The Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag 2019

Did I somehow not do this for 2018? OH, I think I did it as a BookTube video during my short-lived attempt at BookTube. Anyway, it’s that time of the year, and I was just looking for a quick and easy tag to do, so here we go!

1. The Best Book You’ve Read So Far In 2017

I know I’m only supposed to pick one, but it’s been a weird reading year for me, where I’ve really enjoyed a lot of books but I can’t seem to settle on one that was like, life-changing, you know. So I’m choosing to highlight some of the excellent fantasy I’ve read this year! The Gutter Prayer was such a triumph of imagination, the perfect Lovecraftian fantasy with terrifying gods and vibrant worldbuilding. Empire of Sand was much quieter and more personal, but beautifully written and so evocative. Magic for Liars was thrilling and fun with a touch of fantasy and an emotional core.


2. Your Favourite Sequel This Year

Okay, so I read a whole bunch of sequels earlier this year, and again I’m struggling to pick just one, so I’m choosing a bunch! The True Queen was absolutely delightful, bringing back Regency-era England but populated by magic and POC. The Girl in the Tower was a fantastic follow-up that made excellent use of a trope I usually dislike (girl dresses up as boy) and introduced a fascinating antagonist. Days of Blood and Starlight did an excellent job expanding the universe of the first book, had a fantastic villain, and was light on the romance.


3. A New Release That You Haven’t Read But Really Want To

I’m just gonna stop apologizing for choosing more than one book (it’s easier to post three images than one anyway). Anyway, I’m dying to read all of the above books. With Wilder Girls, I’m scared I won’t like it, because I’ve heard it compared to Annihilation and I had very mixed feelings about that one. With The Priory of the Orange Tree, I mean, it’s hella long, and I know it will take me ages to read it. With These Witches Don’t Burn, I’d been feeling tired of YA recently, but I just read a witchy YA book that reminded me how much I actually love witchy YA books, so I just requested his from the library.


4. Most Anticipated Release For The Second Half Of The Year

Y’all know how much I love the Kristoff’s series. I was so annoyed when the release of Darkdawn was delayed, because I thought, hey, for once I’ll get to read a fantasy series I love back to back so I don’t forget any details, and what happens? It gets delayed so of course I’ve forgotten all the details. I’ll have to find a good recap. Gideon the Ninth has been getting a ton of hype, so even though I don’t even really know what it’s about, I’m excited. And finally, Leigh Bardugo’s adult debut Ninth House was one I wasn’t super excited for until I saw Leigh post this quote on Twitter and I died.


5. Your Biggest Disappointment

Two of these books, Poison Study and Heart’s Blood, are generally hyped. The first is a classic in the YA fantasy world, but I really disliked certain elements of it. Heart’s Blood was my first Juliet Marillier book, and she’s beloved, so I was surprised when I really didn’t like this one. Dare Me has mixed reviews, but I loved Megan Abbott’s latest release, so I’d been hoping to like this one too. Alas.


6. Biggest Surprise Of The Year

The Babysitter’s Coven is the last book I finished, and it was hilarious and so much fun; I’ve been feeling kind of iffy about YA lately, so it was a pleasant surprise how much I liked that one. Kind of the same with Wicked Saints; YA fantasy is usually a total hit or miss for me, so I really pleased that I loved it so much and am dying for the sequel. Under the Pendulum Sun was the weirdest fucking book, and I’m not even sure I loved it that much, but it’s definitely stuck with me in a way no other book has. Interestingly, all these are four star books!


7. Favourite New To You Or Debut Author

I am now going to go back and read Sarah Gailey‘s backlist, which I think is a couple of novellas about an alternate US that imported hippos. Gareth Hanrahan doesn’t have a backlist, but he’s become an auto-read author. Same with Tasha Suri.


8. Your New Fictional Crush

In general, this whole trilogy had me enamored of Morozko and his weird ass brother and a certain antagonist who crops up in the second book to my absolute delight.


9. New Favourite Character

Oh, definitely Prunella Gentleman for Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown. She’s a half-Indian woman living in England, and she’s the sort of person who just does what she wants. She’s also totally ruthless. I adore her. I also very much love Vasya, especially in The Winter of the Witch, where she really comes into her own, and Malachiasz from Wicked Saints, who’s just…such a fascinating character.


10. A Book That Made You Cry

I literally cannot think of a single book I read this year that gave me any strong melancholic emotions.


