Four Months of Books: January, February, March, and April

Oof, I’m slacking with this, aren’t I? We’re almost back to grad school delays for updating this series. I also missed the first of May, so, er, I’ll say I’m posting in honor of Star Wars Day? May the 4th be with you?

A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland: Oh, this was a delight. Chant’s voice is just so bracingly irreverent and makes for such an interesting viewpoint for this world. I’m writing this a few weeks after having finished the book, so it’s a little fuzzy, but I love when there’s a fun narrative conceit for the format and presentation, and this one is a good example of it (Chant is speaking to someone in his first person narration, and he 100% lies through omission and understatement, particularly about the things he doesn’t want to talk about…like feelings). It’s also unexpectedly hilarious, especially once Chant and Ylfing are in a room together. Much like A Taste of Gold and Iron, A Conspiracy of Truths are quietly but refreshingly queer normative (as the two books are set in the same world, if very distantly related), and I just found the whole reasoning behind society-wide polyamory fascinating. There’s hints in here of an almost Pratchettarian approach to societal commentary and the snapshots of fully realized secondary characters who basically just walk onstage and exit stage left, who are both very real and very ridiculous. Also, bonus points for having a viewpoint character who is older! Like, grandparent-age and fully embracing the role of “curmudgeonly old geezer who doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks and will be rude because he’s in a bad situation and it’s his only outlet.” Excellent!

Stargazy Pie by Victoria Goddard: I may have eaten these. Like, the whole series, in a week. I am also biased, because I love the other companion series (serieses?), so it was likely I was going to enjoy these. Stargazy Pie does fill in so many of the little gaps in the world building lore I just sort of skated over while reading the other books from the other series(es), and is both very much like the other books but also…a bit different. This one does feel a bit like a first book, as the lore is a little amorphous and the connections between revelations and mystery are a little convoluted, but it’s very much set up in that mode of small English village murder-mystery cozy, where bizarre things occur and you just roll with the weird. And the final reveal for the mystery feels like a homage to those very complicated cozy mystery novels, where if you don’t note that one little detail, you probably aren’t going to figure it out, but that’s also fine? Because it’s super entertaining anyway? Also, there forbidden magic and cults and secret drug farms and mermaids and mysterious pies that is made, in fact, of red herrings–it’s entirely one giant literary homage and easter egg, and quite a fun romp. The series are quick reads, which is why I, er, read so many, so quickly.

Bee Sting Cake by Victoria Goddard: Greenwing and Dart hits its stride and this was the point where I got what these books are doing. Also, poor Jemis. He’s just not catching a break here… Though I love his recognition that no only is his life a melodrama, it’s now a gothic melodrama, complete with curses, spooky forests, ancestral homes that are covered in three inches of dust and decay. And a dragon. Admittedly, yes, the dragon makes sense in context. Just roll with it. Also, cake. Also, Hal. I love Hal.

Whiskey Jack by Victoria Goddard: Though technically Stone Speaks to Stone comes in between book 2 and 3, I do recommend NOT reading it before reading Whiskey Jack, but after, because there is ONE major reveal that if you know a certain character’s name, you will TOTALLY figure out everyone’s secret identity and be stuck with Jemis pottering about in complete ignorance. Which…depending on you, I guess, might be entertaining, but it might also be infuriating, since he blithely waltzes past certain clues that, even NOT having read Stone Speaks to Stone, you might start putting two and two together. Anyway, the melodrama continues! Along with narrative coincidences! Which do get explained later (spoiler: it’s wild magic. There’s a wild mage in this, and wild mages always attract the most extraordinary coincidences. If there’s a wild mage, and that one thing would have a .0001% chance of actually happening, but would be narratively dramatic, it’s a guarantee it’s happening–I love this conceit).

Stone Speaks to Stone by Victoria Goddard: Short, but fills in the blanks of what actually happened to Jemis’ father. Saying much about this one might end up too far into spoiler territory. Quick read!

