20 Books I Want to Read in 2020

I have the worst habit of not reading books I know I’m probably going to love. It’s almost as if I wanted to save them for the right moment. For example, it took me years to read Ancillary Justice when I knew that I would probably like it a lot. And I did, it was a great read, so why did I wait that long to pick it up?

This is pretty dumb considering that amazing books are released every single year and if I decide to “save them for later” each time, I’m never going to read any of them. In order to “force” myself to read those books, I decided to look at my huge TBR and pick books that I’m very excited about but that I haven’t read yet. To my surprise, in less than 10 minutes, I had already picked out 20 books that fit what I’m now calling my “Ancillary Justice syndrome”.

My goal with this list is straightforward : I want to read as many books on it as possible before the end of the year. Since it’s a long list, I don’t think I’ll manage to read them all but I’d like to at least read half of the books mentionned. (Spoiler alert: I’ve already read one book of the list in January and, as expected, I really liked it!)

Without further ado, here are the books I hope to read this year:

  1. The Quantum Garden – Derek Kunsken (read in January)
  2. A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martens
  3. Children of Ruin – Adrian Tchaikovsky
  4. Do you Dream of Terra-Two? – Temi Oh
  5. The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. Hexarchate Stories – Yoon Ha Lee
  7. The Rosewater Insurrection – Tade Thomspon
  8. Fleet of Knives – Gareth L. Powell
  9. Nemisis Games – James S.A Corey
  10. Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie
  11. Luna: Moon Rising – Ian McDonald
  12. David Mogo, Godhunter – Suyi Davies
  13. Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells
  14. The Monster Baru Cormorant – Seth Dickinson
  15. Planetfall – Emma Newman
  16. Blackfish City – Sam J. Miller
  17. Semiosis – Sue Burke
  18. In the Vanishers’ Palace – Aliette de Bodard
  19. The Descent of Monsters – JY Yang
  20. Endymion – Dan Simmons

As you can see, this list is full of sequels, I have the worst habit of starting a lot of series but never finishing any of them.  I’m excited about all of these books and I’m expecting some of them to be future favorites. I especially have extremely high expectations with the five following works:

Have you read any of the books mentionned here? What did you think about them? 🙂

2020 Reading Plans

To be perfectly honest, I debated making this post (which is why it is posted so late haha) because I completely suck at yearly goals.

First of, I’m not a believer of the “new year, new me” mindset. You can make change at any time of the year, not just at the beginning of the year. Also, I have the worst tendency to completely forget my goals after two or three months. 😅 However, I do love making lists and goals even if I don’t always follow them so… Here are a few goals and challenges for 2020! 😀

Reading goals

  • Read 52 books

For a lot of people, this number might seem low but in 2019 I only read 48 books so I’m aiming for a couple more this year. One book a week on average should be doable even if 2020 is going to be as busy (if not more) as 2019. I’ll try to manage my time a bit better but if I read less that I expected, it’s not a big deal.

  • Balance my different hobbies better

I’m somebody with a lot of different interests and hobbies but I struggle to balance my time between them. For example, if I’m a huge TV shows kick, I won’t do anything except watching shows for weeks and then I’ll get bored and switch to something else : music, books etc. It’s a bit annoying because I’m not very consistent with anything, I’m trying to get better at it but it’s pretty difficult.

  • If I’m not in a reading mood, I shouldn’t force myself to read

It might seem in opposition with the previous goal but last year, when I was in a huge reading slump, I forced myself to read for a couple of months and I think it made the slump even worse. So, if in 2020 I don’t want to read for some reasons, I should just do something else until I actually want to read. Reading is a hobby and it should stay fun.

  • Request and accept less ARCs from publishers and authors

I’m probably not the only book blogger with this goal but I really want to read less ARCs this year. I have hundreds of unread books on my (digital) shelves and I bought them for a reason. I would like to read more from my own collection and only accept books that I really, really want to read. I made a list of 20 books that I’m very excited about and I would like to read at least 12 of them before the end of the year.

