I’m not usually one to follow a book’s publication closely, but I read Allie Brosh’s blog Hyperbole and a Half during a rough time in my young life. Her blog made me feel understood, made me laugh, and contributed in a small way to me having my own blog later on. I still think of her post about the “Alot” whenever I see someone online misspell the word. I bought her first book right when it was released, and I eagerly awaited her second when I saw that it was coming. But, if you have also followed her, you probably know that the second book’s release date got pushed back again and again. Just when I thought that it might never be published, Solutions and Other Problems was finally released in September of 2020.
Both of Brosh’s books include comically illustrated stories about her personal life and struggles in a darkly humorous tone. Her first book was a little more lighthearted, but it still dealt with topics like anxiety and depression. Her second book is darker still, but it still made me laugh out loud a few times. In Solution and Other Problems she shares about her divorce, a medical scare, and the loss of her younger sister. It is easy to understand why her second book took so long to be published when she went through so much in the last few years. Her humor isn’t for everyone though, so I would encourage you to view her blog a little before reading either of her books.
Each chapter is about a different story in her life. Some are from her childhood, while others are from more recent years. No matter the topic, her artwork fits perfectly with the text. I think she has even improved in the way she tells her stories and illustrates them. Her art style may look simplistic, but the comedic timing and expressions on her characters’ faces always cracks me up. Even her more series stories’ illustrations excel at being emotive in just the right way. Though some of her drawings are more abstract and easily overlooked for their artistic value, some of the backgrounds and more realistic scenes show that she truly does have artistic talent.
As for the content of the stories, as I said several are on darker subjects. The ones about her sister were more heartfelt than funny, but the way she spoke about grief and regret was completely relatable. I found the story about her ex-husband fighting over a ski trip and a grocery store trip funny but also sad. It reminded me of the decline of my own past relationships, and I appreciated how she could find humor in such a sad moment. The melancholic feeling that that story gave me has stuck with me even weeks after reading it. Of course there are also some very funny stories, like how her family’s home had mysterious piles of poop appearing in it day after day and how she was overly curious about a neighbor as a child. Whatever the subject, Brosh is able to bring the reader into her memories through her conversational writing and bright illustrations.
If you liked her first book and her blog, you’ll like this one too. It definitely has a heavier tone, and at times I felt like she was trying too hard to make a sad moment funnier, but I really enjoyed both the funny and heartfelt stories. I am definitely a person who shares her sense of humor and her ability to find humor in the darkest moments of life. I appreciate how open and honest Brosh was with her feelings and her struggles. As always, she made me laugh, cry, and by the end I wanted to give her a big hug. This was a great book to start off 2021.
As 2020 comes to a close, I have found myself in a reading slump. I haven’t read a full novel in several months now. Luckily, I read a lot more during the spring and summer and had several reviews scheduled ahead throughout the year. This has been my worst reading year since I got back into reading in my 20’s, so as I struggle to meet my 50 book reading goal, I have turned to graphic novels. (If you’re struggling to read even 1, 2, or 3 books this year, I’m not putting you down of course. Everyone has different goals!) But that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I have been wanting to watch the Locke and Key series, but I wanted to read the graphic novels first, so it worked out.
Locke and Key is about the Locke family. After tragedy upends the family’s life, they move to an intricate New England manor called Keyhouse. The youngest son begins finding strange, magical keys throughout the manor, and what the family thinks is just a heinous crime turns out to have occult origins. The Locke kids must combat supernatural forces as well as the more normal trials of growing up and surviving trauma.
To begin, the series does deal with tough topics and disturbing scenes, like murder, alcoholism, and abuse. It is a horror graphic novel, though the kids are the main characters. Speaking of the kids, there are three Locke children, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode. I’m usually not a fan of child characters, but I like this group. They all have well developed characterization. They feel like realistic children, but they aren’t grating or annoying. Tyler, the oldest, puts on a brave face and carries a lot of guilt and pain, but he is the rock of the family in a lot of ways. Kinsey is just becoming a teen and is struggling with fitting in and knowing herself on top of what her family has gone through. She would rather repress or remove her pain and fear than confront it, but I wouldn’t call her a coward. Bode, the youngest, still has childlike wonder and immerses himself in the mysteries of the house. He takes a lot of the craziness and dysfunction in stride, but his family doesn’t always listen or have time for him. Other characters, like their mother and uncle, are also fleshed out well and will likely continue to develop as the series progresses. I love good character development, and I think this series delivers.
