Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a, by Katłıà

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Author’s Twitter | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 24, 2020

Summary: A vexatious shapeshifter walks among humans. Shadowy beasts skulk at the edges of the woods. A ghostly apparition haunts a lonely stretch of highway. Spirits and legends rise and join together to protect the north.

Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’a is the debut novel from Dene author Katłıà. Set in Canada’s far north, this layered composite novel traverses space and time, from a community being stalked by a dark presence, a group of teenagers out for a dangerous joyride, to an archeological site on a mysterious island that holds a powerful secret.

Riveting, subtle, and unforgettable, Katłıà gives us a unique perspective into what the world might look like today if Indigenous legends walked amongst us, disguised as humans, and ensures that the spiritual significance and teachings behind the stories of Indigenous legends are respected and honored.

Thoughts: I want to say right now that despite my thorough enjoyment of this book, I am probably one of the least qualified people to comment on certain aspects of it. I am not Indigenous. I do not live in the part of Canada where this book takes place. I can’t speak to any experience regarding the culture, history, or language presented in Land-Water-Sky. That’s not to say the author didn’t portray things respectfully or accurately; it’s just to say that I am not one who can definitively say so.

But I can speak to how wonderful this book is, and how much I enjoyed everything that it offered.

I’m not sure whether to call Land-Water-Sky a collection of short stories that all tie into each other, or one long story that has huge gaps in it from time to time. I’ve seen a lot of reviewers call it a collection of short stories, and I can definitely see the logic to that, but my trouble with categorizing it as such is that each story holds parts of other stories within it; you can’t skip over any of them without encountering something later that just won’t make sense without context. But at the same time, there are so many leaps on the timeline that I can see why some wouldn’t consider it a single contiguous story. For my part, it feels a lot like history itself. You can isolate parts of it and tell the general story of that time, but you can’t just isolate events or people from the context of what came before, what shaped the world and the people who live within it. Even sections of the book that feel like disconnected interludes come back around in the end, proving themselves very relevant to understanding the story as a whole. You can’t really have one part without all the others.

The story starts far back in history, centuries in the past, when fierce and greedy beasts roamed the land, intent on destroying humanity and taking the world for themselves. It would be easy to say that with the aid of the gods, humanity wins and the beasts are destroyed, but that isn’t really the case. The beasts merely lie low, biding their time.  The story takes leaps into the future, or I should say leaps into the present, when we see Deèyeh, an university student studying archaeology, eager to connect with a heritage that was stolen from her. A heritage that carries a greater burden than she could have imagined.

And believe me, I am not doing this book justice with that weak description. But to include all of the interwoven stories would involve so many spoilers, and I don’t want to ruin such a fantastic book for people.

An aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was the use of Wıı̀lıı̀deh (a dialect of Tłı̨chǫ) in the early sections. The characters speak their own language, which isn’t translated for the convenience of the reader. Considering that characters later on absolutely do speak English, I thought this was a fantastic contrast, as well as a subtle way of saying to readers, “I’m not going to hold your hand. If you want to understand, you’ll have to try for yourself.” And while I have no idea as to the literal translations of everything said, there was plenty that could be understood through context. Do I think I was mentally pronouncing the words properly? Probably not. Was I able to still learn as I went, get the gist of things, and pick up a few new phrases along the way? Absolutely yes.

The author deftly tackles the issues of colonialism and inter-generational trauma, both of which give scars that can take lifetimes to heal from. If ever. I won’t say there there are analogies drawn between the greedy violent mythological beasts and white colonizers, because frankly, I didn’t see any overt connections. But I won’t pretend that there wasn’t a degree of similarity between the two when it came to the matter of respect for the Indigenous way of life as presented in Land-Water-Sky. Whether it was apathy about helping Indigenous people prove their history on the land, or whether it was about stealing the land from its caretakers, it’s hard to not come to the conclusion that different kinds of opposition can produce the same result. Some things can’t just be ignored or treated as unimportant, without risking even greater damage.

Katłıà writes with all the weight and wonder of a myth come to life. She shows how to ancient interacts with the modern, both in terms of history and culture, and in mythical creatures that walk alongside us, whether we see them or not. There is much to love, and to learn, in Land-Water-Sky. I highly recommend it for those who enjoy myths and legends and their applications in the modern world, and for those who want to do their part in uplifting the voices of Indigenous authors. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

How To Approach Reviewers About Reviewing Your Book

So you’ve written a book, hit that publish button (or gotten picked up by a traditional publisher either big or small), and you want to get a few hopefully-positive reviews and garner a little hype for the literary child you’ve been nurturing for months, maybe even years. That’s great! I’m glad you’re at that stage of things!

I’m here to tell you, though, a lot of people do this step wrong. Very wrong. And often a misstep at this stage means alienating those who could become big fans, and thus convince others to become big fans.

I’ve been reviewing books for over a decade now, and I’ve made many friends who have done the same. And there’s a few common common complaints that we all have about people pitching their book for review. I’m here to break down some of the process for you, to ensure that you and potential reviewers get off on the right foot. Positive reviews might make or break your writing career, or they may not, but believe me, it’s never a good look to alienate yourself right from the get-go.

Don’t send a request for review without checking the reviewer’s policies first. If they have a blog that’s been around for a while chances are they have a section that outlines their review policies, how they handle review copies, and what sort of books they’re open to reviewing. Check that page, and make sure that your book is something they’re open to being pitched. It doesn’t matter if you found the reviewer via their blog, on Goodreads, on Amazon, on YouTube, etc. If they have a linked blog, check it first. If they have their review policies in their profile, check it. And follow the guidelines they lay out.

Sometimes reviewers won’t have this information easily accessible, or might not have any stated policies at all. That’s fine. That’s on them to establish. But at the very least, check to make sure the reviewer deals with books in the same genre as that book you’re pitching. Why waste your time pitching your Wild West romance to someone who only reviews true crime?

Don’t assume that your book is the exception to the reviewer’s rules. Trust me, it isn’t. If someone’s review policies state they’re not accepting new review copies at this time, don’t contact them anyway and say, “Oh, but my book is so awesome that you should want to make an exception.” It isn’t, and we don’t. And trying to insist that you’re above our stated guidelines just establishes you as an author who can’t behave professionally. Nobody wants to deal with someone who can’t respect the rules.

