, I read book five, NETWORK EFFECT (2020) and loved it. It's the first full novel of the series and does a good job of expanding the scope appropriately to fit the pacing of a novel rather than the earlier novellas. I followed it up with FUGITIVE TELEMETRY (2021) which is basically a procedural where Murderbot has to find out why a human died. I love procedurals and this one was pretty great.

Continuing my read of The Daevabad trilogy, THE KINGDOM OF COPPER (2019) by S.A. Chakraborty is where the three protagonist's goals and the secondary characters' machinations crash together to fuck things up for everyone. The politics are tangled and pretty bloody, but most of the horror and death is kept off-page until the climax of the book. I'm excited to see how THE EMPIRE OF GOLD deals with the aftermath.

THE EMPRESS OF SALT AND FORTUNE (2020) is excellent, an adult fantasy novella that has an intimate gaze but the feeling of a much larger novel. The framing is an old woman telling her life's story to a young Cleric who's sent to record as much as they can before the place the woman lives is destroyed.

Current Reads

I promise I made progress in DISTANT GARDENS, I think I will finish it but it's going slowly, as you can probably tell.

I'm also halfway through RING SHOUT by P. Djèlí Clark. It's set around 1915 and features "Klu Kluxes" as literal monsters from another dimension infecting the otherwise human Klan, and it's very good. I like how it handles ideas of monstrosity and complicity, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

I started THE COLOR OF MAGIC by Terry Pratchett. It's the very first Discworld book (the first one in the Wizards sequence) and the tone just isn't hitting right for me. I know I like ones he wrote later, so I'm just getting through this one to get to the ones I'll like better since I intend to read all the books.

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 THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS (2020) by Stephen Graham Jones. This is a horror novel about mistakes coming back to haunt (and kill, one by one) four Native American men who did something bad as kids and thought the past was buried. They were very wrong.

I also re-read a few books since I was stuck inside during a hurricane-related power outage (I'm fine, just had a day where needed to read a few things without drafting reviews at the end). First I read THE HEART FORGER (2018) by Rin Chupeco, book two of The Bone Witch Trilogy. It's a necromantic fantasy with two layers of narrative, running parallel through the entire trilogy and expertly balanced.

My second re-read is something I originally obtained as an ARC, so it was nice to read the final version. A DOWRY OF BLOOD (2021) by S.T. Gibson is a Dracula's Brides retelling, told from the perspective of one of the brides. It's about control, abuse, love, and breaking free of the kind of love that only knows how to crush that which it cherishes.

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, Bridge to Terabithia, 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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