Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

‘Words and their meanings have weight in the world of matter, shaping and reshaping realities through a most ancient alchemy.’

I feel very late to the SFF party with this one. I started this originally back in January (not intentional, it was a long bus journey) and it stuck with me since as a book that has beautiful writing but needs to be savored. How right I was.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored and utterly out of place.

But her quiet existence is shattered when she stumbles across a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page reveals more impossible truths about the world, and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.covers a story that might just be the key to unlocking the secrets of her past.

There is very little that I can say about this book that hasn’t been said already. It takes a portal fantasy that is also in itself a discussion about the global effects of colonialism and the true power of words. I’m going to try my damn best here but this may ramble a wee bit. Consider yourself warned.

Portal fantasy has had the best resurgence in recent years. Between the wonderful story of the Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire to the very interesting discussions in Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, I have been rejoicing the new approaches. This one is a little bit more focused on how a families story can stretch across many worlds and how messy and wonderful that can be. We are limited in the worlds that we actually see but we hear of many more that would be nice to visit as readers but it also great to feel the vast amount of doors that are out there.

The setting of the story in the 19th century allows some interrogation of some of the more toxic attitudes of our world. From Mr. Locke’s various comments on January’s hair or how he explains to party goers on her ethnicity to just how we treat each other in general as a whole world is really well done. I also enjoyed the fact this is in a historic setting without being in an actual historic event, which can be a bit wonky at times. The writing is superb and there is no arguing that.

I really loved January. I did. I loved how she is so tenacious and how she never quite stops being curious for the other ways around a situation even when the odds are stacked against her. She is also incredibly realistic in how she grows as she tells her story. There are so many feelings in her and even when Mr. Locke truly tries to bleach the very colour from her soul and in a way that we do get to look back on later on in the book, he can’t quite capture the last spark of her. I loved her little support crew of Jane and Bad (her wonderful dog, short for Sinbad) and how together they make the biggest, strongest group of outcasts you could ask for. Both can possibly bite you too.

This is a book for readers and a story about stories. How stories can keep us alive, how writing a single line can save a life and how without them we aren’t really human. So I think with that, it’s worth pointing out how Alix. E Harrow writes a very perfect story here. The pacing, the plot and the fact that this is a fantasy that manages to standalone in such an exquisite way is a refreshing experience. Any kind of standalone SFF book has a lot that can go wrong or a lot that can drop but this is the book that is both an example of why we need more of them but is also a perfect book for anyone who needs an escape. A door if you will.

Thanks for reading guys, hope you are all safe and well. Do let me know if you have read this so we can discuss. Happy reading!

★★★★★/5

Review: Rosewater by Tade Thompson

I can read minds but I still don’t understand women. Or men. Humans. I don’t understand humans.

This book has been sitting on my TBR forever. I bought a Kindle copy ast year and never got around to it between starting this blog and various life things. I picked up a physical copy back in February (forgetting the Kindle copy clearly) and have finally read it. Definitely the kind of scifi I need in my life right now.

Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless—people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.

Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again—but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future

I really enjoyed this. I have found that my taste in scifi is leaning far more towards ‘new weird’ or just generally narratives that focus more on far more diverse stories in the last year. Lagoon was a huge favourite of mine from last year and Rosewater definitely captured some similar aspects of an alternative Nigeria but manages to keep you at arms length to maintain the mystery of both Rosewater and Kaaro.

The prospect of a city like Rosewater is so completely fascinating and terrifying to me. This city exists due the the third appearance of an alien known as Wormwood as it manifests as a biodome in Nigeria. Once a year, this dome opens and people flock to it to be healed and changed by entering the dome. Thompson explains this so well, I had no problem entering the story whenever I had put it down. What I really liked as well was the description of how psychic powers work and how they are tied into the existence of the biodome. It added an extra layer to the world building that I found impressive.

Kaaro is a protagonist I would usually find it hard to gel with. When I said that we are kept at arms length, it is mostly from Kaaro. He is a powerful psychic, if not the best, who has not always used his powers for totally honorable reasons. He is narrating this story and since we get this story in different time jumps, for example the plot as it’s happening now to events that happened before Kaaro became a government agent and how he became one. The book lets you get right to that part of his past that will answer a question that you have and then the chapter will end. However far we are kept from Kaaro, he does have a fantastic characters arc and the various time jumps across his life do give him a sense of growth that I don’t see often with male characters. He is flawed yet sympathetic and I find it very interesting how his masculinity in particular is challenged and discussed at various points of the story.

The time jumps in the story are work very well with this story, There is the perfect blend of scifi meets mystery here, with the mystery kept in the dark for all the right reasons. The pieces of the plot do come together perfectly and it becomes clear that Kaaro is more involved with various events than even he realises and how his powers are at risk as well as his life. It’s also a big difference to rad a science fiction story where America isn’t a huge factor in the plot. American in 2066 having shut down after Wormwood hit is a very different and welcome direction for the plot to take. I’d also like to thank Tade Thompson for mentioning the fate of my own home of Ireland and how it shaped up!

All in all, I did thoroughly enjoy this book, my only very mild criticism that the antagonist of the plot (or at least the main source of conflict) was dealt with very cleanly. Other than that, I am really looking forward to reading the other two books in this trilogy and discovering what is to come from Rosewater next.

Thanks for checking in guys, let me know if you have read this! Happy reading!

★★★★.5/5

Review:The Wolf of Oren Yaro by K.S Villoso

But I was starting to realize, with a sinking feeling that the wold did not turn on loyalty alone.

Fantasy is a genre that loves a story about a Queen. Queens that fight, queens that are masters of manipulations using their husbands to get what they want and Queens of startling beauty that wars are fought over. Today, we are going to talk about the Bitch Queen.

