DNF at 35%

Didn’t think that I’d DNF one of my most anticipated releases of the year, but here we are.

There is nothing egregiously wrong with The Stardust Thief, but that’s exactly it: it felt so very average. It falls short of the mark for me in terms of both plot and character, but not so much that it’s completely unreadable or actively bad. Everything is just competent enough that I could’ve pushed through it if I had had the patience, but I simply didn’t. I can tell this wouldn’t have gotten more than a 3 stars from me, maybe even less than that.

As I’ve seen some readers point out, this feels very YA–which is not an issue in and of itself if you tend to read and/or enjoy YA, but I generally don’t, so there’s that. More than a matter of genre or audience, though, I just felt like The Stardust Thief was simplistic in its execution. The characters are drawn in very broad strokes, and the plot only serves to push them along the narrative without really leaving enough space for them to breathe. I wanted more from this narrative: more complexity, more development, more layers. And The Stardust Thief maybe has the beginnings of all of that, but as it stands, it didn’t deliver any of those things for me. I really wanted to like it, and I really did give it a chance, but reading it felt like such an uphill battle; at a certain point I realized that I was actively forcing myself to keep reading it, and then I knew that it just wasn’t going to be the book for me.

Plenty of people have loved this, though, so it’s really going to depend on what you look for and tend to enjoy in your fantasy.

Thanks so much to Orbit for sending me an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

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Not to jump the gun or anything but I think this is my new favourite fantasy series.

Where do I even begin???–there are so many things to love about this book. For one, the worldbuilding is just incredible; Daevabad is such a richly detailed and intricate world. From the historical traditions of the djinn tribes, to their various languages, to their religions and political beliefs, to the clothes and their many forms and designs, to the grand buildings of the city–everything is so very vivid. The worldbuilding we get is not just the bare minimum needed to move the plot forward, but instead actively enriches the book’s setting and makes it feel so lived in. (I especially loved how much attention was paid to the clothes–all the embroidery and beading and colours!!!!! Just *chef’s kiss*.)

Then we have the characters, who surprised me in the best ways. What I love so much about City of Brass is that it begins with characters who seem to fit into clear and predictable archetypes: Nahri the strongminded, witty female character; Dara the seasoned alpha warrior; Ali the naive, inexperienced young prince; Muntadhir the playboy older prince who drinks and sleeps around. But then as the story goes on, Chakraborty disabuses you of the potential preconceptions that you might’ve had about these characters. You get to see Nahri–who could’ve so easily been a Not-Like-Other-Girls female character–be intellectually curious and insecure and vulnerable. You get to see the Ali who is a fierce warrior and a scholar. You get to see Dara try to contend with the traumatic past that led to this image of him as a “seasoned alpha warrior.” And you get to see a Muntadhir who deeply cares for and loves Ali, and takes his responsibility as his older brother very seriously. And it’s just so gratifying to have a book surprise you like that, to give you characters that become more nuanced and complex as you read on, less easy to define or pin down to a couple of traits.

I also want to take a second to talk about Ghassan, because Chakraborty does such an excellent job of writing him. So often villain characters like him–tyrant kings–tend to be caricatured and stale, just the Evil Guys Who Do Evil Things. And don’t get me wrong, Ghassan is awful, but there are also many moments in the novel that speak to him as a person, rather than just a one-dimensional Villain Figure. Here is a man who loves his son fiercely, and will go a long way to protect that son, but will also put his son through absolute hell if he disobeys him.

Thematically, the City of Brass is just fascinating. I think more than anything, this book is about split allegiances. The characters in the novel constantly have their loyalties pulled in different directions: do you do what you think is right or do you stick by your family? how much injustice has to occur before your loyalty to your family is no longer possible or tolerable to you? how do you reconcile your moral and political beliefs with a family whose beliefs actively run counter to yours–especially when you deeply care about and love your family? These questions are especially evident in Ali’s POV, since his father is the king, but I think they’re also evident in the book’s plotlines more generally, particularly when it comes to the hostile relations between the djinn and the shafit. And the best part about all of this is that Chakraborty refuses to give you an answer: there is no one purely Good or Bad side that is easy to root for or against; of course there are worse and better characters, morally speaking, but that is exactly the point: everything is on a moral sliding scale, and it’s up to you to decide how to navigate the murkiness of that moral complexity.

Political drama! Complex characters! Fascinating themes! City of Brass just checked all my boxes, and honestly I am thrilled to have found a new fantasy series that I love so much.

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A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

When I first heard about A Marvellous Light, it sounded like it was pretty much written for me: tropey! romantic! historical! magical! And reader, it did not disappoint.

Gotta say, I love this new trend of bringing fanfiction sensibilities into traditionally published fiction, because at its heart, fanfiction really embodies everything I love reading about: there’s the romance, yes, but also the dialogue, the focus on relationships and relationship dynamics, the exploration of tropes. And ultimately I think that’s why A Marvellous Light worked so well for me. For one, it was just a genuinely fun book: there’s sentient houses and magical games and libraries, and the characters are given the space to explore all those things without everything necessarily having to be about Moving the Plot Forward. It’s a well-paced and well-written book, too, deftly balancing plot with character development, and giving us some really moving and poignant character moments as well as some more high stakes, action-packed ones. Of course, this book doesn’t work without its delightful duo: Edwin and Robin. They had such a lovely dynamic, and not to get too emo or anything, but there’s just something so heartwarming about watching two people get to know about and care for each other. The tenderness! The yearning! The tentativeness that develops into something more sturdy, more steady! It really is all about the Mortifying Ordeal Of Being Known.

All in all, this was a confidently and assuredly written debut, and I’m so excited to see where Edwin and Robin’s story goes next (the second book is going to be set on the Titanic ?!!!?!?!).

Thanks so much to Tor for providing me with an e-ARC of this via Netgalley!

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