Black Currant Fool by Victoria Goddard: This one is the point where what appears to be, on the surface, fairly cozy (if a bit strange) literary homages stumble straight into the epic, and the whole tone shifts. Which isn’t bad! There’s been plenty of setup for this throughout the other books, but once you get to the prison, suddenly, things start snowballing. And then the twist near the end happens, and things take a sharp left turn. But as usual, there’s a lot of literary homage, some cracking codes and finding hidden messages in seemingly boring poetry (it’s a little Da Vinci Code, though I vastly prefer this over that). And then the walloper of an end. Also, I really am wondering if we’ll get to witness that certain second play…

Love-in-a-Mist by Victoria Goddard: Is it a spoiler to say this one is a Clue-style closed-room mystery? *checks back cover blurb* Nope! Not a spoiler, it’s in the blurb! Though it takes a bit for the murder to happen, and when it does, you might be able to work out the culprit rather quickly, the mystery itself isn’t the driving impetus of the story. Rather, it’s the fallout from Black Currant Fool, Jemis’ character growth/change, and the unfolding complications/revelations of what role Mr. Dart (and Jemis) are going to play and what kind of story, overall, these books are telling. I did, however, appreciate the how of how the final reveal of the murderer went down. Very classically closed-room mystery! Very Agatha Christie! Also, there’s a surprise unicorn.

Plum Duff by Victoria Goddard: The food-titles are starting to get a little stretched in this one. The Plum Duff pudding doesn’t show up until, like, the last 10%. This book in general is a bit slower paced than the others, more of a rest-and-recoup book for what feels like setup for the grand finale in the not-yet-released book 7. But! Readers of the other series(es), especially the Red Company ones, might recognize certain enchanted diamonds, bags, and poetry. There’s also an interesting framework with the Twelve Days of Christmas (Wintertide) which…fits but also leaves me with so many questions. Especially regarding Sayu Fox. However! Certain small details make me realize that this series is very closely tied with both the Red Company books and The Tales of the Hearthfire, which…shall be intriguing to watch collide. Also, spoilers, but Jemis’ character arch between all these is, honestly, staggering, and I do wonder where he’s going to go next. Because sainthood is an interesting character twist, and there’s one other series of books with a certain sainted character that is dear to my heart, and I’m really starting to wonder if there will be parallels. Anyway. The series as a whole is taking a rather sharp sideways turn, but as always, everything is a literary homage to something. And is quite enjoyable.

The Saint of the Book Store by Victoria Goddard: Blurbing this one would be very spoiler heavy, though it’s fun to see all the characters from an outside perspective! Read these books! Join me in loving these books! *foists Nine Worlds at you*

Three Months of Books: October, November, and December

It’s been spooky, turkey, and pine tree season! I seem to instead be channeling an overall desire for flannel, knit sweaters, and warm drinks, since most of my reads this month fall, once more, into that “cozy” category and heavy on the romance. Frankly, not too many books read these past few months or, at least, not many books that are published. I did read quite a few books as a beta-reader and then was up to my neck in revisions, so I was mostly reading my books, which don’t count. Either way, without further ado, three months of books!

A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland: This was a delight. Very, very slow burn romance between a prince and his bodyguard, who are very opposite yet work so well in contrast with each other. The mystery element was a little transparent, much like it was with A Strange and Stubborn Endurance and yet, I found myself not minding it, since it honestly doesn’t matter, as the book isn’t really about the mystery, it’s about the romance and the politics. I adored the world-building, especially that it was so, so casually queer-normative and not once was a character’s sexuality or gender identity used for “drama” or weaponized against. People were just queer and the way it was done was so deft, never once did I feel it would stray into the whole “oh, this person is being hurt because they’re [insert queer identity here].” As for the characters, Kadou is a wonderful depiction of living with anxiety and I found his experience rather…eye-opening, seeing that I never realized I struggle with anxiety till I saw a character with anxiety and I was like…oh, his brain beats him up just like mine does me! …oh. Wait a minute… Evemer (and his mother!) is wonderful and I just love how he has to learn to use, y’know, words. Complex sentences. Express himself. Not just rely on grunts ’cause that’s going to trigger Kadou’s anxiety terribly. Aaaaand, slightly spoilery, but there was a certain character I had enjoyed greatly and braced myself for his death, probably in a dramatic moment of self-sacrifice because of course that’s what you do with the ex in romance novels…and he didn’t die. In fact, he not only lives but recognizes that his feelings are his to work through? Which was unexpected, refreshing, and very much welcome. Also, there’s a positive hat-tilt to the importance of therapy. My only moment of marginal disappointment was when I realized the romance was definitely monogamous but there were a few hints that it could have gone down a poly amorous path. There just isn’t enough poly am representation in mainstream publishing…

