Autumn Princess, Dragon Child (Tale of Shikanoko, #2) by Lian Hearn

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child by Lian Hearn

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Spoilers ahead . . .

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Jokes on me! I skimmed the ending of book four to make sure Aki and Shika didn’t reconcile, and it looked safe to proceed, so I read volume two. In addition to being slower moving than volume one, I cared less and less about the characters as I went. Everyone was a scheming whiny asshole, and all the women kept getting screwed over, or reconciling with men who treated them badly. Before anyone pushes up their glasses and tries to say “well, actually” in my direction, I understand that the author is following traditional Japanese epics as a guide, and that everyone is probably meant to be a scheming, whiny asshole, but that doesn’t mean I have to want to read these books. This is not what I’m here for.

Aki had a rape baby, and then died at the end of the book. It was supposed to be a big heroic and sad sacrifice, and I might have appreciated it more if she hadn’t been raped, had a baby, and then considered reconciling with her rapist just before died. Also, the rape was unnecessary from a plot and character arc perspective, so . . . I’m done. I’m stopping here. This series will remain unfinished, and all four volumes are now in my giveaway pile.



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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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Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma

Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In addition to sharp and beautiful prose, this reads like all-original-character West Wing fanfic, only British, in a supremely good way. Delightful from beginning to end. Every character was wonderfully recognizable and felt like an old friend, in that fanfic way that’s so very comforting and lovely. The blooming of Jules and Ari’s relationship alongside the unfurling of Ari’s grief and Jules’s confidence is utterly satisfying. Come here for quiet tension and soft landings, not high drama.

I don’t know how Amazon knew to recommend this to me, because it’s not what I usually read, so I can only assume it’s somehow tagged similarly to my latest read, Winter’s Orbit, a scifi political thriller romance stuffed with fanfic trope goodness. Keep up the good algorithms, I guess, with a side of shut up and take my money.



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On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard

On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I started 2020 with Aliette de Bodard’s collection Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight, so it seemed fitting to end the year with one of her Xuya universe novellas.

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Against the backdrop of a war that is dividing an Empire, a family on Prosper Station is struggling to keep its own cracks from showing.

I love the complicated relationships in de Bodard’s work, and they are especially powerful in On a Red Station, Drifting. The Pride and Prejudice levels of misunderstanding and friction between Linh and Quyen put the opera in this space opera, which packs a real punch in a small package. But instead of romance as resolution, we get respect. We get two proud and stubborn women who choose to die on their hills (metaphorically speaking) in ways that serve and protect their family while honoring their own private griefs, ambitions, and ideals. While their futures remain uncertain, these women are certain of themselves and their ability to face whatever life throws their way.

What a fantastic way to end a terrible year. May I enter 2021 with half that much resolve.

Read on: December 30, 2020

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