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come. But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair. Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

I don’t think I have devoured a dense fantasy book this fast in a while. I honestly tore through this incredible story in two days and enjoyed it immensely. Taking place in a Asian/Eastern inspired world with questionable characters mixed with elements of grimdark fantasy throughout I just couldn’t put the book out of my hands.

The characters stood out to me most of all and really left me unsure of who I could trust in the book. Taliyien (or Tali) is a ruthless woman who is willing to get her hands dirty and will have your head off for the sheer insubordinate of you looking at her wrong. The only other queen of her like I have come across is that of Cersei Lannister but that is even a weak comparison. Tali is far stronger, way more compelling and will really keep any reader guessing as to her true feelings or intentions with anyone around her. That being said she does have some very emotional moments that are very tender and really flesh her out further than most monarchs we are used to seeing in fantasy stories.

There are many other memorable characters, particularly Khine and Agos. I’m not sure why Ago is more memorable than any one else but I really enjoyed his total dedication to Tali while Agos being totally as bloodthirsty and battle ready as she is. I really liked that part of his personality and how there was this one guy always rooting for her at least. Khine is just too good for this world and I mean THIS world in the book.

One part that I did struggle with here in the book was the world building. I felt it lacked a little in places since this world is massive and there are so many different tribes with varied histories. Also every tribe has a unique interaction with each other depending on that history. We did get some fascinating information on both the Oren-Yaro as well as the Ikessar. Since I am reviewing this a s a digital NetGalley copy I am not totally sure if there was a map in the final copy but I think that would have helped me a bit more too.

Besides Tali and her wonderfully woven characters I honestly couldn’t fault the pacing or the structure of this story. There are flashbacks scattered throughout the book which can be done to death but the author has managed to put them into the story in a way that doesn’t break your immersion at all. If anything they add to the plot and the ongoing complexity of Tali as our POV. Also for a story like this to be in first person and manage to keep secrets from the reader is a huge feat.

Definitely would recommend this for fans of either Robin Hobb or a Song of Ice and Fire. Also a great book that would work as an entry point to grimdark since this isn’t distinctly part of the genre but would definitely feature some key elements of the plots typically associated with it. There is a lot of blood basically and I loved it. The next book in the series can’t come sooner!

Thank you to NetGalley, Nazia and Orbit Books for an EArc of this book in exchange for review! The Wold of Oren Yaro is out now.

★★★★/5

Review: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G Parry

‘Every supporting character is the protagonist of his own story.’

Something that I have felt over my life is that readers understand readers. Book nerds call to each other through the endless deluge of daily life and repetitive social media posts. This book for me is truly a love letter to other readers from the author herself. What H.G Parry has captured here is my teenage dream, all of my favourite well know literary characters solving a mystery in our world.

Charley Sutherland is gifted, attending Oxford as a thirteen year old boy and as an adult, the living expert on Charles Dickens. Charley also has the gift to bring literary characters to life. Literally, and sometimes he can’t control it. But with more and more literary characters popping up all over Wellington city, Charley for the first time has to contemplate that he is not the only one with this talent. While these characters all mentioning the approach of The End, it’s down to Charley and his older brother Rob to stop it, while also finding out what The End is.

It took me longer than I thought to finish this. Between work, pet death and just generally being run down, I felt like I had been living with these characters for a long period of time and that somehow made it harder to finish this. This is the book I wish my lonely, teen self had. Rich and alive with characters we all know and have seen many times but somehow, this feels like a needed breath of fresh air many of them needed.

I read many classics when I was growing up, much like Charley, and it was like meeting them for an afternoon tea. Among the well known Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray and the Artful Dodger, we had others like Matilda Wormwood and the White Witch herself. I couldn’t control my joy at Dorian Gray putting Heathcliff (not a Wuthering Heights fan) in his place. Heathcliff also has flaming eyes, like literally. Flaming eyes.

Woven among this cast is of course Charley himself and his older brother Rob. Rob is the absolute antithesis to Charley and some of the best scenes are how they are written together. I really look for realistic sibling relationships win fiction these days and Parry writes some of the best I’ve seen in a while. Charley is obviously a more than unusual mean with his ‘summoning’, as he calls it, along side being a childhood prodigy. Rob is the reluctant older brother trying to smooth as much normality into Charley without actually pelting him over the head with it. Their relationship is one full of love, unresolved conflict and the normal push and pull of any sibling relationship. That being said, I did find Rob very frustrating in places. Sometimes he was trying to control far too many things while also trying to pretend everything was ‘fine’ which wore me down slightly.

Something Parry has built into the world so deftly is the whole idea of family and how important it is. There is an honest discussion of what is important to both found families and traditional one. At one point Parry describes a relationship as a mess, and goes on to explain that is exactly what all relationships are. A beautiful mess. I was also not surprised to discover Parry has siblings after reading the book. The found family that is holding the literary characters in the story is also what is allowing their continued survival. Millie Radcliffe Dix, a character I have zero knowledge of, kind of runs a safe place for all of these characters and it really works well with the moments of Rob and Charley together.

This ongoing discussion of family, the important of reading comes together in a earth shaking plot revelation. I realised it just before it became clear and I actually had to take a deep breath for a minute before I read on. The plot is built around this and it is such a pay off in the end that I can’t remember the last time a standalone novel paid off for me like this.

If you are looking for a standalone fantasy that is both an homage and a self aware discussion of what it means to be a reader, then please check this out. Even if like me, you were a cranky, classics reading teenager then definitely read it. I’ll be picking up Parry’s other works in future for sure.

Thank you so much to Orbit Books for sending me a copy of this book to review!

★★★★/5