Do use the reviewer’s name in your pitch. If the reviewer doesn’t have their name established somewhere, then at least use the blog name or channel name in your pitch. Personalize it, essentially. This tells the reviewer that you’re not just sending out a bulk email to everyone with an email address in their profile. It tells the reviewer that you have done your research, and that you’ve come to the conclusion that they are probably the right person for the job. That you’re willing to take the time to send out a personalized email, to address to an individual instead of a generic, “Dear reviewer.” Nobody likes to feel like they’re just an unwilling part of a stranger’s mailing list.

If the reviewer has positively reviewed a book you feel is similar to yours, do feel free to mention that in your pitch, and make appropriate comparisons. “I see you really enjoyed “[Title],” and I think you might enjoy “[My Book]” because both have strong themes of anti-disestablishmentarianism and also feature cybernetic kittens in prominent roles.”

A lot of authors include comparisons in their pitches, but I find that maybe only half of them are appropriate comparisons. I’ve seen pitches that include mention a title I reviewed in the past and then pitch their novel that sounds like it has absolutely nothing in common with what I already reviewed. I’ve had authors mention their saw a review I wrote and accurately compared it to their novel but neglected to consider that my review was not a favourable one.

If a reviewer declines to accept your pitch, don’t get angry about it. There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to read your book right now. Maybe it’s something like you ignoring their review policies, but maybe it’s also something like them just not having the time right now, or having too many other books that they have committed to read and review. Some reviewers will just review books at their leisure, with no set schedule, whereas others devise a timetable months in advance, knowing what they’re going to read and review and when that review will go live. They might simply not have any slots left available for months. You don’t know, and to be frank, they’re not obligated to give you an explanation. Some will, which is great, but if someone gives you a polite, “No thanks,” then let that be the end of it, and move on. Yeah, it sucks that maybe your favourite reviewer doesn’t want to read your book, but they’re not obligated to.

Note that some reviewers might not even give you a reply. To be blunt, more often than not these days, I don’t bother replying to review requests when they come through in my email. What’s my excuse for being so incredibly, iredeemably rude? Well, my review policies say that unless we’ve worked together in the past (ie, you’re an author or publicist that I’ve dealt with previously), then I’m not open to review pitches. I don’t even need one hand to count how many times I’ve been emailed in the past year by people I’ve already got a working relationship with, and I need more than both hands and both feet to count the pitches I’ve gotten from people I’ve never heard of before, trying to convince me to read and review their book. My policies are clearly stated. Either people aren’t checking them, or they’re checking them and just ignoring them. Either way, I don’t have the energy to deal with replying to everyone who probably took more time to type up an email than it would have taken to check whether it was even worth sending an email at all. So if you don’t follow the rules, don’t get angry when you get only silence.

Also don’t get angry if a reviewer gives your book a negative review. I understand that this absolutely sucks, and was probably the polar opposite of what you were hoping for, but unless the reviewer is making personal attacks against you in their review, you don’t really have much ground to stand on if they just didn’t like your book. Accepting a book for review is not the same thing as guaranteeing a positive review. Some reviewers have the policy of, “If I can’t rate it at least 4 stars, then I won’t review it at all,” which is their prerogative, and if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, then check their policies to make sure that’s the case and then pitch your book to them. But you have to accept that not everyone will receive your book as well as you want, and that as much as reviewers thrive on books and that many may offer fantastic feedback that authors might want to pay attention to, we’re mostly here for other readers. We’re publicly offering our opinions on books so that other readers with similar tastes might get a better idea of what books they too might enjoy. Reviewers don’t exist to fluff author egos, and we don’t exist solely to advance your careers. If you pitch a book to a reviewer who does negative and/or DNF (Did Not Finish) reviews, you should know that you’re taking your chances.

Which is another reason why you really need to do your due diligence and make sure you’re pitching your book to people who are most likely to enjoy it.

Speaking of, do remember that for 99.999% of reviewers, reviewing is their hobby, not their job. It’s extremely rare that anyone makes significant money reviewing books, unless they’re lucky enough to review for a massive publication, or they have a very popular YouTube channel, or maybe they’re a huge big-name reviewer and have got some Patreon support. But this is a hobby, first and foremost. We work our butts off for our hobbies, usually without any compensation beyond the occasional complimentary book. Some of us might get lucky enough to get some paid editing or publicity work thanks to their blog, but that‘s paid work. Reviewing isn’t paid work. This isn’t our job, even if some of us put in so much effort that it probably ought to be, but it’s still a hobby. If your book earnings break even with the production costs, you still probably earned more money than most reviewers do. Nobody is obligated to read your book as part of their career advancement. Nobody’s blog is going to be made or broken if they don’t read your book specifically. There are always more books than we can conceivably read, and missing out on one isn’t going to ruin us. So remember, reviewers are donating hours of their time when they agree to read and review your book.

What a lot of this boils down to is basically stated in the first point: “Do your due diligence.” Make sure you’re pitching to the right person for the task you want them to perform, and treat them accordingly. I’m fond of saying that if you can’t be bothered to spend 5 minutes researching me as a reviewer, why should I be bothered to spend multiple hours reading and reviewing your book? And I will die on that hill. If you can’t make sure that your book is a genre that I read, if you never bother to find or use my name, if you disrespect the rules I set out for my hobby, then why should I devote many hours to reading your book, taking notes, organizing my thoughts, writing a coherent review, and sharing it with others to try and boost your sales?

I want to hope this article makes a difference. The cynical part of my mind says that it won’t, because the people who need it the most are the ones who don’t check clearly-stated policies or the ones who act like their time is more precious than the time of the person they’re essentially asking a favour of, and those people probably aren’t going to heed this any more than they need the aforementioned policies. But it’s my hope that maybe there’s someone out there who’s starting off on their writing career, hoping to make it in a cutthroat world, and just isn’t sure how to start gathering those much-needed reviews to help them along the way. Maybe that person finds this article and thinks to themselves, “Oh, I wouldn’t have even thought to check for policies; I didn’t know reviewers even established review policies.” Or, “I never really considered that I’m essentially asking someone to work for hours in exchange for a $5.99 ebook; that adds a different perspective that will probably affect how I approach reviewers in the future.” Or even, “The only reviewers who are appropriate to pitch my novel to are also ones who write negative reviews sometimes, and now I’m not so sure that I did a good enough job editing it, so maybe I should hold off publishing and give it one more pass to make sure it’s as polished and ready as it can be.” (If that’s the case, then by damn, can I ever recommend some fantastic editors who will help make your book shine!)

