Hello all, and welcome back to my monthly wrap-up. As real-life work pressures crank up for the final quarter of year, I found myself reading a bit slower for the month of September. It’s also getting harder and harder for me to even come up with short reviews. Thankfully, I was still able to write a bit more for the Book of the Months, as it felt right to do so. And yes, it’s Books of the Month as there were two which both scored 5-stars and earned a spot amongst my favourite books.
NB. Books are rated within its genre. For avoidance of doubt, rereads are not considered for Book of the Month.
Books of the Month
Locklands (The Founders Trilogy, #3) by Robert Jackson Bennett
Robert Jackson Bennett has done it again. I’ve now read two of his completed trilogies and both ended up among my favourites. The Divine Cities and The Founders Trilogy are both very different in flavour, but share the common ground of being genre-defying. Bennett is masterfully adept in creating an insanely intriguing and imaginative blend of fantasy, sci-fi and even touches of horror in his worldbuilding. While a lot of modern fantasy now tend to blend some form of science fiction into its worldbuilding, very few pulled it off like Bennett could in my opinion.
Locklands was an absolutely amazing and emotionally powerful conclusion. One which I did not expect coming from a heist plot in the first book. While the ending of Foundryside did imply that the story will become more epic, the scale in which it escalated from the sequel and finally in this climactic finale was astounding. I’m talking about the potential end of the world and insane level of powers battling all out in the skies.
This book started with a significant time jump after the events at the end of Shorefall. On top of that, there was also a shift in the primary viewpoint character from Sancia to Berenice. I found that some readers did not necessarily enjoy either one or both of these narrative choices. Personally, I was hardly ever bothered by time jumps so long as it serves the plot and the story that the author intended to tell. As for the shift in the main viewpoint character, I was also fine with it as Sancia was not one of my favourite characters. Don’t get me wrong, I liked her but I’m not so attached to her viewpoint that I minded someone else getting more airtime. And Berenice was a great character in her own right.
My favourite character was one whom I only got to meet and know in the sequel, and just within that book, he quickly became the most fascinating and compelling one for me in the entire series. The story behind this supposedly villain and his motivation contained a strong thematic development on humankind’s use and misuse of discovery and innovation. It also doesn’t hurt that this character owned the most epic and badass scenes in the climactic ending sequence, all of which concluded on a very emotional note. My brain was a pile of mush, and my heart was aching, but I couldn’t think of a more satisfying and appropriate conclusion.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Wall of Storms (The Dandelion Dynasty, #2) by Ken Liu
It’s an incredible shame that The Dandelion Dynasty is still so underrated, albeit I could see that it is getting more well-deserved attention and praises. Ken Liu is undisputedly brilliant. So much so that I found myself at loss for words to describe why I think so. It’s the combination of the sweeping epic generational stories that he’s aiming to tell with these books, the compelling characterisation of the entire cast as well as the ingenious application of science in the context of the silkpunk worldbuilding of these books. Female empowerment done right was also another one of its key highlights, and those who felt Liu didn’t do a good job in this aspect in The Grace of Kings should definitely read this sequel to know what his master plan was all along.
There’s still a lot to be drawn from history in terms of the overarching narrative that was present in The Wall of Storms. In spite of these historical parallels, the story still felt wholly original and the direction in the personal plots of the characters was not entirely predictable. It was a riveting read that was packed with wonder and with emotions which ranged from excitement to rage, joy to grief, and trepidation to anticipation. My heart was broken many times, and during the epic climactic scene at the end, I could barely read the words through my tears.
To top it all off, Liu’s ability to write with evocative grace is unparalleled in science fiction fantasy. There were so many passages in this book that touched my heart like nothing I’ve ever encountered, and to make it even better, it’s not purple nor bloated. As a Chinese, I could see the influence of Chinese literature and poetry in the manner of Liu’s writing in how it could convey deep meanings through economy of words and drawing upon characteristics of nature. It’s really difficult for me to truly describe it as I don’t have his mastery. All I can say is that these books are masterpieces because of the emotionally powerful story that was delivered through the sublime craftsmanship of Liu’s writing. Please read them!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m an unabashed Anglophile who has a weakness for English mysteries, and especially those set in historical settings. To my delight, both that I’ve read this month were simply excellent.
Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson was set during the Georgian era of the late 1700s, and its historical details as well as the depiction of sex trade were uncompromisingly vivid and realistic. The murder mystery was so engrossing with the multitude of characters that have all kinds of shady secrets both past and present to hide. As such, despite the length of the book and the time it took to develop all the characters and their supposed motivations, it was a highly engaging read that kept me guessing and utterly surprised at the end.
I thought Richard Osman’s debut The Thursday Murder Club was a great read when I picked it up many months ago. The Man Who Died Twice was even better in my opinion. One of the reasons being that we’re already familiar with the main characters, and the other was that the plot was also more interesting. I absolutely adore the characters who form the Thursday Murder Club, a bunch of senior citizens who pack some serious sass. Nonetheless, these stories were also moving and grounding when it comes to dealing with the realities of ageing.
My ratings: 4.5 of 5 stars.
Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians has finally concluded with the release of Bastille vs The Evil Librarian, the 6th and final book in the series. This book was a long time coming after the unexpected ending in the (at that time) supposed final book of the series, The Dark Talent. Re-reading The Dark Talent made me recall how much darker the story became in the last couple of the books, which all culminated in that shocking end that Alcatraz had been warning us about all along. Of course, we all thought that it’s just the unreliable narrator plot device that he’s pulling on us until it really happened. Readers who pick up these books now will know that there’s more to be told, and all is not what it really seemed. It’s just that as far as Alcatraz was concerned, he just wasn’t able to write the story any further. So it was down to Bastille to get that done.
Sanderson mentioned that he struggled to get Bastille’s voice right, and in the end turned to Janci Patterson to co-write this book. While the book did feel that it was written more by Patterson, than by Sanderson, it still managed to deliver the solid conclusion that we needed. These books are meant to be comedic, and the humour could sometimes be really silly. It worked for me, and I continue to be impressed by the brilliance of Sanderson’s ideas. But even with all the comedic irreverence in these books, those Afterwords by Alcatraz and Bastille made me emotional with its core messages about what it means to be flawed and to be a hero.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, #6) by Brandon Sanderson
I’ve finished my Mistborn re-read and I have one word – amazing!
Mistborn era 2 was even better upon reread when one gains more and more insights and knowledge about the Cosmere and its wider implications. The progression of ‘technology’ from the use of the metallurgical investiture on Scadrial was simply brilliant and absolutely ingenious.
While I know there’re people who weren’t fans of era 2, I personally loved it more, and not just because of what I’ve mentioned above. I actually love the characters more – namely the magnificent duo of Wax & Wayne, the misunderstood but wonderful Steris, and the hilarious but badass MeLaan. I’ve felt it before but this time around it was even more apparent – Wayne is one heck of a complex character. On the surface, he’s eccentric and funny, but there’s a tormented soul beneath it all that had to live with an egregious mistake he made when was much younger. That Wax was the one who found him, and gave him a second chance in life and became such good friends and partners just made the story even better. This book also contained the best love story in any of Sanderson’s books to date.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.
What’s Next in October
It’s the season for darker reads, and I’ve lined up a fairly diverse set of titles such as Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, Katherine Arden’s Middle Grade Small Spaces, J.M. Miro’s Ordinary Monsters, Jay Kristoff’s Empire of the Vampire and R.F. Kuang’s Babel. The one true horror title that I’m mustering up my courage for is Stephen King’s It. It’s the next book on the list on the Dark Tower reading order that I’m slowly progressing through, but it’s one of those which I’ve always been to scared to read.
What are you reading in the month of October, as autumn falls and Halloween beckons?