The Overstory

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is an odd one. I would describe it as environmental fiction with a touch of magical realism and real-life science. The first third or so of the novel follows several different characters through their lives. Each person’s introduction is like a short story or vignette. We learn about the person and their family, perhaps see that they have some connection to nature, and then we go to the next person’s story. Some stories span multiple generations, and it is their descendants that become the main characters. Whatever the case, the main characters that come out of the vignettes eventually link up together in some way by the end. Each character has their own skills, ideals, and histories that lead them to fight for old growth forests that are being chopped down at an alarming rate. There’s an engineer, a reborn prophetess, an artist, actors, a lawyer, etc. Each has a unique story and a unique way to help the natural world once they discover it.

Overall, I would say that the character development is a bit stronger than the plot, but there are a lot of main characters (9? 10?) to keep track of. As I said, in some cases, a few generations are introduced with only the final descendant(s) playing a major role in the main the plotline. I had a little trouble keeping everyone’s history, names, and motivations straight, but I also read this entirely via audiobook. While the audiobook is quite good, I think I personally would have benefitted from seeing the names of the characters in print. For some reason that tends to help me when I’m dealing with a large cast, but you may be different. Each character goes on their own almost spiritual journey. Sometimes meeting another character in the large cast is the catalyst for this change of heart toward nature, but other times it is something entirely different, and sometimes seemingly insignificant, that causes the characters to act. I’m sure this would be an excellent book to use in a book club because hours could be spent discussing and dissecting each character, their stance, and their inspiration for taking on their journey. The cast is also quite diverse, including people of different skin colors, different religions, immigrants, disabilities, and sexualities. I didn’t think that any of these aspects were overused or included just for the sake of diversity, which is always a good thing.

The plot is where I have a few critiques. I really loved the major themes in the novel, of course. There is a sense of urgency even after the last page is turned because the issues talked about in the novel are real, and mother nature does need our help. I liked that the book also seemed to be saying that no matter who you are, what you do, where you are, or how able-bodied you are, you can always find a way to help a cause you care for. The writing is also beautiful. While I wouldn’t call it overly flowery, the author’s words painted a beautiful picture of a personified natural world. The lengthy introductions to each character are so foundational to the characters’ growth and actions, but things became a little more muddled as the book went on. I felt like the plot’s direction wasn’t entirely clear. For example, perhaps 75% into the novel there is a major face off, which I thought would be the climax, but then the book goes on for another at least 100-150 pages tying up some loose ends and expands on what I thought would be the ending. A few characters not included in the major event felt a bit forgotten when we finally got back to them. During the midpoint the plot does seem to meander a bit, but it was the ending that could have been tighter in my opinion.

I feel like I can’t say too much about the book without being very wordy or explaining it in a way that probably doesn’t make sense, or worse, gives too much away. With all of that said, I gave The Overstory very close to five stars.

Fire & Blood (A Targaryen History, #1)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Now here’s a book I wouldn’t recommend to most people. Basically, I recommend this book to people who really love George R. R. Martin’s work enough to read a fictional history about many generations of people in Westeros. If you’re the kind of person who has read the Silmarillion because you loved the Lord of the Rings, you may enjoy this too. I am one of those people, so I enjoyed it, but I just don’t think it’s for everyone.

When I review books I usually talk about the characters and then the plot and pacing. GRRM’s writing style is a bit distant already when it comes to characterization. I love a lot of his characters, but I’ve always felt like they were a little less developed than his world building. Of course, his world building is one of the most detailed and extensive apart from Tolkien, in my opinion. So, although I loved a lot of the characters in this book, it is hard for me to judge them as I normally would in a review. Since different sections of the book focus on specific time periods during Targaryen rule, sometimes the focus was on characters I liked and other times the people in power were frustratingly difficult to read about. However, no matter what point in history, there was always someone to root for and someone to root against, though I wouldn’t say that any single character was all good or bad. The characters all had realistic flaws. Sometimes they did questionable things for reasons they thought were justified. Sometimes they had a rough start in life, only to turn things around when they got older. Sometimes characters disappeared from history altogether, which would of course would all happen if someone was chronicling the history of one family.

