Paper Plane Reviews

A Book Review Blog

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Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

It’s been a long while since I read a Dresden Files book, and I was quite looking forward to it. While I’ve been really enjoying the stuff that I’ve gotten from TBRindr, it’ll be nice to get to a book that I’ve chosen for myself that I actually finish now.

Proven Guilty starts with Harry attending an execution as part of his duties as a Warden of the White Council, a situation that disgusts him whilst still being the necessary course of action. Whilst in attendance, he is given two tasks by members of the Council. First, by his former master Ebenezer McCoy, he is asked to look into why the Sidhe aren’t reacting to Red Court vampires trespassing in their territory during raids on the White Council. Second, by the mysterious Gatekeeper, who gives him a general hint to look out for black magic. Whilst looking into these, he is dragged into looking after his friend Michael’s daughter, Molly, while she is at a horror movie convention and perhaps persuading her and her mother to make up after a series of blazing, teenage-rebellion-fuelled rows. But Molly may have some link to the black magic, as a series of magical attacks start befalling the convention attendees.
As you can probably tell by the time it took to finish Proven Guilty, this one was a bit of a slow start for me. This is most probably not entirely down to the book, but also down to the time since my last foray into the Dresden Files. It took me a little while to get back into that mindset and remember what factions are in play, who is feuding with who, and how many of them want Harry’s guts for garters. At the eighth entry, the Dresden Files is a fairly complex series which, judging by some of the conclusions reached at the end of Proven Guilty, is only going to get more complicated. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a lot to take on initially. By the end I was absolutely devouring it, so it’s certainly not a huge impediment.
So there are two big changes, both to previously established characters. First of all, and most prominently, is Molly, the daughter of my least favourite character Michael Carpenter. Whereas in previous entries she was an adorably precocious and cheeky pre-teen, she’s almost grown up now. And boy did she hit the teenage rebellion button like it had personally offended her. She’s now pierced and tattooed in places her parents would rather she hadn’t discovered, with hair dyed in shades of cotton candy, having also dropped out of school and hanging around with the wrong crowd. It’s an entertaining shift to say the least, and not entirely surprising given the oh-so-holy nature of the family before now. It was, however, the second change in character that caught me more off-guard and I was really pleasantly surprised. Charity, Michael’s wife, had up to this point been more of an annoyance than anything, providing little more than unprovoked aggression towards Harry for little things like breathing and existing. Well, turns out that she had a reason and goddamn if it doesn’t make you reconsider all her behaviour until now. And she gets a chance to kick ass and take names, nailing it with far more aplomb than I could have expected.

After seven entries, there is a lot to remind yourself of when you start Proven Guilty, but it shouldn’t be a big issue. The stars of this entry into the series are Molly and Charity, who outshine Michael by absolute leagues. And the hint of something much bigger in the background is intriguing. 4.5/5

Next review: The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen

Signing off,
Nisa.

Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol

At the moment I seem to have hit a bit of a low point with the books I’ve chosen for myself, so it was with a fair bit of relief that I returned to a TBRindr pick. The fact that the blurb for Sorcerous Rivalry was promising both mage battles and some LGBT romance was all the prompting I needed, even without the colossal misstep that was Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