Because I didn’t say all of this to be mean or discouraging. If you’re trying to make a go of it as an author, then I sincerely wish you the best of luck, and I hope that you find the success you’ve worked for. But in the name of success and hard work, if you want to pitch your book to reviewers, then you need to know how to best do it without running the risk of those reviewers just writing you off as someone who isn’t worth it to work with.

Life is a Damn Mess

I’ve been largely absent from many of my usual haunts these past couple of weeks. Social media, blogging… I just haven’t been up for any of it. Life is… not the easiest at the moment.

First off, one of my nearly-18 year old cats has been on a bit of a decline, health-wise. He seems to have recovered a bit this past week, for which I’m thankful, but his appetite still isn’t what it used to be, and I worry about what that might mean. As I said, he’s nearly 18, he’s diabetic, he recently got diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid and balancing his thyroid meds has been a challenge, and he also has joint and muscle degeneration in his hind legs, which means pain medication, which means his kidneys don’t always do so well either. So yeah, even if he’s doing better at the moment, I’m fairly certain this is just the beginning of the end, so to speak, and that is really weighing on me.

And if anyone follows me on Facebook, you might have been made aware of some recent family drama in my life. Long story short, my dad hadn’t spoken to me in months, after I asked him to stop harassing me about learning to drive (something he’s been insisting is “inevitable” since I was about 20, and something which I’ve insisted isn’t inevitable and I have no interest in doing anyway), and he attempted to turn that around with, “Why is it okay for you to call me a racist but not okay for me to say you might like driving?”

Which baffled the hell out of me, because I haven’t called him racist, and his response overlooks the many years I’ve been asking him to stop pressuring me…

Anyway, him ceasing to talk to me was shortly after that, with a message that basically said, “I’m still too angry to even meet up with you for 5 minutes like we’d arranged,” and then silence from then on. He didn’t like me talking about some of this stuff on Facebook, so he emailed me to call me cowardly, to tell me that my accusations of him being racist and homophobic have damaged his marriage, and to throw some inappropriate insults my way. He said he’s been keeping his distance from me to preserve his mental health and well-being. He still insists that I’ve been calling him racist and homophobic, but won’t explain when I did this or what I supposedly said it regarding, and apparently being called these things is worse than actually being them, I guess, and worse than saying or doing problematic things. Plus a general refusal to actually address my initial complaints about him harassing me. Some back-and-forth ensued, and in the end, I gave him an ultimatum. Either explain himself and actually commit to working at healing a lot of the broken aspects of our relationship, or if he really wants to keep his distance from me, then make it a clean break and cut me out entirely, because I have no time or energy to just wait on his convenience and continue to deal with accusations he won’t explain to me. I wanted him to actually choose.

He turned it around once again by saying, “If you really want a clean break, then I’ll give you that, if you need it.” He chose, but he phrased it in such a way that I’m sure he thinks he just did what I told him, not acknowledging that I have him 2 options.

But he chose. My dad has essentially disowned me over accusations I still don’t understand and may never understand.

So that all fucking happened.

Combine all of that with an ongoing pain flare that has me often wanting to just lie on the floor and sob until I pass out, because at least not being conscious means I’m not in pain for a little while… Yeah. It’s been a time. I have no idea when I’m going to get to see the neurologist I’ve been referred to for additional testing, but I can say with good certainty that I can expect this to be my life for the foreseeable future. Pain flares, and the hope of those pain flares ending and letting me go back to my regular low-level pain instead of higher-level pain.

Ain’t life fucking grand?

There has been some good stuff this month. I actually got paid editing work, which made me incredibly happy because I felt, for the first time in a very long time, like a person who wasn’t just a useless mooch and a drain on household finances. Plus I really enjoyed the process; that was a very nice bonus. And it’s been lovely to say to my partner, “Don’t worry about groceries this week; I’ve got the money for them.”

So yeah, all of that combined meant that I barely had enough spare energy to get out of bed some days, let alone try to turn my mind to organizing my thoughts into a coherent book review. Or to interact with people very much. It’s been a month of pain, work, distress, numbness, fear, and there’s been some hopeful stuff in there, not going to lie, but it’s just all been so very much, and I couldn’t keep everything on my plate.

Hopefully things will start to improve a little. Hell, if this pain flare would just end, that would make a lot of things easier to deal with. Chronic illness never plays nice, though, so I’m not going to hold my breath. Just got to hang on until the ride is over, and hope I come out the other side relatively unscathed.

So that’s why I’ve been mostly absent. I appreciate your patience with the periods of radio silence and the lack of content. Hopefully I can get some stuff going again soon. I really do miss talking about good books.

Tower of Mud and Straw, by Yaroslav Barsukov

Buy from Amazon.com, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – February 21, 2021

Summary: Minister Shea Ashcroft refuses the queen’s order to gas a crowd of protesters. After riots cripple the capital, he’s banished to the border to oversee the construction of the biggest anti-airship tower in history. The use of otherworldly technology makes the tower volatile and dangerous; Shea has to fight the local hierarchy to ensure the construction succeeds—and to reclaim his own life.

He must survive an assassination attempt, find love, confront the place in his memory he’d rather erase, encounter an ancient legend, travel to the origin of a species—and through it all, stay true to his own principles.

Climbing back to the top is a slippery slope, and somewhere along the way, one is bound to fall.

Thoughts: I’ve really been into novellas lately. I used to note enjoy them so much, finding them less to my taste than a longer, meatier novel, but these days, I see a lot more appeal in them. They have the ability to give a person a complete and engaging story while not requiring a huge time sink, and don’t tend to come with the caveat that there’ll be so much story that you’re going to need to invest in a notebook to keep track of character dynamics and event implications. I appreciate their brevity far more than I ever used to.

That being said, Tower of Mud and Straw is a story that I think was poorly served by being a novella instead of a novel.

