“There should not be a sheet of cream-colored paper, clean save a single line in a long, trailing hand: Burn before reading.
Red likes to feel. It is a fetish. Now she feels fear. And eagerness.
She was right.”
– This Is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Genre: Sci-Fi, Post-Apocalyptic
Categories: F/F, time travel
Description: A post-apocalyptic time travel novel written in a swapping-point-of-view style, featuring letters between the protagonists. Red and Blue are operatives from different factions of time travelling organizations trying to manipulate the worlds and their timelines to their own ends. They’re both the best at what they do, and recognize each other’s skill—leading to them starting to secretly, covertly exchange letters, and slowly start to care about each other. Obviously, that has consequences.
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Horror, Eldritch, Paranormal
Categories: F/F, Queer, Ghosts/Spirits, Demons
Content Warnings: (Highlight to read) References to a character’s previous suicide (off-screen).
Buy it at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Description: Itinerant traveler Danielle Cain arrives at the “ghost town” of Freedom, Iowa, a haven for squatters and anarchists living off the grid. She’s looking for an explanation for why an old friend of hers died after living here; what she finds is a guardian god who was summoned a year ago, and a town split in two between whether or not they should overthrow their oppressors via this summoned god which has begun to turn on them, or whether they should try to get rid of it entirely and live on their own.
In Glove of Satin, Glove of Bone by Rachel White, Muriel and Enne were terribly once passionate women of action—an ex-wicked witch, and one of the enforcers sent to stop people just like her—who have since somehow lost the spark of passion. When they became lovers, they left their previous lines of work and began a business together repairing magical tomes, teaching a young apprentice (more like their adoptive daughter) the business after them. But something has gotten lost, and it’s not until the wrong book falls into their hands and brings with it all sorts of shadows from the past that they may begin to find it again.
Rachel White makes a fascinating choice with this book by setting it after a “Happily For Now” and showing the complications of two very different people trying to turn it into a “Happily Ever After” instead. Muriel and Enne’s relationship has fallen apart; not only are they no longer lovers, it seems like it’s difficult for them to even relate to each other any more. Muriel likes fashion and drama; Enne likes practicality and predictability. Caught in the middle of this is their apprentice, their work, their feelings about their relationship to the Council—everything between them is getting hit from both sides by the darts of their frustration.
Because of that, the overall sense of the book isn’t building their relationship for the first time but rebuilding by picking through the fragments of what’s fallen down and finding what’s still able to work. Before that, of course, the characters need to want to rebuild, which is the really challenging part. Helping (?) with that is a terrifyingly destructive grimoire, Muriel’s old lover and teacher in the ways of the wicked arts, and a tangle of conflict over why the Council might want this book repaired.
The characters in this book are frankly incredible. Muriel is everything I want in a character—even if I can immediately identify that I’m far more like Enne myself. Leo is a delight and how annoyed the characters are by him is instantly funny, and I found myself rooting for the two archivists from the moment they appeared onscreen. The antagonists too are clearly defined and interesting in their own right, and it seemed perfectly done to have so much of the climax hinging around another woman who’s found herself in the place that Muriel used to be.
There is a repeated theme of age which I admit I didn’t entirely understand the use of—the two lead characters were both barely thirty, and this was portrayed as the line where one Becomes Old and a great deal of the problem between them. I felt like it was aiming for a theme of Muriel fighting age tooth and claw, and Enne throwing herself into it too early, but the narrative itself seemed to agree that they were in fact Old At Thirty. I was never entirely sure if this was a fact inside the text (ie Thirty Is Old in this world) or if it wasn’t one and thus the characters’ approach to this milestone age was meant to be a mistaken overreaction on both their parts. I want to think it was the latter, but I didn’t notice any place in the narrative that established the cultural baseline to compare it against. It’s a minor issue but it came up so frequently (including in the antagonist’s speech at the climax) that I found myself wanting the clarity.
The plot of the story is rather simple, but it doesn’t need to be more complex, in my opinion—the overall thrust is a character piece, examining the characters’ relationships to each other, their past, and their current chosen profession. The grimoire itself is nearly an afterthought, and I’m not sure I needed much more from it, except maybe to clarify what’s going on with the book and the council, and why they took it back when not fully repaired but it was implied they’d send the other books to Muriel and Enne next. The main plot itself seemed a little unresolved as a result; why did the council have the book, if it lured people with its power, was it safe with them, etc.
Then again, this might be a set up for the next book—if so, bring it on! I’d be excited to see how Muriel and Enne work on their relationship, and the ways they deal with their ongoing frustrations in the future.
A Tree of Bones by Gemma Files is the third book in the Hexslinger trilogy, with the first two being A Book of Tongues (which I review here) and a A Rope of Thorns (which I review here). I’m not trying to avoid spoilers for the first two books, only the third, so if you haven’t read the first two stop reading now.
So, to begin this review: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!
Okay. Now that I’ve got that out, let’s do this properly.
After the horrifying outcome of A Rope of Thorns, the crew is left scattered across the land—and, in fact, across literal worlds. Chess Pargeter, last seen in hell, is trying to find his way back to his now Enemy-occupied living body, with only his abusive mother’s ghost as company. Ed Morrow is back working for Pinkerton, but a Pinkerton who has become a horrific soul-sucking artificial hex. Yancey is working with an unlikely group of hexes, struggling to use her skills to speak with the dead to be put to an unusual use. And, of course, Asher Rook continues to make only the most dubious of decisions while working for the wife-goddess who he has come to loathe.