It’s a dangerous world for a mage in Sorcerous Rivalry. In the years after a Great Mage Hunt, the King’s long-time mistress and the seven children that she birthed are discovered to be powerful mages. Reshi, the youngest of those children, has managed to hide well enough that the kingdom still has no information on him. But when a Mage Hunter turns up in his small village asking inconvenient questions, Reshi finds himself running to ally himself with his scattered siblings. But while some of his siblings will agree to ally themselves with him, others are more interested in a familial battle royale.
I had a pretty good feeling that I would enjoy this, but I hadn’t expected to be quite as engrossed as I ended up being. Let’s start with the characters since they are probably the strongest aspect of the book. There’s the narrator, Reshi, a shapeshifter who just wants to be able to drink and dance the night away. He’s the kind of charming rogue that I can’t help but love, especially when he’s as damn flirtatious as he is. Then there’s the other main male lead, Kestrel, the mage hunter who scares Reshi from his chosen village of hiding. Kestrel, in contrast to our narrator, is stoic and serious, as dangerous as he is alluring. And of course, both of them have a whole bunch of trauma that they have to work through. As it so happens, this is exactly the kind of romantic pairing that ticks every box that I have. So as soon as the chemistry started to kick in, I was a goner really. The six siblings are all very well written as well, with most of them falling into some category of terrifying, but I won’t go into their pros and cons because that will lead to some major spoiler stuff.
The world looks to be pretty interesting too. While it doesn’t go super into details, there are some cool variations on standard fantasy tropes. For example, Reshi establishes pretty early on that his magical energy doesn’t replenish upon resting as you would expect it would. Instead, he must recharge by siphoning off energy from sleeping people, weighing up the risk of drawing attention by draining too much energy versus not draining enough and risk not being able to shapeshift. There are other details like that that get sprinkled throughout the narrative, which is a nice way to gradually learn about the worldbuilding.

I could never resist the romantic combination of incorrigible flirt and super stoic, so Sorcerous Rivalry was always going to win me over with the main characters. The rest of the cast is equally engaging and the world is enough of a variation from the standard fantasy setting to be interesting whilst still being reasonably familiar. I absolutely love this book and will definitely be looking at the sequel at some stage. 5/5

Next review: Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Signing off,
Nisa.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey

I vaguely remember picking this up as part of a sale on Wordsworth Classics, along with Wings of the Dove. After the disappointment that I had with my last classic pick, I was hoping that the unusual subject matter of opium would hook me better than Henry James would.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is an account of Thomas de Quincey’s experiences with opium. Addicted after he treated himself with laudanum as a painkiller, he decided to recount the surreal visions that it caused him.
I was actually looking forward to reading Confessions of an English Opium-Eater because what’s a more stereotypically Victorian drug than opium? I figured it would be interesting or at least a laugh. That is if it ever got there. I got through the updated introduction and part way through his explanation of how he got hooked on opium, and I had to stop because I was literally falling asleep at my desk trying to read it. He’d start talking on a point and go on a completely unrelated tangent that is of absolutely no interest to the reader. Like when he stated that he was first introduced to opium as a painkiller, he wraps that bit up nice and quickly, only to whinge for several pages about how another author slandered him and his opium usage. And it just wasn’t a fair representation. And it’s not like the other guy can talk, considering that he also uses opium. Stuff like that, that would just drag the pace to a complete snail’s crawl. I know that my pledge when I started this blog was to complete books if at all possible, but there comes a point where it just isn’t worth it.

I wanted to like Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, but the only thing I find myself able to recommend it for is as a sleeping aid. 1/5

Next review: Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol

Signing off,
Nisa.

Battle Spire by Michael R. Miller

I’ll admit that I was rather looking forward to Battle Spire, given that the blurb was seriously reminding me of Sword Art Online, an anime series that my partner and I have always thoroughly enjoyed watching together. So a book that looked to be a mix of Sword Art Online and Die Hard was definitely going to catch my interest, especially if I could then recommend it to my partner, who is a lot more particular about their reading tastes than I am.