Novellas can certain feel like a snapshot of moments within a larger world, and Tower of Mud and Straw definitely fits that bill, but through much of the story, it felt like there was too much going on to be properly supported by the format. The events in the very first line of the summary, “Minister Shea Ashcroft refuses the queen’s order to gas a crowd of protesters,” we really only see as brief memories and mentions, a moment from huge and potentially fascinating event that happens before this story even begins. Thus, we don’t really get to see how that event influenced Shea, so much as we’re told that it did, and that there were consequences, and one of those consequences was essentially the catalyst for Tower of Mud and Straw. There are the Drakiri, a people who are far more technologically advanced than humans for some unexplained reason, and that technology is dangerous to use but only sometimes, and even by the end of the story, I didn’t feel like I quite had a handle on what the tipping point for danger really was. Shea develops a complicated romantic relationship after a time, another character ends up as his friend or at least in a decent working relationship, and the fact that I can’t quite tell how to describe it is due partly to the fact that so little time was given over to developing how the characters behaved around each other, how their interactions and relationships changed along the way.

There’s a lot crammed in here, and I feel like it could have been done greater service by taking the time to expand it all into a novella. Characters say things and their words are taken as truth without evidence, and sometimes it wasn’t exactly a convenient situation in which to demand said evidence, but there was no reason to just accept anything then either. Part of the conflict of the story involves a Drakiri legend about the Mimic Tower, a sort of hellish building that appears when a building of equal or greater height is constructed, which will bring with it great destruction, and this all ties in to Drakiri identity, and the concept of a demonic Tower of Babel analogue is fascinating enough on its own, and was a driving factor in the story, but again, too much crammed into too little. The end result was that the story felt smothered, trapped, while anything not critical was stripped away to save space. And unfortunately, that included a lot of potential character development and worldbuilding.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like here, and Barsukov’s work has a lot of potential. If this had been fleshed out and presented as a full-length novel, the vast majority of my issues with it would likely vanish, as they would at that point not be issues. I have no problem with the story’s premise, with the individual events as they unfolded, with the characters and the roles they played. They were just all done a disservice, I feel, by trying to slim them down and make them fit into a format that couldn’t show them off in their full glory.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

Reading and Blogging Goals for 2021

Given my wonky health of late, I wasn’t sure whether to do anything goal-related at all this year. I mean, we’re already nearly 2 weeks into 2021 and I haven’t written a single review yet, nor have I finished read a single book. It seemed like a bit of a fool’s errand to commit myself to doing a certain amount of things or doing things on a regular and scheduled basis. The future might bring me scads of editing work that distract me from reading (haha, not bloody likely!), or it might bring me a month where I’m barely able to get out of bed and all I can manage is reading (thankfully, also not bloody likely, but still more likely than the other option). Who even knows anymore?

But still, I do have certain things I want to accomplish this year, so let’s get down to brass tacks and take a look at the idealistic side of my mind that won’t quit no matter how much it probably ought to sometimes.

  1. Read 52 books.

My definition of a book has changed a lot over the years. I used to not count manga and graphic novels, or some books geared towards certain age ranges, or sometimes I wouldn’t even count novellas. Now, I do. They tell a story or stories, they count as a book. End of.

2. Take February as Manga Month again.

Last year, I did Manga Month twice. This year, I think I’ll only do it the once. I have plenty of manga to catch up on, and giving myself an excuse to just read and review manga for an entire month is a great way to do just that. Those reviews might not be the most popular, but this blog ceased being popular long ago, so at this point, it doesn’t really matter. I want to read and review some manga titles, so I’ll do just that.

3. At least 50% of my reviews will be from review copies.

I have a lot of review copies, gathered over my… holy crap, I’ve been reviewing books on and off for over a decade now! Yeah, that’s a long time, and many of those years saw me lucky enough to get review copies from authors and publishers. I have plenty of books I’ve purchased for myself, or books I’ve borrowed from the library, but I want to make a bigger dent in that review copy backlog.

4. Finish more series.

Browsing the list of books I’ve reviewed, there are a lot of, “book 1 of a trilogy” entries on there, and then I never went any further. Sometimes it was because I couldn’t get any of the other books in the series. Sometimes I had no interest in reading further. Sometimes I had the books and wanted to read them but made the executive decision to focus on other upcoming titles instead, to keep riding the hype train.

But as I said, this blog is no longer even remotely an influence in the bookish world, so I feel a little more free to take the focus on upcoming books and look back a little bit, to finish things I started and to cross a few older titles off the list. I’m not going to pin down an exact number of series I want to finish up this year, but I do plan to make an effort in that direction.

And… that’s it, really. As I said, given my unpredictable health, I don’t want to make any more commitments than that, because doing so just seems like a surefire way to be disappointed in myself when life gets in the way and I can’t meet my own expectations.

Fellow bloggers, what are your goals for the year, if you have any? Are they many or few, big or small? Let me know in the comments, link to any posts you made about what you want to accomplish this year, and we can spread a little goal-related love around.

In the meantime, happy reading!

2020 Reviews in a Nutshell

In 2020, I reviewed 57 books. I thought it might be a fun idea to do a quick recap of those books and what I thought of them, 2-3 little sentences to remind people of some great books they might not have read yet.

January

the-rage-of-dragons

The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter – African-inspired epic fantasy that is so damn good and I’m annoyed with myself that I haven’t read the sequel yet. One of the few, “character becomes the best of the best,” stories that I could really get behind.

The Walled City, by Ryan Graudin – Based on the walled city of Kowloon, definitely set on Earth and in modernish times, but Kowloon had a different name and it felt like it author was afraid to actually commit to claiming accurate representation.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzie Lee – Queer historical fantasy that reminded me a lot of Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord when it came to the fantastical elements. But with more boners.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, by Mackenzie Lee – Also queer historical fiction, but with an awkward portrayal of an aroace character, some homophobia, convenient disappearances of a woman of colour when the plot calls for it, and far less subtle coolness about the fantastical elements.

The Lady Rogue, by Jenn Bennett – Historical fantasy that took me ages to figure out was historical, because for a huge chunk of the book there was no indication in terms of speech patterns or behaviour. Plus anachronisms. An okay adventure story, though.

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi – African YA fantasy that I wanted to like more, but a bunch of the plot felt repetitive and one of the romances felt uncomfortably coercive at times. If not for those things, though, I would have enjoyed it a lot.

Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire – Really cool urban fantasy with faeries! Some slightly confusing magical mechanics, though friends have insinuated that things might make more sense later on in the series.

The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo – Historical fantasy with ambiguous supernatural elements and a really damn compelling story. Choo’s work is so freaking good!

