The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) by S.A. Chakraboty

City of Brass book cover

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. 

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. 

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for… (via Goodreads)

City of Brass is the first book in the Daevabad Trilogy and in my opinion it is off to a good start.

As some on Goodreads have pointed out, when you take the overall plot line and boil it down to it’s most basic points, the story does sound a bit cliched. Young woman living on the streets does what she can to survive when she meets a mysterious stranger. The woman’s life is somehow put in danger and the stranger helps her before whisking her away on a perilous journey. The journey itself is fraught with danger and they finally arrive at a grand city that is beyond anything any one has seen. There, the young woman learns she is a lost person of great importance and she is thrust in to a very unfamiliar and lush lifestyle. She must learn who she can trust when it seems everyone has something to hide.

Yes, cliched, and yes done over and over in countless stories. Yet to be honest, one can say that about almost every book ever written. New and unique ideas are rare and most books are a rehashing of previous ones. It is only in how they are rewritten that is important. At least to me.

And it is in that aspect that City of Brass shines (pun intended). Chakraborty has taken a well known and well used fictional trope and brushed it up a bit with her storytelling. The lead female character, Nahri, isn’t one to sit idly by even when she has everything she ever desired served to her on a silver plate. All of her young life she has refused to let any one dictate her future and she will not let any one start now. Not the handsome djinn Dara, not the equally handsome prince Alizayd, and certainly not the king Ghassan al Qahtani.

As lovely as the story is, what really stood out to me were the characters themselves. Every one of them is flawed in one way or another. None of them are perfect despite what persona they present. Even the minor characters, ones who only appear in one or a few scenes, they too are flawed in one way or another. It makes them all feel more real and adds depth to an already fascinating story.

City of Brass is a bit long at over 500 pages so it will take a bit longer to read. However, it is a unique story set in an area of the world that does not get much love in fiction. Plus it has a strong female main character that will appeal to most. The second book was just recently released and I’ve already added it to my list to read and review.

Advertisements

The Eight (The Eight #1) by Katherine Neville

Computer expert Cat Velis is heading for a job to Algeria. Before she goes, a mysterious fortune teller warns her of danger, and an antique dealer asks her to search for pieces to a valuable chess set that has been missing for years.

A chess set whose pieces have been scattered across the globe because the game that can be played with them is incredibly powerful.

The Eight is a book comprised of two different stories set over 200 years apart. One story is set in 1972 and follows Catherine Velis as she is sent to Algeria on a job for her work. The second story is set in the 1790’s and follows Mireille and Valentine, cousins and novice nuns from the Montglane Abbey.

The stories of the women are both separate and intertwined as each revolves around the Montglane Service – a chess set once owned by Charlemagne. The set is said to hold the key to unlimited power and the person who holds the set has control of that power.

The plot of The Eight revolves heavily around the game of chess. Every character is connected to the game itself somehow, but are also connected to the Game of the chase after the Montglane Service. Some have knowledge that they are playing, while others like Catherine, learn they are along the way.

I found the overall plot of The Eight to be somewhat interesting. Personally, I enjoyed the sections set in France during the Revolution more than the sections set in 1972. Perhaps it is because I found it difficult to relate with Catherine, or perhaps it is because I found the people that surrounded her incredibly irritating.

Neville is commendable in that she is able to combine individuals who actually existed with the characters she has created for the novel. Individuals such as Robespierre, Talleyrand, even Catherine the Great are weaved in to the narrative in the search for the Montglane Service.

On the whole, I am rather ambivalent in regards to The Eight. There were times I wanted to stop reading it and there were times I found that I couldn’t stop. Considering my own feelings on the novel, I cannot easily recommend it nor do I believe I will be seeking out the rest of the series.

Provided for Review: Death of an Eye (Eye of Isis #1) by Dana Stabenow

Alexandria, 47BCE: Cleopatra shares the throne with her brother Ptolemy under the auspices of Julius Caesar, by whom Cleopatra is heavily pregnant with child.

A shipment of new coin meant to reset the shaky Egyptian economy has been stolen,and the Queen’s Eye has been murdered. Queen Cleopatra must turn to her childhood friend Tetisheri, to find the missing shipment and bring a murderer to justice

I was provided with this book from Netgalley in exchange for my review. Thank you!

As much as I claim to enjoy the adventures of one Sherlock Holmes and anything set in the Victorian era, there is another era of time that has had my interest for just as long – that of Ancient Egypt. So when I saw this book listed on Netgalley, I immediately put my name in to request said book.

I am so glad my request was granted and I was able to read this book because I personally enjoyed it from cover to cover.