11. A Book That Made You Happy

Not all of these books are necessarily happy in any particular way, though the first two are quite funny, but I just remember really enjoying my experience reading them.


12. Your Favourite Book To Movie Adaptation That You’ve Seen This Year

Well, the only Book to Movie Adaptation I’ve watched this year was To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. I actually DNF’d the book because I couldn’t stand it, but I loved loved loved the movie version.


13. Favourite Book Post That You’ve Published This Year

Uhhh I haven’t done too many unique book-themed posts this year, but I did enjoy the Pancake Book Tag. I also really like my Fireside Chat about my path to librarianship.


14. The Most Beautiful Book You Bought Or Received This Year

I’ve been buying way too many books this year and not reading them at all, but hey, at least they’re pretty!


15. What Are Some Books That You Need To Read By The End Of The Year

I made a whole post about my Fantasy TBR for 2019!

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A Few of My Favorite Things!

favorite things3

I absolutely love when people post their favorite things posts, and I’ve been wanting to post one of my own for ages and ages, only I’ve always felt like I just don’t have enough things to talk about. I probably still don’t, but I thought I would share the few things I have anyway.Read More »

Wrap-Up: May 2019

 

  • Almost Love by Louise O’Neill (★★★★☆)
  • The True Queen by Zen Cho (★★★★★)
  • The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley (★★★☆☆)
  • The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley (★★★★★)
  • Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women by Silvia Federici (★★★★☆)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 5
YEARLY SO FAR: 34

I’m starting to seriously worry about my reading. I’ve read one book less than last month, but most of the books on here are so short; one is novella length! I have no idea how I managed to read this little, although I did DNF one fantasy book (A Crown for Cold Silver) that I spent a bit of time on, so perhaps that has something to do with it. I think that, along with the ending of Game of Thrones, may have contributed to a bit of a reading slump, which is why I switched to non-fiction towards the end of the month. But speaking of non-fiction, I shelved The Devil in the White City this month – it’s definitely not at DNF, I do want to get back to it at some point, but I’m just not in the mood for it right now.

I’m currently reading Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, which was kind of a spur of the moment decision, though I have been wanting to read more science fiction lately. This is one of the more popular space sagas in the sci-fi world and comes highly recommended. I’m only a few chapters in but I quite like it so far! I’ve also just gotten The Descendant of the Crane out of the library, so that’ll be up next, hopefully.

Life Update:

Well, I suppose I should share here what I’ve already shared on Twitter and Instagram. After about six months of querying, I am now represented by DongWon Song of Howard Morhaim Literary! He’s been a dream agent of mine for soooo long that I almost still can’t believe we’ll be working together. It’s definitely been a surreal experience, and at some point I’ll probably write up a longer post about it all (and my book!), especially since I somehow ended up with multiple offers of representation.

I’ve also graduated library school, and so, four years and two Master’s degrees later, I am finally done with school. It’s such a strange feeling, because I have no idea what to do with my time. I feel like I have so much of it now, too much…I’m not sure I’m being especially productive at the moment, but I guess after four years I deserve some time to just chill and do nothing. One of my goals is to rework my thesis and try to get it published, though, so that’s something I would like to work on this summer.

Oh, and, this isn’t really a life update so much, but you might have noticed I changed my blog URL from Cairene Librarian to Hadeer of the Sea. I just thought it might be nice to have a slightly more cohesive online brand, and I really like the phrase “Hadeer of the Sea” and wanted to use it. It’s not just pretty, it’s accurate: my name in Arabic means “roar of the sea” but would still need to be paired with the word “sea” to make grammatical sense, so it would be “Hadeer el bahr” which literally translates to “the sea’s Hadeer” or “Hadeer of the Sea.”

TV + Film + Theatre Update:

I only watched one film this month, and literally only because a friend of mine was like, “You’ve never seen this movie??? You’re watching it. Now.” Then he put it on and we watched it. Said movie was Train to Busan, and it was terrifying and stressful and a fantastic movie.

I’m still deep in my rewatch of How I Met Your Mother, though I’m dreading the awful finale, but I also started watching Lucifer! I had tried the first two episodes of this a while ago and didn’t dislike it but wasn’t compelled to keep watching. On a whim I decided to give it another shot, and I’m now at season three and absolutely adore it! It’s unapologetically silly (how could it not be, with such a ridiculous premise as: the actual Devil escapes Hell, opens up a nightclub in LA, and helps the police solve crimes?) but also doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes it really charming. But it’s also surprisingly well-written (it really found its feet in season 2), plus Tom Ellis as Lucifer is…so goddamn attractive. I just enjoy looking at him. And his performance is spectacular; he’s so charming and delightful.