Hunter, by Mercedes Lackey – YA dystopia plus monster-hunting, with commentary on streaming and “always being on.” The main character only seems able to make mistakes when it furthers the plot. It was okay. Nothing special.

February

Dekoboko Sugar Days Deko-boko Sugar Days, by Atsuko Yusen – A cute BL manga about 2 guys discovering their feelings for each other. Brings nothing new to the table, but enjoyable enough.

RePlay, by Saki Tsukahara – I have never before seen the terms “pitcher” and “catcher” be used so un-euphemistically. I mean, it’s a baseball-themed BL manga, but still.

The Fox and the Little Tanuki, vol 1, by Mi Tagawa – Written more for kids than adults, I still adore this folklore-heavy manga and recommend it to pretty much everyone. It has a lot to say about knowing and accepting yourself.

My Hero Academia, vol 1, by Kohei Horikoshi – Like X-Men, but if nearly everybody had a superpower. I can see why so many people love this franchise, though I may or may not continue with it.

March

Range of Ghosts

Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear – Fantastic world-building, taking inspiration from parts of the world that we don’t usually see featured in fantasy novels. Feels like the setup novel for something bigger, but it’s still really good.

Shattered Pillars, by Elizabeth Bear – Sequel to Range of Ghosts, and it gets a lot more into the real meat of the story. Fascinating take on the way political shifts have tangible effects on the physical world.

The Queen’s Bargain, by Anne Bishop – Aside from wanting to smack Surreal for doing pretty much everything she should know by now not to do, this was a pretty decent addition to the Black Jewels series.

The Immortals, by Jordanna Max Brodsky – Greek deities in modern day, dealing with mystery and mayhem and old grudges. Definitely worth a read if you’re into mythology.

I Still Dream, by James Smythe – Two different takes on what AI could do and become, the personal journey of the woman who really created it in the first place, and a whole lot about how psychology can apply to artificial intelligence. I adored this speculative novel!

April

Of Honey and Wildfires

Of Honey and Wildfires, by Sarah Chorn – Take the Wild West, add magic, add queer characters, and mix in a bunch of phenomenally lyrical writing, and that’s what this book gives you.

One Word Kill, by Mark Lawrence – Time travel paradoxes and D&D geeks in the 80s, and a whole bunch of concepts that made me have to take a moment to contemplate the ramifications of.

Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames – I admit, I missed some of the, “if adventurers were treated like rockstars,” approach and just accepted this as a damn good brutal yet witty adventure story. Really enjoyed it, and I still have to get around to reading the sequel.

Turning Darkness into Light, by Marie Brennan – A standalone sequel to the Lady Trent books, which very much appealed to my inner archaeologist and linguistics geek. Why are all of Brennan’s books so freaking good?!

May

The Hills Have Spies The Hills Have Spies, by Mercedes Lackey – Instead of dealing with a played-out character, we now deal with the played-out character’s kids. Also, long-established rules about how the world works are broken. Sadly, this is basically modern Valdemar books in a nutshell.

Eye Spy, by Mercedes Lackey – Pretty much the same as the above book, really, only dealing with a different kid. I enjoyed this one more than the previous novel, since it dealt with an uncommon character type. Also, there’s a very blatant Trump analogue, and what I think is an awkward attempt to establish an asexual character.

Spy, Spy Again, by Mercedes Lackey – The last of Mags’s kids gets a book. More weirdness happens that demonstrates that Lackey has kind of lost her edge. I’m sad to see the Valdemar novels end in such a lackluster way.

Finna, by Nino Cipri – Freaking fantastic novella that has a lot of humour and a lot of heart. And also takes potshots at corporate cruelty. I kind of loved it.

Flame in the Mist, by Renee Ahdieh – Japanese historical fiction that didn’t quite seem to know when it was set, and also cribbed some lines from the Memoirs of a Geisha movie. It was okay, it had some good points, but it was also pretty frustrating to read at times.

June

Ormeshadow Ormeshadow, by Priya Sharma – One of those stories that doesn’t even seem like it has fantastical elements until near the very end, which only adds to its impact on the reader. A slow burn, but worth it.

Or What You Will, by Jo Walton – A fourth wall-breaking story about an entity who has been many characters in many novels, trying to get his author to teleport herself into the world of her own books in order to save her from a slow death by cancer. It’s a head trip. It’s Jo Walton, and I love it.

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders, by Aliette de Bodard – A Dominion of the Fallen side-story involving, well, exactly what the title implies. Though I’ve only read the 1st book in the series, I still really enjoyed this novella.

Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon – Felt like I was reading an expanded legend, something right out of mythology. I need more Chinese fantasy in my life after this one.

July

Updraft Updraft, by Fran Wilde – A fascinating world in which people live in towers of living bone, and in which flight is a primary mode of transportation. I really do need to read the sequel!

The Ghosts of Sherwood, by Carrie Vaughn – If Robin Hood had kids, what would they be like? This one focused on his daughter, and her desire to live her life out from under her father’s shadow.

The Heirs of Locksley, by Carrie Vaughn – Focusing on another of Robin Hood’s kids, this time his son, and his looming life as a man and all that entails. Including political mayhem.

Jade City, by Fonda Lee – Technology, magic, and clan warfare, set in a city that shows influence from many East Asian (and Southeast Asian, I believe) cultures. So freaking good!

Silver in the Wood. by Emily Tesh – The immortal Green Man archetype falls in love with a folklorist, and if that doesn’t sound complicated enough, trust me, it gets even more so. Short and sweet and filled to the brim with folklore and local legends.

Drowned Country, by Emily Tesh – Sequel to the above, and still good, though I liked it less than its predecessor. Heavy themes of betrayal and finding one’s purpose in life.

August

The Fox and the Little Tanuki 2 The Fox and the Little Tanuki, vol 2, by Mi Tagawa – I still love this manga. This volume has a whole lot to say about scapegoating and how people shouldn’t be blamed for the circumstances of their birth and how enough cruelty can turn anyone cruel in return. Profound stuff for something aimed at kids!

There Are Things I Can’t Tell You, by Edako Mofumofu – A BL title where the main characters aren’t in high school (which is kind of uncommon), but it still has a lot of the same problematic tropes you find in a lot of BL manga, which is a shame.

A Gentle Noble’s Vacation Recommendation, vol 1, by Momochi, Sando, & Misaki – I don’t know what it is about so many fantasy worlds in manga working by video game rules (“Let’s kill monsters to go up levels and be stronger!”), but here’s another one. Interestingly, it’s an isekai title where the primary setting and the home setting of the protagonist are both secondary worlds, which is really uncommon.

