White Nationalists need to keep their goddamn hands off Jane Austen.
Daughter of Mystery is set in the fictional European country of Alpennia, sometime in the early 19th century. Chapters alternate between Barbara’s perspective and Margerit’s. Barbara knows she’s of noble birth but has no idea who her parents are. Her father lost everything due to his gambling debts and sold her to Baron Seveze when she was only a baby. She is now the baron’s armin (formal bodyguard/duelist).
Margerit Sovitre is the baron’s goddaughter, although he generally hasn’t been in her life much. Margerit is an orphan who was taken in by her aunt and uncle. She has no interest in attending balls or getting married, but that’s the direction in which her life seems to be going, until Baron Seveze dies and everyone learns to their shock that he has left her his entire fortune. He also left her Barbara, despite his promise to free her, and made it so that Margerit cannot free her before she (Margerit) comes of age without most of the baron’s fortune going to the Convent of Saint Orisul instead. Margerit is willing to do this, but her uncle, who still controls her life, isn’t willing to let her. However, Margerit’s efforts win her Barbara’s loyalty. With Barbara at her side, Margerit pursues her heart’s desire: studying philosophy and theology at the university in Rotenek. Meanwhile, Barbara digs into the mystery of her own past.
I hate writing reviews of things I actually enjoyed. I came very close to just pushing out three bulleted lists: What I Liked, What I Didn’t Like, and Things That Didn’t Fit Into the Other Two Categories. ::sigh::
I adored the first half of this book. Sure, it was slow, but in a good way. It reminded me strongly of Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, if that book had been written from the perspective of its women. There was Barbara, who usually dressed as a man and was a skilled bodyguard and duelist. And there was Margerit, who, like The Goblin Emperor’s Maia, was abruptly thrust into the limelight by her changed circumstances. She was expected to find a husband, manage his household, and bear his children, and instead the baron’s money opened up a path to all the things she’d really wanted (plus at least one thing she hadn't even considered).
The setting had a definite sense of weight and depth to it, and the politics was intriguing, if occasionally confusing. I was fascinated with the way religion and magic seemed to be intertwined, even as I worried that Margerit was happily and blindly heading towards being declared a heretic. Even though Barbara spent more of the book in on-page danger than Margerit, I tended to worry more about Margerit than her. Barbara was cool, competent, and definitely more politically savvy.
The pacing occasionally got too slow for my tastes, especially in the second half. There were times when I wished some of the political details and Margerit and Barbara’s analyses of religious mysteries had been tightened up a bit. To be fair, many of the things that looked unimportant or unrelated did eventually tie together in the end, it just took longer than I expected.
Barbara and Margerit’s relationship was one of those things I both enjoyed and had issues with. I liked that it took a while for them to go from bonding over shared interests to mutual secret attraction, and finally to discussing how they felt about each other. Considering the difference in their positions - after all, Barbara was technically Margerit’s inherited property - it would have felt weird if things had progressed more quickly. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t occasionally get frustrated with how long everything took.
For the most part, Barbara seemed to be more acutely aware of the difference in their positions than Margerit...up until a scene late in the book when Margerit told Barbara “You forget your place” during an argument. I was horrified, Barbara felt like she’d been kicked in the gut, and Margerit immediately regretted it. I kept waiting for them to talk about it. Margerit mentioned the scene once, a little, when she voiced her fear that she’d lost Barbara for good, and they talked more about some related issues near the end, but I still felt like the author brushed that one scene aside a bit too much.
Despite my issues with the pacing and my slight dissatisfaction with the way Margerit and Barbara’s relationship was handled, I really enjoyed Daughter of Mystery and am looking forward to reading the next book. I wish I'd purchased the whole series while it was still on sale at Kobo.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
The pope is dead... and 117 cardinals are about to seclude themselves in the conclave to elect a new pope. No, make that 118. There are 4 favourites, but as the saying goes: Who goes into the conclave as pope, comes out a cardinal.
Although it's mostly talk and introspection, Harris manages to keep one yearning for more. Especially his point-of-view character Lomeli who presides the conclave is a surprisingly relatable protagonist, with doubts and a crisis of faith that's heart-felt, especially the conflict between faith in Christ and faith in the institution of the Catholic Church. I think that's an important difference because lots of people have lost faith in the Church but not necessarily in God or Christianity. Unfortunately, for some officials that's often the same thing and those people, now looking for a new spiritual home, are left adrift, ripe for the picking for demagogues with unsavoury goals hidden within sweet promises.
In the end it's not so much a story about the election of a new pope but of a man regaining his own faith. That's where this novel very much succeeds. As it does in portraying a range of characters, from super-progressive, to manipulative, ambitious, world-weary, some deeply flawed, others shaped by circumstances.
