Book Review: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars focuses on that lingering sense of incompleteness that follows victory over a traumatic struggle. What now? How to deal with the ghosts and monsters that haunt the victors? When has the battle truly ended?

King of Scars Synopsis


Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

While I liked Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy pretty well when I read it, I’ve been a fan of her books ever since the release of the Six of Crows duology and her anthology of short-stories, The Language of Thorns. So naturally, I borrowed King of Scars from my friend as soon as feasibly possible. She read the entire thing in a day, stopping only for a recharge nap. I might have read it a little slower than that, but only just.

What I Liked

PLOT

King of Scars follows the incomplete tales of side characters from the previous Grisha trilogy and Six of Crows duology in Nina Zenik, Nikolai Lantsov, and Zoya Nazyalensky — characters fans of the Grisha world have embraced and loved. More specifically, the narrative focuses on that lingering sense of incompleteness that follows victory over a traumatic struggle. What now? How to deal with the ghosts and monsters that haunt the victors? When has the battle truly ended? Though readers need not have read the previous installments of this world, doing so enriches the experience of King of Scars, as it contains constant and thrilling call-backs to previous content in mentions of Alina Starkov, Kaz Brekker and the Dregs, and even vague hints in the direction of The Language of Thorns.

CHARACTERS

In the Six of Crows duology, readers met Nina Zenik, protege of Zoya Nazyalensky, for the first time, and even got her point of few on several occasions throughout the daring heists and mad schemes perpetrated by the Dregs, the Ketterdam gang she ran with for a while. But her story ended in tragedy and personal trouble, so King of Scars narrates the continuation of her character development as she struggles to lay her past attachments to rest and embrace a new and dangerous power awakened within her, all while attempting to rescue a country that hates her from its own self.

Both Nikolai Lantsov and Zoya Nazyalensky appear in the original Grisha trilogy, but both, as intriguing characters, reach the trilogy end with unresolved problems. Each carry a certain darkness within them, one a hunger for power, the other a hunger for control. If they hope to successfully remake Ravka into a peaceable country, they must each face their own demons, and learn to recognize when the wrong path may appear as the right one.

THEME

The ever constant struggle of wrestling ones own demons, sometimes literally. Trauma doesn’t just go away. Torments resurface over and over again. In King of Scars, Ravka is a land beset on all sides by constant war, turmoil, and worry — an aspect reflected in the hearts of its leaders and greatest champions. The more they deal with their wounds, the more their personal ghosts seem bent on manifesting and becoming more corporeal than ever before. Sometimes, facing trouble makes the situation even worse, but it must be faced. Again and again and again.

ENDING

While the heroes triumph in King of Scars, they also experience defeat and new, encroaching threats. The bad times our heroes feared have arrived at Ravka’s door.

What I Disliked

The resurrection of previously vanquished villains. Maybe Bardugo is just the type who likes to revive the bad guys just to kill them again, but I would have liked to see how she introduced and handled a new antagonist for King of Scars. (There are lots of bad guys in the previous installments and the revival happens pretty early on, so this doesn’t spoil.) But this story is all about wrapping up unresolved issues, so perhaps such a trope fits well with the overall intent.

My Rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.28 stars

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Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

He has a calm, thoughtful demeanor and a coat with more than two sides; she exudes roguishness and capability. In A Darker Shade of Magic, their fates intertwine…

A Darker Shade of Magic Synopsis


Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. 

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

I picked up A Darker Shade of Magic at the recommendation of my friend, who once again recognized that I’d be interested in the roguish thief character, Lila Bard. Also, I had lately been seeing V.E. Schwab’s name floating around, especially with her nomination topping the list for the 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards in the Science Fiction category.

What I Liked

PLOT

Five alternate worlds sit on a spectrum from most magical to least, all interconnected by one city called London, through which Kell, as an Antari, can travel. I loved the prospect both of thematic London parallels and one person who can pass between them. Blood, magic, political intrigue, daring, and temptation. The aesthetic of Place and Objects shines through the pages, practically demanding fan art. The world of A Darker Shade of Magic begs for story to fill it up.


