Moroda, L.L. McNeil book review

 

Moroda is L.L. McNeil’s self-published debut. In Moroda we have a high fantasy novel that essentially follows a ragtag band of travellers who’ve come together by accident, swept into a war that pits races and nations against one another. While McNeil has all the most basic elements of an excellent fantasy here—vivid world-building, a strong cast of characters, and a decent story to tell—it is obvious from the start what this novel is missing: a good editor. I think 90% of the complaints I have for this book could be solved if McNeil found herself a professional editor.

The strengths of this novel lie in the foundation McNeil has laid down. The world she’s built is expansive, and she’s accounted for culture and history that influences the current climate our characters exist in. There’s some incredibly interesting lore especially DRAGON GODS (well… kind of…). Anyone who has read my reviews know I appreciate a good dragon tale, and Moroda does not disappoint in that regard. There’s an extremely interesting cast of characters. It’s an ensemble cast, with one main character and several “supporting mains.” I have a tendency to gravitate toward characters who are persecuted, so I immediately took to Kohl and Sapora as my favourites.

Another thing I really want to draw positive attention to about this novel is that it was unpredictable. There’s an obvious enemy set up, but the solutions the characters used to fight him weren’t ones that I would have guessed, which can be hard to find in a fantasy novel nowadays. Additionally, the different political styles and cultural norms of the different races made for a lot of seemingly “wildcard” events, because we are looking at very different groups of people interacting with one another.

The big issues I have with this book are almost all technical, and most of it, I feel, would be solved if the author invested in an editor with a good grasp on characters/characterization. The pacing needs tightening up; in particular, there are times where there’s excessive exposition done through dialogue, and I think it would be better if the author were to let the characters discover some things on their own rather than having other characters explain it to them. Because of the ensemble cast, it sometimes is hard to really determine who’s narrating, i.e. it switches very suddenly from one character’s POV to another to the point where it feels like the author didn’t want to do the work of having character A guess/develop insight regarding character B’s motives, so she simply switched POVs and described what’s going through character B’s head. Character motives also aren’t always clear, or the author hints at them but doesn’t actually convince me that the character’s actions make sense given the explained motive, especially with Moroda and Eryn’s initial involvement in the whole thing. The motive is there– there’s nothing left for them in their hometown, they’re desperate and alone– but instead of further developing this meaningful, deeper motive (which would be far more convincing), the author kind of falls back on having them chase after a few coins. Some characters are also just under-developed, but this I think is because McNeil is grappling with a large cast of central characters. I’m excited to see that one of the characters I consider under-developed is the lead of the next novel, so hopefully we will get to know him better then.

Ultimately this book was definitely worth the read, despite the technical issues.  I think McNeil is a very creative and promising author and I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series, though I’d like to see her grow as an author and put forward a more polished product next time. Verdict: one cautiously optimistic kitten waiting on the next book.

 

Interested? Moroda is available on Amazon.

Another win for dragons: The Sky is Yours, Chandler Klang Smith review

Chandler Klang Smith’s The Sky is Yours (see on Amazon \\ see on GoodReadsis a bizarre, almost genre-bending novel set in a abandoned city set perpetually ablaze by the two dragons overhead who never leave and never sleep. We follow three young people thrown together by a series of machinations, tragedies, and coincidence as they journey deeper into the city. I am not entirely sure what genre I would call this book. I’m also unsure what the message is supposed to be. I’m also not sure whether I liked it.

There are undoubted strengths to this book:  I really enjoy Chandler Klang Smith’s writing style, so much so that I was reading this book on my phone on the elliptical at the gym, which no doubt made me look like a crazy person. Her style is at once insightful and full of beautiful imagery, which is great for things like setting up novels or chapters, but not so great for like… scenes of every day life. Unfortunately, because of this, the pacing of this book for the first half is almost unbearably slow. This is my biggest complaint about this book, hands down. If you are someone who really likes action, this is probably not the book for you, because it feels as though we spend way too much time getting to know the setting and the characters. I like that she immerses us in the world and culture, but sometimes it’s like… I just wanna know what happens next, ok? I don’t really care about this boring history crap that doesn’t really affect my understanding of the characters’ situation, like… at all. It does pick up toward the end once our protagonists make it into the city but it’s a long haul getting there.