Battle Spire follows a college student, Jack Kross, who is logging back into a VRMMO after a year’s abstinence from gaming. Aiming to legitimise his hobby by making money as a gold farmer, he picks the Scavenger class, which is really not intended to be used in combat, but will increase the number of interesting and expensive things that he can sell to other players and NPCs. Unfortunately for him, just as he’s finished the starter quest he finds that a group of hostile players have taken over the server and prevented anyone logging out. To make matters worse, if he’s killed in-game the VR headset will either give him severe brain damage or kill him. Faced with the prospect of either slowly dehydrating and eventually suffering organ failure in his hotel room or being killed by hostile players, Jack finds himself teaming up with the game’s AI to try and take down the players holding the server hostage.
The comparison to Die Hard was a particularly apt one, considering that it’s one person trapped in a tower taking out opponents through traps and subterfuge. And it was a thoroughly enjoyable read because of it. Given that he is a very low level, he can’t engage in any direct combat, so he has to come up with a lot of out-of-the-box, game-breaking strategies to beat all of the high-level players pitted against him. I think the primary strength that makes all of the game-breaking stuff work is the depth with which the game world is described. Everything comes into play, from character stats to how the server deals with NPC respawn rate to NPC behaviours, and that level of detail really pays off. I will say that the level of detail was, at least at first, kind of disconcerting. The thing that comes to mind is when Jack is first creating his character. At this point, he has already explained to the reader what character and class he will be rolling up, so I thought that the character creation process would be more or less glossed over. Instead, all the different options that the game made available at each stage are detailed for the reader to look over, and damn if they don’t genuinely sound like something you’d get in World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. There was a part of me that worried that this might get a bit overbearing, because that level of detail is present throughout the book, as it appears with every level-up and change of weapon. I personally found that it helped with immersion, but I could possibly see people who were hoping for something a bit lighter on background flavour.
In terms of characters, the main two that the reader gets are pretty good. There’s Jack, also known as Zoran, a hardcore gamer who loves the rush that he gets from an MMO, but isn’t sure that it’s healthy for him in the long run. He kind of starts out as the kind of player that I avoid in MMOs, but has a decent character arc that addresses those sorts of issues. Then there’s the game’s controlling AI, dubbed Ellie by Jack for lack of a better name. She’s probably the more interesting of the two, alternating between emotionless robot, concerned server mum and shifty, untrustworthy frenemy. I loved the interaction between the two of them, and how both keep surprising each other.

I was a bit predisposed to like Battle Spire, since it promised a lot of things that I loved about Sword Art Online. While the stakes don’t necessarily feel as high in Battle Spire, I was still thoroughly gripped and entertained by the story. The game world that has been created is interesting and definitely somewhere that I would like to see explored further. The features that define it as a video game are used really cleverly, much more than I’d expected. And lastly, the characters are solid and reasonably likeable. Overall, a thoroughly entertaining read. 4.5/5

Next review: Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

I’ve had The Wings of the Dove on my shelf for quite some time now, and it seemed a good time to have a read of it now. I seem to remember that about this time last year, I had just finished Lady Audley’s Secret, and judging by the blurb, this looks to have the same sort of scandal and tragedy. Hopefully without the sharp veer into unnecessary happy ending territory.

The Wings of the Dove follows American heiress Milly Theale, as she travels Europe in what she believes are her last days to live. Along the way, she befriends a pair of lovers, Kate Croy and Merton Densher, who start conspiring to get their hands on her fortune so that they can be married.
I wanted so badly to like The Wings of the Dove, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I’m sure that the plot and characters are stellar, but there were two things that infuriated me and caused me to not finish. The first was the writing style, which was a mess of overworked vocabulary and sentences overstuffed with clauses. During my attempt to read this, it would be a fairly regular occurrence to reach the end of a sentence and have only the slightest idea of what I’d just read. It’s more than a little aggravating having to continually parse what you’re reading, just so that you have an idea of what the hell is going on.
The second thing that put me off was the pacing. I stopped at around the 1/3 part, because nothing of interest had actually happened. That book summary that I gave was taken from book blurbs that I’ve read. None of that had actually happened by the time I quit. When it takes you over a third of your novel to get past the set-up and into the main meat of the story, then you have done something terribly wrong.