Set in the ancient city of Alexandria, Death of an Eye follows the young Tetisheri as she attempts to solve a murder on behalf of her queen. The Queen’s Eye has been murdered – an average woman who lives and works in the city and is charged with keeping tabs on certain individuals and reporting back to Cleopatra – and a large sum of coins has been stolen. Finding out how the Eye was murdered is simple enough, finding out who would want to murder her and why is another matter.

Stabenow has a masterful grip of the language as she creates the various settings in the novel. From the back streets of Alexandria to the home of Cleopatra herself, Stabenow’s writing makes it easy to envision these places. This however is also a drawback because with so much put towards setting the scenes, there is little left for the actual mystery itself.

Names of characters can also be a bit problematic as many of them use nicknames and Stabenow uses the given names and nicknames interchangeably. There were a few times I found myself having to reread a passage just so I could get a better grasp of who was talking.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading Death of an Eye. With Elizabeth Peters’ passing, there is precious little fiction dedicated to Egypt and Ancient Egypt in particular. Death of an Eye is a promising start to what I hope is an enjoyable series. Readers who liked Elizabeth Peters’ series should definitely check this one out.

Provided for Review: Shadow of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

This book was provided for review by the folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, a new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself. (via Goodreads)

The story of collecting items to summon a magical creature and grant a wish is a trope that has been used throughout history. The incredibly popular manga/anime ‘Dragonball’ uses it to great success. Even the movie ‘The Fifth Element’ uses a variation of the trope.

Shadow of the Fox can be added to the list. Based heavily on Japanese mythology, culture, and traditions, it is a version set in what to some will be a familiar land.

Kagawa has done an admirable job creating a world that is both familiar and unique. She has taken known Japanese folklore and twisted it just so. In the characters she has created, readers will recognize the physical and personality type traits that are seen so often in modern Japanese storytelling.

While the book is aimed towards almost all readers, I personally think those who have at least some knowledge of Japan and it’s stories will enjoy Shadow of the Fox more. As someone who is a very big manga/anime fan, I enjoyed seeing the mixture. Not everyone will like it though and some might even find it confusing.

Manga and anime fans – especially those who enjoyed titles like ‘Naruto’ or ‘Dragonball’ – will likely devour this book. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Provided for Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

This book was provided by the kind folks at NetGalley. Thank you!

The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls? (via Goodreads)

The Bird King is one of those novels that offers a unique mix of truth and fantasy. Set in 1491, it is the story of a young concubine and her witnessing of the fall of the sultanate and the only life she had ever known. When her dear friend is threatened with death, she makes a bold and daring choice. In their travels they meet both friend and foe, as well as some who are both.

The shift of story from almost non-fiction to fantasy is quite smooth. Wilson weaves a tale of friendship and love, of loss and betrayal, and does it in a way that is very realistic. She incorporates non-human characters in a natural way, having them interact with the human characters that is very believable.

One of the story points that really stuck out to me was how Hassan’s sexuality is treated. It is explained that he prefers the company of men and has no interest in women. Aside from the few Christian’s they meet, no one cares who Hassan lays with. Also, the fact that he is homosexual isn’t treated as a big deal, it’s a part of who he is just as much as his ability to draw maps of places he hasn’t seen.

Fatima loves Hassan just as Hassan loves Fatima in return, however they do not end up a couple at the end of the book. Their love is the love of good friends and the fact that it doesn’t change nor is it made light of that I found enjoyable.

On the whole, I greatly enjoyed reading The Bird King. There is some subject matter that some might find triggering, but I believe that the majority of readers will like this book as much as I have. I heartily recommend it to all my readers.

Provided for Review: The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of Rene Descartes by Andrew Pessin

This book has been provided for review by the lovely people at Bookglow.

 

Elegant divider scroll

In 1649, Descartes was invited by the Queen of Sweden to become her Court Philosopher. Though he was the world’s leading philosopher, his life had by this point fallen apart. He was 53, penniless, living in exile in Amsterdam, alone. With much trepidation but not much choice, he arrived in Stockholm in mid-October.

Shortly thereafter he was dead.

Pneumonia, they said. But who could believe that? There were just too many persons of interest who wanted to see Descartes dead, and for too many reasons. That so many of these persons were in Stockholm—thanks to the Gala the Queen was throwing to celebrate the end of the terrible Thirty Years’ War—made the official story all the less plausible. Death by poisoning was the unofficial word on the cobblestone.

Who would want to murder the world’s most famous philosopher? 

Turns out: nearly everyone.

Enter Adrien Baillet. A likeable misfit with a mysterious backstory, he arrives just as the French Ambassador desperately needs an impartial Frenchman to prove that Descartes died of natural causes—lest the “murder” in Lutheran Sweden of France’s great Catholic philosopher trigger King Louis XIV to reignite that awful War. Baillet hesitatingly agrees to investigate Descartes’s death, knowing that if—or when—he screws up, he could be personally responsible for the War’s Thirty-First Year. 