On that note, the world-building is vivid and unique, at least insofar as the combination of previously seen ideas is new. The dragons appeared out of the sea and perpetually terrorize/burninate the city, in particular the ghetto where criminals are segregated to, creating a very strange urban landscape and culture shaped by fire.

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The context is somewhat futuristic and I think that the author is attempting to make some sort of commentary on technology and society, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what that commentary is.

The other major issue I have with this book is that almost none of the characters are likeable. In fact I would classify our main character, Duncan, as being downright abhorrent. I get that it’s intentional and part of the novel is supposed to be him learning not to be a misogynist piece of garbage. But unfortunately, it kind of feels like… he doesn’t? At least not enough that I would ever be able to relate to him or like him. Of the other characters, the one I found the most interesting is Katya Ripple, Duncan’s mother who doesn’t really get enough screen time for me to form any opinions on her other than I wish I had seen more.

I feel like Chandler Klang Smith has a lot of really great ideas with The Sky is Yours, but fails to execute them in a way that does them justice. The storyline that develops around Abby in the latter half of the book should have been introduced far sooner, as it’s the most interesting portion of the plot and is that bit that’s most relevant to the world, in my opinion. Instead the reader is kind of dragged along for pages focusing on things like Duncan’s TV show or interminably boring family politics. Ultimately I’d call this book good, but certainly not great and certainly not as good as it could have been. Final rating: dollar store cat toy you spent 3 bucks on and your cat did play with it, but like… not for a very long time, and only half-heartedly.

 

I received a copy of this book through Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

The Boy on the Bridge, M R Carey

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The Boy on the Bridge (link goes to Amazon) is an excellent sequel that will answer some questions about the previous book, “The Girl With All the Gifts” (which I have also reviewed on this site) and enlarge the world that M R Carey so brilliantly brought to life in the last novel. There are a few things which really challenged me while reading and kind of distracted me from the experience, but I still enjoyed it.  (Slight spoilers for first book follow- please just read it, it’s amazing!)

One of the most challenging things is that the bulk of this book takes place before the events of The Girl With All the Gifts; the scientists that it centers around are travelling in “Rosie”, which you will remember from the first book. So straight away you’re suspicious and you’re like, I’m totally on guard and I won’t let myself get close to ANY OF YOU because I know you are all dead.  The main character, Samrina, is revealed to be pregnant, so you’re like, I know you’re double dead. Does everybody actually die? Ehhh…. You’ll find out.

There is a surprising amount of action for a book that mostly features driving around in a huge armoured science lab/bus. I always enjoy the brisk pace M R Carey has and again even the moping around chapters advance something.  He says a lot with few words when it comes to description. I wasn’t super interested in the political plot (seems a lot less threatening when you’re having to contact them via radio!) but it did nicely contrast the other major conflict in the story.

Five stars. It was a great book. Both my cats were like Ummm?? We are orphans now because you’re spending too much time reading???

 

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MOM???

Updraft, Fran Wilde

So Updraft by Fran Wilde (see on Amazon || see on Goodreads) follows a young girl, Kirit, through her initiation into a powerful… agency? group? I dunno– the Singers, who supposedly keeps her people safe. This is a novel, so obviously she uncovers an Evil Plot, and we the readers are dragged along for the merry ride. I enjoyed this book, actually a fair bit more than I expected.

Wilde crafts a brilliant world here, and since it should be obvious to anyone who reads these dumb reviews that worldbuilding is something I put a lot of stake in, this book gets major points for that alone. Our characters live high in the sky, in bone towers that can be grown taller using the magic of the Singers. They fly using wings that they strap to their backs. The city has a complex culture, each tower specializing in different things. This is not so well-developed as other aspects, mostly because Kirit spends the bulk of her time in the center of the city, rather than out in it. The worldbuilding is without a doubt the best part of this novel, because I can honestly say a lot of the other aspects are kind of mediocre.

None of the characters are particularly compelling or, erm… well-characterized, as it were, except maybe Kirit herself and one or two others. A lot of the characters are sort of two-dimensional and dull, and there were very few characters that I was really rooting for or would have been really devastated to see die. Those character deaths that did occur mostly got a “huh, ok” from me.

