As the year comes to a close, I needed to wrap up my reviews from books read several months ago. Some more mini reviews coming your way. This one is themed historical and fantasy!
The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso (★★★.5)
Talyien is the Queen of Oren-yaro, or rather all of Jin-Sayeng, after unifying the warlords and city-states to her marriage with Rayyel, the Ikessar Prince and Dragonlord. It’s a big deal because there’s been what seems like centuries of bloodshed and warfare. But the night before they’re crowned, Rai walks out on Talyien. Flash forward five years. Their son is 7, Oren-yaro and the warlords are on the brink of civil war again, and Talyien receives a letter from Rai to meet with him in the neighboring kingdom across the sea. Skeptical but hopeful, Talyien sets sail…and 400 pages of obstacles happens.
I’m not kidding. Talyien is betrayed left and right and doesn’t know who to trust—literally everyone except for maybe two people can’t be trusted—and she’s going to need some major therapy to work through these attachment issues and PTSD. And this is only the beginning! Villoso has a trilogy in store, and she’s only scratched the surface of Talyien and this Filipino-inspired world.
I found Talyien’s voice easy to read, but this character-driven narrative requires close attention to detail. She is holding back from the reader––you, too, face surprises at every turn. While you do discover why Rai left, and who is behind all this turmoil and destruction, I did find the reason odd and not quite powerful enough to warrant the mess Talyien was left to deal with. Then again, I could be totally wrong—like I said before, this is only the beginning of this journey and trilogy! And for the record, Khine is my favorite.
I’m looking forward to diving into The Ikessar Falcon in 2021!
The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis (★★★★)
This was my very first Davis novel, which is shameful when I tell you the context: her editor shared a copy of The Dollhouse (her debut) with me when it first released, and it’s still on my shelves unread with the personalized note still paper-clipped to the cover. Lions is Davis’s fourth or fifth novel at this point. (I’m sorry, Stephanie! You can bet I’ll be reading them now!)
Historical parallel narratives will always be my bait; NYC narratives are hit or miss for me. So I went into this with hopes of enjoying a good library-centered book—and I really, really enjoyed this to pieces. Laura in 1913 and Sadie in 1993 each have connections to the iconic New York Public Library, and both are intricately connected to a series of thefts of valuable books in the library’s collection. Which books, who stole them, and why are at the heart of this narrative.
Laura wants more from life, and works hard toward a masters in journalism so she can help bring in some extra cash while her husband, the NYPL superintendent, can finish his manuscript. They live in an apartment in the library itself, and everyone suspects the Lyons family is behind the thefts. Sadie is set in her ways and has built a wall around her lonely heart, and feels she can really only connect with literature and answer patron questions—making her the perfect librarian to curate a special exhibit collection. She, too, is suspect in the thefts.
Laura’s journey was equally empowering and frustrating, what with the suffrage movement happening simultaneously. I was pleased with her narrative and arc. Sadie was…woof, super close to home for me. Her preference for music without words to help calm her down, her attraction to 1950s clothing, her ability to be a human Google but struggles to interpret others’ romantic feelings (since she doesn’t feel worthy of their love), her complete absorption in literature…gosh, I felt that deeply. Her character is an example of the mistaking-contentedness-for-happiness characters I gravitate toward and enjoy. Davis did an excellent job of expressing each woman’s experience. I’m sold on her other books, regardless of plot or location! Character-driven narratives are my ultimate jam.
If you love books about books, Kate Morton’s sense of place as a character, and parallel narratives, this book is for you!
A Dance With Fate by Juliet Mariller (ARC) (★★★)
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book of the warrior bard series last year (The Harp of Kings)—the undercover work, spy mission, character development, druids—and reading this next installment proved Marillier still has those writing chops for great character development and visceral storytelling.
However, the content in the novel was a bit vicious and harrowing for my taste right now (trauma, abuse, neglect, gaslighting), and the leader reminded me so much of the current scumbag in office that I struggled to not get extremely riled up when the characters just took his lashings without comment. It’s dark yet beautifully written—just hit a little too close to home. I’m glad to see the representation in here—mental health, blindness, domestic violence survivors—and of course I’m thrilled to see where Dau and Liobhan end up in the final book.
I’m aware this review isn’t much of a review—I can’t say too much without spoiling the narrative—but I read it, I enjoyed it as a second in the series, but it (through no fault of its own) was a bit too close to home for me at this point in time. Years down the road I’ll reread this with new eyes and absorb the other aspects of the narrative, I’m sure.