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 a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I also purchased my own copy of the audiobook for the purpose of this review.
There is a lot going on with The Bone Shard Daughter: part fantasy, part political thriller, part mystery, part sea-adventure, part sapphic romance. If all of that sounds good to you, you’ll be even more please to know that the book emerges more than just a sum of these parts, delivering a page-turning debut that is brimming with potential. I just finished the novel a few hours ago, and I already long to dive back into the world of the Endless Sea, its twisty magic systems, and its numerous characters.Continue reading “Audiobook Review: The Bone Shard Daughter”
Title: Empire of Gold
Author: S. A. Chakraborty
Series? Yes, 3 of 3
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Harper Voyager and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the first two books, City of Brass and Kingdom of Copper. There will be no spoilers for Empire of Gold.
Empire of Gold is the pitch perfect conclusion to the expansive fantasy trilogy that has captured my heart and mind over the past few years. Reading the ending of this book got me doing something I have not done in an age: staying up past 2AM alternating between crying my eyes out and smiling with glee. It was tough saying goodbye to the characters I’ve come to know and love, but I can think of no better farewell than this satisfying finale.
The ending of Kingdom of Copper was ingeniously cruel, leaving the fandom reeling and begging for answers for over a year. The conclusion of this trilogy starts off where it all begins, in an unnamed Egyptian village by the Nile. This setting invited an examination of Nahri’s personal evolution since book one, the ways in which her newfound powers and her found-family have both changed her and helped strengthened her existing identity. Nahri has played several roles in her life: Cairo street thief, companion of Darayavahoush, revered Nahid, wife of an emir, a healer, a survivor. Some of these identities were choices, others were a necessity for survival. With each, Nahri has reclaimed a position in a world that often sought to exclude her. In Empire of Gold, that personal journey delves ever deeper as Nahri navigated all of her past alliances to find a place where she belongs.
Book Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Ratings: 5/5 Stars
Hi all, it’s been almost an entire year since I have updated this blog. 2019 was a whirlwind for me, I became a business owner, a first home owner, and moved into the suburbs for the first time in a decade. 2020 has been catastrophic for reasons you can all relate to, but there’s been some joy mixed in as well: I got engaged, we got our first pets – two adorable kitties named Magnus and Coco who I have plastered all over social media. All in all, I have not had the time to consistently read, let alone write reviews or make graphics. Slowly but surely, I am finding my feet again, and would like to reclaim this corner of the internet — especially as I have already paid for the domain name for the coming year.
The book that I wanted to write about today is one that lifted me out of my year-long reading rut and plummeted me straight back into the rabbit hole. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is filled with a yearning for other worlds, brimming with the power of written words and the enduring magic of stories. If there’s anything a life-long fantasy reader can relate to, it’s the ache for more and this book clearly resonated. As January uncovered long forgotten Doors, I rediscovered the joy of sinking myself into the pages of a book.
For me, this book ticked all of the boxes in terms of the tropes I love: stories as literal magic, doorways into other worlds, found families in every sense of the words, and a dash of two romances filled with longing. As a self-professed sucker for beautiful writing, this book had me hook, line, and sinker. The story alternated between January Scaller’s retelling of her encounters with Doors, and the narration from a mysterious book that altered the course of her life. As the book progressed, the two stories danced inexorably closer together, weaving a cohesive narrative that spans two lifetimes and countless adventures.
Aside from the magic aspects, the book also shone a direct light on the uglier parts of society – one that stubbornly held onto tradition, white aristocracy, and polite veneer. The exploration of January’s relationship with her foster father, Mr Locke, is an extension of this discussion. While the book treated the subject with nuance, it never shied from exposing the intrinsic harm and invisible violence of Mr Locke’s archaic world views.
The other relationships within this book were written with equal expertise, from January’s heartbreaking distance from her own father, to the mutual bond of trust she shares with her canine companion Bad, to her unlikely friendship with Jane. Harrow also writes about love and romance with the same magic that she pens adventures, whether it’s the destiny defying tale of Adelaide and her otherworldly boy – or the quiet flame that burns between January and a certain grocer’s son. Thanks to the impact of all these relationships, the book felt immersive despite its shorter page length.
If you’re looking for a fresh approach to portal fantasy that delivers timeless transportive magic, look no further than The Ten Thousand Doors of January! Have you read this book? Which other portal fantasy do you recommend (my other favourite is, of course, the Wayward Children series by Seanan Macguire).
Disclaimer: I received an eARC of Spin the Dawn from the publisher via Caffeine Blog Tour.
2019 has been a wonderful year for East Asian fantasy releases, from The Girl King, to Descendant of the Cranes, to Wicked Fox, and now Spin the Dawn – we’ve seen an exploration of a diverse array of Asian culture and history through YA fiction.
Spin the Dawn had two distinct story arcs, each breathing fresh air into the tropes of high-stake tournaments and impossible quests. As a daughter of a tailor, I felt a kinship to Maia, her plight and her utter devotion to her craft. Here is a heroine that did not sought to change the world with physical might or sharp wit – she altered the fabric of the universe with a decisive cut of her scissors – and I found that imagery beautiful.
I prefer my fantasy to be character driven, and this is exactly what Spin the Dawn delivered with its introspective heroine. The relationships that Maia developed over the course of this novel, especially her slow-burn friendship turned romance, was satisfying to behold.
My favourite thing about Spin the Dawn was the way the tale took familiar notes of East Asian folklore and weaved it into the fabric of its lore and legend. The resplendent robes Maia was tasked with completing called to mind the myths of Weaver girl. More than that, the story reclaimed the narrative of unfortunate girls being transformed by beautiful dresses – and placed the power back into the hands of a girl who created them.
Spin the Dawn was rich in beautiful imageries expressed through both Maia’s embroidered creations and Elizabeth Lim’s lyrical proses. I could see no better way to celebrate than through a collection of wallpapers, to pay homage to both the book and its beautiful cover.
- Characters and quotes belong to Elizabeth Lim.
- The phone wallpapers are free for your personal use only.
- Please do not edit, repost, redistribute the images.
- They are made for iPhone XS, but should fit most smartphones.
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.