I’ve been in something of a reading slump lately, my poor, poor neglected review blog. After DNFing more books than I care to admit, I finally picked Liesmith up on a whim, and completely devoured it.
Awkward gamer nerd Sigmund Sussman is not particularly happy at his boring IT job, and spends his days fantasizing about developing (and playing) video games with his two best friends. It comes as much as a surprise to him as anyone, when his much-cooler-seeming coworker begins to show romantic interest in him. But Sigmund’s excitement about his budding romance is cut short when he discovers that his new boyfriend is much, much more than he seems.
First off, this book has a great many elements that I absolutely love. Awkward nerd boys. Queer romance. Norse gods. Pretty much it felt like this book was written for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end.
That said, I felt this book was maybe trying to do too much with the limited space it was given. It was trying to be Romance and Horror and Urban Fantasy and Epic Mythic Saga all at the same time, and in doing so a lot of the elements fell flat, or weren’t given the attention they deserved.
I also found the ending to be confusing at best. I often found myself flipping back through my kindle, like, “So wait, So-in-so is actually the re-incarnation of this other person, but they’re not REALLY the same person, and there’s two souls living in the same body? What?” The final battle had the bizarre, semi-coherent acid trip feeling that used to be so popular with anime in the early-to-mid 2000s.
This book really shines with the character. Both Sigmund and Lain grow and develop as people, and it was wonderful to watch their relationship develop. The fantastical elements were intriguing and fun to read, I just wish they’d been given a bit more of the attention and explanation they deserved.
I should open this with the disclaimer that I do not normally review romance. I love sci-fi and fantasy novels with romance in them. Sometimes, I’ll read Romance-with-a-capital-R, under the covers, where no one can see. But it’s not something I usually mark as read on Goodreads, much less write a full review.
At this point I must ask myself if I am biased against romance as a genre. A lot of the romance I have read has fallen solidly in the category of badly-written-but-hot. But is that really any reason to dismiss it?
I stumbled upon this book on the “read now” section on Netgalley, and the description seemed so specifically my sort of thing, I really had to grab it. And in fact, I found it both hot and well-written. But since I did indeed get it for free off Netgalley, I am obligated to write a review. And therefore, I’m obligated to admit to the world I read it.
I could, perhaps, cry ignorant, that I thought it was just “normal” fantasy. But alas, here is the cover. I knew what I was getting into.
Unfortunately I am thoroughly inexperienced in reviewing this genre. I shall do the best I can, but understand that I’m reviewing it as a fantasy novel first, and a romance novel second.
This novel involves graphic depictions of sex between two men, in great and loving detail. Someone better-versed than me in erotica can tell you how good those depictions are. I enjoyed them well enough. But I’m here to tell you about the rest of the novel.
This is a portal fantasy featuring Alexander, a nerdy teenage boy living on Earth in a family with unusual magical powers. He feels alienated from his family because he is smaller and wimpier than his brothers and cousins. He comes of age at a time when his family is distracted by other family drama. Furthermore, his magical animal form is considered weaker than the rest of the family’s. He is in equal parts bullied and ignored, and feeling altogether hard done by at the time our story begins.
When his cousins’ bullying goes too far, Alexander is injured and almost dies. Instead, he travels between worlds to a fantasy realm. There, he crosses a great migration with some magic horses, makes friends and rivals amidst a magic tribe, and eventually falls in love with a sexy war general, who’s got a cool long fantasy name, but is mostly referred to as Ben.
Personally, I liked this book a lot, but I also thought there was a lot going on, perhaps too much to fit comfortably into one book.
This reads, on the surface, a lot like many escapist portal fantasies. Awkward nerdy gay boy travels to alternate dimension where he is suddenly neither awkward nor nerdy, and also wins the love of the hottest guy ever.
But what I liked about this book was, every good thing that happens to Alexander, he has to earn. He fights and trains and struggles to earn his place in the new world. I appreciated reading about his character growth.
A major part of the book involves the telepathic magic horses, who bond to their riders. It’s easy to draw the parallel between this book and Last Herald Mage by Mercedes Lackey. I joke that this is the second gayest book about dudes and their magic telepathic horses I’ve read this year. But this book, luckily, is nowhere near so melodramatic.
Alexander strides the line awfully narrowly between being an overpowered Gary Stu and being a compelling character. I personally find him compelling, but it’s awfully close.
Now I spoil what happens at the end, so if you haven’t read the book and would like to, please scroll on.
At the end of the book, in the last 25% or so, Alexander is “reset” to Earth, and, after decades passing in the magical world, is also reset to 15 years old. This could have been compelling, but it didn’t work for me in several ways.