Immortal Rising by Lynsay Sands: Ah, the installment for the long-running Argeneau series that I missed. This one was different, and had a refreshingly different pace/approach/formula. The last few (er, like dozen) have had older immortals who are well past their first couple of centuries and uninformed mortals as their life mate, so you get a lot of the same sort of structure of the immortal dancing around the reveal, and eventually the reveal which if, like me, you’ve been reading all thirty-something of these for years, you can recite near verbatim in your sleep. This one had a young immortal (who, even more intriguingly, is one of the “fangless” variety) and a…well, I hesitate to call him just a mortal, only because he, er, is genetically modified to have wings and his mortality is a little questionable? Either way, he’s already in on the secret, so the obligatory explanation is extremely brief. There was a twist I wasn’t expecting, and another which…eeeeeeh, okay, fine, I’ll give it though it borders on silly (however, this series knows it’s campy and embraces the camp, so again, didn’t bother me even as I rolled my eyes…but smilingly so), and a certain enemy arc is brought to a conclusion. I wonder who the next antagonist will be for the next batch of life mate couples…*

After the Bite by Lynsay Sands: The new installment of that same long-running series. To be absolutely honest, I can finish reading these in a day, and often do, which is why they tend to be on here in batches. They’re fast reads, usually funny, and just pleasantly entertaining with a rather creative approach to the world-building (I mean, vampires who aren’t vampires, but nano-infested immortals from the lost city of Atlantis…that is just so campy and embraces the camp wholeheartedly). This one was back to older immortal and ignorant mortal structure, which was okay, and there might be a new antagonist being introduced, though we’ll see. Admittedly, the one issue I’m starting to have with these is when they inevitably call for reinforcements and we get ALL the cameos from a bunch of previous books…only, it’s been a few years since I read them and I don’t know who half these people are anymore anyway… Still, I do still enjoy the idea that, oh, sure, finding your life mate is incredible, once-in-a-lifetime chance that every immortal dreams of…but it’s also WILDLY inconvenient, seeing that you keep passing out from incredible, and incredibly brief, sex. And, er, everywhere. Woe to the life mates who have sex in a confined bathroom with an awful lot of sharp edged counters and hard tile everywhere, for they are doomed to head injuries (which, er, has happened in previous books).*

At the Feet of the Sun by Victoria Goddard: This book. This book. This book was incredible. I’d been waiting for it for a few months now, and it was worth that wait in every way. But most importantly, this book gave me that queer experience of seeing oneself finally, FINALLY reflected in a character and feeling validated. This book made me cry. A lot. I devoured it in three days, and even then, I had to take breaks because of the sheer amount of feels it inspired in me. Because I understood. But more than that, this book understood me. Up until reading this one, I have never had the experience of reading an ace character who is not only explicitly described as ace, but has the way they love not only validated but shown as being just as important as allo-experiences of love. I have never read that before, never experienced a book that said to me, “Hey, the way you experience love? Yeah, that’s valid, and here’s a whole book with a character who experiences love the way you do and it’s beautiful.” I finally, finally have a book that, when someone asks, “So what’s it feel like to be ace?” I can point at and be like, “Read that. It’s very close to my experience.” And that is just the romance. The rest of the book is just gorgeous, and I adored every bit of it. Will I reread this 1000-page behemoth? Oh, yes. Reread and re-experience and love every moment. Again, I just adore the way this world depicts both the concrete reality and the fantastical—not just fantasy, per say, but whimsy and myth and folklore and story. And the way Goddard writes characters is truly just extraordinary. And you have no idea how utterly delighted I am to discover that not only are there two more Red Company books planned, but there’s also a third for Lays of the Hearth-Fire. I thought this one was going to be the end, I really did, but then…I learned there will be more. Adore, I simply adore. And I foist! Read, read, and join me in my adoration!**

Also, it’s very, ah, fitting that I featured both Alex Rowland’s new book and Victoria Goddard’s new book in the same blog post. For reasons.


* Just as a note, though I mostly read queer-leaning romances, this series is almost painfully het and follows the mainstream category romance market formula very closely. This is not a knock to category romances or het relationships, but if you’ve come across my blog because of the queer SFF romances I feature, just know that these are not those.

** This review has very little, ah, content, mostly because if I get started, I won’t shut up, and I would prefer to keep in as unspoilery as possible. Because I will babble. And I will give things away.