I saw two shows this month. The first was Octet, an off-Broadway a Capella production by Dave Malloy, who wrote Great Comet. If I’m being honest, that’s the only reason I went to see it! Well, that and the advertisement had a Tarot card, so I thought it was gonna be something historical/mystical, but it wasn’t. It was actually all about the effects of modern-day technology on society; the basic setup was a group of people in an internet addicts meeting. It was very good, if not what I expected!

The second show I saw was Frozen; this one was on Broadway, and I went because I won the lottery. This was…fine? Like, there was nothing wrong with it, only that it was pretty lackluster. It pretty much follows the film to a T. It did have some cool set design, though, and the effects for Elsa’s ice were fun. But otherwise, meh, I wouldn’t really recommend it.

Fireside Chats: Librarianship, Career Goals, and Coming Full Circle

fireside chats

I knew I wanted to be a librarian the moment I entered Trinity College Library in Dublin. The visit came at the close of a whirlwind three-week study abroad trip all around Ireland. I had already witnessed ancient castles, tiny fishing hamlets, cozy villages with cobblestone lanes, herds of sheep, crystal-clear lakes, rugged mountains, and so much greenery I could have cried. And yet, when I entered the Long Room, I was awed.

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High Fantasy Priority TBR for 2019

High fantasy is my favorite genre, yet I feel like I don’t read enough of it to justify that. Out of 92 books I read in 2018, only 13 were high fantasy – that’s 14%! Now, in 2018, I made a concerted effort to read outside of my preferred genres, and I definitely succeeded in that, but for 2019 one of my goals was to read more high fantasy. I’ve read 8 so far this year, out of a total of 32 books, which isn’t bad, but still isn’t as much as I hope for.

I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy roll since the FemmeFanTale readathon in March, and with the conclusion of Game of Thrones, I’m left feeling vaguely unsatisfied and desirous of fantasy series with satisfying conclusions. I’ve narrowed down a group of fantasy books I’m determined to read by the end of this year. 12 books may not seem like much for the rest of the year, but keep in mind that these are fantasy, which means they are lengthy. Plus they’ll be interspersed with other books I still intend to read (like a few classics and neo-Victorian historical fiction novels I have in mind).

Anyway, that’s all a lot of rambling just to say: here’s 12 high fantasy books I want to read before the end of 2019.

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YA Fantasy

I think that, while adult high fantasy and YA fantasy have a lot in common, they’re also very, very different. Usually adult high fantasy is a lot longer, slower, more impersonal, and a lot more intimidating when it comes to worldbuilding, whereas YA is pacier and more personal, which in a lot of ways makes it easier to read. I therefore consider them to be two separate genres.

There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool: I haven’t heard too much about this book, but everything I’ve heard as been good. Though it’s YA, it’s multi-POV and judging from the two lines I read in my ARC, it’s got adult fantasy vibes.

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He: I’ve heard such good things about this one! It’s supposed to be slow, with really beautiful writing, and it takes place at court. Oddly enough, a court-based fantasy is something I’ve been craving for a while.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: I’ve been wanting to read this book for years. Years. I was supposed to read it in March but never got around to it, but I’m determined to get to it sometime this year. It’s a murder mystery high fantasy with dragons!

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad: I’ve heard this is quite different than most YA fantasies, with gorgeous writing, varied female characters, and dense worldbuilding.


Fantasy by White Men

Why, yes, this does need its own category. Sure, some of my favorite fantasy books of this year and last have been by white men, but I’ve also been burned by white men before. It’s just hard not to be wary, you know?

The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley: This wasn’t on my list initially but in the wake of the Game of Thrones debacle, I’ve heard this series upheld as one that actually delivers a great conclusion.

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham: This series is kind of a classic in the high fantasy world, though it wasn’t published that long ago. It’s hard to see any list of recommended fantasy that doesn’t feature this. The summary sounds epic. And apparently, the author is one half of the duo that wrote the popular Expanse series!

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock: Another book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, and I just bought a copy of it! It’s supposed to be Italian-inspired steampunk fantasy with some kind of murder mystery interwoven through. It sounds weird and different and I look forward to it!

