Paper Plane Reviews

A Book Review Blog

Battle Angel Alita Volume 1 by Yukito Kishiro

I’d been quite looking forward to read Battle Angel Alita ever since seeing the film version in cinemas. Given that it’s a manga classic, there’s a part of me that’s embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to get to it.

Beneath the floating city of Zalem lies a mountain of junk known as the Scrapyard. While scavenging for parts, talented cybernetic doctor Daisuke Ido finds the still-living cyborg head. He rebuilds her body and names her Alita when they find that she has no memories of her previous life. The only clue that they have is her unexplained instinct for battle.
Given that I’d already seen the film adaptation of Battle Angel Alita, I thought that I would have a pretty good idea of what was happening. I was partially correct, but it was a bit of an odd read. It’s probably the fastest paced book that I’ve read in a long time, as it seems to largely go from one fight scene to another with nary a pause for breath in between. If I didn’t know what to expect, I imagine that it would be exhausting to keep up with. The focus on fight scenes has the unfortunate side effect that there’s not a great deal of characterisation happening. Honestly, the character that felt the most fleshed out by the time the volume ended was Mukaku, the guy that Alita is attempting to take out for his bounty, which seems backwards.
The main thing that saves this for me is the artwork, which is fantastically detailed and dynamic in a way that is not necessarily pretty, but definitely striking. It’s also really good for the body horror, so fans of that genre will probably have a fun time here.

Weirdly fast pacing and weak characterisation does harm an interesting story, but the art and fight choreography is striking enough that I’d still be happy to continue the series. 3/5

Next review: Onslaught of Madness by Jesse Teller

Signing off,
Nisa.

Black Creek by Dan Kemp

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with Black Creek, but I liked the sound of the blurb, which promised some kind of strange, time-spanning mystery. It was pretty vague as to what that mystery would entail, but I can safely say that the actual development was about as far from my mind as was possible to get.

Black Creek explores a strange phenomena that spans across time. In 1890, the mayor of a declining industrial town is desperately attempting to keep his community together while also trying to get revenge for the death of his wife. In 1972, an inexperienced con-artist finds herself in over her head when a supposedly easy job goes wrong. And in 2020, a vigilante prowls the streets of Pittsburgh, killing and injuring petty criminals. In the build-up to the 2020 elections, these stories will come together with world-changing consequences.
I will tell you straight up that that description I wrote above, based largely off of the blurb that I read, is more than a little misleading. That description covers the first third of the book. After that, it becomes Mad Max with dinosaurs. I can’t say that I was expecting it at all, and I can’t help but wonder if a lot of readers will be put off if they were looking to read something more mundane.
The overwhelming impression that I got from Black Creek was one of a book that had a lot of ideas, but wasn’t polished enough to really pull them off. Ideally, it needed more refinement before it was released, to iron out some issues that get pretty glaring as they mount up. For example, going back to the blurb there, it sounds very much like the events of 1890 and 1972 will be really important and influence the later events of the novel. They were disappointingly unimportant to the wider scheme of things. The 1890 section introduces a character who turns up later but isn’t hugely important, while the 1972 section could probably have been cut in its entirety without any real damage to the plot’s integrity. I feel like they could have easily been glossed over with a paragraph or a chapter at most, so that more time could be dedicated to some of the more interesting ideas that get dropped by the end because there’s no time left. For instance, there are a handful of supernatural characters introduced, one of whom has only just figured out their powers and their impending immortality. It’s implied that she’ll have to make some tough decisions in the near future, but the book never addresses it because hey the main plot is over. Another of the supernatural character muses over his nature and contemplates whether he could be a god incarnate. Also never goes anywhere, because it’s not useful to the plot. It’s really disappointing too, because Black Creek could have been a really interesting and unusual look at the pros and cons of immortality, but it ends up being poorly implemented and frustrating to read as a result.

There are a lot of ideas here that could have been great if expanded on and refined, but as it stands it’s a disappointing hodge-podge that is trying to be too many things at once. I can see the misleading blurb putting off more than a few potential readers as well. 2/5

Next review: Battle Angel Alita Volume 1 by Yukito Kishiro

Signing off,
Nisa.