Reading challenges

I have two main challenges this year.

Backlist Bingo Challenge

Since I want to read more backlist titles, this bingo card is perfect! I would like to fill out the entire card, I haven’t read a lot of classic authors of the genre and I hope this push me to do so. 🙂

  • Read the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist

The Clarke award is my favorite SF award and in 2016, 2017 and 2018 I read and reviewed all the shortlisted books. However, between the slump and how busy I was in last year, I didn’t do it and I kind of regret it now. So, in 2020, I’ll try to read the entire shortlist, I might not do individual reviews but at least want to make a few posts on the award with my thoughts on the books.

 

What are your goals and challenges for the year? 😀

Book Review : The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

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Genre : Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher : Tachyon Publications

Length : 192 pages

Format : eARC

Rating : 2 stars

Publication Date : June 19th 2019

ISBN : 9781616962876

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

It is the waning days of the Russian monarchy. A reckless man rules the land and his dragons rule the sky. Though the Tsar aims his dragons at his enemies—Jews and Bolsheviks—his entire country is catching fire. Conspiracies suffuse the royal court: bureaucrats jostle one another for power, the mad monk Rasputin schemes for the Tsar’s ear, and the desperate queen takes drastic measures to protect her family.

Revolution is in the air—and the Red Army is hatching its own weapons.

Discover Russia’s October Revolution reimagined in flight, brought to life by the acclaimed mother-and-son writing team of the Locus Award-winning novel, Pay the Piper, and the Seelie Wars series.

Book Review

The premise of The Last Tsar’s Dragons is pretty self-explanatory, it’s a retelling of the beginning of the Russian Revolution… with dragons. At first, only the Tsar has dragons that he mainly uses to chase Jews but, inevitably, the Bolsheviks manage to steal a couple of eggs and raise their own dragons, which are – obviously – red (and not black like the Tsar’s).

At first, I was intrigued by this book because of two reasons: the dragons and the gorgeous cover. Like pretty much everyone, I absolutely love dragons. Eragon is the book that made me fall in love with fantasy and, Goblet of Fire is one of my favorite Harry Potter books just because of the dragons (I still want a Hungarian Horntail to this day).

Having said that, while the dragons and the gorgeous cover made me look at the book twice, I was also intrigued by the concept of the story. The Russian Revolution is a fascinating period of history, so, of course, I thought that it would be even more interesting with the added of bonus of having dragons. Because dragons are awesome and everything is more interesting with them, right?

Well, no. At least, not in this book.

I must admit that this was a pretty disappointing read for me. While the concept was great, I found the execution lacking in many ways. First of all, the dragons are basically useless in the story, they’re just used as weapons but you could easily take them out and it wouldn’t change a thing in the book.

I enjoy historical fiction so, when I realized how little the dragons mattered, I thought I could still enjoy this novella as a historical fiction story. However, even that way, it wasn’t that interesting either. The story is told from several perspectives: Lev Bronstein (Trotsky), Rasputin and an unnamed bureaucrat. Out of the three, the bureaucrat is the one we follow the most and I found his parts tedious to get through. He’s extremely unlikeable and, while I don’t mind reading from the perspectives of douchey characters, they have to be remotely interesting. However, I can’t say that his character arc or his personality were particularly intriguing… I only kept reading for the occasional Trotsky scene because they were a bit more engaging but it wasn’t enough to redeem this book in my eyes.

So, in the end, I was a let down by The Last Tsar’s Dragons. It’s less than 200 pages yet, it took me ages to read. The characters were, for the most part, boring and unlikeable and, the dragons were underused. I don’t think the novella format suited the story. It’s pretty difficult to write a really good novella, sometimes they can feel like drawn-out short stories or condensed novel. I think this book fell into the former category: it would have been a lot stronger as short story only focusing on Trotsky and his dragons.

2 stars.

 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Tachyon Publications. All opinions are my own.