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu: Yet another book I’ve had on my list for a while, and also another that’s kind popular. It’s a desert fantasy with a young woman as the main character, so I’m here for it.


Gay Fantasy

These books literally have nothing else in common except for the fact that they feature gay folks. Since LGBTQ rep still isn’t all that common in high fantasy (though we’re leagues better than even just two years ago!), I’m giving this its own category.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: I think this has been everyone’s most anticipated fantasy of the year! I’ve heard some great things and I’ve had a copy sitting on my shelf for a while! It’s just…the size of this tome is pretty intimidating, but I still hope to get to it soon.

Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks: This book was published nearly twenty years ago, and has the distinction of being one of the few books with LGB representation of that time. I don’t know much else about it, but it feels very much like Classic 90s Fantasy.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: I honestly have no idea what to expect from this. I’ve heard some people describe it as high fantasy while others have said it takes place in space, and there’s necromancers and weird humor and overall it just sounds totally bizarre, but it’s so hyped that I can’t not read it.

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly: This is a high fantasy inspired by the Weimer era, which is a historical time period I find fascinating! Though I prefer medieval-ish era high fantasy, I’m always fascinated by high fantasy that takes place in a more modern time period. I’ve heard such excellent things about this series! divider

So there we have it! Do let me know if you’ve read any of these books and loved them (or…not loved them) or if you’re planning on reading any of them soon!

TV Corner: Game of Thrones Finale

game of thrones

There is so much to say that I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Game of Thrones, mostly because I’m a die-hard book fan. I enjoyed the first season (though definitely still had issues with it), but starting in season 2 the plot and characters started to diverge so radically from the books that I was getting very, very annoyed. With the introduction of Dorne and the exclusion of Arianne Martell, I quit watching the show entirely, because it was just painful to watch by that point, but I started tuning in again on and off during season 6, mostly just watching the Sansa Stark scenes. I watched season 7 a bit more closely but still not religiously, but with everyone talking about the final season and me having serious FOMO all the time, I decided to watch every episode.

Before I get into my grievances with the final season (and there are…grievances), I just want to say that despite everything, I’m just so amazed with what this show has achieved. It’s been a decade-long labor (I started watching this in high school!), and while the writing has often been sub-par, the show has done absolutely incredible things in set design, acting, music, and cinematography. And more than that, it introduced high fantasy into the mainstream cultural zeitsgiest in such an unprecedented way! A Song of Ice and Fire is a classic high fantasy series that started in the late ’90s, and now it’s one of the biggest worldwide phenomenons in television history. It’s inspired so many emotions – yes, including anger – but I’m so in awe of anything that can bring people together in such a massive way that I can’t help but be appreciative and thankful that this show existed. I can’t believe it’s over.

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TV Corner: Ramy

ramy

A little over two years ago, I wrote an article for The Mary Sue called The Complicated Role of Arabs in American Television. In said article, I discussed the dearth of roles for Arabs on TV, and then proceeded to do an in-depth analysis of the – at the time – only three Arab characters in the history of American television. Two weren’t even played by Arab actors, and only one had a plotline that didn’t revolve around terrorism in some way.

When I saw the ad for Ramy, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. A whole show about Arab-Americans? On a popular American streaming service? A show about Arab-Americans in America that has nothing at all do with terrorism? A comedy, at that? With actual Arab actors speaking actual Arabic instead of mangled gibberish?

Ramy is a show about many things, but mostly it’s about belonging. Egyptian-American third-culture kid Ramy is struggling to find his place in the world. Caught between two disparate cultures, he does his best to be a good Muslim – praying, fasting – but very often commits the major sin of premarital sex. Ramy, who is endearingly earnest and romantic, is utterly lost. He wants to be the best version of himself that he can be, even if he has no idea who or what that is.

It’s a universal theme, but Ramy serves it wrapped up in classic diaspora blues. Like a lot of third-culture kids – like myself! – Ramy is pulled in two different directions. In the final two episodes of the season, he decides to go back to Cairo in the hope of attaining some nebulous sense of belonging. Unfortunately, he is just as much of an outsider there, perceived as a clueless American speaking broken Arabic. One particularly poignant moment has Ramy gushing about how cool it must have been to be present in Tahrir Square during the revolution only to be met with awkward silence. Later, his cocaine-snorting cousin douses him with reality: “We saw people die in front of our eyes.”