Small Favor by Jim Butcher

So I’ll admit, I was expecting there to be a little more time between reviews, but it was a particularly slow day today, so I finished the next Dresden Files book. Anything to get through my massive reading list I suppose.

Winter has come early to Chicago when Harry is asked to investigate a very odd arson attack by Murphy. When he starts making his normal inquiries, however, he finds that he may well be in way over his head with Mab insisting he get involved in order to pay off one of his favours to her, assassins from the Summer Court on his tail and an unknown enemy holding Johnny Marcone hostage. With all that on the line, he’ll have to pull out all the stops to get out alive.
Without wanting to spoil too much, Small Favor didn’t go quite how I expected it to. Given that Mab’s involvement and the Summer Court’s antagonism is established pretty early on in the narrative, I was expecting this to be fairly Fae heavy. But no, this ended up being pretty much the Harry and Michael trust exercise book. Which leaves me in a bit of a bind, because on the one hand, I still think that Michael Carpenter is a sanctimonious bore and there are so many more interesting characters in universe, and I’m still sore that despite being plot-essential Johnny Marcone was criminally underutilised here. Anyway, personal gripe over, Michael has always felt like one of the less interesting characters that the Dresden Files has to draw from, but this book does finally give him some opportunity for growth. And Michael’s presence now means that Sanya gets to turn up as well, and I love him. He’s the agnostic foil that Michael needs. Plus, the Knights of the Cross do get pretty awesome villains, so I’m happy about that at least.
Another unexpected thing was that we get to see more of Warden Luccio, who now appears to have the hots for Harry? A turn of events that I wouldn’t have bet on, but I’m intrigued to see just how badly this is going to turn out. I foresee either being killed in a tragic way that personally drives Harry’s anger at his enemies, or she’s evil. Call me cynical, but I can’t think of many people who see someone with two black eyes and an obviously broken nose and think, “Perfect time to make my move.” She’s either a saint or has an ulterior motive, given Harry’s luck.
With regards to the overarching Black Council plot that seems to be taking shape now, I get a strong sense that there’s a lot that I read that will take on horrible extra significance in later books, but I’m not sure which bits yet. It’s weird, I want to talk about how it feels like things are starting to coalesce more in weird and concerning ways, but with this book the additions are either too spoilery or too vague to really discuss. Regardless, I am eagerly awaiting to see where this goes.

Another solid entry into the Dresden Files, with a lot of great action set pieces and a whole lot of moving parts to keep an eye on. At this point, I think most readers are in for the long haul, just to see how the hell things can get worse. 4/5

Next review: Black Creek by Dan Kemp

Signing off,
Nisa.

Quill by A. C. Cobble

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what I was in for with Quill, given that I’d largely forgotten the blurb by the time that I got to reading it. But after a quick refresh, there was a lot that was appealing to me. Dark magic, assassin priests, and cartography, count me in.

The peace in a sleepy fishing hamlet is destroyed by a particularly brutal murder. With a noble victim entirely out of place in the hamlet, and evidence of a dark ritual, the local police agree that this is entirely outside of their capabilities and bring in some outside help. This help comes in the form of Duke Oliver Wellesley, a prince, adventurer and cartographer. Joining him as a representative from the Church is Sam, an apprentice to an assassin-priest who is convinced that this is the beginning of a great battle with the forces of darkness, and that she has a part to play. Together, they will investigate this strange murder, finding that it leads to places that many powerful people don’t want them to find.
There was a lot to like about Quill. The two main aspects that I’m going to talk about are setting and characters. The setting is an intriguing mix of steampunk and magic, which I’ve sometimes seen described as Gaslamp Fantasy, but it has a particular lean towards spirit magic which is a neat spin. There does look to be quite a lot of worldbuilding that’s gone on, but the narrative is really good at introducing it in digestible pieces that make sense to bring up in the moment. I’ll be really interested to see where some aspects go, especially the stuff to do with the haunted region of Northundon, which has only been hinted at in the vaguest of terms so far. The high society aspects of the worldbuilding is much more familiar to me, but meshes in with the magic elements quite nicely, as there are the obvious kind of secret societies that are polite excuses for orgies covering for the really dark stuff.
This leads us on to the two main characters. I can’t think of another book where the two leads have had such awesome chemistry together, but the idea of them becoming a couple is utterly baffling, and I really hope that this buddy cop sort of dynamic continues. On the one hand, you have Duke Oliver, a womanising prince with a thirst for adventure. Compared to a lot of other characters that you would classify as nobility, there’s a bullishness about him that I love. There he is in your standard sort of upper class society, and he’s just unsubtle enough that it causes all kinds of problems. On the other, there is my new favourite knife-bisexual, Sam, whose role just seems to be to bulldoze her way through every single possible expectation that society has of her. She’s a priestess, but is quite happy to drink and brazenly flirt with people. She’s a representative of the Church, but quite willing to throw the current establishment in charge firmly under the bus when need be. I love her and want to see so much more of her. The risk with a male and female lead is that the automatic expectation is that by the end they’re kissing, but I much prefer their banter whilst checking the same people out as partners. Off the top of my head, I’ve not seen that kind of reluctant wingman dynamic before and it turns out it is definitely my kind of jam.

