Happy Friday, everyone!
I hope you’ve all had a great first week of February! I’m currently in the middle of studying for finals, so I wouldn’t necessarily say mine has been wonderful, but things are definitely looking better than in January. Between my cat dying, me injuring my foot, and university stress, I’m ready to put that month behind me entirely. Except for the snow, that is! I’m still bummed that it has all melted away again 😢
On a more positive note, February has actually been pretty kind to me so far. My foot is healing quite nicely, so that I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to go on walks again soon. I’ve been playing way more violin and piano than I did in January 😊 And I finally jumped on the popular train and decided to try Bridgerton, although I’m not too sure what I think of it… Which might be due to the fact that the sole reason I started watching was because it was available in Russian, and with my underdeveloped language skills, I only understand about half of what’s going on 😅 Probably because I decided to switch the subtitles off completely in order to hone my listening skills. You know, for exam preparation. You’ve got to justify those binging habits somehow… 😁
So yeah, that’s basically what I’ve been up to this past week. But since this is supposed to be my January wrap-up, let’s get back to last month! Considering how much was going on in my life, I’m actually quite pleased with how much I read. I’m definitely getting closer to diminishing that physical TBR – there are now only ten books left! And since I tackled several of the huge fantasy tomes, the pile has actually shrunk quite a bit in terms of size and is now far less intimidating. Hopefully, it’ll be gone altogether by the end of February. 🤗
But anyway, let’s get into what I actually did read. Without further ado, here are the books I encountered this January! Feel free to skip ahead to the ones that interest you, because the reviews turned out even longer than usual this time around… I just had a lot of thoughts, alright? 😁
House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) by Sarah J. Maas (3.5/5 Stars)
I have a really weird relationship with Sarah J. Maas’s books. Some of them, I absolutely detest, and yet there are others that I find so addicting that I just can’t help but continue to pick up whatever she publishes.
And honestly? When I started reading this book, I almost regretted that decision. The writing annoyed me to no end: the countless repetitions, all those dashes, and the fact that Sarah J. Maas has apparently decided to drastically alter her approach towards describing male genitalia. I mean, I already thought all those flowery sword metaphors in her previous books were strange, but I’m not so sure that using the word “dick” every five sentences is the way to go, either… 🙄
However, by the time I had read roughly the first 70 pages, my annoyance miraculously vanished. I was suddenly so into the story that I barely noticed the writing anymore! Even though I was initially skeptical about whether we really needed yet another Sarah J. Maas book about centered around fae, the world in this one was so different from that in Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses that I was immediately intrigued. I loved the mixture of fantasy and modernity in this one, especially since it’s not something you see that much of.
House of Earth and Blood follows Bryce Quinlan, a young half-fae woman whose life changes dramatically when she loses her best friend and fellow party girl in a horrendous demon attack. Two years later, when crimes start up again despite Danika’s alleged killer being behind bars, the leaders of Crescent City ask Bryce to investigate. And assigned to help her is none other than the notorious fallen angel and war criminal Hunt Athalar.
And I actually really enjoyed the plot. In my opinion, it had exactly the right mixture of detective story, political drama, and, since this is Sarah J. Maas we’re talking about, smut. To my surprise, I really liked Bryce as a character, and I loved the wholesomely complicated sibling relationship she had with her half-brother. And, of course, I was all here for the romance!
Sure, this book had its fair share of plot holes. It was kind of predictable. The writing could have been better. Discussions about where Bryce kept her vibrators and “My Little Pony collection” were bizarrely interwoven with lore about ancient fae artifacts. But I had such a fun time reading this, and after those initial 70 pages, I just couldn’t put it down. So yeah, I’ll be picking up the sequel for sure 🤗
Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler (3/5 Stars)
I absolutely love the way Octavia Butler writes. Kindred and Fledgling are books I find myself returning to time and time again, so I was quite excited to finally give Parable of the Sower a try.
The book, which was first published in 1993, is a dystopian novel set in California in the mid-2020s. It’s protagonist Lauren Olamina has never known a world without violence, without looting, without hatred and mutual suspicion, and she is thankful to have grown up within the gated walls of her community. But things are changing rapidly, and Lauren knows she will not be safe forever. Especially since she has always had the additional burden of being able to feel others’ pain as if it were her own…
As with Octavia Butler’s other books, the writing style immediately drew me in. The novel is told in a series of journal entries, which made the setting become alive and feel absolutely real. Honestly, it was kind of scary how many of the dystopian themes in here are actually very relevant today! It’s seriously creepy how much foresight Octavia Butler had when she wrote this almost thirty years ago… Though I’m also very thankful that, despite the pandemic, the 2020s didn’t turn out quite as horrible as Butler envisioned. At least so far 😅
However, despite the good writing and the interesting themes that Parable of the Sower had, I just didn’t love it as much as Butler’s other books. Apart from Lauren, we didn’t really get much insight into any of the characters, and quite frankly, this book was just monotonously depressing. I mean, I guess that’s the point of a novel that explores where the darker facets of humanity might lead us. But this book was kind of like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer. There was little subtlety; instead it was “he raped her”, ” he shot him”, “they looted this place”… It was all very in your face, with little nuance or hopeful moments that would have lightened the somber tone of the book.