CHARACTERS

Delilah Bard, a street thief who yearns for adventure on the high seas as a pirate, and Kell, a blood magician capable of stepping between worlds. He has a calm, thoughtful demeanor and a coat with more than two sides; she exudes roguishness and capability. In A Darker Shade of Magic, their fates intertwine by pure accident, but the narrative hints that Lila may be more like Kell, dulled by the magic-sapping atmosphere of Grey London, than she or Kell could imagine.

THEME

Power addiction. What does an Antari, capable of not only manipulating all elements of magic but also of passing into alternate realities, do with this almost limitless ability? Thirst for and acquire yet more power, of course. Imagine literally being the whimsical magician whom those in Grey London (our world) only dream of being and still feeling unsatisfied.

In A Darker Shade of Magic,Lila embodies that Grey Londoner, knowing the deep chasm within her heart must have been filled by more in another life, but not in her own world. Yet, perhaps because she did not grow up with magic at her dispense, she relinquishes the power promised by the black stone more easily than does Kell.

ENDING

The ending of A Darker Shade of Magic does not leave the reader on a cliff hanger, but it has dropped enough unanswered questions into the narrative by then to warrant further investigation in the next installment.

What I Disliked

Although the narrative of A Darker Shade of Magic throws Kell and Lila around — bloodying, bruising, and bashing them — I never quite worried about them. There are many moments that raise the tension, but the two always escape danger. By the end, I had no worry that they might not win the day, leaving me on the whole unenthused at the struggle.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.09 stars

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Book Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars Synopsis

On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.

Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.

Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.

(Via Goodreads)

Award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal

My Thoughts

I came across The Calculating Stars by award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal while perusing the Goodreads Choice Awards 2018 Science Fiction list. Lady astronauts? Hidden Figures vibes? Alternate universe featuring one of my favorite historical subjects? Sign me right up.

What I Liked

Plot

The Calculating Stars closely examines the entire process by which an era known for its traditional gender roles might be rocked on its foundation when the impact of a meteorite accelerates the progress of gender equality. At no point is this easy. The multitude of fierce, intelligent, and brave women battle gender stereotyping on every page as the narrative spotlights the intense riptide of sexism prevalent in their everyday lives. Though so many women work as calculators capable of more perfect accuracy than IBM computers, the relevancy of their work has to take a backseat to changing the public’s social view of a woman’s assumed fragility. Who less qualified to step into the public’s eye to accomplish just that than a socially anxious math nerd like Elma York? She believes women and minorities should have equal opportunity in scientific fields, but the audience gets to watch as she grows into this steadfast mentality.

Permeated throughout this examination is the atmosphere of working at what would have been NASA if it had existed a little earlier in history — calculating the first trip into space, overcoming the challenges of implementing a space station, dreaming of reaching the moon and beyond in the race to save humanity from a planet Earth preparing to fry itself to death.

Characters

The characters of The Calculating Stars felt like real colleagues, the kind of people I could see myself working with as coworkers and getting to know over the course of a few years. Elma and her husband Nathaniel complement each other both as lovers and as partners. I appreciate how Nathaniel never needs Elma to play the traditional feminine role, and often expresses himself with natural emotions, communication with her, and thoughtfulness, all while juggling a difficult job. Elma’s rival, who perpetuates the very stifling gender stereotypes she battles throughout, gets to show both his awful sides and his good sides in such a human fashion that both regularly blindside Elma. Other characters bring values that matter to the story, but all of them present like just one aspect of many that these people might have.

Theme

Women getting what they want. Though the women characters of The Calculating Stars struggle and fight with various different tactics against persistent stereotyping, sexism, mockery, and belittling, the narrative also sprinkles in satisfaction for these women throughout. When they successfully pass a test, during sexual intercourse, in motherhood, in life threatening dangers, as homemakers, as career women. I could probably count the number of books that present this much satisfaction for women on one hand. The number of such science fiction books fits on just two fingers.

Ending

The Calculating Stars ends on a high note, but with the promise of more difficulty ahead. The next arc seems to indicate a requirement to convince the public of the dangers of remaining on earth much longer, as well as an examination of racism in choosing who will first get to colonize space.

What I Disliked

The complication of cattiness among women put me off at first, but the narrative of The Calculating Starsresolves this particular unhelpful stereotype in a realistic and wholesome fashion, as if it meant to unpack the connotation that goes with it all along.

My rating: 5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.21 stars

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Book Review: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside explores what might happen if a master key could open any lock because it could converse with the laws and rules of reality, as well as what might happen if it came across a human who could understand and talk back to it.