A great start to a series and I definitely want to read more of it. The setting is a nice mix of familiar and unusual, and the chemistry between Oliver and Sam is an awesome buddy cop dynamic that I am so here for. 5/5

Next review: Small Favor by Jim Butcher

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

When I mentioned to my wife that my next book was The Catcher in the Rye, the only question she had was “…why?” Given that I have read the book before, it was a fair enough question. My thought process was basically that I’d not read it since I was 15, and I was wondering how it would hold up now that I’m nearly double that age. I’d heard that re-reading it as an adult is something that either ruins its appeal or otherwise comes across as entirely different.

The Catcher in the Rye covers three days in the life of its narrator, Holden Caulfield. Shortly before the Christmas holidays begin and his parents are informed of his expulsion, he decides that instead of waiting it out at Pencey Prep he’ll hang about New York for a few days and go back home at his leisure. Whilst there, he’ll meet with several people that he has counted as friends in the past and consider what he really wants from life.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I started this re-read. The last time I’d picked it up was, as mentioned earlier, when I was 15 and would have been for a GCSE class. I seem to remember being the only one in my class that enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, and the only one that engaged with the material on a personal level. I couldn’t really remember all the events of the novel in great detail, but I did remember sharing Holden’s loathing of anything that seemed “phony”, despite the scope of phoniness completely undefined and nebulous. There was a kind of passive “me against the world” kind of sentiment that really spoke to my emotionally repressed teenage self.
Re-reading it as an adult has kind of been a wild ride. It’s sort of been an interesting exercise in introspection in a way, because in many ways I still identify with Holden. Not for the “phony” stuff, though that does still ring true of a wider teenage experience. No, the stuff that I identified with now was the experience of depression. If I’d met Holden Caulfield as a teenager, I would have low-key wanted to be his friend. If I met him now, I’d be on the phone requesting some kind of mental health assessment, because he is clearly on the verge of a crisis and I’m uncomfortable at how much of that rings true at a horrible base level. There’s a passage that really stuck with me, where he’s talking to his younger sister, who asks him to tell her one thing that he really actively likes. And when he answers, it’s an obvious struggle to think of anything, and the only things he makes note of are both of his younger siblings, one of whom is dead. I realised that he had nothing outside of them, no other protective factors, nothing to look forward to day-to-day. It still bothers me just how much I recognised that scene. You see, when I’ve been at my low points, I’ve not necessarily noticed that I’m in a bad spot until the day that I’ve stayed up way too late, and started crying hysterically and considering how feasible it would be to sneak out the house and throw myself into the river. It’s not necessarily something that is constantly a matter of high urgency, but a weird baseline of struggling to care about things that you once loved or things that should flag up as really important, interrupted by deep lows of self-loathing and spiralling panic. And The Catcher in the Rye really gets that. I was talking to my wife about this change in perception and it got me thinking about another depression book that I should probably re-read once I get a new copy of it: The Bell Jar. When I first read that, I loathed it because I couldn’t stand the main character and how whiny she was. I realised that when I was younger, I thought that my low mood was a result of where I was at that moment in time, and that in order to be happy I just needed to work hard and get to the next step on the education/career path. The protagonist from The Bell Jar irritated me because she had the 1950s equivalent of what I wanted my life to be, and she still couldn’t make herself be happy. Whereas Holden was the golden child in my eyes, consciously unhappy because he’s in a world that is trying to shape him into something alien, something false to his basic nature. Now, Holden just makes me sad, because I see a lot of my low mood with no reason or trigger in him, and I can finally define what my own experience is like through what he experiences. It’s not necessarily a comfortable or enjoyable journey, but it is an enlightening one.