I will always be impressed by GRRM’s ability to create a well developed land with peoples and cultures that feel old and real. Many times I had to remind myself that it is all made up, because it truly felt like a historical account. It helps that the book is written from the perspective a maester who is writing the history down. The book is filled with wars, politics, and family drama (that leads to wars and politics of course).Some sections also explain parts of the cities or physical landscapes that were built or changed and why, which could be dull to some people, but it serves to flesh out the world even more. Because there is of course more to running a land than wars and politics… you also need streets and wells. There’s a lot of action, but most feels “hands-off” because of the third person, mostly omniscient, perspective. There aren’t (that I can recall) many instances of line-by-line fight scenes, but the narrator will tell you who slew who, how, and why. In particular, I liked that even the smallest disagreements between different peoples could, even years in the future, lead to a war, because that happens even in real history. There are definitely some Easter eggs and hints to the events in the Song of Fire and Ice series, so while you do not have to read the series, I would highly recommend doing so just to know GRRM’s style and understand what most of the events in Fire & Blood are building up to.

As you can tell, I was impressed by the scope and detail in this book. I’ve just seen too many DNFs or bad reviews for this book that I hope everyone knows what they are getting into before they take on such a large novel. I wouldn’t recommend this for people who haven’t read the rest of the Song of Ice and Fire series unless this specific type of book really appeals to you and you have perhaps watched the TV show for context. I might also suggest the audiobook. The narrator is great for one thing. I also found it easier to progress through the large, heavy book by skipping between the physical and audio copies I had. I’d give this four out of five stars.

The Midnight Library

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Nora is going through a rough patch in life. She is fired from her job, she has a bad relationship with her brother, her cat died, her depression is worsening, and no one appears to even need her. She also has a long list of regrets that she has never come to terms with. So, one night she decides to end it all and attempts suicide. But she doesn’t die. Instead, she wakes up in the Midnight Library, surrounded by books that contain the lives she could have lived if she made different choices. Nora can choose any of the books on the shelves, and once she begins to read a book, she is transported into another life. In some lives she is famous and in others she is worse off than in her root life. Nora can ultimately choose to continue in existing in any life she chooses as long as it is the one perfectly suited to her, but is any life truly perfect?

I loved this book, but I wouldn’t recommend it to readers currently struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts. While it does have a hopeful ending, it can bring up some dark thoughts along the way. For instance, I consider my life and mental health to be quite stable right now, but I have struggled with depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety a lot in my life. Reading this book reminded me of many dark times. Although this is my first time reading from this author (and I don’t know much about him), I think it is clear that he has a very good understanding of how depression feels, which makes Nora a very realistic and relatable character, but it could disturb some readers.

Having read some book with a similar theme, I guessed where the ending was going, but it is the journey that matters. I enjoyed seeing Nora’s possible lives, and it of course made me wonder how my own life would be if I made slightly different decisions. The book makes the reader reflect a lot, so my enjoyment did not only come from the text itself but also the way the book made me think about my life. Nora learns some hard lessons through her journey through her lives, and she sees the good in bad in herself, her choices, and in other people. It is a really beautiful and heartfelt story that was difficult to put down. I mourned and celebrated alongside Nora’s losses, accomplishments, and discoveries.

Speaking of Nora, she is a great character. She is well developed and shows growth over the course of the novel, but as the reader I found it easy to sort of insert myself into the story as I reflected on the choices I would have made in my own life. It was a delicate balance, but I thought it was done well. It was also fun to see Nora’s friends and family through her different lives. These different perspectives made it easier for Nora (and the reader) to see different aspects of their personalities as well as their flaws and redeeming qualities. So, even if her brother was cruel in one life, she saw reasons for his actions in another life, and piecing the iterations of him together gave Nora and the reader a clearer picture of who he really was, which I thought was a brilliant way of creating character development.