Top 5 Books of 2019

Happy New Year!

2019 wasn’t my best reading year: I’ve read 48 books and my average Goodreads rating was 3,4. Usually, each year I have about 6 or 7 five stars reads while this year (if I’m not including re-reads), I only had 3 of them.

Because of that, my list of favorites is going to be even shorter than usual. However, even if it is short, I really enjoyed reading these five books and I highly recommend them, 5 stars reads or not, they’re all great books. 😀

Anyways,  here are my favorite books of 2019!

Some of them were immediate favorites like The Black Tides of Heaven, This is How You Lose the Time War or New Suns. I fell in love with them only after a couple of chapters or stories.

For the other two, it took me some time to realize that I was constantly thinking about them. Europe at Dawn is a fantastic conclusion to Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe Sequence and while it’s not my favorite of the quartet (I think Europe in Autumn will never be dethroned), it’s still a great book. Before Mars is a book that I wasn’t expecting to put on this list at first. I really enjoyed reading it but, I didn’t expect it to stay with me during the entire year like it did. It is really is an amazing book and I think it handles complicated issues very well.

 

I don’t have reviews for most of the books (yet), but they are coming so I will update this list as they are posted.

Reviews

  • Before Mars by Emma Newman (Planetfall #3) – Review
  • Europe at Dawn by Dave Hutchinson (Fractured Europe Sequence #4)
  • The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang (Tensorate #1)
  • This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
  • New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color edited by Nisi Shawl

 

What were your favorite reads of 2019? 😀

Book Review : The Outside by Ada Hoffmann (The Outside #1)

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Genre : Science Fiction

Publisher : Angry Robots

Length : 400 pages

Format : eARC

Rating : 4 stars

Publication Date : June 11th 2019

ISBN : 9780857668134

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy – if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.

Book Review

The world of The Outside is, at least at first glance, a pretty typical space opera world. Humans have colonized all sorts of planets; they are able to travel between those different worlds by using portals. However, those portals, as well as most of the advanced technologies available, are under the strict regulations of the gods. The gods are basically ascended artificial intelligences that have control over the world. To maintain that control, they need humans and more precisely: they need their souls. When you die, your soul gets absorbed by the god who suits you the most. In the worst-case scenario: that god is Nemesis, the one in charge of criminals and heretics – people whose beliefs are undermining the gods’ rule.

This notion of heresy is central to the world of The Outside and it is very reminiscent of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire. The reality and people’s beliefs are tightly intertwined. To keep a leash on reality, the god’s have to closely monitor heresy. A lack of control can lead to odd phenomenon and disturbances caused by a power called the Outside: a force that has the ability to challenge and overrule the gods.

Dr Yasira Shien is a young scientist in charge of an ambitious project: the Tallir-Shien reactor. This is the first human-constructed reactor of that scale and, because of how important it is, the construction is closely supervised by the gods. Before the launch, Shien has a feeling that something is amiss with the reactor and she tries to stop the project. However, it’s too late and, just as she predicted, something goes wrong during the launch, causing the death of many people.

Devastated and sure that she’s the cause of the accident, Yasira is arrested by angels – augmented humans who serves the gods. They tell her that her only way to redemption is to find the real culprit. Indeed, they inform her that the science used to run the reactor is in part heretical and caused the accident. However, most of the mathematics equations are not Yasira’s but originated from her mentor: Dr Evelina Tallir. Tallir disappeared a few years ago, leaving Yasira to finish the reactor with the help of her work.

Yasira doesn’t have a choice: she has to find her mentor to prove her innocence: to the gods and to herself.

 

Yasira is autistic and I think it’s my first time reading about a character openly described as such in a science fiction book. I really liked how the representation of Yasira’s condition was handled: she wasn’t reduced to her disability. However, even if in this world gender, sexuality and race are not causes of discrimination (we are introduced to Yasira’s girlfriend Tiv pretty early on in the book), a lot of people treat her like a madwoman because of her autism.