Plot-wise, I found the first volume to be very cohesive and engaging. The next volumes meander a little, and I wasn’t sure where the series was going, but were enough twists and mysteries to keep me interested. The concept of the different magical keys is very interesting too. Some keys open doors where crossing the threshold turns one into a ghost, while others can open up a person’s mind. I wouldn’t say that the use of the keys made anything too convenient, and I don’t think (so far) that they are over used as a plot device, which was a concern of mine. By volume three I am wondering just how everything will come together in the end, but I trust Joe Hill as an author since I’ve loved several of his novels. I have high hopes for the series as a whole.
So, if you’re like me and need something quick, short, and satisfying to read, I would recommend this series. I don’t find it scary as much as sad or slightly disturbing or unsettling at times. Overall, I would rate the first three volumes four out of five stars. The overall plot could be tighter, but I still enjoy the side plots that develop the characters and expand the world. The artwork is also very colorful and creative, and I enjoy the art style more than many other graphic novels.
Goodbye 2020, and hello to 2021! I’m positive that I’m not the only person looking forward to a new year. Even if the calendar changing doesn’t reset the world, it somehow feels like a fresh start. So, I started this end of the year series in 2017, and I did it in 2018, but I must have missed 2019 (at least I can’t find my own post about it). I used a spreadsheet made by Portal in the Pages on YouTube to track my reading this year.
In 2020 I had some broad goals: read more new releases, read more from POC authors, use my library more/buy less books, and reduce my physical TBR or “to be read” pile of unread books on my shelves. I succeeded in some areas and failed a bit in others.
At the start of 2020, I had 59 unread books on my shelves. Throughout the year I borrowed 13 books from my library and bought or was gifted 28 books. By the end of the year I had 49 unread books. So, I reduced my unread pile by 10 despite bringing in 41 new books. I read all of the books I borrowed, and I read most of the new books I bought or was gifted. In 2021 I’d like to reduce my TBR pile even more.
As shown in the first table, I read a total of 50 books this year, just barely making my yearly reading goal. Though I did not finish 3 of the 50, I still counted them toward the total since I read the majority of the books before giving up. I read about 16,951 pages (again, this total counts the DNF’d books) with an average 339 pages per book. I know I read shorter books this year than pervious years. Out of 50 books, my average rating out of 5 stars was 3.6.
As you can see from the table to the right, I read the most books in May when I was off work and feeling kind of good about having to stay home due to the pandemic. Of course, my totals took a steep drop during the rest of the year as work ramped up and my depression reared its ugly head.
The blog definitely reflected these next stats. Almost half of everything I read was fantasy because I love fantasy and needed the escapism. Surprisingly, graphic novels came in second, mainly because I borrowed several from my library at the end of the year to make my reading goal. The number of sci-fi and non-fiction is surprising as I didn’t realize I read that many. Historical fiction and thrillers, usually genres I gravitate toward often, had lower than normal numbers for this year. I didn’t push myself to read anything that I didn’t want to, and I’m already a mood reader, so I unfortunately really stayed in my comfort zone this year.
Lastly, I wanted to read from more diverse authors in 2020. I would say that I used to read from more male authors than female, but in the past few years it has been close to 50/50. You’ll notice that my author gender category has only 48 books counted. This is because two books had more than one author, and I didn’t update the spreadsheet to count books by multiple authors. Only one third of what I read was from POC writers, and I’d like to get this closer to 50/50 next year just to expose myself to different peoples, perspectives, and cultures.
