Once upon a time, there was a girl who wished for unfettered freedom, a life completely her own, untethered to time and space and people. While many books may explore the journey to achieve such a wish, THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE instead examines the consequences and the prices paid. Addie’s memorable journey is a clear defiance to her curse to a fault. In its single-minded pursuit to capture the life of Addie Larue, this book neglected to acknowledge the existence of marginalised communities who were erased not through Faustian bargains, but by colonialism, classism, and white supremacy. Addie’s story is fixated on her own legacy, yet her narrative is one that conveniently forgets the people history would rather leave unremembered.Continue reading “Audiobook Review: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue”
THE MAGIC FISH is a graphic novel that resonated so keenly with my entire being, it felt like it was created just for me. And it some ways, it was – in the way that it’s a labour of love which speaks specifically to the Vietnamese immigration experience. It ponders on the barrier and connections between the languages of first and generation immigrants, a relationship that are not restricted to mere words but to encapsulate our entire identity. Tiến and his family uses the framing of various fairy tales to communicate their truths, and the result is a nuanced, heartfelt story that rises above the trappings of fairy tale archetypes. If you can’t tell, I love this book with my whole heart, and I hope you’ll pick it up – marvel in the exquisite artwork, and let yourself be transported in Tiến’s world.
To me, language is a map to figure out where you are. If you can’t read the map, you’re lost.
As someone who grew up with two languages, feeling that I had to discard one to earn another when I immigrated to New Zealand – the weight of this quote, which appears at the beginning of The Magic Fish, absolutely gutted me. Helen, Tiến’s mother, spoke from similar experiences – her ‘past and present selves speak two different languages.’ She is irrevocably transformed ever since a little boat took her away from the shores of Vietnam, to the promised dreams of a foreign land. Helen’s is a woman separated from her past, rarely speaking about it to Tiến. The void of words in between them are filled by the spaces of fairy tales – a tool this book revisits time and again to contextualize feelings that are too complicated, even for people who speak multiple languages.
The first fairy tale depicted is Tattercoats, and here Trung Le Nguyen’s skills at visualizing beautiful costumes is showcased, alongside with his ability to seamlessly weave between multiple narratives. Both Alera and Helen are haunted by the image of a cruel and unforgiving sea, nostalgic for the voice of their mother – whether projected through a magic ring or a phone call. Tiến’s own story also takes form here, as we see him with his friends Claire and Julian, and the tentative crush that he has on the latter. He goes on to tell us that he struggled to find a Vietnamese term for who he is, a boy who loves other boys. All of this unfold between the panels illustrating Princess Alera, the various disguise and celestial dresses that she dons.
And Tien would finally know we came from the same stories.
The next fairy tale we visit is a Vietnamese classic, Tấm and Cám. A Cinderella fairy tale of our very own, which Trung infused with even more character by portraying it through the lens of colonial-era clothing and buildings. Where the retelling of Tattercoats was filled with wistful longing and half-realised dreams – the version we got of Tấm and Cám was one with teeth. We revisit the theme of death and life anew time and again, a story that continues where you would expect a clean cut ending. The Magic Fish remind its readers of a tale’s ability to transform, whether it’s through the metamorphosis of memories, or the magic of retelling. It also gently warns of the expectation of happy endings, when lives are infinitely complex and has a way of persisting through generations – like Vietnam and her children, a country moulded by the hands of colonisation, yet refuses to fit anyone else’s narratives.
It’s an old, old story. Details change. Things change. And now this story is ours. Yours and mine.
Finally, The Magic Fish ends with a rendition of The Little Mermaid. In the Author’s Note, Trung states that he’s always viewed this Hans Christian Andersen tale as a story of immigration – and I could not agree more. A girl who gives up her ability to communicate at a chance of fulfilling dreams in a distant land, who chafes and suffer with every step she takes. It is my favourite of the tales, beautifully drawn using inspiration of Hong Kong fantasy aesthetic and the imageries of ballet. It’s a tale that encourages the rewriting of our own endings, illustrate how love overcome barriers, and the beauty of a mother and a son learning to speak in one another’s language. It’s a heartfelt and victorious culmination of the narrative threads that this graphic novel is working towards. I’ve never felt more satisfied and joyous on the completion of a graphic novel, and I will treasure this book like a well-loved fairy tale for years to come.
It’s almost unfair how this graphic novel is both beautifully illustrated and poignantly written. As a child who grew up in a family of refugees, who have witnessed the silent sacrifices of my elder, who have learned to love a language and culture I once tried to discard – this book felt like a key to invisible shackles. I know I’ll be putting this into the hand of every Viet person I come across, first and foremost my own mother – who also raised me with the words of fairy tales.
There are a lot of excellent books releasing this October, but please make sure this one make its way onto your bookshelf!
I have been a fan of Rebecca Roanhorse since I read Trail of Lightning. With Black Sun, she cements herself as one of the most exciting voices in contemporary SFF. I have both a book review and some graphics for everyone today, ahead of the excitement for Black Sun’s release next week!