This notion of madness caused by mental health, created a very interesting parallel between Yasira’s perceived madness and the madness created by the Outside. Indeed, most people exposed to the Outside go mad and start doing heretical things. However, in both cases, the perceived madness is not, in fact, madness. It was fascinating to learn more about the Outside induced madness as the story moved along. I really liked how Hoffmann slowly revealed more and more about the Outside and its effects on people.

I also really enjoyed how the two sides, Tallir and the gods, were both portrayed as pretty terrible. Yasira can either choose between her former mentor, a woman who probably knowingly caused the death of hundreds if not thousands of people, and the gods – who probably did even worse. In the end, even I, struggled to choose the lesser evil of the two.

However, even if I’m having a lot of fun writing this post now and that I can really admire how clever this book is, I have to say that I struggled a bit while reading The Outside. It’s not the book’s fault, but I started it right at the beginning of my reading slump back in June. It took me four months to read and it obviously affected my enjoyment of the story. Having said that, it’s an objectively very good and ambitious debut: it has a lot of strong points and clever ideas so I would still highly recommend it. I’ll definitely be reading other stories by Hoffmann.

Four stars.

 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Angry Robots. All opinions are my own.

Blog Update : Guess who’s back?

6 months. I haven’t written anything in 6 months.

In my last wrap-up, I mentioned that I would probably be MIA for the next weeks and well… I was. 2019 was both an amazing and insane year for me. I did a lot of things that I didn’t think I would be able to do, let alone in a single year. I traveled a lot, I met amazing people, I joined a student organization, I got the internship I wanted and I did well at school (without going insane, which is not always a given in college).

However, it also meant that I just couldn’t fit the blog into my packed schedule without compromising other aspects of my life. At first, I thought things would calm down with the holidays but they didn’t, this summer alone I visited five countries. Also, it didn’t help that I couldn’t read a single thing for almost three months, I was in the worst reading slump I ever had, I couldn’t focus on books at all. For a while, I forced myself to read but, as you can imagine, it’s not the best way to enjoy books and it made my slump even worse.

When I’m unable to read, I can’t even focus on book related content. One of my favorite aspect of blogging is interacting with other content creators and I wasn’t even able to do that which was very frustrating. I even thought that I would never be able to read again and that maybe I should stop blogging entirely.

As a matter of fact, I guess my brain just needed time to relax. In September, I finally read a book. One book is not much but, for me, it’s still better than zero. In October, I read another book and in November, I read two including a book that I loved so much that it made me realize how much I missed you guys and this little blog. Indeed, the first thing that came to my mind when I finished it was that I wanted to share my feelings about it.

So, what’s coming?

I really want to go back to blogging. At the rate I’m reading books, I can’t promise to post a lot of reviews, but still, I want to ramble about books. I missed it a lot.

I have a lot of catch-up to do, I want to talk about the books that I managed to read before my break and, more importantly, I want to talk about the books that got me out of my slump. I would also like to experiment a bit more with my content, I want to make more discussions about books, I would also like to branch out and talk about movies and TV shows I like (because I have been watching a lot of them recently!). I already have several posts ready to go that will be published in the coming days so I hope you’ll enjoy them!

Thanks a lot for reading this post, it means a lot to me. 🙂

Maryam

May releases I’m intrigued about

Here’s my list of May anticipated releases, I know this is going up a bit late but better late than sorry! As always, this list is a just a small(ish) selection,  I haven’t mentioned all the books I’m intrigued about and I’m sure I missed a number of great ones. However, I love gushing about shiny new books and I thought it would be a great opportunity to do so.  It’s not a TBR by any means though I really want to read those!

Science Fiction

 

The Undefeated—Una McCormack (May 14, Tor.com Publishing)

She was a warrior of words.
As a journalist she exposed corruption across the Interstellar Commonwealth, shifting public opinion and destroying careers in the process.
Long-since retired, she travels back to the planet of her childhood, partly through a sense of nostalgia, partly to avoid running from humanity’s newest–and self-created–enemy, the jenjer.
Because the enemy is coming, and nothing can stand in its way.