First of all, the thing that was least okay about the romance was the age difference. Already it was very much striding the line at creepy. Then, Alex gets reset to 15, and although some ten years pass before they are reunited, Ben has been aging all this time as well. Now the age difference is even more. I felt this was gratuitous and very much not necessary.
Second, in the last quarter of the book, many plot threads are introduced and then simply abandoned. It is implied that the bullying cousins from the first section of the book have a much more sinister agenda than merely juvenile taunts. In a short span of time they seem to not only murder the main character’s sister (!) but also intend to cull magic from the human bloodline entirely.
However, none of this is revisited again, as soon as Alexander is reunited with his much-older boyfriend.
I’m also a bit confused about the nature of the magical world Alexander visited and Ben hails from. It is treated as a Narnia-esque alternate world, yet also a form of afterlife. When Alexander’s sister dies near the end of the book, it’s stated that she goes to the magical world, and is in a lesbian relationship with a major female character from earlier in the book. If this is the case, what happens to people who die in THAT world? If people travel between worlds and die in one or the other, what happens to them? I just wish it were explained more.
Some overall good gay erotica, but as “porn with a plot” goes, the plot was intriguing enough to make me demand more.
This is a novella starring the son of the main protagonists from Chu’s Tao trilogy. If you haven’t read that trilogy, you probably won’t get as much enjoyment out of this story, but it does still function well-enough as a standalone.
Since the earliest days of our evolution, humanity has been guided and sometimes controlled by a race of alien brain parasites. After millions of years, it only makes sense that the aliens would begin to differ in their ideas of the direction humanity should go. Now, in the not-too-distant future, the alien secret is out in the open, and the war between the factions is about to come to a head.
Cameron Tan, son of the faction leaders, host to the alien Tao, and Ordinary College Student, just wants to enjoy his summer studying abroad in Greece. But when a Greek operative reports that the war is about to reach his homeland, it suddenly becomes crucial to smuggle himself, and the information he carries, across the border.
The only person available to help him do it? You guessed it. Our boy. But all Cameron wants to do is protect the people he cares about. Can he do that, without endangering his mission?
First I should state that the first book in this series, The Lives of Tao, is probably in my top 10 favorite books of all time. Although not without flaws, I also found myself screaming with delight the whole way through. Which, since I was listening to the audiobook in public, earned me some odd looks.
Though there was no public screaming this time, this novella was nevertheless a solid addition to the series.
The novella length worked well for this piece because there is very little “fluff”. Chu tended to pad the earlier entries in the series with a lot of mustache-twirling villain POVs, which didn’t work for me. This one has none of that. Like Tao the Alien, we stay in Cameron’s head the whole time.
Cameron is a likable character, and I thoroughly enjoyed being in his point-of-view. He has been trained from childhood to be an agent, and all the adults and aliens in his life agree that he’s one of the most talented alien hosts they’ve seen in a long time. Very easily this could have made him boring, but he is not. He is a well-realized and flawed character who often makes all the wrong decisions for all the right reasons.
This book wastes no time and cuts right to the chase. Cameron and his friends tumble from one crisis to another, and the pacing and tension are both excellent. While I would describe the Tao books as “fun” overall, this book doesn’t skimp on the gravity of the situation, either. There are some truly emotional, gut-punching scenes.
The only issue is I wish some of the loose ends had been tied up a little more. I won’t go into more for risk of spoilers, but we are introduced to at least one mystery that never gets any kind of resolution. But, I suppose that’s life. Sometimes things don’t get wrapped up in a neat little bow.
Also, this book needed more Roen. Hooray for Roen! Roen forever! We love Roen!
I may be biased.
Fast-paced fun for the whole family, as long as the whole family doesn’t mind tons of violence
Perhaps I am biased, since I’m working on an airships and floaty-hovery fantasy story of my own, but I do wish there were more worlds like this in fantasy literature. I’ve seen them a lot in video games, but in books they are few and far between. I quite enjoyed this one. If you’re looking for deeply intellectual literature, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you’re after a fun, feelgood adventure romp, this is the book for you.
Aimee De Laurent comes from a wealthy, privileged upbringing, but dreams of adventure in the skies. When she’s offered a position as an apprentice portal mage on the skyship Elysium, she all but salivates at the opportunity. However, she quickly finds out that there’s more to adventure than glory and excitement, and more to the Elysium than meets the eye, too.
When her first attempted portal-casting goes terribly wrong, she and the crew find themselves teleported to the middle of a battle for the mythical
Plot MacGuffin Axiom Diamond. When they rescue the last surviving prince of a dying nation, the Elysium crew is summarily conscripted towards finding the diamond before the Bad Guys.