Foundryside Synopsis


In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett. 
 
Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle. 
 
But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims. 
 
Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them. 
 
To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

Goodreads

About Robert Jackson Bennett

Award-winning author Robert Jackson Bennett


Robert Jackson Bennett is a two-time award winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel, an Edgar Award winner for Best Paperback Original, and is also the 2010 recipient of the Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer, and a Philip K Dick Award Citation of Excellence. City of Stairs was shortlisted for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. City of Blades was a finalist for the 2015 World Fantasy, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards. The Divine Cities trilogy was nominated for a Hugo for Best Series. His eighth novel, Foundryside, was released in 2018 to wide acclaim.

Robert Bennett’s Website

My Thoughts

My friend told me about Foundryside because the main character is a rogue and she knows I like playing such characters in various RPGs. I’m drawn to that chaotic-neutral and neutral-good mentality. That was the hook, anyway. Turns out she just had the right pitch to get me to read a fantastic book. 

What I Liked

Plot

Foundryside explores what might happen if a master key could open any lock because it could converse with the laws and rules of reality, as well as what might happen if it came across a human who could understand and talk back to it. The story takes place in the wake of a civilization once vast and grand but now dead and fabled so long ago that present day feels more like the end of time. Even the scraps left behind from that powerful civilization have become worth staggering amounts of money, so that the worth of the key initially drives the plot forward, but eventually the value of life–a value few of Tevanne’s varied populace share except where one’s own skin may be concerned–becomes the true spine of the story. 

characters

Sancia. The most beastly female character I’ve ever read. She’s stronk. Multiple characters (all men) call her ugly. She’s still hardy, resilient, and good-hearted, capable of getting herself into bad situations for the right reasons and back out of them with a whole lot of ass kicking. (Almost like she holds inherent value as a person, despite lacking conventional attractiveness to the male gaze. Wild.) I love her.

Gregor. Not, as I at first expected, an over-good character. He’s cheery (hilariously so), moral, and capable of flexible thinking concerning his goals to remake the world (or one city) into something decent. Tragedy dogs his steps and the twists to his character arc tugged at my heart strings. 

Orso. An absolute terror of a genius. Comes off as an impatient arse, which he is, but only because he has high standards, and when the people around him reach those standards, he will go to hell and back with them. Oddly charitable, despite this, and willing to acknowledge his own mistakes. Would absolutely try to impress this guy, but probably fail.

Berenice. The absolute coolest-blooded character. Smarter than pretty much everyone, on-par with Orso, and not afraid to say so out loud. Perfectly aware of her worth and a total orderly opposite of Sancia’s chaotic nature. Might be living in denial about some of her own traumas. Easily my favorite. 

Clef. A relic of a civilization so ancient that most understanding and knowledge of its denizens has been lost. Talks in such a way that he reminds me of the speech patterns of modern-day young people (very relatable), almost as if his past might be our present world’s future, if humanity ever figured out the key to the coding of the universe. Plucky and indescribably ride-or-die for anyone whose name is Sancia. 

Other brilliantly-wrought characters make appearances in Foundryside, but these four make up the main group. 

theme

Changing perspective. The narrative of Foundryside drops information about the function of the world from the mouths of different characters, which coalesces into new, wild ideas about reality as these characters interact with each other. Tevanne has functioned the same way for always, with four houses hoarding 99% of the wealth, leaving the rest for those living around the fringes. Such power derives from convincing those at the bottom that things have always been this way and always will be, too dangerous for resistance or change. But as people from all classes and social strata of this town interact–a thief trapped in poverty, a former soldier attempting to generate law enforcement, a genius desperate for a piece of the pie, and  brilliant inventor –they begin to broaden their understandings and to recognize that sometimes reality is only a matter of perspective. 

ending

The ending of Foundryside–explosive and twisty and clever–takes readers so far from the beginning. The characters never leave the city of Tevanne, yet the end has you feeling like they’ve traveled across the world on an epic journey, so far away and changed are they from who they were at the beginning. Triumph and tragedy intermingle, engendering unresolved problems and promising more thrilling adventure to come in the next book. 

What I Disliked

Nothing. I loved it all. 