The Catcher in the Rye is an odd book to recommend. There are some who maintain that only teenagers can stomach Holden Caulfield, with his vendetta against the phoniness of the adult world. But I think that if you’re looking for an uncomfortably accurate portrayal of someone who is deeply depressed, then this might be the book for you. It’s certainly helped me work out some things about myself through reading it again as an adult. 4.5/5

Next review: Quill by A. C. Cobble

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Yoga of Strength by Andrew Marc Rowe

I’ll admit, I wasn’t really all that sure what I was getting into with The Yoga of Strength, as I couldn’t quite reconcile the Hindu-influenced title with the European Medieval fantasy blurb. So this was as much to satisfy my curiosity as it was to provide a promised review.

The Yoga of Strength follows Sir Andrew Cardiff, the son of a noble and newly knighted member of the Yellow Order of the Kingdom of Thrairn. Despite his cowardice and certainty that the only reason for his knighthood was nepotism, he journeys with his order to defend a neighbouring kingdom. But a strange encounter with a mystical jaguar and an enigmatic witch doctor puts him on a path that threatens to destroy his life as he knows it.
I am somewhat torn about The Yoga of Strength, because while I did like it overall, there are a few aspects that I feel could have been executed better. So I’ll start with the positive, which is the character arc for the main character, Andrew. When I was checking the blurb before I started reading, I noted that a few people had identified Andrew as a weakness with the book, due to his generally unlikable nature, and I can definitely see that at the beginning. Initially, it’s pretty difficult to identify good qualities in him, because whatever talents and positive personality traits he has are smothered by his persistent self-pity and envy of anyone who seems to be better than him. But, having finished the novel, I would argue that it’s a necessary evil, as his self-improvement over the course of the story becomes a lot more evident. Rowe names Hermann Hesse as an influence in his acknowledgements, and I can definitely see that come through in this journey to self-actualisation.
That brings me onto an aspect that I think works out overall, but might make The Yoga of Strength something of a hard sell. If I were to describe the novel succinctly, it would be Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha meets Lord of the Rings. That is, if nothing else, very niche. Like, I’m not sure who in my immediate circle is going to be totally on board for this combination. I personally find it really interesting and unusual, but I know that there will be plenty of fantasy fans wondering why there needs to be Hindu spirituality in their Medieval fantasy novel, and presumably vice versa. Apologies to the yoga enthusiasts, I have yet to meet you and so can only speculate.
My main issue with The Yoga of Strength is the treatment of one of the characters, Simon. So Simon is established early on as one of Andrew’s only friends, who bonds with him over shared feelings of inadequacy caused by their lack of physical fitness. They joke, as some male friendships are wont to do, about being homosexual. So far not really my thing, but it fit with the taboos of the world that they grew up in, so whatever. Then there comes a moment where Simon is discovered, incredibly drunk, in the company of a male prostitute. And later the reader finds out that any and all homosexual tendencies Simon had started after he was sexually assaulted by the head of his platoon in the Yellow Order. That is not how being gay works, that is not how being raped works, and I am really not okay with it. The narrative does start to salvage it towards the end by implying that he may be bisexual and that he may have some room to start exploring those feelings, but there’s only so much that you can recover from “I’m gay because I was raped”. I wanted to be able to recommend this book for anyone willing to try something a bit niche, but I am unable to do so wholeheartedly knowing that this whole homosexuality/bisexuality subplot has been handled so clumsily.