This is a kind of nuanced portrayal the show doesn’t shy away from, as it’s not interested in taking sides. This is most evident in “Strawberries,” of the most intense episodes of the series, in which an adolescent Ramy deals with the aftermath of 9/11. In this episode, Ramy has a dream conversation with Osama Bin Laden, who gravely informs him that Egypt stopped growing the wheat its people need so that it could grow strawberries for Americans to eat out of season.

Bin Laden then opines, “Ramy Hassan, you don’t belong here. You can hear it in your name, can’t you? You should be living in Cairo, but they made it impossible…The world is dying at the hands of America, and the people here feel nothing. They’re men in suits who only care about their strawberries.” When Ramy argues this point, insisting that innocent people like his friend’s mother didn’t deserve to die in the towers, Bin Laden counters with: “What about…the thousands of moms that have died in the Middle East? We must restore the balance.” Ramy vociferously denounces this logic, insisting that he is not a terrorist and will not kill people.

It’s a stunningly brave and honest and disturbingly intense scene. At no point do you get the sense that this conversation is meant to condone terrorism, but at the same time it refuses to look away from the realities of Western imperialism. It’s cynical and thought-provoking, and, bizarrely, is framed in the context of Ramy attempting to masturbate for the first time in his life.

This is where the show and I part ways a bit. Of course it’s not perfect by any means, but it also diverges from my particular tastes. Ramy is one of those shows that delights in its own crudity and vulgarity, with a crass hyper-focus on sex that struck me as a way to appeal to Western viewers. This is particularly evident in the show’s treatment of female characters, every single one of whom is written only in relationship to sex. This heavily gendered dynamic might seem unsurprising of a show that centers around a young heterosexual man who himself is heavily obsessed with sex and relationships, but it’s still disappointing. It’s 2019. Do better.

None of that takes away from how much Ramy warms my heart. It’s so surreal to be watching a show that so closely reflects my culture and experience in so many ways, whether it’s the weird conspiracy theories Ramy’s parents believe in, the casual anti-Semitism and racism espoused by his uncle with zero compunction, the intense discrimination his family experienced after 9/11, the fetishizing his sister experiences when she hooks up with a white dude, the existential nihilism Egyptians feel post-revolution, or just the small random moments of cultural familiarity.

Of course, Ramy also diverges from my own experience in a lot of ways, but that’s to be expected; there’s no one right way to represent the diaspora. It would be impossible for a single show to communicate an entirely universal experience of what it means to grow up Egyptian-American in the United States of America. Here’s hoping Ramy opens the floodgates for more Arabs in American television. 

Wrap-Up: April 2019

  • The Silent Patient by Alex  Michaelides (★★★★☆)
  • When We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia (★★★★☆)
  • My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (★★★★★)
  • Dare Me by Megan Abbott (★★★☆☆)
  • Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (★★☆☆☆)
  • The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan (★★★★★)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 6
YEARLY SO FAR: 29

I feel like my reading output has been steadily decreasing month-by-month, and I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it’s because I’m reading chunkier fantasy books lately? My favorite book of the month, The Gutter Prayer, clocks in at 517 pages and took me about half the month to read, because it was so long and dense. Another reason could be the fact that since the beginning of the month, I’ve been trying to get through a particular non-fiction book. On that note, I am currently reading:

I started The Devil in the White City earlier this month because I was in Chicago! I was only there for a few days, but I got really interested in the history of the city and the 1893 World’s Fair and got a random idea for a historical fiction story, so I thought I would read the most famous Chicago history book out there. I’m only about 25% in; I do like it, but it’s slow and long, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to finish it this month. I also just started Almost Love, which I’ve been wanting to read for ages and ages, but only recently got from the library. This one I’m hopeful I shall finish soon!

After that, my projected TBR is a little bit up in the air. There’s a lot of stuff I really want to read,  but there’s also a lot of stuff I feel like I should be reading. I’m also in this weird headspace because I’m working on a high fantasy WIP and so I’m trying to read a whole bunch of fantasy books for inspiration and also so that I can stay in the ~fantasy zone~ but I also don’t want to get bored. Books that I should be reading include the ARCs of several YA books that will be published in the next month or three, namely: Wilder Girls, We Hunt the Flame, and The Candle in the Flame. Will I actually read these books in time? Who knows.