Three Months of Books: January, February & March

Uf. Been awhile since I’ve done one of these (again) and it’s also been awhile since I, er, read some of these (way back in January!). So, because there are so many, and because I’m growing fuzzy on some of the details, this is more a roundup with a few short thoughts than it is a review post.

The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty: Ah! The end of the trilogy! I’d been looking forward to this one for quite a while. While I felt the beginning was a tad uneven, it’s a solid, satisfying conclusion to the trilogy that nicely comes full-circle. Do recommend.

Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold: As always, an absolute delight. And, amusingly, set in between previous novellas, which will make the omnibus binding interesting…

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Technically a reread. A coworker of mine started reading the series and wanted to talk about it, but it’d been awhile since I’d read Harrow so I reread (it’s a…complex book). Once again, struck by the artistry and craft of what Muir is doing. And how absolutely, delightfully bonkers it all is.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Creepy, evocative, and very much gothic, with quite a few interesting twists I wasn’t expecting (and a few I was—but probably because I saw parallels between it and another book in a different genre that played with similar concepts). It lends itself to Hollywood, methinks, and I won’t be a bit surprised if there’s a movie deal for it in the making.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell: Space opera romance with political shenanigans! A combo I very much enjoy. Interesting backstory for this one, but it was originally offered on AO3 as a serialized original fic, and it incorporates hallmark fanfiction tropes alongside that “I must read the next chapter.” Looking forward to the next installment.

Take a Look at the Five and Ten by Connie Willis: Recommended by a coworker and thoroughly charming. Devoured it in a sitting.

Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher: Ah! Another installment in her delightful paladin romance series! And, even better, it’s one of the few examples of a romantic couple who are over the age of 35 with a heroine who’s plus-sized and tall and a hero who is of a similar build. They both complain so rightfully about how things are just not sized for them. Like chairs. And door lintels. Heartily recommend.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine: This was excellent, and a brilliant follow up to A Memory Called Empire. And very much unexpected, and I’m so very pleased that the end was the end I didn’t dare hope for, completely convinced it would go the other way. Also, I see a mushroom trend going on in my reading as of late… But no matter. I absolutely can’t wait to see how this concludes in the next book. Both A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace are hefty books, concept- and character-wise, and are the kinds of books that sit with you for days after as you mull over the implications and the meaning.

A Summoning of Demons by Cate Glass: Another conclusion to a trilogy, though the way it concluded, I do hope there’s, if not another in the series, then at least a follow-up standalone or duology to explore some of the concepts introduced here. ‘Cause they’ve piqued my interests and, as a reader, I am not yet satisfied with the answers. But! The heist is, as always, entertaining and wonderfully convoluted. If this is truly the last Chimera volume…well, I’ll be content, though foresee rereading in my future.

And that concludes my quick three month roundup!

A Month of Books: March

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: This is my second attempt on Ancillary Justice. The first one, I hadn’t been in the right mood to enjoy it, and the shifting between timelines frustrated me more than it enticed me. Second attempt, and I devoured it in a few days. The world-building in this is spectacular, though there is a bit of a learning curve. You’re dropped in the middle of things and the story just goes, filling in the world-building as it becomes necessary and, even then, not all of it. Some things remain vague, some things go unexplained, and I personally delighted in having a world (well, worlds) that I could puzzle over. However, that “drop you in the middle” is honestly why my first attempt at this book didn’t go much beyond the first flashback. Which brings up the other potential hurdle: it’s told in a split-timeline structure with the past and the present trading off chapters between them. In some ways, it helped make the past (and betrayals of the past) more immediate; in others, I’m fairly certain that structure is the reason it took me almost a week to read to the point that the past timeline falls off and the narrative remains entirely in the present. Once it narrowed down to one timeline, the rest of the book zipped by (true, there’s also the investment element in there; by that point, I needed to know what happened next). Now, I’m not sure if I truly called the betrayal, or if I’d somehow absorbed knowledge of it when it’d been nominated, but I didn’t find the past storyline as compelling since I knew where it was going, though I didn’t see the why behind the betrayal. The eventual payoff is worth the wait, though.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: The scope narrows here, going from a massive quest for revenge across an empire to a single space station in orbit around a single planet, though with a much larger cast of characters than the first book. I will be entirely honest, this review isn’t much of a review because I read this one weeks ago and failed to write a review immediately upon finishing, and then COVID-19 happened and my perception of time has turned into dripping molasses, while simultaneously making everything that happened prior to two weeks ago feel like it happened last year. The thing I remember most clearly in this was how so many of the secondary characters on the ship go by title/rank rather than by name and yet, I could tell them apart so easily, the characterization of them was so strong. More and more, however, I do wonder if, perhaps, the guessing of the characters’ gender/sex might be the wrong approach; the more I read, the more I started to feel that the singular pronoun freed characters to act in stereotypical gendered ways without it being a reflection (or subversion) of gender, and the more I read, the more my mental image of the characters flowed. It was an intriguing experience, and though it took me two books to get used to it, I appreciate the approach.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: Ah, and the conclusion. One highlight was definitely Seivarden’s outrage over the suppurating cuticles oath. That, and how brilliant Station is and its way of leveraging Anaander in order to keep its citizens safe. Spoilers perhaps, but the end is a bit more open-ended than I’d prefer for a trilogy. The main conflict set up in Ancillary Justice doesn’t, precisely, get resolved. The civil war is still waging. Hypothetically, it might become more difficult for said civil war to continue quite the same way as it did before a certain event at the end of Ancillary Mercy, but it isn’t resolved. I was also a bit surprised that the concept of cloning ancillaries didn’t come up before the very end and it was…not so much dealt with as tabled for later discussion…except, this is the final book, so I suppose it’s up to us, the readers, to decide how that turns out?