An unusual mixture of Medieval fantasy and ideas from Hindu scriptures which could prove to be an interesting series, if a little clumsy at times. My main issue is a very poorly handled attempt at an LGBT plot-line; while I want to believe that Rowe’s intent is to explore male bisexuality, its introduction to the plot and explanation in-story is clumsy at best, but could be pretty harmful to the wrong reader. A tentative recommendation. 3/5

Next review: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Signing off,
Nisa.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Okay, so it might be a bit weird reading a Christmas-themed book in the middle of spring, but it’s been so anxiety-inducing out there that I wanted to read something that would be a bit comforting. And that ended up being Discworld. So I’m not sorry, just a bit temporally confused.

It’s the night before Hogswatch, and a jolly man in red is making his way around the Disc, delivering presents to all the good boys and girls. Except that this year, the Hogfather has been temporarily replaced by Death, and his granddaughter Susan is determined to put a stop to such foolish behaviour. Elsewhere, an unnerving assassin by the name of Mr Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-tim-eh) has been given a truly bizarre target for inhumation, and seems to be only too happy to give it a go.
So this might be my new go-to Christmas story. As the book can largely be split into three main plots (Death, Susan and the Unseen University, and Mr Teatime) I shall focus on each of them briefly.
There’s something absolutely wonderful about watching Death trying to get into the spirit of the holiday with great enthusiasm but not much understanding. From what I’ve seen of other people’s reactions, this is most fondly remembered in the scenes where he has gatecrashed a posh toy-shop’s “Hogfather’s Grotto”, and that is entirely understandable. There’s something magical about Death giving a small child a sword with the justification that it’s educational. What I kind of wasn’t expecting were the moments that were unexpectedly touching, that really question how charity is approached at Christmas and how little it is shown at other times of the year. It was more sobering than anticipated.
Upon finding out that her grandfather a rather unexpected side hustle this year, Susan is determined to figure out what is happening and decides to investigate, which involves the wizards at some point. Susan continues to be an odd character for me, as she doesn’t quite mesh with the Discworld as much as other characters with similar qualities, and this is highlighted very much when she stands in contrast to the insanity that is the Unseen University. She is cynical and practical, much like Vimes or Veternari, but these qualities only serve to make her feel a bit inhuman. Her desire to be perfectly normal and inoffensive is a bit too laser-focused, especially in the Discworld where their baseline for normal should be compared to real life. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the point, but it still bothers me when I read her. The wizards are, of course, thoroughly entertaining and more than happy to just kind of roll with the various shenanigans that pop up during the narrative. It was nice to have some more development for Hex, which I hope to see more of as the series progresses.
Mr Teatime is genuinely unsettling, and should be held as an example of how masterful “less is more” characterisation can truly be. I will say that after a little while, before all three plots can come together near the climax, his plot-line can get a bit on the repetitive side, largely due to how few concrete details the audience have to work with about what is actually going on. Other than the odd pacing issue though, it does have some truly unsettling moments that will stay with me.

Hogfather is largely carried by the absurdity of Death trying to emulate a Santa-type figure, but the inclusion of Mr Teatime is a masterstroke that proves just how skilled and subtle Pratchett’s writing could be. The pacing could have used a little tweaking in places and I’m still a bit on the fence about Susan, but otherwise this was thoroughly enjoyable. 4.5/5

Next review: The Yoga of Strength by Andrew Marc Rowe

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi, Volume I: Homecoming by Kelvyn Fernandes

Apologies again for the delay, still working through some personal issues that I’m hoping can get on top of soon. And given the increased likelihood that more of us need to self-isolate in the coming weeks, what better opportunity to read more?
With regards to my latest book, I wasn’t sure how I’d find this, given that it looked to be aimed at a slightly younger audience than I was accustomed to, but given the generally high quality that I’ve gotten from my indie fantasy I was more than happy to see where it would go.