I gave The Midnight Library five out five stars because I can’t fault it. I related to it so much and it gave me so much to think about. It made me laugh, cry, and think. I can’t ask for much more than that from a book. So, as long as you can handle the conversations on mental health, I would recommend it to just about anyone. It made me appreciate the life I am living a bit more than I did before.

Stiletto (The Chequy Files #2)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I don’t usually review sequels (I feel like I’ve said this before/recently…), but I’m reading very slowly lately, so I don’t have anything else to post about this week. If you haven’t read the first book in this series, I recommend that you do so because it is a lot of fun, but I promise I won’t spoil anything about it.

I read and reviewed the first book in this series, The Rook, in 2018, which really doesn’t seem like it was that long ago… Anyway, I really loved The Rook. To briefly summarize it, it takes place in England and follows the Chequy. The Chequy is a sort of supernatural police force– supernatural in that the members themselves were born with powers and that they also protect normal people from supernatural beings and happenings. The Rook mainly follows one character, Myfanwy Thomas, who wakes up on a park bench surrounded by dead bodies with no memory of what happened or who she is. The book is filled with twists, it’s pretty funny if you like dry humor, and it has very interesting world building. I would say that The Rook is a slightly stronger book overall, but I enjoyed Stiletto.

Ok, enough about book one. Stiletto features many of the characters from the first book, and I enjoyed seeing some familiar faces and getting to know my favorites even better. This second book also expands the world building a lot more. There is an enemy faction from the first book that is explored much more in the sequel, but this also leads me to the downside of this novel. While I enjoyed learning about the “supernatural history” of the British Isles, and I love how the author weaves in real-world events by giving them supernatural causes, there were a few sections that were a bit too focused on these things. For example, the novel is told in a few perspectives from different characters, but there were chapters in which the main plot is put on hold to tell some history or to tell a side story. Though these sections add to the plot and character development, I found myself getting a little impatient about returning to what was happening in the present. This book is about 100 pages longer than the first, and I have to admit that I feel like it could have been a tighter story if it had dropped those extra pages. Still, I am torn because I enjoyed learning more about everything, but I think there could have been a better way to concisely add those details without pages and pages of being “out of the action.”

The characters development is still great. Like I said, I loved seeing familiar faces. I found myself missing being so close to Myfanwy since the first book was so focused on her, but I liked many of the new characters too. The different perspectives all felt unique and genuine. The author is very creative with how he designed the different powers they all have, the actions scenes, the political intrigue, and the enemies and creatures that are encountered. I’m a big fan of stories that include the “hiding in plain sight” aspect, which is what the Chequy organization and its operatives do. The humor is also right up my alley and is in the same vein as the first book, but of course that type of humor may not be for everyone.

I really can’t think of any other cons. This was a really solid sequel, and even though there is going to be a third book, I don’t feel like this one was an unnecessary bridge between book one and three, like some second books can be. Overall, I’d give Stiletto four out of five stars.

The Queen of Blood

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

There are six different types of spirits in Aratay (wood, earth, water, ice, fire, and air), and they have murderous feelings towards the land’s residents. However, the people’s queen is responsible for keeping them in check. Because of this, Aratay goes to great lengths to train new heirs. Any girl can be an heir, so young girls who show promise with controlling and communicating with spirits are enrolled in a school that trains both their powers and their demeanors. Trained young women are useful in protecting the land, even if they do not becoming queen. So, after Daleina’s hometown was attacked by rogue spirits when she was young, she made a promise to hone her powers and use them to protect others. What the people of Aratay do not know is that these rogue spirit attacks may not be rare incidents and that their queen may be faltering.