The pacing is, at the beginning of the book, dreadfully boring. You have to read a lot of shit you can just tell isn’t really going to factor into the main plot later, and it’s mostly an exercise in frustration. However, once we get into the action things become a lot more interesting. The main outline of the mystery of this book is easily solved from about 3 miles away, if not all the little details like how exactly things happened in the past. But the major revelation about the Singers’ most awful deed is one I literally spotted within the first chapter, like genuinely within the first few pages of the books. And that’s the big reveal so like… that kinda sucked, but I also felt really satisfied with myself and super smart so. Win/lose I guess.

I think I’m making this book sound worse than it is, because I want it to be clear that this was definitely an enjoyable read, even if it’s not one of my favourites ever. This book is what a teacher of mine once called “a poolside read”. You’re just chilling by the pool, kinda reading, kinda sunbathing, you don’t have to think too much, y’know? Twilight stuff. Pulp fiction, as it were. It’s the first of a series but can be read as a standalone, which always leads me to give a book a little more respect. I also have to say that this book has something really unique that is so hard to find in fantasy novels: this book ain’t about saving the world. Kirit doesn’t have a mythical quest of epic proportions. She’s just a girl with a talent that made her useful to the Singers, and she wants to do right by the people of her city. It’s low-key fantasy, which is so hard to find and so refreshing to read.

While technically lacking in elements like characterization and pacing, I do ultimately think this book deserves 4/5 cats because it’s easy to read and enjoyable, and because the worldbuilding is spot on and nobody’s gotta save the world or fulfill any prophecies.

A God in the Shed, J. F. Dubeau

When I read the description of God in the Shed by J. F. Dubeau, (see on Amazon || see on Goodreads) – ” The village of Saint-Ferdinand has all the trappings of a quiet life: farmhouses stretching from one main street, a small police precinct, a few diners and cafés, and a grocery store. Though if an out-of-towner stopped in, they would notice one unusual thing―a cemetery far too large and much too full for such a small town, lined with the victims of the Saint-Ferdinand Killer, who has eluded police for nearly two decades. It’s not until after Inspector Stephen Crowley finally catches the killer that the town discovers even darker forces are at play.” –  I was like, HOLY CRAP, this is going to be awesome. Rural Quebec setting? A God trapped in a shed? Decades of crazy serial killings?? Sign me up! The premise seemed amazing but I was just let down after reading this book. I felt like I was reading one of the shitty serials on /r/nosleep that are like “I found a god in my shed… Part 18!” Where they keep obviously making it up as they go and incorporating whatever the highest upvoted idiot in the comments suggests they should do. I don’t really recommend you read this book, so, spoilers ahead.

First thing that turned me off was it was just gory for no reason and people start to be okay with it??? Like the evil “god” at the center of the book is making a big disgusting mural ~made out of people~ which apparently attracts/traps souls which is his ultimate goal. Like he makes it out of birds, part of someone’s cat, the main character’s DAD, and theyre like “It’s so beautiful…” Umm no it’s just made out of intestines and shit. It’s gross. Don’t play with that. The main character is like thiiiiiis close to making deals with the god through most of this and you’re like NO??? I thought you’re supposed to be smart???

The other thing is that EVERYONE dies. Like seriously do not get attached to ANYONE. I’m not even sure how enough people keep populating this town, the death count is so high. So you become a bit blasé to people dying after a bit, because nobody is safe. I got bored of people dying in horrible ways, that’s how bad it was.

One of the main characters is established as like a straight laced hard nosed cop or something but then he just goes nuts for no reason as “it all falls apart around him” (Thanks to some teenagers? Come on…)

All in all it was a pretty disappointing read and I felt could have been a lot better. I did enjoy the writing but didn’t think it was too remarkable. I did want to keep reading and find out what happened but I felt like it went towards an inevitable and obvious conclusion. I don’t even have much to say about the main character, Venus, as she was also pretty unremarkable, an average kid who rebels against her parents and is “destined” to save the town….

Yawwwnnnn.

Bird Box, Josh Malerman

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (see on Amazon || see on Goodreads ) is suspenseful AF. As shameful as it is to admit, I had to google the ending and spoil myself before reading on because I couldn’t keep reading as I was too on edge! I have absolutely NO FUCKING clue what exactly the creatures in this book are supposed to be, but I guess that makes sense because the characters never truly learn either. I have my theories though.