But solving the mystery of Descartes’s death (Baillet soon learns) requires first solving the mystery of Descartes’s life, with all its dangerous secrets … None of it is easy, as nearly everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted. Nor does it help that he must do it all under the menacing gaze of Carolus Zolindius, the terrifying Swedish Chancellor with the strangely intimidating limp.

But Baillet somehow perseveres, surprising everyone as he figures it all out—all the way to the explosive end. (via Goodreads)

The Irrationalist is basically a historical murder mystery using individuals who really existed in the time when they lived. Rene Descartes was a well known mathematician and philosopher and in 1649 he did travel to Sweden to begin tutoring Queen Christina. In early 1650 he became ill and died shortly thereafter, the official reason being pneumonia. And while many didn’t question this outcome, some had doubts, yet once Descartes was buried the issue too was laid to rest.

This is where the similarities between what really happened and what happened in The Irrationalist ends. 

Pessin does an excellent job of taking a real event and spinning a “what if…?” tale from it. His characters – all either real people or based on real people – are interesting and just when one thinks they have a grasp of the person, a proverbial wrench is thrown in the works. Pessin has done his research and does admirably in making sure that everyone is well rounded and their inclusion helps push the story along. 

The tightly woven plot is really what makes this book stand out. To the casual observer, Descartes’ death seems very clear cut, but it is only when one starts to dig do they realize that not everything is as it seems. And in trying to figure out who would want to kill the man, every one has a reason. And again, just when the reader believes they know who the culprit was, Pessin gives a piece of information that casts doubt. It isn’t until the very, very end that we are given the truth about what happened to Descartes and if his death was indeed natural causes.

This is the first work of fiction by Pessin, and in my opinion it is an very good start. I would not be surprised if he continues to write more like this and when he does, I will be checking them out as well. I recommend my readers do too.

Provided for Review: A Brazen Curiosity (Beatrice Hyde-Clare Mysteries Book #1) by Lynn Messina

This book was provided for review by the nice folks at NetGalley

Twenty-six-year-old Beatrice Hyde-Clare is far too shy to investigate the suspicious death of a fellow guest in the Lake District. A spinster who lives on the sufferance of her relatives, she would certainly not presume to search the rooms of her host’s son and his friend looking for evidence. Reared in the twin virtues of deference and docility, she would absolutely never think to question the imperious Duke of Kesgrave about anything, let alone how he chose to represent the incident to the local constable.

And yet when she stumbles upon the bludgeoned corpse of poor Mr. Otley in the deserted library of the Skeffingtons’ country house, that’s exactly what she does. (via Goodreads)

A Brazen Curiosity is every bit a Regency romance and then some. Messina manages to keep the Regency period style language throughout the entire book; from Beatrice’s interior monologues to descriptions of the ongoing action. Readers who are familiar with the rambling style of many Regency novels will find the language familiar, those who are not might find it a bit off-putting. Personally, I found the overly purple prose endearing at some times and annoying at others.

Also like many novels of the era, there is a romance threaded through the story. And like many Regency novels, it is a slow burn romance. Beatrice starts the novel day-dreaming about throwing various food items at the Duke, and by the end she still day dreams about pelting him with various foodstuffs but they have also both started to develop feelings for one another. There are no kisses, they don’t even hold hands. It is the kind of extremely slow build up between two individuals that I absolutely adore.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading A Brazen Curiosity. The quibbles I have are incredibly minor, especially when considering that what I didn’t always enjoy was something that is generally viewed as the mark of many original Regency era novels. As I said earlier, readers who enjoy books written in this time period will be familiar with this rambling writing style and will have little issue with it. 

As of this time there are two other novels in the series and while I haven’t read them yet, I will be adding them to my list. 

Provided for Review: A Conversation with a Cat: A Novel by Stephen Spotte

This book was provided for review by Book Glow. My many thanks to you!

Stephen Spotte’s imaginative novel recounts the tales of a scroungy former alley cat named Jinx, whose memories aren’t just his own but those of other cats who existed before him, one of which was Annipe, Cleopatra’s pampered pet. Through Annipe’s eyes the ancient Mediterranean world of Cleopatra and her legendary lovers, Caesar and Antony, is spread before us in all its glory, pathos, and absurdity. Jinx reveals these stories telepathically one night to his stoned and inebriated owner just home after gall bladder surgery. Annipe’s memories are bookended by Jinx’s own that detail his early scavenging days in bleak urban alleys. (via Book Glow and Goodreads)

Home fresh from the hospital after having gall bladder surgery, our unnamed pet owner is relaxing on his back patio with his cat Jinx. Aside from the copious amounts of pain medicine provided by the hospital, our man has also decided to self medicate with a bit of alcohol and marijuana. With this combination running through his veins, it is not hard to believe he is able to have a kind of psychic conversation with Jinx.