 

You know I always need to feature at least one Tor.Com novella in my monthly posts! I’m excited about this one because I have a thing for political thriller science fiction stories. I don’t know a lot about this one, I haven’t read any reviews yet but I would like to read it asap!

 

Children of Ruin (Children of Time #2)—Adrian Tchaikovsky (May 14, Orbit)

Thousands of years ago, Earth’s terraforming program took to the stars. On the world they called Nod, scientists discovered alien life – but it was their mission to overwrite it with the memory of Earth. Then humanity’s great empire fell, and the program’s decisions were lost to time.
Aeons later, humanity and its new spider allies detected fragmentary radio signals between the stars. They dispatched an exploration vessel, hoping to find cousins from old Earth.
But those ancient terraformers woke something on Nod better left undisturbed.

I read and absolutely loved Children of Time when it was published so I’m very, very excited about the sequel! I’m not sure it needed a sequel, the first book was a great standalone, but I loved the world so much that I’m looking forward to reading another story set in it!

 

Fantasy

 

Middlegame—Seanan McGuire (May 7, Tor.com Publishing)

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained

 

I tend to like Seanan McGuire books (even if I DNF’d the last one I read) so I’m willing to give it a try! At first glance, I thought it was a novella but it’s actually not: it’s a 500+ pages book. As always with McGuire, the premise is amazing!

 

A Brightness Long Ago—Guy Gavriel Kay (May 14, Berkley)

In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra’s intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count–and soon learned why that man was known as the Beast. 

Danio’s fate changed the moment he saw and recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count’s chambers one autumn night–intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger–and freedom. Which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.

Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more, two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.

 

I’m sooo excited about this! I read and really liked Children of Earth and Sky a few years ago and I’ve been meaning to read more books by Kay ever since. Historical fantasy is one of my favorite genre and few writers can pull it off as well as Guy Gavriel Kay. 😀

 

What are some of your most anticipated releases this month? 🙂

April Wrap-Up & May Reading Plans

I survived my midterm exams!

pizza yes GIF

However, as I mentionned last month, school stuff prevented me from reading a lot. The beginning of the month was great but, toward the end, I didn’t manage to read a single page. I’m still happy with what I read anyway, I hope next month will be better reading-wise but since I have two groups projects due plus a week long event organised by my student organization.. well, we’ll see!

Also, I didn’t get to write a post about the BSFA so I’ll do a quick update here. I wanted to read all the novels and the short works nominated, but I didn’t get to everything in the end: I only read the novels and half of the short works.

Embers of War won the Best Novel category and Time Was won the Short Work category! I’m happy with the winners, the novel shortlist was amazing so I would have been happy with any of them really. Time Was was also a good one though not as good as Nina Allan’s The Gift of Angels: an introduction in my opinion. I understand why it won, I won’t complain too much but still, it’s a bit unfair to compare novellas to short stories or novelettes…

Anyway, congrats to all the winners!

Books Read

  • New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color edited by Nisi Shawl ★★★★
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 26: January/February 2019 ★★
  • Europe at Dawn (The Fractured Europe Sequence, #4) ★★★★
  • Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 149 ★★★
  • Time Was by Ian McDonald ★★★ 1/2

As you can see, April was a short fiction-heavy month, I tend to read more short stories when I’m very busy. They’re easy to squeeze in a busy day! 😀

Reviews Posted

Not many as you can see… I hope I’ll catch up a bit this month.

Favorite Read

What a great little collection! I don’t always love anthologies because they usually tend to be mixed bags but this one was very good. I really liked most of the stories and I discovered a lot fo authors I never heard of before!

DNF

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It was a short fiction nominee for the BSFA and it didn’t work for me at all. It’s a very short novella but it took me a week to read the first 30 pages… The writing was okay but I was confused and I couldn’t care less about the story. I read about 30% of it and it was enough for me.