This book is super incredible because there’s a huge bulk of scenes without visual descriptions. It’s unnerving as a reader to realize how much you can guess about a story by reading character descriptions of what’s around them, and this book is an exercise in that because you are acutely aware of how much you DON’T KNOW. On top of that, there is a decent swatch of time in which our characters are confined in a pretty small space without many options, and the sense of doom is totally palpable.

Somehow Malerman managed to make constant switches between present and past events actually interesting, and I was always as eager to find out what had happened in the past as I was to find out what was happening in the current time. I also really appreciated the way Malerman wrote the characters in this book. Some of them were batshit crazy and I loved it. ALSO I love the moment in a book when the title makes sense and this book had an excellent moment of this sort.

Literally my only complaint with this book is that there’s no way society would collapse into disorganization as quickly as it did unless there were wayyy more incidents reported at the beginning, but that is one complaint on an otherwise top notch book. This is the first book by Malerman I have ever read. I am definitely going to keep an eye out for him in the future as this read was a delight! I rate this book one really cute cat hiding under the armchair in terror.

A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab

Another awesome book from V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic universe, A Gathering of Shadows follows Kell and Lila through the progress of an international tournament that pits magician against magician. I feel a little less in love with this book as I was with the first of the trilogy, but this is normal for sequels.

 

On the one hand, this book introduced a host of new characters to fall in love with—ALUCARD!!! Be still my beating heart!!!—and gave us a more in-depth look at characters like Prince Rhy, who in the last novel felt like he wasn’t fleshed out enough and who in this book was a Precious BB Will Defend With My Life. Even getting to see old characters who only made brief appearances in the last book was nice, like the mask lady who dotes on Lila because she thinks Kell is banging her. On the other hand, we are still stuck with the insufferable Lila Bard as one of our mains. I think I came around to tolerating her a little toward the end, but I’m kind of thinking that’s just because she had one of her brief moments of likability during the final act and the book ended before the illusion was shattered.
One thing that was AWESOME about this book was the Kell+Rhy dynamic. The whole tragically-n-magically-bound-soulmates thing is a trope that really Gets Me Going (I endured pretty much the entire mortal instruments series for the brief Jace+Alec scenes we got and have rabidly followed the show. Plz, if u know of any tragic/magic soulmate bond novels, hmu. Platonic/romantic/whatever). I love the dynamic of being stuck together because you love each other but hating each other for it. Plus the whole suffering each other’s pain thing is next level angst which is what I feed on. I am now about 1000x more eager to read the next one because I have to know what becomes of the soul bond—this is actually the #1 thing I care about going into book 3.

 

The pacing of this book is a little wonky, unfortunately. Kell and Lila are focussed mostly on character-building and this tournament that Rhy is planning, and aren’t really involved in the “plot” that continues from book 1 at all, which mostly takes place in White London + Black London with a few brief allusions to it during Kell’s chapters. Throughout the book are chapters that focus on the evil/magic building in White London which in theory should be interesting but really aren’t because it takes us away from the characters we spend the bulk of our time, well… caring about. One thing that is exciting about the plot-driven part of this book is that one of the characters from White London we thought was dead, and one that I thought died way too soon without enough page time, comes back in this book.

 

This installment actually ended up being a lot more enjoyable than I expected given the slow pacing of the second half, and OH YEAH I FORGOT TO MENTION THAT WE HAVE A MAIN SAME GENDER COUPLE NOW WHICH MADE IT EVEN BETTER!!! Final rating: 4 twitchy whiskers out of 5.

If you’re thinking you also need this book in your life, check it out here (Amazon link)

The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin

HOT DOG!!!!!!!! DO YOU LIKE POST-APOCALYPTIC TALES, MAGIC, LGBTQ+ REP, SHADOWY GOVERNMENT ORGS, POLYAMORY, AND FUCKING ROCK MONSTERS!?? THEN BUDDY THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU!!!!!!!

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin is, without a doubt, the best book I have read in a really long time. This book is incredible. It’s one of those books you rent from the library but then you have to go out and buy just because you need to PAY THE AUTHOR RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATELY.

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I have so much gushing to do I honestly don’t know where to start. I’m just gonna break it down into easy-to-organize sections or else I’m gonna word vomit all over this review.

Tell me more…