The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi: Homecoming follows the eponymous Peter, a magic user known as the Bubble Mage, and Fi, an illegal chimera, as they travel across several magic kingdoms in order to get Fi back home. On the way, they will have to deal with dangerous beasts, the fickle whims of nobility, and the daunting nature of their ultimate goals.
So we’ll start with the good parts, first of which are Peter and Fi themselves. Peter is a mage who appears to have a real talent for pissing off the people he works with, despite having the seemingly weak power of creating and manipulating bubbles. As such, he’s cunning and creative in order to get the absolute maximum out of his power set, which is a lot of fun. To contrast Peter’s caution, you also have Fi, who is by far the most entertaining of the cast. Combining cuteness with an aggressive streak a mile wide, she is the kind of chaotic live-wire that adds a much needed kick. Their personalities are just opposed enough that it adds complication without making their relationship non-stop fights.
The second thing that I really liked was what I saw of the worldbuilding. It was unusual enough that it stood out from a lot of traditional fantasy, but not so unusual thing that it required extensive infodumps to explain an element that may never come up again. For the most part, the explanations that were included were succinct summations of political situations and individual mages’ power sets. I especially liked the magic system, which appears to be more like divinely-appointed mutations than anything that can be taught. Volume I focused primarily on Peter’s power set, but I hope to see some other mages in more detail if the series is continued.
There was one thing that I wasn’t quite sure about, and that was that I’m still not sure which audience this was aimed at. So initially I assumed that The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi was aimed at a pre-teen audience given the kind of language used and the overall tone that it seemed to be going for in the early chapters. And then a man’s face was melted off in fairly graphic detail, which I feel might be a bit much for pre-teens. The problem is that similarly graphic and violent moments continue to pop up throughout the book, but the language never seems to change to suit an older audience. It felt off to say the least.

The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi, Volume I: Homecoming is an entertaining fantasy novel with a really interesting magic system that I would really like to see more of. The only real issue that I had with it was an uncertainty about what age group it was meant to be aimed at, given the largely pre-teen feel to the language versus the scenes of graphic violence. 3.5/5

Next review: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Violent Fae by Phil Williams

I’ve started the reviews a bit late this year unfortunately, mostly down to a combination of busy personal circumstances, ill health and continuing issues with my mental health. But I thought that I would start the year in much the same way as I did last year and read a book from the Ordshaw series, especially given that I was part of its book tour launch last year.

After the conflict with the grugulochs and blue screens that almost caused the collapse of both the humans’ Ministry of Environmental Energy and the Fae Transitional City, Pax is hoping to keep a low profile while she attends a high profile poker tournament and waits to hear what has become of her Fae friend Letty. But now that she’s aggravated the monsters both above and below ground, it’s only a matter of time before everything comes to a head for a final explosive showdown.
So, after Blue Angel I had some pretty high expectations about this final part of the Ordshaw trilogy, and I was not disappointed. The tone fits nicely between those set up by Under Ordshaw and Blue Angel. It returns to the higher tension of the first book, but with the additional political angle that was introduced in the second and a better understanding of what exactly it is that Pax and her allies are facing.
The main thing that I found myself enjoying was the increased focus on Fae society. Letty and other Fae that she had interacted with previously have, for the most part, been outsiders to the FTC, so it was nice to see what it is that they are in contrast to. Turns out that it’s the sort of late-stage capitalism drudgery and corruption that I love to see fall in fiction, so you can imagine that there were some good eat-the-rich moments where Letty’s sub-plot was concerned.
With regards to characters, there was some interesting progress made in character arcs, a lot of which I wasn’t necessarily expecting. Most gratifying for me was Pax, who finally gets her moment of agency and being able to actively choose to go through with the craziness. It’s kind of a small thing, but it makes everything that follows that bit more awesome. Letty is still my favourite, and she gets to be both in her element and wildly out of her depth with all the Fae politics, so that was entertaining at least. The most surprising were Casaria and Sam Ward, who have a weird reversal of roles from the last book. While I did love Casaria’s whole agent of chaos role previously, it wasn’t something that he’d necessarily be able to continue. And while there’s a part of me that’s kind of sad that it ended, I thought that his arc in this book was well thought-out and was still satisfying despite my preferences.

A thoroughly satisfying end to a very entertaining trilogy. It brings together all the big loose ends and leaves some room for possible follow-ups. But if this were the last of it, I could personally feel satisfied. A definite recommendation for some alternative urban fantasy. 5/5

Next review: The Many Adventures of Peter and Fi: Homecoming by Kelvyn Fernandes

Signing off,
Nisa.

Legends of the Exiles by Jesse Teller

So this review took a while to get out. Not the book’s fault, it found me at a bad time mentally again, but I’ve been neglecting the blog again. Which is a shame, because I’d been looking forward to Legends of the Exiles. A collection of loosely connected novellas about strong female characters in a neat barbarian low-fantasy setting was definitely sparking my interest.