Disclaimer: I received this audiobook through the Libro.fm ALC program. I love Libro.fm with my entire heart, but this is an honest review.
To be frank, I am not sure if I can quite verbalise how much I love Black Sun with mere words. I have spent most of this week in a complete daze as I left my few remaining brain cells with The Meridian, its expansive world, and its multifaceted cast of characters. From the very first chapter, where a boy is ritualistically transformed into a god – under the vivid visuals of a sun being devoured by a crow – this book has gripped me by the throat and absolutely refuses to let go.Continue reading “Midnight Designs and Audiobook Review: Black Sun”
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Australia in exchange for an honest review. I also purchased a copy of the audiobook for my own personal use.
I have consistently loved Naomi Novik’s novels since reading Temeraire during high school. Uprooted remain one of my favourite stand-alone fantasy to this day, and Novik has proven time and again that she is a master at crafting a palpable atmosphere with every book. So when I heard that Novik was releasing a new series that mixed academia and dark magic, A Deadly Education easily became one of my most anticipated releases of 2020. It’s been a few days since I finished the book, and while my feelings on it are decidedly mixed, I still catch myself thinking about this world. The Scholomance is a haunting setting that leaves its spectre on both the magical world within the novel, and on my subconscious. If you’re looking for an otherworldly and evocative read for the spooky season, you should have this book on your radar. Although I think there are a few issues with the pacing and the worldbuilding which I will explore below.Continue reading “Book Review: A Deadly Education”
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Note: This review will contain spoilers for the prequel, The Gilded Wolves. It will not contain spoilers for The Silvered Serpents.Continue reading “Book Review: The Silvered Serpents”
Disclaimer: I received an eARC and physical review copy of Jade war from the publisher via Caffeine Blog Tour.
Bear with me, I have a full review as well as three graphics wallpaper to share with you today. After all, words are not enough for me to describe how much I love the Green Bone Saga and the Kauls.
Note: The review will have spoilers for the first book, Jade City. It will not contain spoilers of Jade War.
Jade City is one of my favourite books of all time, it encapsulated and elevated everything I loved about fantasy, Hong Kong gangster films, and family drama. I knew I would love Jade War, but I could not anticipate how this sequel would take everything I loved about Jade City and amplified it tenfold. If I was a No Peak loyalist by the end of the first novel, this second one made me a Lantern Man for life. The clan is my blood and the Pillar, the one and only Fonda Lee, is its master. I am here to love and support whatever she releases next, even if it’s sure to destroy me. Continue reading “Blog Tour: Jade War Review and Graphics”
It’s been a while since my last update since most of April and May left me with very little time for blogging. I just wanted to do a quick catch up on what I’ve been reading and what I plan to read in the coming month.
What I’ve Read
Almost 100% of the reading I’ve done in the past two months have been done via audiobook. Bless them for enabling me to finish all these novels while I completed my chores or during my morning commute, I would have fell into a book slump without them. I know at the beginning of the year I said I would cancel my Scribd account, but since I read so much via audio now, the set up is working great for me.
These aren’t even in chronological reading order because I am a Mess.
- Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid ★★★★☆
This novel is best enjoyed via audiobook, sorry I don’t make the rules. TJR has a way of making her characters feel so raw and real, if I didn’t know any better I would have been searching for the discography of Daisy Jones & The Six after completing this novel. Epistolary novels don’t always work for me (see: Illuminae), because I sometimes find it hard to connect to the story. 100% not the case here, and I loved how utterly flawed everyone was allowed to be. To tell the truth, I didn’t like most of them, but they sure captured my imagination.
- The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang ★★★★★
HELLO IS ANYONE SURPRISED I AM COMPLETE TRASH FOR THIS BOOK. NO? OK.
Ahem. With complete objectivity, this book was a stunning follow-up to The Poppy War. It’s more introspective, it deals with PTSD, it brings in all of the threads that complicates and muddies the war Rin is waging on Nikara and with herself. The ending left me literally reeling and screaming in random DMs for weeks. I still have not completely stopped and I fear I will never be coherent again. Give me book three or give me death.
- Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey ★★★★☆
I finished this book about two hours ago and edited the post to include it. Although it contained the familiar tropes like a magical school, a jaded private detective, a dark prophecy, a hidden world of mages, a murder mystery – Magic for Liars combined them in a way that kept the plot fresh and engaging. Imagine if Aunt Petunia never married Vernon Dursley but instead became a private investigator – who’s then called back to Hogwarts to unravel a murder, with Lily as one of the professors on tenure. Except better, because the character work in this book is freaking top notch. Just go read it OK, this is the gay and messy magical school we all deserve.