Overall, I quite liked this YA novel, which is something that I haven’t been able to say for a while, partly because I haven’t read much YA lately, and partly because there have been so many run-of-the-mill YA fantasy novels in the past few years that just don’t stand out. I would say that this book has unique aspects and doesn’t really fall into many tired YA tropes. For example, the main character is fallible and is even quite unskilled with her control of her powers. She’s not the typical female protagonist that rises to the top because she’s just that good naturally. And unlike some recent YA fantasy novels, Daleina’s plain yet somehow beautiful looks aren’t constantly described, and she doesn’t get caught up in a romance that dominates the plot. (There’s some romance, but it isn’t like some novels that are romances masquerading as a fantasy story.) Some of the other main or second tier characters were written well enough, but many side characters were rather forgettable. For example, I wish there had been a little more time with Daleina and her friends in the academy, and you may feel the same if you really enjoy magical school settings with a large, developed cast. I didn’t feel very connected to the other students, and I can’t really remember their names or descriptions either. Since this is a series, I imagine that several characters will get more expansion in the rest of the books though.

I would say that the plot and world building are the main draws in this series. As I talked about a little already, the magic is interesting, but since it is element-based it’s nothing too ground breaking. I loved the forest setting though. I enjoyed how the tree dwellings and wooden bridges between homes were described. How the characters traveled through the forests and made their lives within the trees was inventive and often cozy to read about. I also think that the fact that the people live snuggly within a forest filled with killer spirits is an intriguing dynamic. Getting back to the plot, it has some neat reveals, and some of the mysteries kept me turning the pages, but I didn’t always like the pacing. At one point it felt like a chapter ended with Daleina completing her first day at the academy and the next chapter was two years into her schooling. There’s a lot of plot packed into this fairly short first book, but I wouldn’t have minded some smoother transitions and further building of the characters in between everything else that happened.

I’d give The Queen of Blood three and a half our of five stars. There were areas that I felt were lacking, but it stands out a bit in a sea of subpar YA fantasy novels produced in the last decade. I do wish that the title was more unique since we all know that there are many, many similar sounding YA titles out there. But since I own the rest of the series, I may continue it because it was an easy, enjoyable, and quick read.

Once Upon a River

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This will be a short review, but it’s just because I am writing this on Friday at midnight. I still enjoyed the book quite a bit, even if it took me about a month to finish.

So, I read, reviewed, and enjoyed Diane Setterfield’s other book, The Thirteenth Tale, a while ago. Both books are similar in that they have a very dreamy, fairy tale-eques feel with a plot that leaves some open ends and is more about the journey than the destination.

A dead little girl and an injured man are brought to an inn that is known for its storytellers one night in the middle of winter. The patrons are surprised to see such a sight, and though they are used to tall tales, they are even more surprised by what happens next. Miraculously, the little girl appears to come back from the dead, and by the end of the night there are many more questions than answers. The most important questions are who the little girl is and where she came from. Three different families claim that she is theirs, but the little girl cannot answers questions herself.

I think Setterfield really excels in portraying the fairy tale atmosphere as well as in her characterization. There’s a dreamy, on-the-edge-of-reality feel to the entire novel. And I like that some aspects of the plot are left up to the reader’s interpretation. This book perhaps isn’t for people who like clear cut explanations in their plot lines. Also, since there are a lot of characters and separate storylines, you have to be okay with not quite knowing where the plot is going at the start. We are introduced to several different families and their pasts near the beginning. The characters feel well rounded and realistic, but at some points I was wondering how it all tied together. So, you have to be okay with going with the flow and trusting the author will tie the plot lines together. And eventually she does in a way that I felt was satisfying.

To me, the novel felt like taking a ride along a winding river– you take it slow, enjoy the scenery, and you just float along enjoying the experience. Then eventually the river merges with other tributaries and they all come together into the main body of water– of the main thread of the plot. So, if that doesn’t sound like fun, then maybe the book isn’t your thing. There’s some pretty writing and descriptions, which again, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a book that feels cozy somehow. There’s also a common theme of the power that a person’s story can have and the way that different people interpret events can lead to unique perspectives of the same events.

It’s a really brilliant bit of escapism. I would say that it is definitely my kind of novel, similar to something like The Snow Child or The Night Tiger, so I gave it a solid four out of five stars.