A disappointing time all round really. The story and the characters could be very well-constructed, but the whole endeavour is sabotaged by a writing style that is overly complicated and overstuffed with unnecessary clauses. Combine that with a pace that is utterly glacial in speed, and I was close to throwing the book out the window in frustration. I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. 1/5

Next review: Battle Spire by Michael R. Miller

Signing off,
Nisa.

Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams

I return again to TBRindr, this time with Under Ordshaw. With a cardsharp as a main character in some kind of intriguing fantasy city, its blurb was definitely ticking a lot of boxes for me. And I’ve had some pretty good books come out of TBRindr, so I was liking my odds.

For Pax Kuranes, her night could have gone better. After winning a sizeable sum of cash from an underground poker game, she has it all stolen after a strange Roma boy approaches her at a bar. When she tries to get her money back from him, she finds a coded book of horrors and a strange intricate device that makes her of great interest to several incredibly dangerous parties. Where she was once struggling to make her rent, she’s now struggling to stay alive.
So my Under Ordshaw review took a little longer to get to than I had originally thought it would. Christmas and New Year were busier than I had expected and I didn’t get around to reading as much as I ordinarily would. As such, while a long reading time can sometimes indicate that I’m not getting on with a book, I can say with certainty that this is not the case in this instance. While I do have a couple of issues with Under Ordshaw, I did thoroughly enjoy myself.
There are two areas that I want to talk about, the first of which will be worldbuilding. There’s a lot that I like about it, mostly the stuff to do with the Sunken City and the Fae. There’s not a huge deal that’s been revealed in great detail, but the horrifying descriptions and the main cast’s lack of power in comparison makes it feel really eerie and threatening. Additionally, I liked that one of the agencies involved, the Ministry of Environmental Energy, actually feels like a typical UK civil/public service where every attempt to make changes is blocked by red tape and a cutthroat working culture. Having worked in an environment like that, I can well sympathise with Casaria’s impotent rage at his superiors. The only thing that bugged me, and this is a very minor point, is that there seem to be a lot of weird names for seemingly regular people in modern Britain. Pax, Rufaizu and Apothel are all names of human characters in Under Ordshaw, while Letty is a Fae. If anything, I’d have gone the other way around. Like I said, not a huge point, but it bugged me every time I saw them, especially Rufaizu.
Second, I’ll talk characters. I find myself in two minds about the characters. On the one hand, the majority of the characters are really well-written and interesting. My particular favourites are Letty, a Fae who makes up for her tiny size with enough rage for a bear fresh out of hibernation and enough firepower to back up her angry threats, and Casaria, a cowboy Ministry agent with delusions of grandeur who is convinced that he and Pax are the only ones who understand the darkness enough to police it. The only one that I can’t really get my head around is Pax, which is a bit of an issue. The thing that I don’t get is why she gets involved. Her POV sections state multiple times that she does what she needs to to survive, and that she doesn’t go and get herself involved in other people’s troubles. But then she keeps going and doing the exact thing that she supposedly never does, often out of concern for people that she doesn’t know. She asks after Rufaizu and charges herself with his safety, having spoken to him for maybe a couple of minutes. She saves Letty because she’s small and cute, and Pax would feel bad at her dying. She gets involved in someone else’s daughter’s safety because she’s a civilian who stumbled into this whole mess by accident. If she was really such a hardass with no interest in getting involved in other people’s problems, then she would have taken her money at the first chance and skipped town. Like I get needing to get her involved in the plot, but the characterisation doesn’t quite sit right with me.

A thoroughly enjoyable fantasy book, Under Ordshaw provides a great introduction to what looks to be a really interesting world. The characterisation of the main character Pax could do with a bit of reworking, but otherwise the cast is engaging and well-written. The main star of the show though has to be the glimpses that the reader gets of the Sunken City, a series of tunnels beneath the city filled with beasts straight out of Lovecraft’s nightmares. 4/5

Next review: The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

Signing off,
Nisa.