One thing I did really like, though, was how this book explored religion. Lauren’s father is a preacher, but Lauren has always questioned what she has been taught to believe. She reflects a lot on what God means to her, and over time, she creates Earthseed. A religion that she believes is better suited to her world. The ideas behind Earthseed were, in my opinion, quite interesting, so I actually really liked that this book had that one aspect which detracted from the overall gloominess of the rest of the plot.
Overall, I’d say this book was okay, but it also isn’t one of my new favorites.
The Bitter Kingdom (Girl of Fire and Thorns #3) by Rae Carson (3.5/5 Stars)
The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy is a Latin American-inspired YA fantasy series, following a princess who is married off to become queen of a country she has never seen. In this final installment, Elisa must prove once more that she has what it takes to rule a kingdom: Joya D’Arena stands on the brink of civil war, the future of magic may be at stake, and the lives of the people Elisa loves are in grave danger.
Even though it took me forever to get to the conclusion to this series, I was very satisfied with how things were wrapped up. I enjoyed learning more about the history of this world and its magic, and how it is connected to the Godstones. I liked reconnecting with old characters and meeting new ones – Red is now one of my absolute favorites! And of course, I loved all the Elisa and Hector scenes… That relationship might just be the best thing about this entire trilogy! 😍
Still, this book made me realize that I might slowly be growing out of YA fantasy. Although there were certainly stakes, they never felt particularly high, and the book had a mostly straightforward travel plot of the sort that I’ve seen countless times by now. And while politics certainly played a role, they weren’t as intricately explored as I would have liked. The focus always seemed to be more on Elisa and her relationship to her friends, not so much on her journey to becoming queen and the difficulties of ruling a country.
So overall, this was a fun read, but it didn’t absolutely blow me away, either. I think I’d probably have thought it was brilliant when I was around sixteen, but at twenty-five, I’ve just seen too many things similar to it.
The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2) by Rebecca F. Kuang (3.5/5 Stars)
I finally read it! I mean, it’s about time, since I’ve been saying I wanted to get to The Dragon Republic for well over a year now.
Unfortunately, though, I didn’t like this book nearly as much as I did The Poppy War. Not that it was bad or anything. The writing and world-building were still amazing, I loved being back with these characters, I liked getting to explore all of their relationships and backstories more. But somehow, I just didn’t find myself as immersed as I did in the first book. While I liked getting to see more of Nikan, nothing felt as fleshed out as Sinegard had in The Poppy War, and I really found myself missing the school setting.
Also, quite frankly, the first hundred pages or so were kind of boring. There was lots of seemingly pointless running from one place to the next, and conversations that, in my opinion, lacked depth. Although we did get to see how Rin was struggling to deal with the aftermath of her choices at the end of book one – which I loved! Those parts were so well done, and one of the few things – along with the Nezha backstory! 🥰 – that redeemed those first couple of chapters for me.
Once I got through the beginning though, I was immersed. I really loved all the political scheming, even though I did think that it was obvious what Vaisra’s motives were from the very beginning and I just don’t think it’s realistic that Rin wouldn’t have seen it. I thought she was supposed to be smart! However, I was able to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the ride and loved being back with these characters again! Kitay, if possible, grew on me even more in this book. Nezha, who has always been my favorite character in the series, only solidified that position. I lived for every single interaction Rin had with him! And getting to know a bit more about Chagan and Qara’s background was so interesting!
However, I think my favorite thing about this book was the portrayal of the Hesperians. After having to read a ton of glorified British colonization accounts for my Victorian literature class, it was so refreshing to see this perspective! The Dragon Republic truly captured the self-righteousness with which Europe (a.k.a. the Republic of Hesperia) tried to shove its beliefs down other people’s throats, and the atrocities that were committed and justified in the process. Although I hate Sister Petra with a fiery passion, the chapters with her were some of my absolute favorites, and I love how colonialism and religion were explored through them!
Finally though, I do have to mention one thing that really irked me: How is it possible that so many important characters died in this book and I barely cared? Or Rin, for that matter? I always hate when there are no stakes in fantasy novels and nobody ends up dying in all sorts of dangerous battles, but this, if possible, was even more annoying. Why give us all these horrific deaths and then immediately go on as if nothing happened? I want to bawl my eyes out! I want those other characters to grieve, to feel guilt, to mourn their friends! And yet Rin’s attitude seemed more like “Oops, well, too bad. But at least I’m not responsible for you anymore.” I mean, I get that Rin might not be the nicest person out there, but surely she cared for her friends more than this???