Life Update:

As I said, I went to Chicago this month, and it was my first time visiting the city. I was there as part of my fellowship program to visit two research university libraries: University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University. It was super fun, and I enjoyed getting to see Chicago, even if I’m not a big fan of big cities. It definitely had some cool architecture.

I got to meet some really cool people and learned a lot of new things, and it was fantastic just to hang out with my cohort. I also tried deep dish pizza for the first time, and, gotta say, not a huge fan. Like, I didn’t dislike it, but I just found it thoroughly underwhelming. It was an awesome trip overall; I just adore traveling and staying in hotels.

This is my last month of library school, so expect a reflective post about that sometime later this month, once I actually graduate. For now I’m stuck working on my thesis, which…has been a process, let me tell you. Maybe I’ll post all about that debacle too, at some point. It’s just been a bit of a bumpy ride, and I’m not surprised my fellow students are just about ready to burn our program to the ground.

TV + Film Update:

I continued binging Shetland, all five seasons, and I absolutely adore it. It’s a police procedural set on the Shetland Islands and it’s addicting. I also watched A Discovery of Witches, which I posted about on here. And I started watching Ramy, a new Hulu comedy about an Egyptian-American family (!!!!) that I will definitely be posting about on here once I finish it up because it’s filling me with all kinds of emotions, being Egyptian-American myself. Otherwise, I’ve just been catching up on some shows (The Bold Type, One Day at a Time, Station 19) and rewatching others (How I Met Your Mother, for some reason?).

As for films, I watched two horror movies. Djinn was utterly horrible, and moreso because it had the potential to be really, really great, but it was just…bad. Bad acting, bad plot, bad dialogue, just…bad all around. Then I watched Friend Request, which was a lot better! Had its issues, sure, but was engaging and defied my expectations!

Book Review: The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

gutter prayerTitle: THE GUTTER PRAYER
Author: Gareth Hanrahan
Release Date: 2019
Pages: 518
Publisher: Orbit
My Rating: ★★★★ (5/5)
Goodreads

This book is fucking extraordinary. The author’s background as a gamer and writer of gaming books really comes through in the unusual and dense worldbuilding, which was the best part of the book. There is a plethora of adjectives I might use to describe the worldbuilding – Lovecraftian, Steampunk, Victorian – but none of them truly do justice to the bizarre mash-up of influences that have come to create the city of Guerdon and the world it resides in. This book features actual living gods, warped saints, eldritch abominations, terrifying religious cults, alchemical magic, plenty of body horror, and a Godswar threatening to consume the entire world. I was fucking enthralled.

The sheer originality and creativity of the worldbuilding was absolutely riveting. The reason this book took me so long to finish was because it is so delightfully dense; I took my time savoring every detail. I found myself rereading so many lines and paragraphs because I was so thrilled by their spine-chilling implications. Hanrahan has a very skillful way of weaving dread very casually into his writing, so that your skin starts to crawl before you fully comprehend what you’ve just read. He’s also masterful at revealing information; so many fantasy books plod along and deliver exposition awkwardly, but here, details are revealed organically, slowly, tantalizingly. The rich, layered history of Guerdon is described in pieces that come together to make an astonishingly vivid and realistic whole.

And the deities, oh, the deities! The gods – actual, living gods – are a significant plot point in this book. They are as gods should be – utterly terrifying and unknowable. But they are also reflections of human belief, a sort of magical manifestation of grand delusions that can never truly be killed, only whittled down to a weaker form. Most are violent, bloodthirsty, utterly mad. And their use of saints is truly terrifying, as saints often become deformed or mad because of their gods’ influence. It’s so utterly bleak and bloody. I loved this so much. I mean, seriously, have I mentioned how creepy and disturbing and unsettling this book is?

(Also, sidenote: this book is a testament to how well you can write something horrifying and grimdark without resorting to sexual violence, of which there is none in this book. Just saying.)

Our actual main characters are surprisingly unique as well. There’s Spar, the son of the deceased leader of the thieves’ guild, who also happens to suffer from the Stone Plague, a disease that is slowly turning him to stone and requires regular injections of an alchemical concoction to stall its progress. While at first this Stone Plague didn’t seem wholly original, the choice to feature a main, POV character with this disease was what pushed the boundaries. Through Spar’s perspective we truly see how absolutely horrifying this disease truly is. Then there’s Rat, a ghoul, one of the city’s subterranean inhabitants and eaters of their dead, a creature caught between humanity and his true nature, and somewhat enigmatic. The heart of this little group is Cari, a rather impulsive and short-tempered orphaned runaway who finds herself at the center of a magical plot that involves the thieves’ guild, the alchemists’ guild, her family, and a terrifying pantheon of gods. Other characters include a tenacious and surprisingly good-hearted bounty-hunter, a bookish young woman who happens to be Cari’s relative, and a hilarious, foul-mouthed older woman who is not especially pleased to be a saint.