Jinx then begins to tell the tale of one of his predecessors – a cat named Annipe who belonged to the great Cleopatra.

Unfortunately, though the story is about a cat and told by a cat, there is not much cat in the actual tale. The felines are reduced to secondary characters with the humans being pushed to the fore. Annipe and her siblings have very little to do and therefore do not grow as characters as such. With so much attention given to the human characters, it is difficult to actually care for the feline ones.

Another unfortunate point is that the Egyptian story is the only story related by Jinx; aside from a brief telling of his own early years. Early in the novel Jinx says that all cats have a kind of racial memory, where one cat can recall what other cats in the past have experienced. It would have been nice it Jinx had given more than one story from the past.

One good thing I can say about A Conversation with a Cat is that Spotte has done a good deal of research. The struggle between Egypt and Rome is decently told with great detail. Sadly, it isn’t any different from what can be found in any number of history books.

As unique as the idea behind the book is, I’m sad to say it just wasn’t carried out to its full potential. And as rare as it is to have a book with a cat as the main character, I can’t recommend this book to my readers either.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Following the death of her mother, Mary Jekyll is now alone and near penniless. Curious about the secrets surrounding her father’s mysterious past and subsequent death, she begins a search for any information about the man who died when she was a small child. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s friend and research partner, may be nearby. Hyde is wanted for murder and there is a reward for information that leads to his capture. Money that Mary knows could solve many of her immediate financial problems.

Mary’s hunt however, leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana. A troubled child, she has been abandoned by her father and orphaned by her mother, and is now left to be raised by nuns. Eager to leave the company of the nuns, Diana joins Mary in the search for Edward Hyde. The two women soon enlist the great Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and with their help find other women like them – women who seem to have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When the investigations point to a secret society of immoral and power hungry scientists, each young woman wonders if the past has finally caught up with her.

As a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, I will admit I was a bit cautious in my initial approach to The Strange Case… In the past I have learned that the writing in these kinds of books can be rather hit or miss. When the writer “hits the bulls eye” with their writing, they capture the feel of Victorian England and draw the reader in to the described realm completely. When the writer misses…sadly, they tend to miss completely.

For me, Goss has done an excellent job and while she doesn’t completely hit the bulls-eye, she is not terribly far off either. In combing through the rich treasure trove of stories of the time, she has taken well known characters and combined them with new and unique ones. As these ladies are the daughters of numerous well known “mad scientists”, their simple existence is completely plausible. That they all exist in the same world, while not probable, is equally plausible. Who is to say?

If there is one thing about the book that I don’t particularly like, it would have to be the occasional “interruptions” from the characters as the story goes along. Having the characters interject with commentary – some before we have even met them – while not detracting from the story as a whole, was something I found distracting. At times it pulled me completely out of the story.

On the whole, The Strange Case… is a decent read. Readers who enjoy some of the more gothic classics, like myself, will likely enjoy this first book in the series. Personally, I will be keeping an eye out for the second book, and hopefully one day a third and a fourth.

 

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2) by Katherine Arden

Cast out by her village as a witch, the now orphaned Vasya’s options are pitifully few. She can either dedicate herself to a life in a convent or allow her older sister to find her a match with a wealthy Moscovite prince. Either option would mean a life secluded, locked in a tower and far away from the vast world she longs to explore.

Vasya decides to go with the third option – disguise herself as a boy and ride off on her beloved horse Solovey. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, Vasya quickly finds herself in over her head. She must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces – and to remain alive – even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from without and from within.

Picking up shortly after from where The Bear and the Nightingale left off, The Girl in the Tower continues the story of young Vasilisa. Not wanting to be wed to some man she has never met and not wanting to dedicate her life to the Lord like her brother, she has decided to create her own path and see the world beyond the forests she knows. Unfortunately for her, things do not go well and she must again rely on the help of the frost demon Morozko. His initial reluctance to help her causes Vasya to believe that he does not care, but it soon becomes evident – especially as the novel goes on – that perhaps he cares too much.

Much like with the first novel, Arden continues her strong story telling with this second one. The research she has done clearly shows as the world she builds teems with life. Yes, some of the characters are based on real people, yet it is through her words that these individuals come to life. We are given insights in to them; their hopes and their fears. It is obvious that even then the concern over one’s family was important.

Unlike the first novel, however, there is not as much of the mystical element present. Vasya has only a few meetings with the various spirits, much less than what she had in her father’s home. Some of the meetings do hint at future dealings and so it will be interesting to see how Arden continues this particular thread.

I enjoyed reading The Girl in the Tower, the second book in the Winternight Trilogy. It continues the story in a satisfactory manner, having the characters grow and mature in a believable way. I am curious to see how everything is resolved and will be looking forward to the third and final book in the series.