2021 PLANS AND GOALS
So, what are my reading plans for 2021? Well, I’d like to read more books in general. I used to read about 100 books per year, but I’m not in college any more and have less free time, so I’m not sure how realistic 100 books is. However, since another of my goals is to use my library even more, I can borrow more audio and eBooks, which I think will help me reach a higher amount of books read. I actually saved about $150 this year just by borrowing books from the library instead of buying books. Use your library if you can! And if I do buy books, I want to avoid using Amazon and instead buy exclusively from independent bookstores. I started this in 2020, and I plan to continue in 2021 and beyond. As I said earlier in this post, I want to read from more diverse authors again in 2021 as well as continue to read more newer releases. Lastly, I want to read books that have been sitting on my shelves for years and get my physical TBR down to around 20-25 books.
How was your reading in 2020? What are some of your reading goals for 2021?
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.
What?! A book that isn’t fantasy?! I know! A year (or two?) ago I was really into reading and learning about South America, particularly the indigenous people who have lived there over time. Because of that I bought several nonfiction books on various topics, and I’m just now getting around to reading them. This book covers historical events and their consequences in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Topics range from Charles Darwin and other explorers of the region, to Pablo Escobar and other criminals and bandits, to people who are the last to speak their native tongue, to people who live on floating islands in Lake Titicaca. Each chapter is a different essay, and each essay gives both a micro and macro view of the place or people in the aforementioned countries.
I was very impressed by this book. Kim MacQuarrie writes in such an engaging way that I had to remind myself that this was a nonfiction title instead of fiction. He weaves together his own explorations, myths and legends, and gives the individuals he encounters and interviews their own distinct voices. His writing is both descriptive and emotive yet still very informative. I could tell that he has a great respect for the people and places that he writes about. The only real gripe I have toward the book is that I would have preferred the essays to be edited down a little more for conciseness. I think I felt this way mainly because I had prior knowledge of some of the topics, but for readers who aren’t as familiar with these places, peoples, or myths, the extra context would probably be more enjoyable and helpful to read about.
This very detailed collection of essays gets a well deserved four and a half out of five stars from me. I would highly recommend this book as a starting point if you want to learn about the political, cultural, and criminal events that took place in the Andes.
It has been a quite while since I read a thriller, but I usually get in the mood for them around this time of year. A couple of years ago I read Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I certainly didn’t hate that novel, but I thought it had some imperfections that bothered me. Since then I have heard many people rave about Ware’s other books, so I thought I would take a second look at the author’s work by reading one of her newer books that appealed to me.
The Elincourts purchased Heatherbrae House, an old home in the Scottish countryside with a violent and mysterious history. They have used their architectural and technological knowledge to make it into a “smart home.” All they need now is a reliable nanny to take care of their four children while they are busy with their demanding careers. They have actually had several nannies, but each one has made a hasty exit after experiencing odd, possibly supernatural, experiences within the home. With the high salary and a chance at a new life, Rowan Caine decides to apply to be their newest nanny. What could possibly go wrong?
The novel opens with Rowan writing to a lawyer who might be able to get her out of prison. She is in prison because she has been accused of killing one of the Elincourt’s children, but she claims she is innocent. Throughout the novel she narrates her tenure as the family’s nanny. If you do not enjoy an epistolary format, don’t worry. It is very easy to forget that Rowan is writing the story for someone else. She only addresses the lawyer by name a few times in the beginning and a handful of times throughout the rest of book.
I love a good haunted house story, and not only does Heatherbrae House have a mysterious history but it being a smart house makes for even more unsettling situations. The rooms being filled with security cameras, everything being controlled by a phone app, and being able to talk to people in different rooms via the speaker system all lead to many crazy and creepy happenings. In my opinion, the best parts of this novel were the atmospheric and suspenseful scenes. The author is talented at drawing you in and making you question everything, including the narrator herself.
However, as with The Woman in Cabin 10, I sometimes got annoyed at the main character’s decision making. Admittedly, Rowan isn’t nearly as frustratingly stupid as The Woman in Cabin 10‘s lead, but there were still a couple of instances that made me angry at Rowan. I also noticed that both main characters in Ware’s novels turned to alcohol or made mistakes because of alcohol, which sometimes felt like a lazy plot device in my opinion. Maybe just don’t drink on the job?
