The Genesis of Misery and I didn’t exactly gel together.

On both a narrative and craft level, I struggled with The Genesis of MiseryNarratively, it is just too insular. For almost 50% of the book, the only character that’s developed in any kind of capacity, who we get any insight on, is Misery. During that span of the novel, other characters only exist for Misery to react to: to agree with, or act against, or listen to, or speculate about. They are not, in any real sense of the word, developed characters. It’s only after we get past that first 50-60% of the novel that other characters start making a place for themselves in the narrative (i.e. start actually being developed), but by that point it was just too little too late for me. To put it simply: there weren’t enough developed characters in this novel, and by the time we did get some, it was too rushed and just not enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Misery. She has a very strong narrative voice, a fallibility and a rolling-with-the-punches kind of attitude that makes it easy to be endeared to her. Thing is, we were in her head–and only in her head–for so long. It got to be a little frustrating: I wanted her to do something that wasn’t just thinking or speculating or ruminating or dreaming. It’s why I was desperate for more characters, an opportunity to let us get to know Misery through her interactions with other characters, who could then be developed themselves. Also, none of this was helped by the fact that the plot of the book is very sequential: Misery talks to some people, Misery goes to a new location, Misery trains, Misery does a mission, Misery is given another mission, etc. etc. It made me restless, especially because, like I said, all of this was heavily focused on Misery with very little development from other characters until much later on in the story.

In terms of craft, I struggled a bit with the writing of this novel. On the one hand, I liked how colloquial Misery’s voice was (she swears a lot, uses a lot of slang, etc.), and I also didn’t mind the way Yang incorporated some internet lingo throughout the story (there is, in fact, a “yeet” in this book). The thing about The Genesis of Misery, though, is that it operates on two kinds of registers: the super personal, colloquial one, and the super grandiose, larger-than-life one. At a certain point, some things happen in the book that change Misery’s perspective, and that’s when she starts looking at her world with a much grander scope, and where that grandiose register starts popping up. And it’s not even that I didn’t like it, or that it was badly written–it was just so repetitive. We have to read the same kind of super grandiose, over-the-top language over and over and over again, and frankly it started irritating me by the end of the novel.

The Genesis of Misery was the kind of novel that structurally did not work for me–and that in fact could not have worked for me. A novel whose story is primarily invested in only one character, a novel that only substantially develops that one character, is just not the kind of novel that I, personally, enjoy reading. I’m a reader whose investment lies in the interpersonal moreso than anything, and at the end of the day that’s really what I was missing from The Genesis of Misery.

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

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Sometimes I try to be fancy with my reviews but I’m just gonna cut straight to the chase with this one: The Oleander Sword was absolutely incredible–not just a stellar novel in its own right, but also a sequel that improves upon its (already excellent) predecessor in almost every way.

I don’t even know how to review this because I honestly don’t have a single bad thing to say about it. Everything about The Oleander Sword worked for me. It’s such an ambitious novel; it takes big leaps–with its characters, its plot, its worldbuilding–and it sticks the landing with every single one of them. The world feels so much more expansive in this installment, which is exactly what you want out of a sequel. Because Suri has already adeptly laid out a solid foundation for her world and characters in the first book, the sequel allows us to delve more into that world, and to get a broader view at how its pieces fit together. What’s more, The Oleander Sword takes seriously the ramifications of the events of its predecessor; where The Jasmine Throne planted some important seeds for us, The Oleander Sword allows us to see them grow. Maybe this doesn’t seem all that praiseworthy–aren’t all second books of a series expected to follow up on the events of the first?–but it isThe Oleander Sword is impressive not just because its excellent as its own self-contained story, but because it delivers on what its predecessor sets up. Suri’s writing promises, and then follows through.

Onto the characters, who are the beating heart of this book, and whom I ADORED. Of course, I have to start with Priya and Malini, whose dynamic just blew me away. The Oleander Sword is a much more romantic book than The Jasmine Throne, and it is so much the better for it. I say this not just because I love reading romance, but also because the romance adds a real sense of stakes and gravity to the story. Priya and Malini’s romance is tender and heartfelt, extremely personal to both them, but at the same time it’s inextricable from the political power dynamics that they find themselves instrumental to. Their relationship cannot exist outside their political circumstances precisely because it is very much part of shaping those circumstances. And let me tell you, it is just SO damn compelling to read about!!!!!! The intimacy! The honesty! The angst! More than anything, I found it all to be incredibly moving. Suri has such a deft hand when it comes to writing about these characters’ feelings and vulnerabilities; they never feel anything more, or less, than human.