Legends of the Exiles collects the stories of four proud exile women, each legendary in their own right within their community. The reader first follows Helena, determined to find a love as bold as she is, only for her boldness to drive away the one person she wants. Second is Jocelyn, a wolf princess with a grim destiny and the strange powers needed to make it come to pass. Third is Ellen, abandoned by her community for the misdeeds of an abuser who learns to piece her life back together. And last is Rachel, a near-feral princess who is looking for someone who she can truly call an equal, both in battle and in bed.
I wanted to like Legends of the Exiles a lot more than I did. I do have a few issues that I’ll discuss below, but I feel that I should start with the stuff that I did like. I’m still happy that I finished this because there are points throughout the novellas that are incredibly powerful and evocative, particularly in Ellen’s novella “Dead Girl”, which is by far the most interesting and accomplished of the quartet. Those moments were affecting enough that I wanted to finish reading in the hopes of finding more of those moments.
Unfortunately, now we come to the things that didn’t work for me about Legends of the Exiles, which can be narrowed to three overarching issues that affect each novella to varying extents. The first is that I’m pretty sure that I’ve dived into a load of side stories for a previously established series, because it is frustratingly sparse on certain worldbuilding details that I imagine would need no explanation for those already familiar with the wider setting. For example, there’s a framing narrative introduced at the beginning that is presumably intended to tie it all together. The problem with this framing narrative is that it’s not revisited at the end of the book, so the reader finds out absolutely nothing about who the narrator was supposed to be or what headstrong warrior-type they were apparently narrating these stories to. Another thing that strongly indicates that it ties into a series is that each skip in time is headed with “X Years Before the Escape”, which is all very well but kind of difficult to figure out the timeline of these stories on the fly, unless they directly retell scenes from earlier novellas, and doesn’t really have much impact because I have no idea what the hell the “Escape” is. The book doesn’t have much interest in explaining its significance, which is a shame because it gets to be kind of alienating. I remember hearing that one of Stan Lee’s sayings was “Every comic book is someone’s first”, and I feel that this is a good saying to apply to books in general, despite the difference in consumption. If you’re writing something new in a series, I believe that it should be as accessible to newcomers as is possible to do without repeating a previous book wholesale. Legends of the Exiles does not do that for me.
My second issue with it is that despite the novellas appearing to focus on different issues, they kind of all boil down to “The main female character is happy when she gets to be with her man”. The only one of the four women followed through the book to not get married to her true love ends up alienating him and dying horribly. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge a good romance novel, it is the highest selling fiction genre so it must be doing something right. My issue is that by trying to sell itself as something other than romance, it’s kind of shooting itself in the foot. It does also kind of undermine the whole “strong female character” thing if their character arcs revolve almost solely around their relationships with their lovers/husbands, fathers and sons. While the romance itself doesn’t bother me, I can see it getting to the wrong audience based on its provided synopsis.
The third issue is one that kind of rubbed me the wrong way even when it was handled well, and that’s the sexualised view of girls way under the age of consent. All four of the women that the book focuses on start their stories at very young ages, and their novella will each span a minimum of a decade. The problem with this is that once they hit the 12/13 mark, there’s some level of sexuality introduced into their interactions with men and boys and I am really not comfortable with that. If it were starting around the 15/16 age I could probably understand that a bit more because that’s a typical sort of age for your attractiveness to start mattering to a teenager, even if I wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable reading about them having sex. There is nothing sexy about a 12-year old girl, and to have it come up consistently is raising my hackles more than a little. There’s only one incident of it going further than heated looks, and it is treated like the trauma that it is, but the fact that this comes up outside the deliberate paedophilia plot-line leaves a really bad taste in the mouth.

While there is some good writing that is evocative and moving in places, Legends of the Exiles kind of shoots itself in the foot for me. Primarily this is due to some uncomfortably sexualised pre-teens, but the fact that it is obtuse to readers new to the previously-established world doesn’t help either. 3/5

Next review: The Violent Fae by Phil Williams

Signing off,
Nisa.

Page 1 of 41

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén