January 2021 wrap-up

The first month of the new year is already over, my life is kind of a mess right now, but somehow I completed eight books this month and considering that at least one of them was a proper brick, I’m pretty happy with that. Most of them are, as usual, fantasy, and three were new releases. So let’s get into them!

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson (2020)

Immanuelle was born of an unsanctioned union between her mother and an outsider, and because of this Bethel’s people have always looked at her with a degree of suspicion. Her mother ran into the woods when she was pregnant with her, after all; the same woods that, the stories say, none is ever able to escape once entered. Immanuelle has always felt pulled to the forest, but in her effort to belong to the community, has done her best to stay away.
After an accident lures her inside the woods, though, strange events start happening in Bethel, and the doubt that she started it all leads Immanuelle to seek out the help of the Prophet’s own heir in order to understand and stop what is going on. But the Prophet has other plans for her…

This was a really good read. The atmosphere is well realised, and the story itself manages to keep the interest up throughout the story. The legends surrounding the forest and the witches, and the “plagues” hitting the community are the most interesting part of the book in my opinion. I liked the protagonist, but I felt like her actions were not entirely consistent with her character at times, and after thinking back about the book I realised that she was either very lucky every time she had to do something to move the plot forward, or the events would just unfold very conveniently for her.
The are a few threads left open for the second book, but the main story is wrapped up by the end of this book, so it can easily be read as a standalone.

I’m still not sure if I will read the next instalment in the series, but if you’d like to know more about my thoughts, you can have a look at my review.

The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence (2015)

Winter in the north is almost over, but Jalan doesn’t care too much; the weather is still too cold for him, and his bed is the only place he cares to be, possibly with good company. But when the husbands of his latest conquests team up against him, travelling south with Snorri doesn’t sound that bad anymore.
Snorri is determined to find death’s door, and now that Loki’s Key is in his possession, he will be able to open it and rescue his wife and children. Jalan has no intention of following him all the way, but his homeland is south as well, and home starts to sound like a good idea after so long on the road. But he has no idea of what is waiting for him behind the walls of Vermilion…

This is the second book in The Red Queen’s War series, and it suffers a bit from second book syndrome. While we keep exploring Jalan’s character – who at least is growing a little – Snorri falls a little in the background, at least compared to the first book. The new side character make up for it to a point, but most of the book is spent travelling around and little happens.
The most interesting parts are the ones set in the Red Queen’s past and during Jalan’s childhood, but the powers behind the pieces moving on the chessboard are still barely explored and they remain very distant from the protagonists.
I did still enjoy it, and the audiobook narrator did a really good job in my opinion.

You can read my review here.

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc (2020)

This non-fiction book is a really interesting exploration of the way fairy tales around the world skew our perception of what it really means to be disabled. I don’t really think there’s a way to describe this book properly; I thought the insights were very powerful, but the book could have been more effective if it really provided some concrete suggestion. Yes, society needs to change in order to make space for disability, but how can I, a single person, do something to help?

In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul (1971)

This is a collection of three stories, framed by a prologue and an epilogue written like a traveller’s journal.
An Indian man follows his employer to Washington and discovers the falsehood behind the American dream; another man leaves his village in order to help his younger brother study abroad and build a better life for himself, only to discover, after years of back-breaking work, that his brother has been taking advantage of him all along; and finally, an English couple travels south from the capital of an unnamed African country on the cusp of rebellion.
All the stories follow protagonists who, for one reason or another, find themselves living in a country other than the one they were born and grew up in; and in each story, the strongest concept is the one of alienation. They can never belong, nor can they go back; and stuck in this sort of limbo, they have to find a way to cope with the reality they live in.

I didn’t love this book. The writing was great, and was one of the few things that kept me reading; but short stories with cynical protagonists, depressing situations, and not a glimmer of hope in sight are not my thing. I read for escapism; I don’t need to be reminded how ugly the world is, or how hard life can be for some people.

You can read my review here.

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire (2021)

Regan loves horses. She has a loving family and fits well in school, but when her classmates start growing up and she doesn’t, doubt starts eating at her: is there something wrong?
After a shocking revelation from her parents, and a painful rejection from her best friend, she stumbles into a door in the woods behind her house. When she crosses over, Regan finds herself in the Hooflands, a world inhabited by centaurs, unicorn, kelpies, and other kinds of magical equines; a world where humans are heroes, appearing when the Hooflands need a saviour.

This is the sixth instalment in the Wayward Children series, and once again I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve read reviews of people saying that the series is getting stale or repetitive, but honestly I love the way these stories read almost like fairytales. Just like every other book in this series, I would have gladly read a hundred pages more of this story.

You can read my review here.

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (1990)

Rand Al’Thor lives a simple life with his father in the Two Rivers, until the day the Dark One’s minions attack his village and he’s forced to run away in the company of a powerful mage and a taciturn warrior. There’s only one place where he can be protected from the Dark One, but the journey is going to be long and full of trials.

This was a very, very, very classic fantasy. It’s heavily inspired by the Lord of the Rings, but it still manages to bring something new to the table. The structure is a bit repetitive in this first novel, but the ending in intriguing and the world is vast and very well developed. Fair warning: the author loves his descriptions with a passion.

You can read my review here.

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (2021)

Sankofa has only muddled memories of her life before she became known as the adopted daughter of Death. Wherever she goes, people do what they can to accomodate her: food, clothes, anything she asks for, she gets. No one knows where she is going, but a thing is clear: if you see her, death is walking in your village.

This was really interesting and well written, even though for some reason I was expecting it to be a little more fantasy and a little less science fiction. The writing was excellent and Sankofa’s character is well developed; still, the story left a lot of questions unanswered and I wished we got to know a little bit more about Sankofa and her abilities.
I’ll have a review up in a few days for this, so stay tuned if you want to know more about it.

Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long (2021)

Hessa is an Eangi, a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War. Banished for failing to kill a traveller at her goddess’s command, she is seeking redemption as raiders raze her village and kill everyone in it.
Grieving and alone, Hessa must find the traveller and kill him to get back into her goddess’s graces and be granted a place in the High Halls with all her loved ones. But the road is long and full of danger: not only the human clans who destroyed her home, but petty gods and ancient demons roam the land, and she will need all that she has in order to survive and complete her mission.

This was so good. I’m not sure what I was expecting going into this, but I literally devoured this book. The deities are a huge part of this world, and very present in the lives of their worshippers; the protagonist is a strong-willed warrior, but she has moments of weakness and doubt; some of the characters fooled me completely, and a couple of plot twist did surprise me.
I will have a review up soon enough for this one as well, as soon as I manage to sort out my thoughts about it.

So these are all the books I read this month! I did really enjoy most of them, so all in all it was a successful reading month for me. Have you read any of these books, and if so, what did you think of them?

Stay safe, and happy reading 🙂

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