I’ve talked a lot about Priya and Malini, but I also want to spotlight some of the other character dynamics that we get here. One of my favourite dynamics–one that was a real pleasant surprise for me–was the relationship between Rao and Aditya. We got to see a bit of these two in the first book, but the way their dynamic evolves in this one was so interesting. Aditya is very much still his elusive self, a little aloof and a lot inwardly focused; what changes here is the way Rao relates to him, and the way that the events of the plot alter their dynamics. And I loved getting to hear more from Rao, too. I felt much closer to him this time around, and could really sympathize with how adrift he felt amongst all the political machinations he’s caught up in. I also want to mention Bhumika, who is an absolute standout, as per usual; we’ve always known her to be ever competent and resourceful, but this book sees her challenged to her core. I don’t want to give too much away, but her POV was easily one of the most poignant ones of the book.

Finally, I want to mention the writing, because Suri’s prose is just luminous. I don’t know how she does it, but there is something about Tasha Suri’s work that is always so extremely readable. Her prose is easy to read but never plain or boring. It has a real sense of grace and economy to it; it says what it needs to say and says it well.

The Oleander Sword was a lot of things–emotional, engaging, well-paced and -plotted–but what stood out to me most after finishing it was how epic it felt. The story of this series has grown so much more expansive with this second installment, and I cannot tell you how unbelievably excited I am for the final book. Like, if the second book has already done this much, then I can’t even begin to imagine what the third one will do.

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

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A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is part mystery and part romance–thing is, it didn’t quite work for me on either front.

To me, the biggest issue with this book is by far the lack of cohesion when it comes to the plot and the characters. I am first and foremost a character reader, so I’m willing to forgive a book a number of plot issues if the character work is well done. With A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, though, it wasn’t so much that the plot or the characters were bad, per se, but rather that they were constantly in tension with each other so that they both suffered in the end. Like I said, this book is part mystery and part romance, but it always felt like the former was interrupting the latter. We’d get these nice character moments that seemed like they were heading somewhere interesting, and then what do you know, some random character barges into the scene to talk about some plot thing that I literally couldn’t care less about. And this happens so often, too; the plot feels like it’s constantly intruding on these characters, and it becomes quite irritating the more it happens throughout the novel. More than just interrupting the character moments, this also makes the book feel really disjointed. Like, rather than have a narrative where the characters and the plot seamlessly blend together so that the one contributes to the other, we get a story where plot and character always feel very starkly delineated: here are the Character Development Scenes, and here are the Plot Development Scenes. All of this is to say, the plot and the character moments felt to me like they were always out of sync with each other.

Maybe this wouldn’t have been that big of an issue if the plot had been interesting, except that, like I said, I found it to be quite irritating. The plot of A Strange and Stubborn Endurance doesn’t progress so much as it just…happens; like the plot points don’t escalate or build up so much as they just continue to occur one after the other until the end, where we get a whole bunch of answers revealed to us all in one go. And yeah, maybe that’s the nature of mysteries, but I didn’t feel like this one was particularly well executed. It was just like, mysterious event A happens, mysterious event B happens, mysterious event C happens, mysterious event D happens, etc, etc, etc. And all the while the more interesting character building moments are being set aside or interrupted so that the characters can, over and over and over again, speculate on the nature of these mysterious events. I didn’t care about it at all, and then the reveal at the end made me care for it even less. It felt very far-fetched and slightly ridiculous and even then we didn’t get enough time for the characters (or the reader) to really process all that had just happened.

All of this isn’t to say that this book is a complete write-off. I didn’t hate it, but I also wanted to enjoy it so much more. I love reading romance, especially in fantasy, and so I was pretty much ready to love this–but I just didn’t. The romance was okay to begin with–and I did like how the author explored healing in the aftermath of sexual trauma–but everything around that romance ended up making it feel less and less enjoyable as the book went on.

Thank you to Tor for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!

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