This might be an unpopular opinion but I love reading and writing reviews quite a lot. Even though they don’t get as many views as other types of posts, I write them to share my thoughts and hopefully convince people to pick them up if I liked them. I run a monthly book club on Twitter called Stars and Sorcery, which focuses on reading sci-fi and fantasy books by authors of colour. Most of the books chosen as the Book of the Month (BOTM) for the club are backlist titles, so I don’t get to highlight them as much on my blog. Today, I decided to write mini reviews for each of the BOTMs of Stars and Sorcery between Jan-Jun 2020.
Timekeeper by Tara Sim
✨Age Range: Young adult
✨Content Warning: Anxiety, PTSD and violence
The main character, Danny, is the perfect staid, solid bloke that you would expect from a book set in Victorian England. There is an interesting cast of characters and a complex web of relationships with a healthy dose of emotional angst, which is executed very well. This book also features one of the best villains I have encountered in all my years of reading.
There is a meaty plot that unfolds in a whodunit style with layers of sub-plots blending in seamlessly. However, it is on the slower side as equal importance is given to character development, romance and world-building. The magic system is unique and revealed to the reader in a natural way with interesting bits of history and mythology thrown in.
Tara Sim’s prose has a beautiful, lilting quality to it that personally appealed to me. She manages to weave in different story elements with equal care and attention to each. Themes of homophobia, mental health and the nature of good and evil are explored in a well-rounded manner from different angles and perspectives.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
✨Genre: Science fiction
✨Age Range: Middle grade
✨Content Warning: Death and mentions of violence
Min is one of those characters you can’t help but root for. She’s clever and naughty as is expected from someone her age but she also shows immense strength, courage and resourcefulness throughout the book. I also adored the side characters and the wholesome friendship between Sujin, Haneul and Min.
The plot went in directions I wasn’t expecting and I was pleasantly surprised. The world-building impressed me the most and there was quite a bit of hard science tucked in there, which I enjoyed. The way the author wove in Korean mythology into a sci-fi story was the best part of the book for me.
While I enjoyed both the narration (as I listened to the audiobook) and the writing style, it felt a bit complex for a middle grade audience. The intricate family dynamics were portrayed in a way that will surely resonate with everyone. I also liked how the author seamlessly incorporated gender identity and the correct use of pronouns into the story.
The Black Tides of Heaven by J. Y. Yang
✨Age Range: Adult
✨Content Warning: Violence, death and gore
What struck me about this novella is how the depth of each character is shown in such few words. Both Akeha and Mokoya have layers to their character and their different personalities, despite being twins, shone through in the book. I also liked the side characters and the portrayal of the toxic relationship one can have with caregivers.
The plot was cohesive and exciting even though it follows Akeha’s journey from infancy. As with most diverse books I read, the East Asian-inspired world-building blew me away because it was revealed beautifully throughout the book. The magic system was a refreshing take on the classic elemental framework.
Reading this book cemented JY Yang’s position as a master of succinct prose in my mind. The concept of choosing a gender to complete the coming-of-age tradition was a unique and thought-provoking addition. It also combined science and magic in a fascinating way that I wish to see more of in this series.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
✨Age Range: Young adult
✨Content Warning: Violence, death, murder, rape and slavery
Everything about this book is perfection, starting from the characters. The author gives us a sense of each character’s core from the very first scene they are introduced in. Laia and Elias became my favourites quickly but I also grew to love Helene’s character development even though I disliked her on principle.
This book is the definition of an intense and fast-paced plot that will have the reader on the edge of their seat. I devoured it in one sitting because the way Sabaa writes tension into every scene kept me hooked throughout. The world-building is brutal but compliments the urgent and dark tone of the story wonderfully.
Once I finished the book, I internally kicked myself for not having read it sooner because I couldn’t fault a single aspect in it. The narrative magnificently explores several heavy topics such as colonialism, parental abuse and rape culture in a martial empire. However, I wonder if the target audience is right because it reads like grimdark adult fantasy.
Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
✨Age Range: Young adult
✨Content Warning: Graphic violence, animal abuse and death
The protagonist, Yumeko, is the best YA female lead I’ve read about in a long while. A half-kitsune capable of illusionary magic, she used her wits and skill to overcome the obstacles in her way, which made me root for her every step of the way. The dynamic between her and Tatsumi added a layer of delicious tension to the story.
The plot was a masterpiece, striking the perfect balance between explosive action scenes and quieter moments that helped me catch my breath a bit. The ending floored me by how much it left me wanting the sequel, which is the mark of an excellent first book. The world-building borrowed heavily from the feudal Japanese era and Japanese mythology, which was a unique and entertaining reading experience for me.
I adored Julie Kagawa’s writing style which was a mix of flowery and fast-paced whenever it was required. The use of multiple points of view to flesh out the story more and give the reader a sense of the main characters’ motivations was genius. I really resonated with Yumeko’s internal journey as she became more confident in her powers and made some wonderful friends along the way.
I unfortunately had to DNF our February book club pick, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. I rarely give up on books, especially when I’m reading it with a group or for review purposes but I found the plot to be very repetitive and going in circles. So, there’s only 5 reviews in this post instead of 6 but I hope you enjoyed them.
Which is your favourite SFF book by an author of colour? Are you part of any book club? What did you think of the Stars and Sorcery Jan-Jun 2020 BOTMs? Let me know in the comments section down below. Hope you are having a magical week, readers from Earth!