K-ON! Volume 3 by kakifly

I was feeling in the mood for something quick and a bit cute before a few books that were likely to take a bit more time to complete, so I settled on K-ON! Volume 3. It was a good thing too, considering that I ended up heading home early from work feeling thoroughly ill and miserable.

K-ON! Volume 3 picks up from where the last volume left off, with the majority of the Pop Music Club’s members finishing their second year and entering their final year of high school. With graduation looming, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi have to start considering where they want to go for university, while Azusa has to face the prospect of being the only remaining member come the start of the next school year.
As I haven’t been feeling great today, it was nice to read something safe and predictable. If you’ve been following K-ON! so far, it’s safe to say that you know how it goes now. There aren’t quite as many jokes about eating cake instead of practising, but it’s still more focused on the domestic than the music side of things. There’s a sense of things starting to come to a close, as there’s a lot of baton-passing shown, both inside and outside of the club. There’s also a bit more focus on how it is run as a club, with more mentions of things like club budget and requests for things like air conditioning.
The characters are still great, and this volume the reader gets to see a bit more of some of Azusa’s classmates. Ui’s already been introduced in an earlier volume as Yui’s doting and hyper-competent younger sister. A new addition to the cast is Jun, who really admires the club whilst they’re on-stage, but can’t bring herself to join as she thinks that they’re a bit lazy and embarrassing day-to-day.

If you like the previous two volumes of K-ON!, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll like the third. A bit more of a focus on the actual school side of things, and more of a spotlight on characters that are likely to join the club once the older members leave for university. 4/5

Next review: Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams

Signing off,
Nisa.

Banebringer by Carol A. Park

Returning to TBRindr, I settled on Banebringer, the first in what looked like a fairly grimdark series, with some cool magic and monsters. I’ve been on a bit of a roll with my grim books, so I was quite looking forward to this one.

In the world of the Heretic Gods, the eponymous Banebringers are reviled as worshippers of heretical gods and summoners of the predatory monsters known as Bloodbane. Vaughn, an unwilling Banebringer of noble birth, is trying to have a low key life but finds himself hunted by his own father, obsessed with maintaining the reputation and influence of their family name. Not able to bring himself to kill his father, he appeals to the assassin Sweetblade, hoping that she might be able to do what he can’t. Sweetblade has her own reasons for wanting Vaughn’s father dead, but the risk of angering the power of the Conclave that he works for, and her own instant dislike of Vaughn might see the Banebringer sharing the same fate as his father.
There is a lot to like about Banebringer, but the two things that I’m going to focus on for this review are the magic system and the main characters. Magic in this world is primarily a Banebringer trait, which is activated by using up aether in their blood. Depending what kind of Banebringer the character is, this then activates their particular special powers, which range from invisibility to ice powers. And if a Banebringer is killed, it rips a hole in reality and summons a horrifying monster called a Bloodbane. So far so good. The thing that I really love about the magic system though, is that it develops as the plot goes along. A lot of fantasy series would probably look at that magic system and decide that it’s good enough as is, but because a large chunk of the novel involves other Banebringers who are actively researching into how and why their powers work, the magic system continues to grow more complex and layered. I’d continue the series just to find out how far it can go.
The other thing that I particularly liked was the relationship between Vaughn and the assassin Sweetblade, revealed to be a woman called Ivana. The fact that they clash is hardly surprising, considering that Ivana is aloof and has a particular hatred of being propositioned, while Vaughn is an incurable flirt content to never settle for one woman. And of course, opposites attract, that I was expecting. What I wasn’t expecting was the depth of feeling and consideration that each of them get over their separate character arcs, and certainly not the direction that it took in the end. And rather than feel cheated that my expectations weren’t met, I’m eager to find out how their relationship progresses as the series continues because it still felt really natural and well-explored.
The only thing that I will say is that the rest of the world can feel a bit vague at times, with names of regions mentioned in passing, only to not be revisited, or certain racial traits skimmed over. Like I’m pretty sure that Ivana is meant to be black, but only because she briefly compares her appearance to someone else, and even then that’s only a few chapters from the end of the book.

