Emperor of the Eight Islands (Tale of Shikanoko, #1) by Lian Hearn

Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Really good stuff, right up until the end. Love the intrigue, the mysterious and unexplained magic, Japanese folk creatures, and interconnected characters and narratives. Every small win turns a corner into another disaster. As I read, I really started looking forward to the next three books, and how this twisty tale was going to unfold and resolve itself.

Now for the part that dropped my star rating from a four to a three. Spoilers ahead. CW: rape.



I am really upset about the rape-as-motivation for Aki to leave Shika and lose trust in him. I don’t care that he was magically manipulated/compelled by the Prince Abbott–Hearn has introduced the possibility that Aki is the woman Skika is meant to marry. I don’t like spoilers, but I actually flipped through the end of book four to make sure Shika and Aki didn’t reconcile and end up together because I am not here for rape apology, women marrying their rapists, rape as easy trauma, or rape as motivation. Writers can and should do better and be more creative. The Prince Abbot also magically manipulated/compelled Shika to attempt to kill Yoshi, which is motivation enough to make Aki feel unsafe and untrusting and leave him. Narratively, the rape is unnecessary.

I didn’t see any evidence that Aki and Shika reconcile by the end of the series. What I skimmed sounded as though they have been sundered forever and Shika regrets his assault on her for years to come. I’m hopeful that’s correct and I didn’t miss anything. If I encounter anything to the contrary as I continue reading, I’m DNF-ing this series.




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A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a cookie look smug.

What a fun and sarcastic delight from start to finish. The love child of Diana Wynn Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle and Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic, wholly its own while also finding a place amongst these inspirational greats. Surprised to read in the acknowledgements that Kingfisher (Vernon) wrote this ten years ago, as the themes and circumstances felt very current. Just shows that being anti-fascist is always necessary and never goes out of style.



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The Stranger Diaries (Harbinder Kaur #1) by Elly Griffiths

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am a sucker for literary mysteries and modern gothic. Bonus points to this one because I’ve actually read M.R. James, the renowned Victorian ghost-story writer who inspired Griffith’s R.M. Holland, and all the point of view characters are women that are taken seriously and treated with respect by colleagues, friends, and family.

Multiple POVs in a mystery story can be a trap for too much retelling or too much hiding things from the audience because–gasp–one of the POV characters is actually the killer(!), but Griffiths avoids both of these potential pitfalls. I actually enjoyed the different characters’ perspectives on each other, and the re-treading of events was kept to a minimum, and only to provide me with additional information, not self-indulgent or unnecessary wandering.

Twisty, spooky, thrilling, and smart, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable, fast read that has me already reaching for more of Elly Griffiths’s work.



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