Anyway, one other thing I disliked was the way the novel wrapped up. I’m a big fan of thrillers where it is unclear if a supernatural force is really there or not, and I actually love when the novel doesn’t answer whether it is there or not at the end. This novel makes a clear distinction about the cause of the strange occurrences, which is fine, but the twist is somewhat easy to guess and wasn’t a twist I particularly liked. I didn’t quite understand Rowan’s motivation for taking the nanny position by the end, and I felt that the conclusion wasn’t as interesting as the journey. I know that is rather vague and subjective, so I definitely encourage you to pick up the novel and form your own opinions.
Despite my gripes, this was a fun, atmospheric, and fast-paced book that I ultimately enjoyed reading. Three and a half stars out of five for The Turn of the Key.
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.
This was an extremely unique read. I went in knowing that it was written by and about Native American men, specifically Blackfeet, and that there was a killer elk after several of the characters. Honestly, that was more than enough to interest me. I mean, seriously, have you ever heard of something like that before in traditional publishing?
Ten years ago, Lewis, Ricky, Cass, and Gabe went hunting where they were not supposed to be. Like anyone who is young and stupid, they thought they wouldn’t get caught. What happened was much worse than they imagined. They survived the hunting trip, grew up a little, and some moved off of the reservation. Ten years later Ricky is standing outside of a bar miles and miles away from the reservation. Not long after that moment, he is dead. The reports claimed that he was beat up in a bar fight, but when strange things begin happening to Lewis, he questions the media’s mundane narrative.
So, let’s start with the pros. This is a super unique premise with characters you don’t see very often in fiction in general, let alone in horror. I really enjoyed the characterization in the novel. All of the Blackfeet men were well written. I got a clear sense of each one’s personality and what they cared about. The story is told in a few different perspectives, but each voice felt different. The book went by quickly because I kept wanting to turn the page and figure out what was happening. It was gripping for sure, but there was ample time to get to know everyone. I also really liked the writing style itself. It was almost conversational or casual in tone. It felt like the story was being told to me instead of me actually reading it. I didn’t check out the audiobook, but if it is read well, I think that the writing would lend itself really well to that format.
I’ll admit that what I didn’t like was all up to personal preference, so there’s a good chance that you might disagree with my small “cons” list. I usually go into my books pretty blindly without wanting to know too much. So, though I usually don’t mind some gore, there was quite a bit in this novel. If you don’t like descriptions of blood, guts, and dead animals (dogs, if that bothers you), you might not want to read this. There was just a bit too much gore description for me, personally, but I could have easily looked up the amount of gore or trigger warnings if I hadn’t wanted to go in without knowing anything. The was creepy and tense, but I wouldn’t call it scary, and I think that the imagery would be great for a slasher movie. However, what I found the scariest, and what hooked me and made finish the rest in one sitting, was one character’s decent into madness and how the other characters heard about and interpreted the subsequent events.
So, to sum it up, if a Blackfeet-inspired slasher sounds like something you’d like this spooky season, don’t hesitate to read this!
What a wild ride. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix was my kind of crazy though. If you visit this book’s page on Goodreads you will see two very different top reviews. The top review (written by a white man) claims that this book is harmful, racist, and not at all a feminist book. The second top review (by a white female) is completely the opposite. I side much more with the female reviewer, but in my review I will reference some of the points made by the male reviewer just in case you read that review and are put off by the accusations. I will speak in vague terms, but there may be slight spoilers about scenes or some of the horror elements.
But first let’s take a step back and explain the basic plot. The book takes place in the American south during the 90’s. Several women in a very white, suburban community have decided to host a book club where they read thrillers, true crime, and horror, much to the annoyance of their husbands. A rich stranger moves into their community, and one of the book club members, Patricia Campbell, finds some strange coincidences and occurrences tied to this man. Her fellow book club members doubt her and hold onto their perfect lives, while the husbands view Patricia as an unstable influence on their wives. But what if Patricia is actually on the right track? What if this man really is a too goo to be true presence in their town?