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass: Oooooh, I’ve been waiting for this one for months! And then, when it arrived, I was in the middle of reading a trilogy, so set it aside to finish the Ancillary series first, ’cause I’m not blessed with one of those minds that does well with multiple immersive speculative novels being read at once. Much like the first book, A Conjuring of Assassins takes a little bit to get going, and there is some recap sections that if you’re reading the two back-to-back, might tempt one to skim, but once the mystery of Cinque is answered, the pace picks up and it’s spies and magic and grand con games in order to get closer to the Chimera’s target (the Assassins List). There is also more of a hint of the epic in this one. In the first book, there’s an unanswered mystery that could lend itself to epic fantasy, but here, it’s more overt, and the introduction of Teo (and Teo’s mystery) feels very much reminiscent (and pleasantly so) of the writer’s other epic fantasy series under the name Carol Berg (that hint of the epic, of the almost divine, of magic being otherworldly and beyond human understanding, of parallel worlds, of mind-speech). I look forward to seeing where things go in the next book, and what exactly is magic, and how does it tie in with the long-vanished gods? As a side note, it was both weird and unnerving to read a book so heavily based on Renaissance Italy while simultaneously watching news of the epidemic in Italy as it unfolded.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig: Confession: one trope that I absolutely adore is the one of the old and possibly world-weary immortal/near immortal with centuries of memory interacting with the modern (or near modern) world*–bonus points if there’s a love story (not necessarily romantic love; found family love or platonic love are under-explored with this trope, in my opinion). How to Stop Time somehow managed to slip by under my radar until now, and it’s an exemplar of the trope. I did find the major twist somewhat predictable, but didn’t mind it so much. The romance angle is a great deal more downplayed than what the back cover blurb promised (which was fine). It’s more a story of Tim engaging with the world, realizing that his pattern of isolation and being a recluse isn’t working for him anymore, and that his will to live is slowly, but surely, becoming walled in by fear (of discovery, of death, of change), stoked by Henrich, another alba (or very long lived individual). Much like Ancillary Justice, How to Stop Time uses a dual-timeline structure, though this one is aided by the time period being firmly set in Earth historical past. There is, as a note, far more “past” flashback chapters than “present,” and much of the present is quieter, more introspective. The final resolution of the book’s external conflict is a little ho-hum, but then, it wasn’t really about the external conflict, but the internal one. A small warning, but much of the book has a low-key hum of depression throughout, even though it ends on a rather hopeful note. I, personally, found this resonated with me, but others might find it triggering.


* As much as I claim to be a vampire-junky, it’s not the vampire that engages me, necessarily, but rather this trope of immortal/near immortal, and it just so happens that the most common subgenre containing it is the vampire one, which is why I don’t like all vampire stories, but a very particular subset.

