I’m back to talk about five of the books I’ve read recently! I’m really happy that four of these books are rating four stars or more, with only one outlier. Hooray for finding awesome books! Now let’s get into my thoughts.
Damsel by Elana K. Arnold
“This is how he likes me best … when I am in need of rescue.”
Content warnings: sexual assault, gaslighting, animal death, mention of self harm and suicide
A young woman wakes up with no memory in the arms of a prince, who tells her that he has just rescued her from a dragon and is taking her back to his kingdom to become his queen. This tradition of rescuing damsels to marry the king-to-be has existed as long as anyone can remember, but the young woman – named Ama by the prince – learns that there’s much more to this story and her own role in it.
This book ended up being much more intense than I expected. I’ve been describing it as a horror story disguised as a fairy tale, since it takes a lot of the familiar fairy tale tropes and presents them in a way that makes you realize how horribly messed up they are. Ama is tricked, lied to, manipulated, and assaulted, all while being told that it’s what’s best for her and that she doesn’t know any better. It’s genuinely horrifying to read. Even as you want Ama to run away from that place as fast as she can, you understand why she doesn’t or feels like she can’t. I don’t read much horror, but I imagine that’s how horror books are meant to make you feel! But Elana K. Arnold handles these difficult topics so well and with stunningly beautiful prose. And the ending is one of the most satisfying endings I’ve ever read. Still, this book has some serious trigger warnings, so be careful!
Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
“There were two kinds of monsters, the kind that hunted the streets and the kind that lived in your head. She could fight the first, but the second was more dangerous. It was always, always, always a step ahead.”
Content warnings: violence, gore
After reading This Savage Song, I knew that I had to read its sequel immediately. This picks up six months after the end of the first book, following Kate Harker and August Flynn, a girl and a monster who briefly came into and changed each other’s lives. This review isn’t going to be completely spoiler free for This Savage Song, so proceed with caution.
In this book, Kate and August’s roles were essentially flipped, which was utterly heartbreaking to read. Kate, who spent her life trying to be ruthless and self-reliant, has found people she actually cares about and who care about her. Meanwhile, August, who’s always tried to be act human even though he’s a monster, is now hardening himself to get through the war breaking their city apart. I just wanted to hold them both and tell them it was all going to be okay!
The pace of this book is somehow even faster and more intense than the first one, with barely a chapter going by without a death. Which meant that those 500 pages just flew by! I love the way that Victoria Schwab somehow manages to tell a hopeful story in the midst of a dark and broken world. Still, I didn’t absolutely love the ending? Potentially controversial opinion here. But…it didn’t ring entirely true for me.
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan
“You’re becoming. You’re in the process of becoming. You just don’t know what yet.”
Kate and Mark sit next to each other in calculus but they don’t really know each other – until their paths cross one night and they decide to help each other through some major life decisions. Over the course of San Francisco’s Pride Week, Kate and Mark experience heartbreaks and relationship changes and terrifying new possibilities, all while realizing that someone you barely know can be the person who knows you best.
This is one of those books that’s so quiet and character-focused that at first you don’t really know what to think about it, until part of the way through you’re clutching the book to your chest with tears on your cheeks because it somehow managed to put into words something you’ve never been able to quantify. Nina LaCour and David Levithan managed to capture the feeling of being young, unsure of your life, and terrified about what’s coming in the future. The characters feel real and relatable – they make mistakes over and over, and don’t learn from them immediately, but keep wanting to do better. It’s a book about friendship, about change, about finding pride in your identity, about the people who change your life by coming into it for only a short time. And it made me cry on the bus, so yeah. I liked it a lot.
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clarke
Content warnings: slavery, racism, violence
In this 112-page novella, a young girl called Creeper survives on the streets of an alt-history steampunk post-Civil War New Orleans while a storm goddess whispers in her head. When she overhears a conversation involving a mysterious, powerful weapon, she sees her chance to escape to a better life.
Despite the fact that this book is so short and I read it in a single sitting, P. Djèlí Clarke managed to seamlessly pack so much worldbuilding into the story. Not only did I feel like I had a solid grasp of this unique and complex world within a few pages, but it was a setting that I would gladly read an entire series about. I have no idea how the author did it and I am blown away! From flying airships to lesbian pirates to weapon-dealing nuns, the level of detail is astounding.
I don’t have a ton to say about this because it was so short, but I was immensely impressed by the complexity of the story told in so few pages. I found myself attached to Creeper immediately and her character growth over the course of the story was so well done. Even though the central conflict felt a little contrived starting out, I really enjoyed this novella and recommend it for anyone looking for a quick and captivating read!
Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
“Everyone on board this ship is a bit like a solitary planet. We orbit the same sun, but on lonely tracks.”
Content warnings: alcohol abuse, plague
This retelling of Jane Eyre is set somewhere in a future in which the Earth has become uninhabitable and humanity orbits around it on space stations waiting until they can return to the planet. Stella Ainsley is our “Jane” character, a young woman hired as a governess aboard a ship called the Rochester, which contains its fair share of secrets.
Starting out, I found myself having fun with this. Yes, the writing wasn’t spectacular, the worldbuilding didn’t totally make sense, and the beginning dragged, but it was entertaining and I was curious to see how things played out. Unfortunately, the further I went, the more I realized that this retelling…doesn’t really work.
I’ll admit that I was kept engaged throughout the entire book and was never truly bored, but ultimately, this felt in many ways more like a draft than a completed novel. Parts of it simply felt sloppily done. Plus, there were changes made from the original story that didn’t make sense to me. I never know whether my hesitance to changes comes simply from attachment to the original story – however, in this case, I think it’s plain that those changes weren’t right. Major issues felt skated over and plot points that didn’t make sense were added in an attempt to transfer an old story into a futuristic setting. I don’t want to spoil anything, but that ending was…A Mess.
This is probably all coming off as very negative, even though I did actually have fun reading this, in a weird way. There was a lot of potential with this idea, and done right it could have been great. Unfortunately, done right is not how I would describe this book.
What books have you read recently? Have you read any of these?