Currently Reading & Tentative TBR

I’m currently reading the January/February issue of Interzone and I also just started String City by Graham Edwards. So far, the world is really cool but I’m not convinced by the main character. I don’t know, I only read 10% of the book so my opinion will probably change.

Here are the other things I would like to read:

  • The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

  • Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett
  • Clarkesworld #150
  • Apex Magazine #117

I hope I’ll be able to read more than that but we’ll see! 🙂

 

How was your month? 😀

Book Review : The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

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Genre : Historical Fantasy

Publisher : Grove Press

Length : 403 pages

Format : eARC

Rating : 3 stars

Publication Date : March 12th 2019

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, 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?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

Book Review

 

Set in 1491 in Granada, The Bird King is a historical fantasy book following the fall of the last Muslim emirate of Spain. Fatima is one of the many king’s concubines, she’s also a slave: her mother died while giving birth to her shortly after being bought off. She resents the way she’s treated by everyone, for most people, she’s nothing more than a beautiful thing, her worth is similar to the worth of a pretty chair. She knows she could be sold off at any moment if the king found a nicer looking toy to play with. Since she’s a concubine and a slave, she doesn’t have a lot of freedom. However, she’s not going to let that stop her from meeting her one and only friend, Hassan.  He is the royal mapmaker and he has a very peculiar talent: he shapes reality when he draws.

Because of his powers, Hassan is seen as a sorcerer, he’s tolerated by the king because his tricks are the only reason the emirate is still standing. However, the Christians are now at the doors of the palace and the king doesn’t really care to protect Hassan anymore. Fatima isn’t going to let her only friend be killed off to appease the court. If saving him means giving up everything she knows, she’s going to do it, no matter the cost.

 

The moment I heard about this book, I knew I was going to read it. I love historical fantasy books and the setting was very intriguing! I thought the descriptions were wonderful, I could picture the various places, the characters and the tension perfectly. I really liked the scenes set in Granada but I loved the setting at the end of the book even more. I won’t talk about it in details because it would spoil the intrigue of the book but it was a fantastical place full of wonders!

I also loved the characters, Fatima is fascinating, she isn’t a likable character but she doesn’t have any reasons to be either. She was ignored and hated by a lot of people in the palace and, because of that, she can sometimes appears rash and selfish. However, she’s a complex and layered character, I loved slowly discovering her personality. She’s full of contradictions but she’s not stupid by any means. She made the most of each moment she had as a slave: she speaks different langages, she’s educated and she’s interested by the world outside the palace. She’s also very fierce and she wants to protect her friend as much as possible.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Hassan because he spent a lot of his time complaining but he was also interesting. He and Fatima were very different but they a great dynamic, you could see their friendship on the page, I especially enjoyed the stories they tell each other about The Bird King, the uncompleted poem they heard about when they were children. I also liked the fact that their relationship was strictly platonic, Hassan isn’t into women so he doesn’t see Fatima as a pretty thing.

However, as much as I was really interested by the characters and the setting, I really struggled with the pacing of the book.  I like slow character-driven stories, like The Dollmaker by Nina Allan, however, as much as I like them, this was sloooooooow. More than half of the book is about Fatima and Hassan being pursued by their enemies and it didn’t held my attention for long. I found myself reading and re-reading the same parts because my brain wasn’t focusing at all. After a while, I started to skim the descriptions to only read the dialogues. The descriptions were nice but not particularly interesting or relevant to the plot during this part of the story.

It was a bit frustrating because I loved a lot of aspects but the pacing didn’t work for me at all… However, I think I have an unpopular opinion on this one, I read a couple of reviews and no one seems to find the pacing weird. If you’re intrigued by this book, don’t let my review deter you! It had very interesting elements and themes and even if it didn’t end up working for me, I could see a lot of people liking it. I would still read other works by G. Willow Wilson.

 

3 stars.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Netgalley and Grove Press. All opinions are my own.

