Bingo Mini-Reviews: Row 4!

Without further fuss, here’s the fourth row of Bingo mini reviews! You can read my reviews for row 1 here, row 2 here, and row 3 here.

Any r/fantasy Book Club Book of the Month or Read-Along

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Strange Practice (Dr. Greta Helsing, #1)

Hard Mode: Unfortunately no; I was unable to participate in the discussion this time

I originally read Strange Practice for the Vampires square, but I decided to use it for this one instead. Strange Practice stars Greta Helsing, a medical doctor in London who has an unusual discipline: healing the city’s undead. But when a mysterious cult starts causing mayhem, Greta gets pulled into an conspiracy that may be over her head. This book had a gothy sort of feeling without being truly scary, and I loved the mythology around the undead and the demons and the evil cultists. I’m fairly picky about urban fantasy, and I think I might have enjoyed this more had it taken place in some vaguely old-timey era rather than present day. Still, it was an enjoyable read, and I would not mind reading more of Greta’s adventures.

4/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares

  • Vampires

Media Tie-in Novel

The Stolen Throne by David Gaider

The Stolen Throne (Dragon Age, #1)

Hard Mode: Yep! This is not a Star Wars novel

I’m a huge fan of the Dragon Age video games (although, erm, the only one I ever actually finished was the first one, please don’t cancel me). Therefore I thought the Media Tie In square would be a great opportunity to finally read one of the Dragon Age books. The Stolen Throne tells the story of Maric, the previous king of Ferelden before the games, and his trusted lieutenant Loghain, during the early days of the rebellion against the Orlesian occupation. It was fun to see some familiar faces and locales, and to get a better idea about the history of Ferelden and why Loghain is such a dickweed anyway. Unfortunately, this book is a prequel, and it falls into the same trap of nearly all prequels, in that the ending is a foregone conclusion. Since I played the first game, I know that X character dies, Y character betrays character Z, and most of the characters will live at least until the end of the book, if not much longer after that. That wasn’t to say that there was no dramatic tension, however. I thought for sure one character would play a specific role in the future of the games, but she ended up serving quite a different purpose.

3.8/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares

  • Local author (Edmonton, Alberta)

Novel Featuring an AI Character

Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)

Hard Mode: Yes, the main character is an AI!

Murderbot is a security unit, charged with protecting corporate interests in the Dystopian Space Future. But Murderbot has a secret: it’s deactivated its governor module, meaning it doesn’t have to play by the rules. It’s highly important for Murderbot to keep this a secret, because humans are understandably untrusting of rogue sec units. But Murderbot doesn’t want to go on a murderous rampage. Murderbot only wants to watch human television. The characters are definitely the strength of these novellas. I loved Murderbot’s charm and its mix of disdain, fascination, and grudging affection for its human counterparts. The other AIs we meet are great as well, such as the overly-cheerful robot we meet sometime around book 2. Unfortunately, while the characters are wonderful, the plot is a bit unmemorable. I can’t even really remember what happens in half of these novellas, and I didn’t read them THAT long ago. Something about an evil corporation doing evil corporation things. Still, the plot is not the point, and these are fun, quick reads.

3.8/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares 

  • SFF Novella
  • Local Author (Texas)
  • Cyberpunk? (I argue it counts. There’s androids and cyborgs and evil corporations running around. That’s cyberpunk right?)

Title with Four or More Words

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Hard Mode: The. Ten. Thousand. Doors. Of. January. Six. Not quite enough. Bummer, that

I could have used This is How you Lose the Time War for this square’s hard mode, but I was already pushing the limit on novellas as it was

I loved this book. I’d say it’s tied with Bone Ships as one of my favorite reads from 2019. This is the story of January, a mixed-race young woman living in 18something. Her father is an adventurer who travels the world collecting treasures and artifacts. Because he’s gone so much of the time, January is largely left in the care and keeping of Mr. Locke, her father’s wealthy employer. When young January accidentally discovers a portal to another world, she quickly discovers that there is much more to her father’s expeditions than meets the eye, and that her rich guardian and his contemporaries might not be as benevolent as she once believed. Ten Thousand Doors is a fantastic story that both broke my heart and filled me with joy. It lays bare all the worst and best of humanity. It is a story about the importance of stories. In the hands of a less talented author, the premise might have come across as preachy or contrived, but Harrow pulls it off beautifully.

5/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares

  • Published in 2019
  • Local Author (Kentucky)

Retelling!

In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard

In the Vanishers’ Palace

Hard Mode: Yes! The original Beauty and the Beast was published as a French short story by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, SO THERE.

Yên is the daughter of a village healer-magician, but she has no healing powers of her own. Because of this, she is dismissed as useless by the village elders, and lives in constant fear of exile. When Yên’s mother calls on the power of a dragon to perform a difficult healing, the dragon demands one of their number as payment, and the village elders all agree that Yên is the one who has to go. In the home of the dragoness, however, she finds not torment or pain, but solid employment as tutor to the dragoness’s two young children. She begins to form a friendship and eventually romantic attraction to the dragon, but how can she be with someone when she is a prisoner? 

I enjoyed this Beauty and the Beast retelling. It also a story about a plague, which I didn’t realize coming in, which made it startlingly relevant. The dragon is first and foremost a healer, and she heals not only physical ills, but ultimately emotional and generational trauma as well. I really liked that this novella was wholly non-heteronormative and featured characters with they/them pronouns, which you don’t see nearly enough of in books. De Bodard herself is of French and Vietnamese ancestry, and I really enjoyed how she took a French story, Beauty and the Beast, and retold it using a Vietnamese setting and creatures of Vietnamese myth.

5/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares

  • SFF novella
  • #ownvoices
  • Local Author (Paris, France)