I loved the plot and characters so, so much. Patricia and her book club members are innocent of a lot about the real world because they are just housewives. Even Patricia, who was once a nurse, has her days filled with vacuuming the curtains, polishing the good China, and making lunch for her children. Despite that, you can see some fire in their personalities even early on. Patricia certainly has a hunger for something more in her life. Overall, I felt that the women were realistically portrayed and varied in personality, which made them all unique.
As for the plot, it takes place over several years, so you see the characters and community change over time, which I really liked. However, I found it to be a fairly fast read. It was hard to put down with several twists and turns. Some of the main characters’ plans get thwarted, so they have to pick up the pieces and decide where to go from there. I liked that things weren’t easy for them, and many external forces complicated their decision making. The plot progressed realistically for the time period, though the fantastical elements required some suspension of disbelief. The horror elements included gore, bugs, and things that were emotionally horrific, which I will explain in more detail below. One thing I didn’t understand was the fact that Nazism was brought into the plot. I didn’t think it made sense, and there was already so much going on in the plot and themes that it could have been dropped. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the strange happenings in novel began mainly happening to non-white characters? Or that the evil in the novel that build up over time was parallel to the evils of the rise of Nazism?
The next few paragraphs will touch on some of the critism the novel is getting about sexism and racism, so there may be slight spoilers below. Skip to the last paragraph for my final thoughts.
First, is the novel sexist? Their husbands are mostly stereotypical for the time and place. They are domineering, abusive, and honestly think little of their wives and their interests. They don’t take the wives concerns about the new stranger seriously at all. All of this certainly makes the men sexists, and even the way the women treat each other at times stems from this internalized misogyny. However, I think that the book makes it pretty clear that this is wrong. I was legitimately angry and frustrated at how Patricia and the other women were treated and how they treated each other. Their husbands gas lighted and belittled them constantly, but if there is one thing I learned from horror authors like Stephen King, sometimes the most disturbing and chilling horror comes from everyday injustices. That doesn’t make the author or the book sexist; it just shows how awful humans can be to each other, which makes great horror in my opinion. The book ends on a hopeful note, and shows the women taking charge to improve their lives, so I can’t see how the book or author reads as sexist when the characters grow and shed the toxicity they experienced from others and from themselves.
I’ll also touch on the racism accusations in the view I mentioned, but being white myself, I wouldn’t take my opinion as infallible. So, there is one main character who is black, and she is hired as a maid and caretaker by a few of the white women in the community. There are scenes where the white women visit the black woman at her home. The black woman’s home and community are poor, and when the white women visit they are confronted by some young black men who threaten them. The black community was being hit the hardest by the strange happenings in the area, so it makes sense that the young black men were wary of the strangers in their community. (They also experienced some displacement by white building developments, and there was a rumor in their community that a white man had been creeping around their children.)The young men were easily dispersed when the black woman told them she knew the white women. So, I think that the young men being intimidating was not a racist portrayal. They had good reasons to act that way toward white strangers, and the white women (though startled) were unharmed. Some white characters had misgivings about visiting the black community, but that was realistic for the time and setting, and the characters who felt this way were not portrayed positively by the narrative.
There are accusations that the “white savior” trope was part of the novel because Patricia and her friends sought to help the black community when the strange things began happening. I disagree with this as well. Though Patricia tried, she largely failed to do much, and the black characters tell her exactly that. The white women do not really get involved in solving what is going on until their own homes and families are threatened. The black characters call them out for that, and Patricia is able to convey this sentiment to her friends and finally call them to action. And during the climax of the novel, though there are more white characters taking part than black, it is the black character who does more to resolve the situation than several of the white characters.
So, with all of that being said, I would not be put off by some of the reviews you might see floating around (says the book reviewers herself). Try the book (perhaps through your library like I did) and form an opinion for yourself. If you liked Out by Natsuo Karino but want something with vampires and some American southern flair, try this. It was creative with multiple kinds of horror and with a dash of humor. Four and half out of five stars.
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.