Blue Flag, vol 1, by KAITO – Girl 1 has crush on Guy 1. Guy 1 has a crush on Guy 2, and thinks that Girl 1 also has a crush on Guy 2. Girl 2 has a crush on Girl 1. And I will read the rest of this manga just to find out if everyone ends up in a happy stable group relationship!

Venus in the Blind Spot, by Junji Ito – A collection of shorts from a horror manga master. Some are better than others, but all are good, and all are pretty damn creepy.

Fangs, by Sarah Andersen – A love story between a vampire and a werewolf, and something so cliche shouldn’t be as adorable as Andersen makes it here.

September

Storm Front Storm Front, by Jim Butcher – A decent story, spoiled for me by the unfunny sexism and a protagonist who insists on being “chivalrous” and “gallant” even when it’s actively annoying the women around him. I heard that the series improves as it goes, but after such a poor beginning and so many frustrating moments, I have no desire to continue with it.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Historical fiction and Mayan gods and trips to the underworld and this book is a whole load of gimme gimme gimme!

Aggretsuko: Metal to the Max – Based on the hit anime, this is a quick set of 3 comic shorts about the characters, and I have to say, a bunch of the humour missed the mark and more than once characters didn’t act or sound as I had come to understand them from the show. Not bad, especially in the art department, but not great either.

October

Within the Sanctuary of Wings Within the Sanctuary of Wings, by Marie Brennan – The final Lady Trent novel, and one that really appeals to my love of anthropology. (Can it still be called anthropology when the culture in question is decidedly more draco than anthro?)

The Magician King, by Lev Grossman – A huge expansion to the overarching story of The Magicians, and one that dealt very heavily in loss and change. Not an easy read, but a compelling one, to be sure.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V E Schwab – Reminded me a lot of Claire North’s The Sudden Appearance of Hope, at least in initial concept. The follow-through, though, was entirely different, and broke my heart into so many pieces as the story went on. I’m not sure Schwab has ever written anything I’d disliked, to be honest…

November

Come Tumbling Down Come Tumbling Down, by Seanan McGuire – More of Jack and Jill’s story, though mostly Jack’s at this point. I really love the Moors as a setting. Gothic horror is love. Getting emotionally kicked in the heart is also love… sort of.

The Witch and the Beast, vol 1, by Kousuke Satake – Enough twists and turns to the story that I found myself wondering where everything was going to lead, and there’s enough meat to the tale that I’m curious to read more in the future.

The Shadow Queen, by Anne Bishop – Book 1 of Cassidy’s duology, part of the Black Jewels series, and I really love this book and its sequel. So much. They’re both frequent rereads of mine, and for all that they deal with some pretty harsh topics, they give me such hope that hard work and a solid support group can really change things for the better.

Shalador’s Lady, by Anne Bishop – Book 2 of Cassidy’s duology, and one with some very world-changing consequences at stake. Still as beloved to me as the first book, and I lose so much time buried in the story.

December

Remina Remina, by Junji Ito – A sci-fi horror manga that is phenomenally messed up, and really highlights the worst of humanity when a crisis hits. Some of the behaviour in this manga was influenced by a malign presence, but after everything that’s gone down with Covid, sorry, you don’t need an evil demon planet to bring out the worst in people.

The Factory Witches of Lowell, by C S Malerich – Answers the question, “What if women turned to witchcraft in order to make sure they could unionize and be treated fairly in the factories?” Also, gay relationships!

The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman – Capping off the Magicians trilogy with a lot of loose ends getting tied up (but not all of them), some subplots that go nowhere (which is kind of typical for this trilogy), and an entire world being destroyed while the nature of gods is debated.

Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire – A standalone novella in the Wayward Children series, and one of my favourites within it. I could read entire novels set in the Hooflands, I really could!

And there you have it! Quick recaps and thoughts of what I reviewed this past year! Will I review as many in 2021? Honestly, who knows? I’d love to, but given the world and my health and whatnot, I’ve stopped trying to make promises like, “I’ll definitely doing a certain amount of something.” I’ll review when I can, which will likely still be around 3-4 books a month on average, but we’ll just have to see how it all goes. I may have slowed down, I may be a zillion times less influential than I used to be, but I’m still in the game for the moment.

I hope your 2020 reading goals went well, and I hope 2021 is even better for us all!

Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire

Buy from Amazon.com, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – January 12, 2021

Summary: Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to Be Sure before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines–a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

Thoughts: Barring the first story in the series, all of the other Wayward Children novellas have been about already-established characters, and I say, “barring the first story,” because that’s the one that, well, established all the characters. While nearly all of the books could be read as standalones, they are so much richer when you have the foundation under your feet, and I can see why some may have been intimidated to just pick up and random book, knowing they might be missing some vital context.

So it was nice to see a story that really could be read as a 100% standalone, without characters from other stories making appearances, at least so far as I could tell. Regan’s story is one that could be picked up by somebody who’s heard good things about the Wayward Children series but who perhaps can’t get their hands on Every Heart a Doorway, but who still wants a glimpse into the kind of rich and compelling narrative these novellas hold without feeling lost or like they’re missing something.

Regan’s character is one that I think many people can empathize with to one degree or another. While in her mundane life, she tried hard to fit in, tried hard to fit into the boxes that other people dictated she should fit into in order to be ‘normal,’ even when doing so was a painful experience that cost her dearly. Only Regan didn’t quite fit into that box as well as she wanted, after receiving some news from her parents that on a biochemical level, she wasn’t quite like the other girls she knew. A moment of betrayal in telling the person she thought was her best friend, the one she’d worked so hard to please and be liked by, and Regan’s life began to spiral in directions that ultimately led her through a mysterious door and into the Hooflands, where she meets centaurs and unicorns and all manner of fantastical beings, all with hoofed feet. It’s there that Regan not only finds herself and finds acceptance, but also where she, as the world’s designated newly-arrived human, she discovers that she has a grand destiny to fulfill.