There’s a lot going on in Banebringer, and a lot of questions that have been set up for later books. It’s definitely worth a look for fantasy fans looking for something a bit darker, as well as those who want an in-depth, evolving magic system. The relationship between the two main characters is engaging, their “opposites attract” dynamic written with depth, maturity, and with a bit of a twist. The rest of the worldbuilding can seem a bit woolly at times, but it’s rarely much of a distraction. 4.5/5

Next review: K-ON! Volume 3 by kakifly

Signing off,
Nisa.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

I will admit to cheating a little with Heart-Shaped Box, as I had already read it several years before. It was my book of choice on a college trip to Berlin and I remember some good evenings spent curled up in a youth hostel scaring myself silly. But I’d forgotten some of the details of the book and thought that now would be a good time to remind myself of why I loved this book.

Heart-Shaped Box follows Judas Coyne, a middle-aged rock star who has gone into semi-retirement following the deaths of the majority of his band, and generally being tired with the whole business of being a rock star. He receives an email that says “Buy my stepfather’s ghost”. As he has a collection of the macabre, mostly consisting of twisted gifts from his fans, it seems like the perfect addition. But when the ghost is delivered to Jude, a dead man’s suit in a black heart-shaped box, he finds that the ghost that he has allowed into his life had a grudge against him during life and is hardly about to let death stand in the way of his plans for revenge.
I really loved Heart-Shaped Box the first time round, and the second time was similarly entertaining. I will say during this second read, there were a couple things that stuck out as needing work that I didn’t notice as a younger woman. But I’ll start with what the book gets right.
Firstly, I personally really liked the main characters, Jude and Georgia/Marybeth. I’ve seen a lot of reviews that criticise them for being flat and predictable, but I think that’s too harsh a line to take. Sure, ageing rock star and his significantly younger groupie girlfriend isn’t exactly the most original of archetypes to run with, but I don’t take much issue with this for a couple of reasons. First of all, you don’t tend to get these character archetypes as the main protagonists, so I’m happy to switch focus to them for a while. Second, the development that they both go is pretty damn significant, even if it’s kept a bit low-key compared to the whole “we’re being chased by a homicidal ghost” thing. They go from being a pair of desperately unhappy people who are unable to deal with all of their emotional baggage to a couple that can last through thick and thin, knowing that there’s someone who has seen them at their worst and decided to stick around.
The villain, Craddock, is a bit on the cartoonishly evil side of things, having pretty much no positive features either alive or dead, but then I think that’s about right when it comes to the supernatural. For me, there is a big factor about a supernatural evil that influences how scary I find them, which is whether they can be reasoned with. It’s the reason that I find zombies much worse than vampires. With vampires, there’s the potential for a spark of humanity that can be exploited by the quick-witted to possibly get out of the situation alive. With zombies, there is no reasoning with them, leaving you with a zero-sum situation. Craddock has no positive qualities or virtues that can be appealed to and combined with his incorporeal form and eerie mind powers makes him a formidable foe.
The main issue that I had with Heart-Shaped Box in my second reading was that the really unsettling stuff seems to be in the first part, with each subsequent part getting less scary as it goes on. This could be because as they go on, Jude and Marybeth gather some additional tools to combat Craddock with. But then they also get increasingly on-edge and beaten up, so that sort of balances out. Part of it is probably that the character development does make up a big chunk of the road trip that takes up the latter part of the novel. But the thing that sticks out in my mind most is a scene right near the end of the first part which is just so fucked-up and creepy that pretty much everything after it pales in comparison. Afterwards the horror is more slow-burn, which only emphasises how good that shock to the system scare is.