The mystery unfolds slowly, almost leisurely, but never is this book boring, because it is peppered with bits of intriguing worldbuilding, sprinkled cleverly to augment the plot. It all comes to a close in a harrowing conclusion that’s very fitting for a grimdark fantasy.

I honestly don’t know what else to say to express just how much I loved and adored this book. I’m simultaneously inspired to go off and work on my own fantasy novel but also deflated and discouraged because how can I write something that even comes close to this? I’m just…in awe. The Gutter Prayer is one of the most memorable and inspiring books I’ve read in a long, long while; it’s definitely going down as one of my favorite books of all time.

The Pancake Book Tag!

I haven’t done a book tag in SO LONG, even though I’ve been tagged in a bunch, and I really have no excuse; I’ve just been super lazy lately. I’ve seen this tag floating around in various places, but most recently on acquadimore’s blog (whose answers are seriously FAB and her blog is excellent overall; y’all should totally go follow her) and I’m just bored enough to do it. Also, I LOVE pancakes and I crave them all the time, so here we are.

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The Rules

  • Link back to the original creator in your post.
  • Feel free to use any of my pancake graphics in your post, or create your own!
  • Tag 5 other people at the end of your post, and let them know you’ve tagged them.

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illusion paula volskyIllusion by Paula Volsky might seem like an odd choice for this prompt, as it’s an obscure high fantasy from the 90s, but its writing is so gorgeous, so elegant, so high-quality. Here’s what I wrote in my review of the book: Reading Illusion felt like reading a literary classic from the 19th century. Everything about the writing was so elegant, so old-world, so formal, so eloquent…from the very first page I was hooked, drawn into this world through the evocative and elegant syntax. I wish I could write like Paula Volsky. God, her writing is everything I aspire to. I was drinking it in as I read, sometimes going back and rereading various phrases just to marvel at the way she could make something so utterly simple sound so grand.

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crimson petal and the whiteThere are so many female characters in the fantasy realm that would fit nicely for this prompt,  but I thought I would go in a slightly different direction and choose Sugar from The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. Sugar, a nineteen-year-old prostitute living in Victorian London, is sharp and witty by necessity: her draw as a prostitute not only hinges on her willingness to perform any sexual act, but also her intellectual vigor. She’s educated, clever, and perceptive; throughout the book she is attempting to write her own novel about a vengeful prostitute who engages in grisly murder and torture of the johns who have wronged her. She also manages to claw her way up from seedy brothel to kept mistress of a rich businessman solely through manipulation. Sugar is constantly planning and deliberating; she has to be smart in order to survive, and in my opinion she’s one of the most vivid and memorable literary characters of all time.

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sweepI first read the Sweep series by Cate Tiernan when I was – oh, perhaps eleven or twelve years old? Since then I’ve re-read it multiple times, nearly as many times as I’ve read Harry Potter (also a super comforting read). The series is about Morgan, a seemingly ordinary teenage girl who becomes drawn to the religion of Wicca, only to discover that she is descended from real witches herself. The series is about her discovering her powers, her heritage, and growing into a powerful witch. It’s an absolutely addicting series made up of fourteen very short books, but more than that: it effortlessly captures the beauty of Wicca and magic. I still remember the feelings reading this series evoked in me; it inspired wonder and hope and curiosity. Set in a small town in upstate New York, it is unbelievably cozy and atmospheric.

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under the pendulum sunThis is easy: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng absolutely wrecked me. There was just so much going on here, so many intertwining threads in a dense fantasy book with heavy Judeo-Christian theological underpinnings. In my review, I said that I felt the book required an academic dissertation in order to properly understand everything referenced, and I stand by that. At its core, this is a deeply Gothic novel about fairies, Victorian missionaries, colonialism, and taboo. It’s beautifully written, meandering, deeply claustrophobic, depressing, and awe-inspiring. It brilliantly utilizes literary forgery to inspire a sense of mystery and intrigue. It interrogates British colonial attitudes. It engages with Judeo-Christian theology in a fantastical setting. It’s such a weird little gem of a novel that left me feeling like I had just been hit by a truck, and for weeks afterwards I couldn’t think of anything else. I kept going back to re-read passages and quotes. I searched out every interview with the author that I could find. I read articles about the Bible. Even now my greatest wish is to sit with a bunch of academics and delve into deep discussions about this book.

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gutter prayerSo, I don’t know if this is cheating a tiny bit, because I’m going with a book I’m still reading right now, because I love it so much, and that is The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan. Indulgent is such a great way to describe this insanely rich dark fantasy novel! It absolutely revels and delights in its creepiness, in all of its eldritch horrors and body horror and terrifying gods. It’s literally everything I’ve ever wanted in a dark fantasy novel. There are so many lines that I keep reading over and over again because they are just so fucking creepy they give me goosebumps. The book is also unapologetically Lovecraftian, with a seriously gloomy and grimdark and slightly steampunk aesthetic. It’s very setting-driven, with plenty of description devoted to the strange city that is Guerdon. It’s clear that the author gave everything he had to the worldbuilding – which is not to say that the plot and characters aren’t solid, but it’s the creepy creativity of the worldbuilding that truly makes this book stand out.

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the city of brassI had a hard time with this question, but I’m going to go with Dara from The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty. I’ve already mentioned I love villainous anti-heroes, especially when they feature as love interests, but I think Dara goes far beyond that (and will continue to do so in the sequel, which I have yet to read). He’s a prickly asshole, but he’s got reason to be: he’s an age-old creature who cannot always remember the horrible things he’s done. And some of those things are truly, truly horrible: Dara is essentially a war criminal. I wouldn’t even say that there’s a hidden vulnerability to him, necessarily, but he’s just so clearly traumatized and angry that it makes for a fascinating character and an intriguing dynamic with Nahri, the main character and his love interest. 

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godsgraveGodsgrave by Jay Kristoff is the sort of novel that, when I read it as a writer, I know I never could have written, simply because of the sheer complexity of the plot. At first, I thought I might be a little bored, as the main plot is about Mia smuggling herself into what is essentially a gladiator ring in an elaborate bid at revenge. I’m not super interested in fighting and, well, gladiators, but Kristoff made it inescapably compelling. The plot in this book is so thickly layered, with SO MANY incredible twists and turns that just keep you guessing, literally until the very last page of the book – seriously, those last two or three chapters were SO FULL of twists I felt like my head was spinning.

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the shadowed sunI’m gonna go with Wanahomen and Hanani from The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin, which is the second book in her Dreamblood duology. Remember when I said I enjoy well-done romance? This is a stellar example of a very slow-burn romance that is well-written and well-crafted. You almost don’t see it coming, but then when it does happen, you’re like, “oh, of course!” Wanahomen is an exiled prince trying to take back his throne, while Hanani is the first female healer, who, along with her mentor, is given to Wanahomen as a sort of hostage. There is much, much more going on in this book, as it’s a multiple POV fantasy, and honestly, this pairing developed so slowly it was hard to see how it would work, as Wanahomen and Hanani start the book as, well, not enemies exactly, but Wanahomen is a bit of an asshole and Hanani is struggling to find her confidence. By the end of the book, they’d become one of my favorite pairings of all time, and N.K. Jemisin made me realize that I actually do like romance in my books.

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empire of sandFirst of all peanut butter is amazing and I would happily eat it with a spoon right out of the jar (though I wouldn’t put it on my pancakes) but ANYWAY, this was difficult, because I tend to really enjoy villainous characters, but one villain I think actually makes me recoil is the Maha from Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand. He’s an immortal being whose immortality seems to have taken somewhat of a toll on his sanity, and he’s used to exercising absolute power on those around him. He’s cruel and thoughtless and powerful and power-hungry, and the way he treats everyone around him makes him utterly repulsive and – I cannot stress this enough – legitimately terrifying.

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sorcerer_front mech.inddI have to go with Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, one of my favorite reads of the year so far! The reason I’m picking this one as opposed to potentially more diverse YA contemporaries out there is that the diversity here really stands out as being very intentional. The book takes place in an alternate Regency England, and while it could have been very easy for the main characters to be white, they are instead a black man and a half-Indian woman. Both of our main characters in this Regency England setting are people of color! The book is not afraid of exploring just what that means, and the nuances of each character’s differing experiences, and the various privileges each one has.


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