Honestly, I could spend years reading about the Hooflands and be quite happy to do so. The world that McGuire sets up in complex and real, with distinct cultures and geography and mythology and prejudice, and it feels deeper and more fleshed-out than some worlds I’ve read about in full-blown novels, where the author has so much more time to establish things for a reader. If next year I find that McGuire has sold a trilogy of novels set in the Hooflands, I will pre-order them all, I swear. There’s just something about the place that I love, and I feel like there are so very many stories that could be told there, all of them ones I’d want to read about. This isn’t my favourite otherworld that has featured in a Wayward Children novella, but it’s pretty damn close!

That being said, there was a moment of internal inconsistency that I wanted to mention, and I’ll preface this by saying that I read an ARC (advance review copy) and what I’m about to say might end up being erased from the final publication, but it stood out to be so much that I wanted to tackle it in this review. Shortly after Regan stumbles into the Hooflands and meets Pansy the centaur, Pansy utters a little colloquialism, “hay and horseshoes.” Which seems fitting, and was kind of the equivalent of our, “sunshine and rainbows.” You know, all the good things, everything being happy. But later on the same page, Regan mentions horses, and Pansy has no idea what a horse is. Now maybe this was just a case of someone not reflecting on etymology, because that happens all the time in real life, but it seemed very weird to me that someone would know what horseshoes were but not horses.

I can’t even give this one my usual handwave of assuming that everyone in the novel is speaking a language that isn’t English and everything I read is essentially translated for my benefit, because Regan is certainly speaking English, and Pansy is perfectly understood and seems to speak the same language, so it ended up being one of those weird internal inconsistency issues that kept nagging at me. Especially since Regan later mentions horses to another character, who doesn’t seem confused as to what a horse is at all. Or if she is, she doesn’t say anything about it.

But that one issue aside, the rest of the story was so very damn good that I was riveted from beginning to end. I loved seeing Regan’s progression as a character, I loved seeing more of the Hooflands and the people who lived there, and I loved the way the story took a turn in the end that made it feel very much like a great myth was being told, with Regan making unlikely allies who help her on her journey to fulfill her destiny. It was a fantastic read, and Across the Green Grass Fields quickly rose to become my second-favourite story in the entire series. And given how much I’ve enjoyed all the other books, that really says something!

Long story short, if you enjoyed the other Wayward Children books, you’ll love this one just as much. And if you haven’t read any of the other books yet but can’t find the first one or are intimidated to start at the beginning of a multi-book series (which is understandable; I often feel like if I start at the beginning, I ought to see it through to the end, and I don’t always have the time or ability to commit to that), then Across the Green Grass Fields is an excellent taste of what you’re in for if you decide to tackle the rest of the series. It’s a proper standalone that’s equal parts thought-provoking and exciting, giving readers a new and unique story while still feeding the craving for more books in the multiverse that is the Wayward Children series. I can’t recommend this one enough; it was brilliant, and I utterly loved it!

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

Call for Guest Posts

With the new year coming up, I want to focus on providing more and varied content for Bibliotropic. Reviews are all well and good, and probably won’t be stopping any time soon, but there’s more to a bibliophile’s life than just book reviews.

That’s why I’m putting out the call for guest posts. I have plenty of free spots available here over the coming year, and I want to give you your chance to get a little bit of extra publicity for your work.

There are 2 types of posts that I’m interested in hosting.

Posts from SFF writers

Writers great and small, I want you to talk about some of the inspiration behind what you’re writing now or what you’ve recently written. And by this, I don’t mean stuff about how you’ve written stories since you were a kid and finally got the gumption to go for publication, or how you started writing because your kid loved the bedtime stories you told them. Stories like that are important, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not what I’m looking for here.

No, what I’m looking for is more along the lines of, “I wanted to write a fantasy novel set in a world based on Estonia during the Iron Age, and the reason for that is…” Or, “So my fantasy novel involves a society making the switch to coin money for the first time; humans have really only be using money as we know it for about 3000 years.” Tell me cool stuff about Iron Age Estonia. Tell me cool stuff about how money first came into being. Tell me why that inspired you to the point where you wanted to put it in your novel, or novella, or short story collection. Get me, and other readers, as passionate about these cool things are you are. Make people want to buy and read your book because you made your inspiration sound that interesting!

Don’t forget to include links to where people can buy your book(s), too.

Posts from other creative types

There are so many creative people out there, in the bibliosphere, who don’t always get a chance to have their work highlighted because their work, to be blunt, isn’t a book. We all love books, after all. But you know what else we love? Candles with scents inspired by scenes from your favourite fantasy novels. Jewellery inspired by your favourite sci-fi movie characters. Quilts with pixel-art patterns of characters from video games you love. If it’s geeky, and crafty, I want to see your work. I want to showcase your work. Book-related is preferable, but I’m not about to turn down a post because you knit scarves inspired by SFF TV shows instead of SFF books. I want you to pick some of your best work, the stuff you want to show off to the world, and tell me why you made it. What prompted you to make that cool geeky piece of art? I want to hear all about your creative works.

And yes, if you sell your work online, absolutely include links to your store pages!

Folks, after the hellscape that was 2020, I really want to boost the signals of so many creative people. I want to give them a platform where they can inspire others, and talk about something that interested them enough to create based on it, and I want to (hopefully) help them get a few more sales, a few more fans. This year has been hard enough on us all, and I want 2021 to be better, and if I can do that by giving over some blog space to a little promotion for those of us whose creative endeavours might otherwise go unnoticed, then all the better.

If you’ve got something you want to contribute to this project, then shoot me an email (bibliotropicDOTreviewsATgmailDOTcom) to discuss it, set up a date for your post, all that good stuff. I really look forward to hearing about the things that inspire your work.

The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman

Buy from Amazon.com, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – August 5, 2014

Summary: Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory—but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.

The Magician’s Land is an intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

Thoughts: Quentin joins a group of thieves with the aim of recovering a mysterious magical doodad. The gods still aim to take magic back for themselves, keep it away from humans. Plum, a newly-introduced character, is part of the Chatwin family, famous for their involvement in the Fillory novels. And Fillory?

Fillory is dying.

As with the previous Magicians novels, the greatest strength of storytelling can also be a bit of a weakness, depending on how you look at it. It’s very true-to-life in that people come and go, not everyone in the story ends up important or relevant or around for very long, and sometimes things happen that we don’t really get much follow-up to, because the events in question lead to other things that take priority. This is pretty much how real life works. We all have about a hundred dangling plot threads in our own history, things that would make the readers of our lives say, “Hang out, but what about this thing? What happens with that?” If you’re not prepared for that from the outset, you’re probably going to end up rather disappointed by the end.