However, the plot itself doesn't hold many surprises and much is left unsolved (the events in the outside world, the old pope's last weeks etc), but I imagine that's due to the constraints of the conclave's seclusion which doesn't lend itself to starting investigations. Still, I was captivated throughout but mainly to see if my predictions were right (and they were, every one of them), rather than because of unforeseen twists and turns. And I could have lived with that because it's still a gripping tale of introspection and psychology. But the final twist (especially since it's obvious from a mile away) was a bit too much and went beyond credibility, even more so in modern times. I think that Harris wanted to add something unique into his story - and I agree that at some point such a development will and has to come to pass. But the way this twist was introduced doesn't necessarily mean progress for the Church itself as long as an agenda that speaks of lasting and fundamental change within the structure of the Church isn't mentionned. And let's face it, the respective character and the story itself didn't need this. So, somehow, I can't help but think of this twist as some kind of trendy publicity stunt, and an unnecessary one at that, mind you.
Therefore, the ending did put a bit of a dampener on my enjoyment of this novel - but it's still a good and suspenseful tale.
City of Strife is set in the bustling city of Isandor and stars a huge cast of characters, each with intersecting storylines, histories, and paths. A few examples:
City of Strife is one of the very few (perhaps only?) ARCs I’ve ever requested from an author. I was interested in the book’s LGBTQIA+ cast and “found family” aspect, and the author had a nice online form that, if I remember correctly, only asked for interested reviewers’ email addresses (easy! low stress! didn’t require NetGalley or a Twitter DM!). The long book description concerned me a little and made it difficult to tell what the book would be like, but I figured I’d give it a shot.
I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed it immensely, although I’m now unhappy that I’ll have to wait who knows how long for Book 2 to come out. A word of warning: City of Strife ends with lots of things still unresolved and several characters in peril. Crossing my fingers that none of the characters I care about get killed off in the next two books.
One thing that dismayed me when I first started reading: the many, many POVs. The book was written in third person, but chapters/sections focused on different characters’ perspectives. Almost every named character had a chapter or section written from their POV, and it wasn’t until I’d gotten 15% into the book that a POV repeated itself.
The POVs turned out to be both the book’s strength and its weakness. I loved gradually learning how the various characters’ stories were interrelated - what the stuff at the Shelter had to do with House Dathirii, who Nevian was secretly visiting for magic lessons, what would prompt Arathiel to reveal his noble blood to his friends at the Shelter and/or Isandor’s noble families, etc. However, all those POVs and complex and interrelated storylines meant that some of my favorite characters and storylines didn’t get as much page-time as I’d have liked. For example, Arathiel and, eventually, Hasryan ended up being my favorite characters, and I particularly looked forward to seeing Arathiel find a place for himself at the Shelter with Larryn, Cal, and Hasryan. Unfortunately, there wasn’t nearly as much on-page friendship-building as I expected, and one character’s actions near the end of the book destroyed my impression of the trio as an overall warm and welcoming group.
I much preferred House Dathirii, which, aside from a couple exceptions I’m hoping that one of the next couple books will cover in more detail, was largely just as warm and welcoming as it initially appeared to be. I particularly loved Camilla. Everyone could use someone like Camilla in their lives.
House Dathirii brings me to another aspect of the book I both loved and had problems with: the politics. I love fantasy and sci-fi books with lots of politics, and this one had House Dathirii clashing with the Myrian enclave and struggling to get support, a 10-year-old murder that was relevant to current politics, and more. Fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, I prefer when there’s at least one character who’s incredibly skilled at navigating politics, and this book didn’t have that, at least not front-and-center. Avenazar was so lacking in self-control that I was amazed he’d never done anything in Myria to earn himself an execution. Maybe he had really good family connections protecting him? And then there was Diel: principled, idealistic, and almost completely lacking in the ability to sit back, pick his battles, and maybe go at things a little more subtly and indirectly. At least he recognized that it was other members of his family who did the heavy lifting when it came to making sure the family survived whatever fight he’d chosen to involve them all in.
All in all, despite my complaints this was a riveting read, and I wish the next couple books were out already. In the meantime, I plan on getting myself a copy of Arseneault’s Viral Airwaves.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
Romance Bingo - Eye shadow and Bosom square
This duology has been sitting on my NOOK for at least two years and I am now kicking myself for not reading it sooner. Also, D.F. Mello is a new-to-me author that I look forward to reading more from in the future. Okay, onto the review of this book:
Amina Salman is trying to understand her family and childhood religion (Islam) while taking on the job of her father's campaign manager for mayor of Memphis, TN. Amina gave up Islam when she moved in with her mother in Atlanta after her parents divorced when she was a kid.Troy Elliott is the older brother of the last book's hero and a lawyer who has his sights on a political career, starting with winning the mayoral race for Memphis, TN. They first met at the end of the first book, and it picks up several weeks later. This story was much more romantic suspense but still a strong romance. Amina and Troy's relationship was a little more insta-love, but they went through some serious ups and downs (thanks to the awfulness that was Amina's brother) that strengthen their love. There is a lot less sex in this book.
The side characters make several appearances in this book, continuing the world building and giving the reader a strong sense of place and community. This time, I like to point out the side character of Rachel; her lawyer skills are on point and when something/someone threatens her family, she is a major badass. Also Amina's younger sister, Rasheeda, was a stand out.
There was a little "How Muslims Live 101" conversations early in the book. Amina and Rasheeda show the variety within the religion and how they live their faith and maintain a lifestyle that feels comfortable for them (ex: Amina doesn't wear the hijab, Rasheeda does).
I really recommend this book set!