Title: Descendant of the Crane
Author: Joan He
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I was captivated by Descendant of the Crane the moment I saw its enchanting cover (illustrated by Feifei Ruan). It promises intrigue and magic in a world deeply inspired by China’s rich and varied history. The reading experience was one that left me reeling from the many clever twists and turns within the story. While my lack of attachment to any of the main characters meant that I could not wholly love the book, I am impressed with the breadth of the world-building and complexity of the plot. If this is what Joan He is capable of at the beginning of her career, I await eagerly to see what she will bring out next.
Title: Empire of Sand
Author: Tasha Suri
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
Quick aside, I know it’s been almost two months since I updated this blog, but I had some important work assignments and minor life crises occur within the last several weeks. It really took away from my enjoyment from things like reading, blogging, and interacting with you guys on social media.
That chapter of my life is behind us now though, and I feel excited to resume talking about all that good stuff like fictional worlds and new favourite characters. Catch me up on what’s been happening with your life, reading-related or otherwise.
Onto the book of the day, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri. I listened to this on audiobook about a month ago and it was exactly the kind of comforting fantasy I needed: richly imagined world, a heroine with plenty of fortitude and courage, a slow-burn romance, and fraught with complicated ties between family members. The themes were reminiscent of titles I’ve loved before, such as The Poppy War and The Star-Touched Queen, while being wholly its own. The narrator of the audiobook was also particularly excellent, so I would recommend exploring the audio edition of you have the option.
Personally, I felt most hooked by the opening chapters of this story, as we explored Irinah through Mehr’s eyes and come face-to-face with the prejudices faced by the Amrithi people. There were signs of magic and mysticism from the beginning, seen through the various daiva and Mehr’s own Amrithi bloodline. However, the Ambhan rule has left people fearful to speak of the power that connects the gods to the Amrithi – consequently leaving Mehr uncertain about her potential and her lineage. Another thing I found interesting within the first few chapters was her tense relationship with her family, particularly with her stepmother, Maryam.
Mehr leaves the walls Jah Irinah within the first quarter of the novel, whisked away by a group of the empire’s most influential mystics. She is betrothed to Amun, who readers quickly learn is also an Amrithi. I love the interactions between these two characters, from their slow burn romance to how they serve as perfect foils for one another. I also loved seeing Mehr’s resilience through these chapters – even in situations where little choices are offered to her, she fights and find a way to make every decision her own. She’s a heroine that empowers herself each step of the way, and while I don’t always agree with her actions, I constantly found myself rooting for her.
Many of the book’s characters are deeply spiritual and intensely connected to cultural practices of their ancestors, from which they derive strength both mental and literal. I loved seeing how the book explored the interplay between the capacity of the Amrithi people for power, along with how they were exploited for possessing that self-same blessing. The book showed us the different ways which the Amrithi people have learned to cope, from Mehr’s resolute resistance to Amun’s stoic resignation – offering no clear answers or judgement. A lot of this novel is deeply introspective, and while it affected the pacing of the book, I felt it added a lot of depth to these characters.
While the book works perfectly as a standalone read, there is a companion novel coming out which will follow Arwa, Mehr’s younger sister. I can’t wait to see how Tasha Suri will further expand this world and its characters.
Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warning for sexual assault.
Girls of Paper and Fire is an antidote to the poison that is on the daily news. It’s a testament to the resilience of survivors, filled with fire and fury and hope. If you are in the mood for a read that will set the patriarchy alight, this is definitely one to grab.
There is a lot to unpack about this stunner of a debut novel. The experience of reading Girls is intensely personal, as the book draws intimately from the Natasha Ngan’s experiences. From the cultural flourishes to the Paper Girls’ shared trauma, every detail within the book is carefully considered to create an emotionally immersive experience. I confess this novel left me in a daze after I finished it, so do approach with caution considering the heavy content within.
The world building in Girls is rich and expansive, helped by Natasha Ngan’s beautiful descriptive writing. Characters within this world are divided into three groups – with the powerless humans of the Paper caste oppressed by the demons in the Steel and Moon castes. There is mythology and founding legend deeply rooted in the fabric of this world, re-purposed by the ruling class to reinforce their reign at the top. I loved the political tension between the different caste and the various provinces of the Demon King’s vast empire. As the world is based in Malaysia, it’s as rich in cultural diversity as its real-life counterpart.
Lei is a Paper Girl, one among a group of nine selected to be concubine to the Demon King. Born to a world where women are routinely robbed of their agency, Lei emerges from the page simmering in anger yet plagued by insecurities and self-doubt. Her character arc is an exploration of self-empowerment and reclaiming of identity in a deeply flawed and misogynistic system. I appreciated that the book presented a multitude of ways in which these women coped, and does not pass judgement on any methods.
The romantic love story within this book is the slow burn F/F fantasy romance readers everywhere have been waiting for. It’s satisfying watching two women learn of each other’s flaws and strengths, empowering one another, and falling in love along the way. It’s so easy to root for these ladies and cheer on their battle against the world.
If you only pick one debut novel to read in 2018, make it this one.