A Month of Books: February

Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven: I will be honest, I was a bit conflicted about reading this book. I love Grace Draven’s other fantasy-romance series, but the Goodreads reviews on this one were sharply split between high stars and low stars, with few in between. After having read it, I’d say I’m still a bit conflicted, but I think I know why. It’s mostly a pacing thing. For the first 100 pages, events happen in a tight chronological order, which lends it a fast-paced, almost claustrophobic opener. The next 200-something pages, the pacing shifts; there’s long stretches that are covered with a short time-passing transition, and months go by rather quickly. Firstly, once you’re past the first 100 pages, it becomes clearly a Grace Draven novel, so if you’re reading and, like me, felt unsure about the beginning, stick with it. For me at least, this choice of pacing and presentation had a fascinating emotional impact. Because of that fast-paced, intense first 100 pages, for a long while after, I found myself braced for it to slip back into that style, and it took me time before I realized that…it wasn’t going to. Which seemed to echo Gilene’s emotional state as she slowly comes to trust Azarion. You brace, ready for the situation to get worse, so much worse…but over time, you come to trust that it won’t. Even when things escalate at the end, it’s a different kind of escalation than in the beginning, and it almost feels safely epic. I will, however, warn that there is a lot of allusions to rape, physical and mental abuse, and slavery, especially at the beginning. It’s a hell of a dark start for what will, eventually, become a rather sweet romance built on trust and friendship, so if this is a concern, then I recommend steering clear of Phoenix Unbound and pick up Radiance instead. That said, for all my initial uncertainty, I enjoyed it.

Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher: As always, T. Kingfisher’s fantasy-romance adventure tales are an absolute delight. This one came as a wonderful and unexpected surprise (I totally was going to read something else but…this was releasing in a week so…). While similar to Swordheart, the tone is more solemn, more somber, a bit more like Clockwork Boys (Paladin’s Grace, for more reason than one, felt a bit like a merging of Swordheart and Clockwork Boys, which, I might note, is certainly not a strike against it), though it has it’s moments of outrageous hilarity. Like Clockwork Boys, we have angsty guilt-ridden paladins yet, like Swordheart, they’re more militant types and, like Swordheart, the romance is pretty front-and-center (well, there’s also the poisoning thing. And the court-room drama. And the, er, heads—it’s a brilliant blend of a lot of different subgenres that work together, though on the surface, they shouldn’t). Like much of Kingfisher’s work, there’s this underlying note of darkness (in this case, someone is murdering people and, er, leaving only the decapitated head around—the answer to that little mystery is a bit disturbing). But Stephen is delightfully outraged that people are not taking this threat seriously! Honestly, this combination of weird and wondrous and tinged with a slight shadow of horror reminds me a lot of Doctor Who (both classic and reboot). Grace, with her sense of smell superpower (it isn’t really, she’s a perfumer so her sense of smell is a bit…keener than the rest of the world, but she also has training to identify smells), and Stephen, with his hobby of knitting,  fit so wonderfully together. And I still love the idea of solicitors sacrosanct and the White Rat, and I was thrilled to see Zale again.

Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher: I’m reading these all out of order. I started with Swordheart, moved on to Paladin’s Grace, and am now doubling back for what was originally the start (not quite of a series, but perhaps more of the world) but I just never quite managed to read it. So! Finally reading Clockwork Boys and I must ask myself why it has taken me so long. I am also going to review these two as one, since they’re very much structured as one novel broken in two, rather than two stand-alones (though, hypothetically, I suppose you could read The Wonder Engine without having read Clockwork Boys). I’m a bit torn on the end. While it’s ostensibly what I wanted, at the same time, I feel a little conflicted about how things resolved (and while I recognize that one character’s death was, emotionally, resonant, I feel I would’ve appreciated the twist being a little less sudden, particularly since I’d grown quite attached to that character). I also felt there were two rather large plot threads that didn’t get addressed all that much, and I’d have appreciated another touch or two, since everything else was bundled quite neatly (Boss Horsehead and the removal of the tattoos, namely; I would’ve really liked things to have come full-circle with a short epilogue addressing the tattoos, seeing that it isn’t explicitly stated that they’re, er, moot). The romance in these two, by the way, is not quite the same sort of fluffy of Swordpoint or Paladin’s Grace, and I appreciated that. The tone here is darker, and the two love interests are so clearly broken people, and certain events lead to a period of grieving which the narrative doesn’t shy from. There’s also so many bits that so brilliantly characterizes the characters in a line or two, making them both complicated and utterly fascinating. While the duology is probably not my favorite, it’s still a damn good read.