 

Book Review: The Dollmaker by Nina Allan

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Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism

Publisher: riverrun

Length: 416 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: April 4th 2019

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive but graceful, unique, and with surprising depths. Perhaps that’s why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector’s magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped, and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her.

On his journey through the old towns of England, he reads the fairy tales of Ewa Chaplin–potent, eldritch stories which, like her lifelike dolls, pluck at the edges of reality and thread their way into his mind. When Andrew and Bramber meet at last, they will have a choice–to break free and, unlike their dolls, come to life.

A love story of two very real, unusual people, The Dollmaker is also a novel rich with wonders: Andrew’s quest and Bramber’s letters unspool around the dark fables that give our familiar world an uncanny edge. It is this touch of magic that, like the blink of a doll’s eyes, tricks our own.

Book Review

   The Dollmaker is a book composed of many stories. The main narrative follows Andrew, a man fascinated by dolls. His fascination started when he was eight years old and bullied because of his height. Something about their smallness and imperfections allowed him to accept how he was perceived by other people. However, what just started as a hobbie became his life when people started to buy his own creations: his monstrous yet fascinating troll dolls. Composed of parts taken from other broken dolls, they are Andrew’s tiny Frankenstein monsters.

While reading a specialized magazine, he stumbles upon an ad written by Bramber Winters, a woman looking for information on Ewa Chaplin, a famous dollmaker. Andrew doesn’t know a lot about Chaplin but he’s immediately captivated by the ad. They soon start exchanging letters and Andrew quickly realizes than he is in love with Bramber. Once he realizes that, he knows he has to meet her. However, Andrew knows two things  about Bramber: she loves dolls and she has been living in West Edge House, a former mental hospital for twenty years.

   The Dollmaker follows Andrew’s journey as he crosses the country to meet the woman he’s obsessed with. During his travel, he decides to give Ewa Chaplin’s collection of short stories a try since they are so important to Bramber.  However, as soon as he starts reading the strange and eerie stories, he realizes the odd similarities between them and his own life.

As I mentioned, this book has a very interesting structure, some sections are narrated by Andrew, other are fragments from Bramber’s letters or stories written by Ewa Chaplin. I loved the short stories which isn’t surprising since I love Nina Allan’s short fiction. Her prose is superb and very atmospheric. The Chaplin stories all had the same eerie quality, beautiful writing and fascinating themes. Dwarves, dolls and monsters are at the center of those five stories and they were without a doubt what I loved the most in The Dollmaker.

I was also fascinated by Bramber’s letters, I loved learning about her and slowly discovering why she wanted to stay at West Edge House. Her story is very interesting  and her letters were written in a sort of stream of consciousness style that allowed me to really understand her. I wish Allan’s had included some of Andrew’s letters. It would have been a great way to see how he portrayed himself to Bramber. Since we only get Bramber’s perspective, I could only guess from her answers.

The rest of the book was narrated from Andrew’s perspective, he’s not a particularly nice but the world never gave him any reason to be. His unhealthy fascination for broken dolls and for Bramber was pretty creepy but, in a bizarre way, I could understand why he acted the way he did.

Bramber and Andrew are both very odd characters, they seem to be living outside of time. Except for a few mentions of technology, this story could be set decades ago: both characters use letters to communicate and Andrew’s journey to Bramber takes days because he stops in several cities.

It’s an emotional and delicate story written in an unconventional way. It is an immersive experience for sure but it is very slow-paced. It’s a quiet character-driven story about two people trying to forget parts of their childhood. Some parts are fantastical and the stories lean on the horror side however, I wouldn’t call this book fantasy or horror. If I had to categorize it, I’d say it’s a literary fiction book with magical realism elements. If you like your books action-packed with a lot of speculative elements, The Dollmaker isn’t the book you’re looking for. However, if you want to read a slow and quiet story about two complex characters, I would highly recommend!

 

Four stars.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Netgalley and riverrun. All opinions are my own.