With that said… Yeah, sometimes it ends up pretty disappointing, however true to life it may be. A significant chunk of The Magician’s Land is given to Quentin’s work with the group of thieves attempting to steal a magical artifact, only to have it stolen out from under their noses by a double-crosser. That entire section seems to serve mostly as a way of showing how Quentin and Plum work decently together and how they have their own agenda, but except for a couple of lines near the end, it just kind of goes nowhere. So much work given over to setting up a heist, only to be foiled at the last minute, and then the whole sequence get shelved until the book is almost over, when someone explains that oh yeah, that was all about this other thing from the previous book, which is in itself a dangling plot thread because it’s part of another character’s story and we don’t really get to see any more of that either.

So, depending on how you look at it, Grossman’s writing is either incredibly frustrating, or incredibly realistic. Your mileage may vary.

What I did very much like about The Magician’s Land is that we get to see a lot more about Fillory itself. Not so much that a lot of the book was set there, but we see more of how the Chatwin kids interacted with it, what it was about Martin that made him turn so twisted and destructive, and about the nature of the gods and creation, the cyclical nature of its existence. Which is a lot of philosophy to cram into a novel, however long it may be, but this too is also par for the course in this series, and the chance to do a bit of a deep dive into the lore was definitely welcome. Especially when it revealed just how flawed absolutely everybody was, gods and mortals alike.

It’s hard to say that this was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, per se, since I’m not sure the word “satisfying” really applies. It was, however, an appropriate ending. There are other connected stories to tell, I don’t doubt (there always are), but this story, this particular chapter in the book that is Fillory and its multiverse connection to Quentin, is over. There was sadness and loss and bittersweet reunions and I’m not sure anybody ended up where they thought they would when it all first started, but it’s as complete a story as I think can or should be told, and it was a bit of a wild ride following along with the various characters and their own personal aspects of the tale. There were bits that were impossible for me to have predicted, there were bits I was glad to finally see the conclusion to, and while this series wasn’t always easy to read (far too much emotion wrapped up in what was happening to make it a comfortable story at times), I’m glad I took the time to finally see it through from beginning to end.

If philosophical fantasy is something you enjoy, then definitely give this series a go. It’s got a lot to it, far more than I initially expected, and from what I understand of the show (I have yet to actually watch it, honestly), a lot of things about the story differ, so you can’t just read or watch one and assume you know the other. It’s not a series I can recommend to everyone, because there is so much grief and loss as various points and I know that it would be very hard reading for some, but if that’s something you’re prepared for and can handle, then I think it’s worth it to at least give this series a try. I enjoyed the first book most of all, with everything being so new and fantastical to the characters, but this final book, with everyone having grown up and learned more about the world (or rather, worlds) had an appeal too, giving adult readers characters who are a bit world-wearing and Done With This Shit but also still willing to keep pushing forward toward their goals, making mistakes and making up for those mistakes, with a very definite sense of credibility and reality to all of it. I’m not sure there’s another series out there quite like this, and I believe it will stand firmly on its own for a long time to come.

The Factory Witches of Lowell, by C S Malerich

Buy from Amazon.com, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – November 10, 2020

Summary: Faced with abominable working conditions, unsympathetic owners, and hard-hearted managers, the mill girls of Lowell have had enough. They’re going on strike, and they have a secret weapon on their side: a little witchcraft to ensure that no one leaves the picket line.

For the young women of Lowell, Massachusetts, freedom means fair wages for fair work, decent room and board, and a chance to escape the cotton mills before lint stops up their lungs. When the Boston owners decide to raise the workers’ rent, the girls go on strike. Their ringleader is Judith Whittier, a newcomer to Lowell but not to class warfare. Judith has already seen one strike fold and she doesn’t intend to see it again. Fortunately Hannah, her best friend in the boardinghouse—and maybe first love?—has a gift for the dying art of witchcraft.

Thoughts: Tell me there’s a book out there that offers a fictionalized account of early unions, fighting to gain new rights that will allow their members to live happier healthier lives. Tell me there’s a book that heavily involves the history of the textile industry. Tell me there’s a book out there where people can solve their problems by use of practical believable magic. Now tell me there’s something that combines all three of those things, and why yes, I do want to read that!

Enter The Factory Witches of Lowell.

The women and girls working at a textile mill in Lowell decide, not unreasonably, that they deserve more than what the company is willing to give them. Better pay, greater workplace safety, the usual things people have to fight for under a system that declares that “the winner” is whoever can give the least while getting the most. But the ensure solidarity, to ensure that all of them are together in the fight, they turn to witchcraft to bind themselves to the goal. It’s a rough trade, given that many of them work to earn money to send back to their families, and striking means no money. But a price must be paid for change, and the women know their value to the company, and compromises must be made to ensure that everybody can move forward again.

This novella could have been 100% real, a true account of a strike at a textile mill in a factory town, were it not for the magic element. I think that’s what makes it so compelling. I love historical fantasy and magical realism, things that are so grounded in the mundane that it makes the extraordinary that much more believable. Malerich did a really job job blending the mundane and the fantastical here; credit where credit is due, that’s a hard balance to strike.

We often take textiles for granted these days, what with new clothes being easy to come by and even easier to throw out most of the time. But Malerich shines a light on the dangers of the early mass production in the textile industry in The Factory Witches of Lowell. Low pay and long hours are obvious problems, and that was (and still is) common in a lot of work. But then there’s the young age of some employees, the danger of losing body parts if one isn’t quick enough with the large mechanical looms, the constant inhalation of tiny fibres that eventually destroy the lungs. It’s that inhalation that partly allows for the clever piece of sympathetic magic to work in the story. Cotton is in all of the employees, literally breathed in every day they work there, and that connection gave them a degree of power over each other and over the work itself. Between that and weaving parts of themselves into a piece of cloth, it made for a powerful binding, and I loved seeing such subtle magic work in tangible and believable ways.

The Factory Witches of Lowell isn’t a long read; I finished reading it in and afternoon, and I enjoyed every moment I spent with it. Malerich’s writing is clear and approachable, the story was interesting and contained aspects that are still relevant today despite the historic setting, and yes, being a geek for textiles made this novella that much better for me. If you’re a fan of historical fantasy and magical realism, then this is one book to look into sooner rather than later.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)