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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Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Thanks to NetGalley for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Luckily, I get to rave about what makes this book so great.

Master of Djinn is more than just an extremely fun adventure-romance (in the literary and popular sense)-murder mystery. (There’s also clockwork/steampunk elements, because Clark saw us all coming and threw as many things into this blender as possible.) It puts colonialism and racism, the patriarchy, disenfranchisement, and slavery under a microscope, all while infusing it with humor, sarcasm, and memes. (Clark reminds us that the 21st century didn’t invent that shit, bless him.)

I love Clark’s re-imagining of a Cairo – of an Egypt – independent of British rule, establishing itself as a world player in a critical moment in time. The unmasking of the conspiracy at the tangled heart of the story mirrors the real history of Otto von Bismarck and the complex web of secret deals he brokered amongst world powers that led to the outbreak of World War One. I don’t know how Clark managed to do that so elegantly while including those same world powers on the precipice of their conflict in the story. That’s what makes this book so powerfully good: the use of bombastic adventure tropes to distract you from the reality that you’re reading some sophisticated and subtle storytelling. Layers of misdirection, for the characters and the readers!

Let’s talk about the characters. Fatma is complicated and willful and deeply good. She makes mistakes and does better next time, and does it with style and panache. Siti is funny and sexy and has sharp edges and claws and always shows up when someone she cares about needs her. Hadia is ambitious and smart and skillful and sly. They are all devoted to family in their own way. It shouldn’t be so rare to find a book written by a man with female characters who feel like they were written by a woman, but it is, making this book a rarity twice over.

I highly recommend reading at least “A Dead Djinn in Cairo“, if not also The Haunting of Tram Car 015 , before reading this novel.




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The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is all about messy, complicated relationships, and how they’re even messier and more complicated by colonialism and power dynamics. It’s also about the messed-up choices people make in pursuit of their ideals and goals, the lies they tell themselves and others, and the how vulnerable they become when they start telling the truth. The interpersonal dynamics of both the major and minor characters in The Unbroken are what take a good story and make it great.




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The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book haunts me and sticks with me. I first read it when I was about 12 years old – it had a horrible teen supernatural romance cover that I remembered for years afterwards, like I remembered just enough bits of the story to keep turning it over in my mind: the stamp, the horribleness of Carmody Braque, the strangeness of Sorry Carlyle, and Laura’s transformation.

Laura’s transformation looms so large in my mind, I’m always surprised by how little of the book is actually given to it. The bookends of that scene in the bathroom of the Carlyle home stood out to me on the latest re-read, so rich and grounded with place and character details of the home and this family ushering Laura over the thresholds. I’m also struck by the frankness of Mahy’s writing about sex and emerging sexuality, and how it is treated by mothers and daughters as something that is acceptable and necessary to discuss like adults, not a shameful thing to be hidden and avoided. This also struck me on a recent first-time read of Catalogue of the Universe>.

I return to this book every ten years or so for another read through. Just long enough to forget just enough so the story feels fresh but also like an old friend. There are so many things I love in stories that exist in this book – witches, transformations, inexplicable recognition and inexplicable bonds between unlikely partners, sibling relationships, and turning the tables on the villain.

I can’t decide if I’ll start re-reading this more frequently, or if I need to acquire more of Mahy’s novels so I can re-read those as well.




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