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Book Review: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

Our Murderbot remains ever capable of combat intelligence, but not only does it continue to struggle with social norms, it also now must make decisions for itself, a thrilling but terrifying experience for the newly emancipated SecUnit.

Artificial Condition Synopsis

It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

(Via Goodreads)

About Martha Wells

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins (for Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis), and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel is The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, published by Tor.com in 2017 and 2018. She was also the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering‘s Dominaria expansion in 2018. She has won a Nebula Award, an ALA/YALSA Alex Award, a Locus Award, and her work has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award ballots, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in eleven languages.

(Via Martha Wells’s website)

My Thoughts

I was terrible and picked up both Artificial Condition and its sequel Rogue Protocol from the library at the same time so no one could snag them before me. Muahahahaha!

What I Liked

Plot

Murderbot undergoes some serious character changes in Artificial Condition as it works to uncover its past and, in the end, make some decisions about its future. For once it works for humans it chooses, not ones chosen for it by its company, and though its responsibilities change as such, it still gives all its effort to protect them. Almost as if, given the opportunity, bots might be capable of decency when not controlled and governed by corporate overlords. All this while keeping its own identity as a dangerous rogue SecUnit a secret.

Plots, subplots, and revelations populate Artificial Condition, packing action and intrigue into just a handful of chapters that I wished would go on forever.

Characters

In Artificial Condition, our Murderbot remains ever capable of combat intelligence, but not only does it continue to struggle with social norms, now it must make decisions for itself, a thrilling but terrifying experience for the newly emancipated SecUnit. It also has to deal with the responsibility of when those choices go badly wrong for the humans it contracts to protect.

In All Systems Red, Wells casually introduced polygamy into this sci-fi future world. Artificial Condition zooms in on this aspect with the appearance of three young technologists who are married to each other and a few others still back at their base. To cap this off, one of them, Rami, identifies as a third gender, or a tercera (third, get it?), using pronouns like ‘te’ and ‘ter’ (because ’tis’ would just be confusing). I. love. it. This essentially non-binary character acts centrally to the plot in a leadership role for the other two, making choices that drive the story forward.

Theme

Embracing humanity. Sort of. Murderbot would much rather remain the SecUnit it was created to be, but to get the information it wants, it has to reluctantly keep building on its previous character development and manage to act human enough to fool other humans, even going so far as to dress like a human, shedding its comforting armor.

The narrative of Artificial Condition also shows a Research Transport Vessel whom Murderbot dubs ART displaying emotion, both for humans and for MurderBot as it prods its SecUnit passenger toward character growth. (‘ART,’ ‘Artificial Condition,‘ do you get it?) Even a handful of ComfortUnits show something like soul in their decision making, both in positive and negative choices.

All, however, retain their bot-ness, their otherness, their deep-seated difference from humans. I appreciate so much that the narrative arc for freed bots or otherwise doesn’t just focus on them becoming human. They are allowed to simply equip human behavior where applicable and necessary for individual evolution.

Ending

The conclusion of Artificial Condition kicks ass. After experiencing Murderbot’s fighting capabilities in All Systems Red, the reader knows things are about to go down (possibly in flames) as the plot hurtles toward the end.

My Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.31 stars


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Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

The Darkest Part of the Forest seems brief as a stand-alone novel, but it’s packed full of events, action, and twists, traipsing all over the fictional town of Fairfold, through the woods, and down below the Faerie hill.

The Darkest Part of the Forest Synopsis

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

(Via Goodreads)

About Holly Black

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via Holly Black’s Website)

My Thoughts

I had to actively seek out The Darkest Part of the Forest at a more far-flung library branch than the one I usually visit, but I had heard good things about it floating around the internet, so I deemed it worth the effort.

Some have postulated that this tale exists in the same universe as The Cruel Prince (which I reviewed here) and I could certainly see it, but readers don’t have to have read one to dive into the other. Each book stands alone.

What I Liked

Plot

The Darkest Part of the Forest seems brief as a stand-alone novel, but it’s packed full of events, action, and twists, traipsing all over the fictional town of Fairfold, through the woods, and down below the Faerie hill. I thought it was cool how the main characters became fantasy trope classes — a knight, a bard, a wizard, and a druid.

Characters

There! Are gay characters! Who kiss!