I thoroughly enjoyed my second read-through of Heart-Shaped Box. While it does suffer scare-wise after having its most shocking and nauseatingly creepy scene fairly early on, the ghost is persistent and subtle enough that there is at least a decent amount of tension throughout. The main characters aren’t necessarily the most original, but the personal development that they both go through is pretty damn good. I’d definitely recommend this for horror fans or maybe as a starting point for someone looking to get into the genre. 4.5/5

Next review: Banebringer by Carol A. Park

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Woven Ring by M. D. Presley

I now return to TBRindr with a review of The Woven Ring. In the same vein as my last indie fantasy title, this promised a kind of fantasy that was somewhat rare, in this case a fantasy take on the American Civil War and Reconstruction periods. I’ll admit that while I was interested to see some more fantasy that diverged from the norm a bit, I was a bit wary about the particular period of history chosen. You see, while I’m not that knowledgeable about the American Civil War considering that I’m British and all, I’ve learnt enough to know that it’s still a touchy subject and there was a part of me that was rather wary about how it would be translated into a fantasy world.

The Woven Ring follows Marta, a former spy in the civil war that tore the country of Newfield apart and left her an exile from her home. Charged with transporting the daughter of widely-hated inventor into the east of Newfield by her manipulative brother, Marta finds herself torn. Part of her orders state not to kill the inventor, but she finds herself unwilling to consider that possibility due to his role in the civil war. Complicating the issue is the daughter herself, an unresponsive mute who has succumbed to combat fatigue and will only act upon Marta’s strict orders, and a series of pursuers that may include agents of the devil herself.
I really shouldn’t have worried myself, because The Woven Ring is fantastically written and manages to avoid the main issue that I was worried about regarding the civil war setting. Thankfully, the civil war isn’t to do with slavery in this world, so there isn’t a tortured race metaphor that the reader has to deal with. Instead, the setting combines the early industrial, post-war feel of the Reconstruction era with a really well fleshed out religion/magic system. I say religion/magic, as the two are very closely intertwined, and I’m not at a point where I can clearly define it as one or the other. It’s a fascinating and intricate, and would take me all day to properly explain what I know currently, seeing as the narrative presents a few unexpected twists about it at the end that I hope will be explored in much greater detail.
The plot has two main strands, which can be broadly called the present and the past. The present strand focuses on the above blurb, with a traumatised and intensely bitter Marta on her transportation mission. The past strand focuses on Marta growing up in a family of spies in the years leading up to the civil war, and during the civil war as the situation only gets more and more dire. It alternated between the two, a technique that I have seen used incredibly poorly in the past. Here, it worked out because the two plot strands were equally interesting and each chapter has enough in it that you’re not necessarily left hanging for too long.
The characters are similarly well-written. First there is Marta, a bitter and battle-hardened woman trying to regain her family’s approval. She was both unnerving and incredibly refreshing as a protagonist, as I don’t think I’ve had a main POV as bleak as this since Best Served Cold. I loved her as a protagonist, but I can see her being a bit much for someone who prefers their main characters to be a bit friendlier. Second, there’s Caddie, the mute girl that Marta is transporting across the country to return to her father. She’s apparently been traumatised by something in the past, but by what is unknown and there may be much more to her than initially meets the eye. And lastly, there are Luca and Isabelle, two mercenaries who join Marta to help her reach her destination in the east. While Luca is chatty and obviously shifty, Isabelle is mute and seems about as sick of Luca’s shit as Marta is. For me, they weren’t as interesting to follow, but they do provide some nice contrast to Marta and allow her to have some interactions with someone who isn’t a child in a stupor.

The Woven Ring is a fantastic novel with a lot of intricacy and depth. The characters are well-written, if a bit on the bleak side, although that’s to be expected in a Grimdark fantasy book. The main draw for me though is the world-building, unusually enough for me, but the level of effort that has gone into it and into making the world feel like a living thing is obvious and very much appreciated. I will definitely be looking to pick up the sequel at some point. 5/5

Next review: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Signing off,
Nisa.

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