Series Review: The Daevabad Trilogy

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I reviewed the first book in this series, The City of Brass, in 2019. I was pleasantly surprised by the mix of fantasy, mythology, history, and the Islamic faith in the first book, and my interest carried over the second and third books. For the first time in a while, I was very excited to read the final book in a series. Though I wouldn’t say the series is perfect, and it isn’t one of my favorite fantasy series of all time, I had a really good time reading the trilogy. It helped me get out of a reading slump and escape into another world.

The trilogy takes place in Egypt as well as parts of the Middle East, and there is a mix between the real world and the world of djinn, magical humanoids who live alongside humans but are invisible to them. Nahri is an orphan from Cairo who makes her living by stealing, telling fortunes, and using her strange healing affinity. One night she is ambushed by creatures she thought were only in myths. She is saved and whisked away to a mythical city by another being she thought was only a fairytale, a powerful djinn named Darayavahoush (Dara for short). Dara introduces Nahri to the city of Daevabad where she finds out more about herself and her family, but she also gets entangled in political struggles and centuries-long feuds between the djinn. In books two and three she meets many more mythical beings and finds out secrets about herself and her new friends. Ultimately, Nahri must choose between a future in Cairo and a future in Daevabad.

That description really simplifies what happens in the trilogy, and it doesn’t really do the series justice. The worldbuilding is probably my favorite aspect of these books. The books combine Middle Eastern history and myth as well as the Islamic faith to create a vast, rich world. For example, the real-world political struggles in Egypt in the 18th century are also included in the story. Though it isn’t a main plot point, I found that it grounded my view of the magical world and was a good parallel to some of the problems in Daevabad. Daevabad itself has a long history, and I love when a there are elements of a fantasy world’s history that have been skewed or covered up past leaders and when there are long-held secrets under the surface. There are also different tribes of djinn with unique histories and cultures too. I would actually like to see more books set in this world, perhaps centering on the other djinn tribes. You can read about the world on the author’s website to get a feel of it before reading. I don’t think there are any major spoilers, but read at your own risk!

I enjoyed many of the characters in the novels. Nahri is headstrong (sometimes to the point of annoyance), but she sticks to her morals and is loyal to her friends. Alizayd al Qahtani, the youngest price of Daevabad, is devout to his Muslim faith and must deal with his family’s tumultuous past. I enjoyed the moments with Alizayd and his siblings, and I wish that we had had even more time exploring his siblings’ personalities, especially in the third book. And though it may be an unpopular opinion, Dara was my favorite character, though he wasn’t always respectful or kind to Nahri. Dara battled with his own terrible past and had a very complex emotional relationship with those close to him. Ultimately, I wished that some of the side characters got more time on the page just because I liked them, but many characters were well developed. I was not a big fan of the romance in the book, and there is a bit of a love triangle. It was obvious to me from book one where the love story was going, so I was disappointed that this aspect was largely predictable.

However, I did not find the plot predictable. There are several good twists, turns, and reveals throughout the trilogy. I wouldn’t say that the books are heavy with tropes, and the world building breathes fresh air into what some might consider a traditional fantasy storyline with chosen ones, alliances with enemies, or epic battles. The plot is filled with political maneuvering, action, and challenges to morality. The pacing of the novels was okay for me, but some might find book one slow as there is a lot of traveling. I also found the final book to be a little longer than necessary. At around 800 pages, I felt that at least 100 could have been edited down. Still, I really enjoyed all of the time I spent with the novels.

If you’re looking for a solid fantasy story that tries to do something a little different by incorporating history, myth, and cultures that aren’t often written about in this genre, I would recommend The Daevabad Trilogy. I rated the entire series four out of five stars.

The Umbrella Academy Vol. 1-3

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It’s rare for me to watch TV series, but I fell head over heels for The Umbrella Academy on Netflix. I didn’t realize that it was adapted from a graphic novel until I finished season 1, so of course I had to go read the series after finishing season 2. I usually prefer to read the source material before watching an adaptation, but in this case I didn’t even know it existed. However, had I read the graphic novel series first, I might not have bothered to watch the TV show. I won’t spoil the series or the TV show, but I will compare aspects of the two in this review.