Anyway, those were my thoughts on The Dragon Republic! Hopefully, I’ll get to The Burning God a bit more quickly than it took me to read this one 😅
The Steerswoman (The Steerswoman #1) by Rosemary Kirstein (2/5 Stars)
I really wanted to love this book. I mean, one of my really good friends basically kidnapped it from her boyfriend’s bookshelf and sent it to me in a socially-distanced care package because she thought it’d be the perfect read for fans of The Name of the Wind. Unfortunately, though, I didn’t think it was all that great.
The Steerswoman follows Rowan, a member of an ancient guild centered around knowledge. A steerswoman constantly travels the world in search of new information, and she must share her wisdom freely with any who ask for it. In return, anyone who denies a steerswoman’s request for answers is banned from ever receiving answers again in the future. But when Rowan starts asking questions about some seemingly insignificant gemstones, it sets in motion a chain of events that threaten her very identity as a steerswoman.
The concept behind this book was absolutely brilliant. I loved the idea of steerswomen – I’d totally want to be one! – and the way the novel plays with genre is something I’d also never seen before. I started out thinking that I was reading a fantasy book. However, by the time I reached the ending, I realized The Steerswoman is something entirely different. The way this was done is truly ingenious, and I fully applaud Rosemary Kirstein for her phenomenal world building ideas!
The execution, however… It was not my thing. First, there was the writing. In my opinion, it didn’t flow naturally at all, and was filled with these weird info-dumpy passages that I absolutely hated. Even the way characters were introduced sounded really juvenile. Take Rowan, for example:
“And that’s where you found the jewel,” Rowan the steerswoman said.The Steerswoman, p. 1
Why do we need the additional information that Rowan is a steerswoman? I already got that from the context, you didn’t need to tell me! And similarly, the jewel problematic is also introduced from the get-go, and that’s basically the only plotline we have. There are no subplots, and everything was so straightforward that I had pretty much guessed the ending by page 50.
And don’t get me started on the characters. There are basically three of them that matter, and they all get introduced super quickly, meet Rowan, and suddenly they’re best buddies? What??? Couldn’t you have developed these relationships a bit more, Rosemary Kirstein? That friendship between Rowan and Bel especially came out of nowhere 🙄
And we never really get any insight into the characters either. They just do stuff because we’re told that it interests them, but we don’t get to see any internal turmoil. Self-doubts. Development. Basically, these characters had some of the blandest arcs I have ever read about, even though there was plenty of room for potential.
Also, sometimes, the characters were just dumb to the point of unbelievability. How could they spell out their observations so clearly that I had no trouble at all putting together what was happening and not see the bigger picture themselves? For someone dealing in information, Rowan sure had a hard time catching on to stuff, at least until the very end of the book, when she suddenly mysteriously knew everything.
So yeah, overall I’d say: Brilliant idea, but not-so-brilliant execution.
Bonus: The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien, read by Andy Serkis (5/5 Stars, obviously)
I normally don’t mention re-reads here, simply because we’d be here forever if I did that, and because you might get a little tired of me mentioning Harry Potter after a while 😂 However, I just had to squeeze The Hobbit into this wrap-up, because this audiobook is absolutely amazing! And I guess technically, it’s kind of like a new book because I’d never listened to this particular version before? 🤔
Anyway, I have my mom to thank for discovering this absolute gem, because when she threw our old CD-player out after it stopped working, she forgot to check the tape compartment and accidentally ended up throwing away one of our old Hobbit audiocassettes. At least we think that’s what happened, because we can’t find it anywhere… A catastrophe, since my family loves working on puzzles together in the evenings, and we need an audiobook to listen to while we do that! And since everyone wanted The Hobbit, I decided to check if Scribd had it…
That’s where I came across this masterpiece read by Andy Serkis (the actor who plays Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies). Honestly, I’m not even sad that our old audiobook got lost 😅 I mean, it was good and all, but this one – it’s perfection 😍😍😍 Seriously, if you like audiobooks, do yourself a favor and listen to this! Andy Serkis makes Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain come alive in the best way possible. It’s perfect for anyone looking for an introduction to Middle-earth, and for old fans like me, I swear you’re going to love it, too. Especially the Gollum parts!
Anyway, I’ll stop fangirling. Just go listen to this audiobook, alright?
And thus concludes the January wrap-up! If you’ve read any of these books, do let me know what you thought of them 🤗
Also, what was your favorite read of the month? Anything I should give a try once I’ve finally gotten rid of my TBR? Or any good Netflix series you recently discovered? Since I can’t walk all that well at the moment, now is the perfect time for suggestions! 😉