Striving to steal the diamond from its protectors is one Lord Azrael, ruthless knight for the
League of Baddy McBadGuys Eternal Order. However even as he is determined to procure the diamond by any means necessary — even genocide — he is haunted by flashes of a life he cannot remember, and begins to question his role in the Order and everything he has been raised to believe in.
I personally really enjoyed this book, but it definitely requires the removal of ones’ thinking cap. It is undeniably cliche and cheesy. The villains are, as far as we know, Evil for the sake of being Evil. If they have any reason or rhyme behind their calamitous intent, we don’t get to find it out in this book. The Axiom Diamond, too, is supposedly an artifact of great power, but even though (spoilers!) in the end we get to see it in action, I was still left scratching my head as to why the villains were so intent on getting it in the first place.
That said, this was the most fun I’ve had reading a book in awhile. Aimee just barely avoids being a Mary Sue, but I loved getting in her head, and could almost feel her enthusiasm. The opening chapters felt like coming home, nostalgic of a lot of the space opera I used to read when I was a teenager.
The villain character, Azrael, who shares half of the POV sections, was also surprisingly compelling and well-realized. I normally really can’t stand villain POVs in books, but I think I actually liked Azrael’s sections more than Aimee’s.
This book reads a lot like space opera, but it is not space opera. The characters and their ship never, as far as I can tell, leave the planet. The world had an odd combination of high tech and Generic Medieval Fantasy, but for some reason, I really thought it worked well.
Despite being completely over-the-top, this story managed to warm my evil little heart.
So, so cheesy, yet so, so fun.
I will be the first to admit that this was a shameless case of judging a book by its cover. I mean, look at it! It first came to my attention as a contender for the 2018 SPFBO cover contest, so when the book went on sale for Kindle, I knew I had to pick it up.
Facing genocide at the hands of the bloodthirsty Winden, the Farrow people seek refuge in Celest, capitol city of the Gol. The Gol are historically isolationist, but many among them take sympathy on the Farrow’s plight. Others, however, would prefer to be rid of the Farrow interlopers, by any means necessary.
Recovering-pyromaniac Kay is a mixed-race half-Farrow, half Gol who works in Celest as a finder of lost children. When she receives a mission to search for a missing Farrow child, she finds herself unexpectedly at the center of the refugee crisis, swept into both Farrow and Gol politics, and forced to confront a past she’d rather forget.
This book reads partially like a police procedural, and partially like a political thriller. Short and fast paced, Gately wastes no time sweeping us along into the action.
The plight of refugees is one that is unfortunately all too familiar in the news today. Since the protagonist deals especially with finding refugee children, the situation became all the more poignant. I think the political situation in this story is where the writing really shone the most. Gately did a great job painting the cultures of Farrow and Gol. The good and bad people of both, and the ways the two cultures clash and come together.
Despite the current cultural relevance, Gately does all this without at any time feeling ham-fisted or preachy. The situation fits organically into the setting and feels universally human. The only possible exception — and it might be a coincidence — is the character Banden Milo, the vehemently racist rabble-rousing pundit, who bears a strikingly similar name to two similar characters in the real world.
Although I appreciated the tight pacing of this book, I did actually think it could have been just a little bit longer, with a few more quiet scenes to get to know the characters as people. I truly believe that all of the characters are well-realized and three-dimensional in the author’s head, but we, the reader, just don’t have enough time to get to know them. Too often Kay will feel a strong emotion related to another character, but we just don’t see enough of those characters interacting to feel the emotion is warranted. Gately also has a tendency to briefly introduce new characters then have them show up again many scenes later without much context. For such a short book, I found myself scratching my head fairly often, trying to remember “Who’s this person again?”
Then there is the fire eye itself, the glowing fire in the sky that looms above all this, literally and figuratively. The fact is that we don’t ever actually find out much about it. Kay receives comfort from the fire eye, and somehow it helps her resist her latent compulsive pyromania. Kay fears she will revert to her old ways if she doesn’t look at the fire eye every year. However, we are told this but never really shown it. I never felt any real narrative tension that Kay would lose all control without it. For being so central to both the Gol civilization and the title of the book, I often had trouble remembering it was even there.
What does seem clear, however, is that the fire eye is central to the world’s fire-based magic system, which is also tied to the mysterious, villainous Winden and their compulsive drive for murder. These things are touched on in the book, but not explored deeply. I imagine they will be a much bigger part of the sequels.
Tightly paced novel with excellent worldbuilding that could nevertheless benefit from slowing down and really allowing us to feel what the characters are feeling