The premise of the graphic novel is that several children around the world were born with extraordinary powers, and a rich, eccentric man named Reginald Hargreeves was able to adopt and train seven of them to become a team of superheroes. However, over time, the children grew up and parted ways. The siblings reunite when Hargreeves dies to save the world again.

From the book to movie/TV show adaptions I’ve read and seen, generally the written material has more plot and character depth, while the film adaptions favor more action and often cut out some of the slow moments in the books. This wasn’t the case for the The Umbrella Academy. I love character development, and I love the characters on The Umbrella Academy TV show so, so much. They are funny, very flawed, and the siblings have complex relationships with each other. They have a lot of trauma, communication issues, and big egos. The graphic novel does not portray the siblings’ relationships and personalities well at all. There’s very little chemistry between them, the banter is stilted, and they just lack emotional depth. I only saw a few flashes of who the characters are in the show. For example, Luther’s, Allison’s, and Diego’s struggles are hinted at but not focused on in any depth. Vanya was very underdeveloped compared to her TV portrayal, Klaus and Five are nowhere near as interesting or charming, and other side characters from the show are either entirely absent or only mentioned in passing. The TV show utilized the characters, their personalities, powers, and backstories much more effectively.

My feelings for the plot are much of the same. The plot in the graphic novels is often unclear or shallow. I often wondered why we were fighting an enemy, and many aspects of the world went unexplained. I wasn’t sure what was happening or why, and the dialogue and illustrations didn’t clear up much of my confusion. I will say that the illustrations are nicely done, but the writing and perhaps how the panels themselves were planned out just didn’t work well for me.

The graphic novel has so many of interesting elements, characters, and ideas, but nothing really comes together well. When I watched The Umbrella Academy I thought the weakest point was the plot, because at times it was unclear or had moments that were too convenient and probably there just to move the plot along, but I actually have more respect for the show’s writers and the actors now. They were able to take the disjointed story and flat characters in the graphic novels and put together something that made much more sense and explored the characters and the setting in engaging detail.

So, unfortunately, I gave The Umbrella Academy‘s first volume 3/5, the second volume 2.5/5, and the third volume 2/5 stars. If you really love the show, it is interesting to see the source material, but it just doesn’t stand strongly on its own.

A Phoenix First Must Burn

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A while ago I made a list of fantasy books by people of color, primarily women of color, that I wanted to focus on. This blog doesn’t have a huge audience, but I felt that I should do my part (however small) to spread the word about books that aren’t as mainstream and/or books by people of color. And of course I’m always looking for new and unique voices for my own personal reading enjoyment. It’s been a while since I’ve read a collection of short stories, but in general I find them to be one of the best ways to introduce yourself to new authors. With all of these considerations in mind, I chose to read A Phoenix First Must Burn, and I was very happy that I did.

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump for most of this year, and one of my favorite ways to get out of one is to read books that are lighter or to read a book that I can dip in and out of over time, so a YA short story collection was perfect. But despite this collection being YA fantasy, I wouldn’t say that every story was particularly light. I believe every story has a black or brown female main character, and several stories feature LGBTQ+ main characters as well. Common themes and topics in the stories include, love (romantic and familial), slavery, sexism, racism, homophobia, and many stories reference black myths, folklore, and history. Some of the stories hit hard, but there is a good mix of writing styles and thematic tones throughout the collection.

For example, one of my favorite lighter, more humorous stories was “Melie” by Justina Ireland. This one was in your typical fantasy setting. It has a black female protagonist who wants to become a magician but is discriminated against because of who she is as well as her body size. I enjoyed this story’s fun dialogue and the small twists. Melie is smart and resourceful and goes on a grand adventure where she confronts mermaids, dragons, and betrayal with wit and grace.

