I’m back to talk about books!
Five of these books are by black authors, since that’s what I’ve been focusing on during the month of February. And because of my reading tastes, I’ve been reading lots of sci-fi/fantasy. Can’t complain about that! I’ve found a couple of great novellas, a short story collection, and two sequels (one of which was a disappointment, one a success).
So without further ado: six books that I’ve read recently!
When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey
release date: March 3, 2020
“That’s the key to doing stuff you’re scared of. You gotta run at it.”
Content warnings: gore, body horror
This book follows six teenage girls who befriended each other when they discovered that they all have magical abilities. After an accidental murder, the girls team up to cover it up.
In a lot of ways, this seems like a book that would be perfect for me, since I love reading about female friendship and magic in the everyday world. And I did enjoy those aspects! All of the girls were fully fleshed out characters with realistic relationships, and I appreciated how they were supportive and constantly checking in with each other.
However, it often felt like too much of the story was focused on those relationships and not the fact that they committed a murder and were trying to cover it up. At first, it felt like it was going to essentially be “How to Get Away With Murder: Magic Edition,” with drama and intrigue aplenty, but that plotline felt glossed over at times. The characters seemed to forget about the murder for periods of time while they talked about relationship drama, leaving me going “Okay but there’s a murder to cover up!!” In the wise words of Ron Weasley:
*ARC PROVIDED BY EDELWEISS IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. QUOTES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.*
Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi (Legacy of Orïsha #2)
Content warnings: war, torture, abuse
In the sequel to Children of Blood and Bone, Zélie, Amari, and Tzain end up fighting alongside other maji against Orïsha’s monarchy, which has gained new power as a result of the ritual that brought magic back to the land.
I…didn’t like this book. And that was a huge disappointment, since the first book in this series was such a fresh, exciting fantasy story with incredible worldbuilding. And while that worldbuilding was still incredible in this book, everything else seemed to fall flat.
The plot was incredibly frustrating, as the same things happened over and over and the same arguments playing out between Zélie and Amari again and again with no advancement. So much of the story hinged on miscommunication. Tzain was barely there for some reason, and when he was, it didn’t matter. I continued to not care about Inan or his wishy-washy idealism, or any of the romantic subplots. Tons of new characters were introduced that I didn’t know or care about but was expected to instantly. And I didn’t understand what was going on 90% of the time with the magic. While I think the ideas that Adeyemi was exploring are important and interesting, they were so buried under everything else that they got lost.
I don’t know if I’m going to be continuing with this series. Even though the first book was a huge success in my opinion, this second one might have turned me off this world for good.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
“Forgetting was not the same as healing.”
Content warnings: mentions of slavery, self harm
An underwater people called the wajinru are the descendants of pregnant African women thrown from slave ships. One of them is chosen to be the historian and hold all the memories of their people so the rest can forget, but the current historian, Yetu, can’t bear the weight of the memories she holds any longer.
What a strange, original, fascinating book! The concept comes from a song by the same name by clipping. (a rap group that includes Daveed Diggs of Hamilton), and listening to it gives me the same haunting, uncomfortable feeling that’s stuck with me ever since I finished the book. The Deep is soaked in memories blurring with reality, generational trauma, and eerie, evocative language that transports you to the depths of the sea. This is a short read, at less than 200 pages, but it’s one that will stick in my mind for a long time.
Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland (Dread Nation #2)
“How can we make the world a better place if we are always at odds with one another for every single kind of reason under the sun?”
Content warnings: racism, racial slurs, gore, mentions of rape and sexual assault
This review is not spoiler-free for Dread Nation.
Going into this book, I had a few predictions and expectations about what was going to happen. Pretty much zero of that ended up being correct. Justina Ireland managed to take me completely by surprise in a way that was worlds better than I could ever have imagined.
Deathless Divide expands the world of Dread Nation, allowing us to look beyond small Southern towns and see how the shambler epidemic impacts other parts of the world. It struck me while reading that, even though it takes place in the past, this is really a post-apocalyptic novel. The characters are all doing their best to survive in the world that’s trying to kill them at every turn, and you can’t help but sympathize even when that means making some horrible choices.
In this book, we get POV chapters from Katherine Deveraux, who turned from a character that I quite liked to an all-time favorite, because we love bossy, badass aro-ace historical girls (looking at you, Felicity Montague). And Jane…ah, Jane McKeene.
Jane is one of those characters that has crawled into my heart and made a home there, not because she’s perfect, but because she’s deeply flawed and yet understandable at the same time. I already loved her in Dread Nation, but with the combination of the new challenges she had to face and seeing her from Katherine’s outside POV, my love for her multiplied. Finishing this book felt like saying goodbye to a close friend.
Even though the pacing of this book wasn’t perfect, with some parts feeling dragged out longer than they needed to go, I still absolutely loved this book. It was a long wait, but so worth it. With incredible worldbuilding, fast-paced action, and some of the best characters I’ve read, this has definitely cemented itself as a favorite series.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
“They say that when faced with a fight you cannot win, you can never predict what you will do next. But I’d always known I’d fight until I was killed.”
Content warnings: racism, gore
Binti is the first of her people to attend the prestigious Oomza University, but on her journey across the stars, her ship is attacked by enemy aliens, leaving Binti as the only survivor.
This novella is short enough to read in a single sitting, but I loved how much characterization Binti got in so few pages. We see her resilience in the face of an impossible situation as she shows her strength and empathy to the fullest degree. I also loved the sense of culture entrenched throughout the story – Binti’s Himba roots play a major role both in her character arc and the plot itself. While I thought the ending wrapped up a little too neatly, I still really enjoyed this story, and I definitely want to continue the series.
How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
“It is so easy to have principles. Far, far harder to live by them.”
A collection of SFF short stories by the SFF queen herself, N.K. Jemisin! I enjoyed some stories more than others – as is usually the case with short story collections – and there were some that I definitely didn’t feel smart enough to understand fully. But I really enjoyed this collection as a whole! If I had an ounce of Jemisin’s creativity and imagination I would be set for life.
My favorite stories are bolded!
- The Ones Who Stay and Fight : 3.5 ★
- The City Born Great: 4.5 ★
- Red Dirt Witch: 4 ★
- L’Alchimista: 4.5 ★
- The Effluent Engine: 4.5 ★
- Cloud Dragon Skies: 3 ★
- Valedictorian: 4.5 ★
- The Storyteller’s Replacement: 3.5 ★
- The Brides of Heaven: 3 ★
- The Evaluators: 4 ★
- Walking Awake: 4 ★
- The Elevator Dancer: 3 ★
- Cuisine des Mémoires: 3.5 ★
- Stone Hunger: 4 ★
- On the Banks of the River Lex: 3 ★
- The Narcomancer: 3 ★
- Henosis: 3.5 ★
- Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows: 4 ★
- The You Train: 4.5 ★
- Non-Zero Probabilities: 3.5 ★
- Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters: 4.5 ★
Have you read any of these books? What’s the best book you’ve read recently?