If this wasn’t a perfect book—and I’m sure it has to have flaws, though I’m hard-pressed to find them immediately upon putting it down—it was close enough to it that I can’t even consider not giving it a 5/5 rating. The now-enormous cast all worked, everyone’s motivations driving their actions and knitting a good dozen B-plots together into the A-plot in a way that left me guessing right up to, and in some ways even through, the climax itself. The first book started with a small band of narrow-minded white men telling their own story while Othering everyone around them, and blossomed, over the next two books, into a bigger picture where a wide array of humanity were claiming their own stories and clashing together however needed to do so. I’ve been reading on my lunch breaks, but the story was too intense, and I actually neglected doing my own writing in favor of just finishing it off in one go tonight.
In almost every way—I’ll get back to that in a moment—this is the story I had hoped it would be from when the first bad decisions began. I’m not a fan of grimdark, I think I said in an earlier review, but this story struck me as something that wasn’t grimdark. It was grim, and it could occasionally be gritty, and by god, it was visceral, full of blood and guts and sex and pain. But all of that is fine, if the message of the story isn’t hopelessness. And it’s not. It’s a story about redemption, a story where bonds are important from start to finish. It’s a story where you know from the previous books that even death isn’t the end to a person’s story, nor what they’re capable of—and by God, if you had any doubt in that despite Chess’s first resurrection, Files makes sure to start you off on that foot with Chess’s trip through the underworld and the chance to see the continuing stories, good or ill, of the people he meets there. Because of that, the stakes are able to be high and include death of a variety of characters without the usual problem of killing characters off—which is that death, in most stories, is the end. It can be a powerful tool in an author’s arsenal, because a dead character causes the readers’ shock at that character’s potential cut short, but it also means broken storylines, never to see an end. Starting from a premise of underworld gods and souls that have their own business, just not with the living most of the time, means that the same thing can be used for the same impact in the story but without the same cost. It was still high stakes, and still worth mourning, but you-the-reader knows that some part of those characters may have some conclusion to their emotional story at some point, even if we don’t see their personal afterlife journey.
So ultimately it walks the edge of violence and pain and high stakes and loss without losing forgiveness and hope and redemption as possibilities for any of these characters.
I said above that there was one thing that wasn’t what I hoped it would be, and it’s involving a specific romantic subplot. I’m going to avoid details for spoilers’ sake, but the way it had concluded surprised me, given how it had been set up and was developing. I think it absolutely could have given me that payoff that I had personally hoped for, from what had come before. But—and here’s the big but—just because it could have, and just because it was how I would have preferred it to end, didn’t mean that the way it played out wasn’t equally possible, taking all the circumstances into account. I’m sure some part of my heart is going to hope that some time in the unknown offscreen future, when things have been dealt with and settled more, the possibility could be there again. Pity my shipper heart! But at the same time, what did happen was fine too, and worked with what the story gave us, and on top of that, it opened other doors too. I was content with it, even if it wasn’t the outcome I had personally hoped for. As Chess Pargeter would say, if things weren’t the same, they’d be different.
One of the themes of the story is that very thing—that there are multiple possible outcomes to situations, because people drive their own stories, and if things don’t happen one way, they’d have happened another. The way everyone’s stories come together and diverge, their lives playing out as their own motives push them forward, fit that perfectly; the author picked a hard, hard theme to embody through the story itself, but succeeded at it admirably.
I feel like I have so much more to say—goodness, but I want to write an essay about Asher Rook and how his choices spun out of his traumas and fears!—but a review isn’t the best place for that. So I think I’ll just leave it at this:
I’m glad I read this, and I highly recommend it.
Style by Chelsea Cameron is a super-cute teen romance where sexy cheerleader meets cute nerd—frenemies to lovers style!
Stella is the hot cheerleader and ice queen. She’s the master of the resting bitch face and keeps everyone at arm’s length. Kyle is a nerd with big glasses, hair up in a bun, and a limp. The two have totally different social circles and no interest in each other—until one day, they start to notice each other and then can’t seem to stop noticing. This would probably be something they could ignore until they’re assigned to work together in AP English. From there, it’s a fast and furious rush into love and sexual awakenings, the tangled confusion of coming out to family and friends, trying to find terms for yourself and your relationship, all mixed with teenage concerns like what’s ok to do in your parents’ house and how you can juggle a relationship and upcoming college plans.
Style was a very nostalgic read for me, because I came out at fourteen and was the nerdy teen with big glasses and a limp myself. I found myself relating to Kyle quite a bit and reflecting back on my own life while reading. It makes it hard to leave an objective review on the content in a lot of ways, but it makes it even more important to me that this exists. I know the author, in her acknowledgements, talked about how important this was to her to write and be able to reflect and honour her own realizations, and it was a story for her—but it felt, too, like it was a story for me. I think a lot of people will probably feel that way.
Personal attachment aside—the writing is strong, the narration is sharp, and it’s a fun and uplifting read. The turns of phrase often had me laughing out loud, and beyond that, it’s an optimistic book. It believes in the best of people and does its best to uplift the characters, their relationships, and their choices—without undercutting their fear.
One thing I did trip over while reading was that it alternates POVs and both are first-person POVs, but both have very, very similar sassy-teen-girl narrative voices. The POV is labelled whenever it switches, but I automatically skip over chapter headers when reading things in one sitting, so I’d sometimes get half a page into a new POV before it clicked that we switched, and it was occasionally difficult to remember who had what thought (though their lives are different enough that the events were easy to distinguish).
Very cute story, very fun, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more ladies in love from this author!