Another favorite was “Letting the Right One In” by Patrice Caldwell. I would call this one an urban fantasy set in modern day Louisiana. It is a sweet love story between a bookish girl with depression and a female vampire. Both main characters are black (Yes, a black vampire!). I liked the parallel between feeling like an outcast and being a vampire and how race, class, and history tied into the story. The romance was a little too quick for my taste, but it is a short story. Despite that I loved how the sweet budding romance formed, the characters, and I really wished it had been longer so that I knew what happened to them! After reading this story and a few others in this collection, I think I really like sweet female/female romance.

I also enjoyed some of the more serious and hard-hitting stories, like “Gilded” by Elizabeth Acevedo. I would classify this as a historical magical realism story, and the plot involves a slave uprising. The main character struggles between the chance of buying her freedom through working hard for her master or by helping her friends and taking freedom for herself.

I could go on, but hopefully you can see the range of different stories within this collection. There is likely something for everyone here if you like fantasy, magical realism, or sci-fi. I didn’t love every story, but the collection as a whole is very strong, so I gave it four out of five stars.

Series Review: The Dreamblood Duology

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The Dreamblood Duology consists of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin, who is one of my favorite authors. The duology takes place in the fictional city of Gujaareh where peace takes precedence over all else. Within this city are priests that serve the goddess Hananja who rules over the realm of dreaming. These priests harvest dream ichors to both heal and harm citizens in order to keep peace in the city. This series is marketed as an Egyptian-inspired fantasy, and though I agree that this is a loose way to explain it, the world building and magic system are themselves very unique.

In The Killing Moon we follow the Gatherer Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri, and Sunandi, a diplomat of a neighboring city-state. Gatherer Ehiru is tasked with eliminating those in Gujaareh who are deemed corrupt. But although Sunandi is judged as corrupt, Ehiru finds that the two of them actually have similar goals, and in fact there may be corruption within Gujaareh itself instead. The characters struggle between what they feel is right for themselves and the city and what is their duty.

The Shadowed Sun takes place about a decade after the events in The Killing Moon. Readers get to see the aftermath of the changes in Gujaareh from book one, which is something you do not see too often in fantasy, and it made the world feel more realistic because things are always changing. In the sequel we travel the lands beyond Gujaareh’s walls, explore other paths in the worship of Hananja, and see more of the magic that the priests wield. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this book deals with more political maneuvering in Gujaareh as well as a mysterious dreaming sickness that is spreading around the city.

These books are some of Jemisin’s earlier works, but you can clearly see she excels in both world building and character building even at this point in her career. The world and the magic system are very unique and well developed. I could see the Egyptian influence, but I quickly forgot about it and enjoyed the culture and magic as separate, new entities. To me, she perfectly built off of real life ideas and histories but made them stand on their own. Too often I see authors draw too much or not enough from their influences, but Jemisin hits the balance here perfectly.

Although I love her characters in The Broken Earth Trilogy because they are truly human and jump off of the page with personality, The Dreamblood Duology shows her progress in character development. I have seen several reviewers say that they preferred The Shadowed Sun to The Killing Moon, but I would disagree. I just found the characters in The Killing Moon easier to connect with and enjoyed their personalities and stories more. However, in both novels the characters make believable mistakes and grow from them. Many have grey moral areas, and being true to life, not everyone survives the trials they face.

I fell in love withe culture and magic system in book one, and I really enjoyed seeing both of them fleshed out in the sequel. The fact that peace is what guides the city’s decisions made for a thought-provoking reading experience. I enjoyed considering the practices and beliefs in Hananja’s teachings and how they compared to those in modern America. For example, though someone was judged as corrupt, the Gatherers tried very hard to give even their enemies peaceful deaths. Both books have intricate plots that involve politics, religion, family (both biological and found families), love (romantic and otherwise), and questions of morality.

I would give the series as a whole four to four and half stars out of five. It is hard to find fault with either novel, and they are both well above average in terms of what is available in the genre, but I find Jemisin’s later works a notch above this one in all of the aforementioned areas. If you enjoyed any of her other works, you’ll very likely enjoy this series as well.