There! Are lady characters! Who talk with each other about things other than boys! (Mostly they talk about monsters, which I am all about.)

I liked very much the human X faerie coupling parameters that happened quite naturally over the course of The Darkest Part of the Forest. We get two (2) romances that build on past, off-screen pining rather than sudden interest, which I can appreciate.

Theme

A certain friend of mine would appreciate the rampant duality of The Darkest Part of the Forest (the kind of thing that features heavily in his current Dungeons & Dragons campaign). We get brother and sister siblings, one paranormally blessed and one not. Night and day versions of one character. A human duo and a faerie duo. A party in the mortal realm and one in Faerie, as well as a battle in each. A faerie who belongs with the humans and a human who belongs with the faeries. Two worlds, the court of the Alderking and the town of Fairfold, so closely linked, ultimately become mirrors of one another.

Ending

The ending of The Darkest Part of the Forest involves ascension of a new generation as well as acceptance. While the new court may be small, they draw their strength from a certain entwining of mortals, solitary faerie, and court faerie. I would love to see this bunch appear somewhere in the series for The Cruel Prince, just to know what the rest of Faerie might make of them and their inclusiveness.

What I Disliked

While most likely a stylistic choice, there were three or so parts of The Darkest Part of the Forest mentioned but glossed over. Some of them had to do with memory loss, others seemed cut out for pacing maintenance. Either way, I wouldn’t have minded reading them as they happened, rather than summarized as an after mention.

There were maybe fewer lady characters with meaningful impact on the plot than I would’ve liked, but Hazel, the main character, drives the whole thing forward anyway and more than makes up for it.

Recommendations

I would recommend The Darkest Part of the Forest for lovers of urban fantasy, faerie aesthetic, lady knights, and soft horror.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 3.91 stars


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Book Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

When I got the hankering to reread The Rook, I thought I’d give it a review this time. 

The Rook Synopsis

“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

(Via Goodreads)

About Daniel O’Malley

Dan O’Malley graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He then returned to his childhood home, Australia. He now works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats.

(Via Daniel O’Malley’s website)

My Thoughts

I read The Rook by Daniel O’Malley just before its sequel, Stiletto, released back in 2016. I loved it then and when I got the hankering to reread it (or a third book, which doesn’t seem to be in production, unfortunately), I thought I’d give it a review this time around.

What I Liked

Plot

Supernaturals + British secret agents = secret service superheroes. The basic premise of The Rook gives off X-Men vibes but the execution lands more within the realm of humorous and relatable James Bond, just with superpowers that involve licking things or venting toxins or diplomacy. Plus it features so many ladies playing active roles, impacting the narrative, and kicking ass. The playful tone puts me in mind of Artemis, just with even more women for fun and sharp banter. Also, while multiple characters maintain or express a desire for companionship, there’s only the barest hint of possible romance, leaving all the focus on the mysteries of the story.

Characters

The main character of The Rook, Mifanwy Thomas, cracks me up. Her internal monologue as she struggles to cope with the weird world of the Checquy she’s landed in entertains from start to finish, manifesting even more so in her dialogue and interactions with other characters. I like that she gets to have and wield power and authority as she fights for the respect she never earned pre-amnesia.

Mifanwy also builds and maintains friendships with another powerful woman in her organization, her very capable secretary, and a new friend outside of work. Beyond these, she displays pettiness and flaws, weaknesses and fears, criticisms and thoughts, awkwardness and a propensity to make mistakes. Well-rounded and badass.

Themes

The main aspect of interest here is the exploration of personality sans emotional trauma. With Mifanwy’s memories, and therefore all past traumatic events that would have shaped her into the timid, mousy woman she had become before her amnesia, wiped away through nefarious events, the narrative poses a question: who are we meant to be? How does PTSD alter that? How actively do traumatic events shape an individual? The narrative of The Rook implies that the answer is very as it presents the same woman as two totally different people.

Ending

Twist on twist on twist makes the climax of The Rook. While all kinds of other mini- and sub-plots get sprinkled throughout the narrative, the main plot itself gets so many loose ends tied up altogether at the same time. The intricacies of all the moving parts weaving together at once like that makes for a satisfying ending.

What I Disliked

Nothing. I love The Rook.

Recommendations

I’d recommend The Rook to fans of James Bond, the X-Men, and dry British humor.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.12


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