ARC Review: “Wind Daughter” by Joanna Ruth Meyer

(thanks to Page Street Publishing and NetGalley for granting me an ARC of this book!)

Read if you like: Fairytales with a big F, Inuyasha (Kagome’s quest, specifically), Howl’s Moving Castle (the love story), atmospheric setting, sentient nature, sewing as symbolism, to cry both happy and sad tears, empathy/empaths as a thematic core, bees, wolves, snow, doorways, playing with time

Triggers: Death (non-graphic), blood (non-graphic)

Goodreads Summary:

In the dark, cold reaches of the north lives a storyteller and his daughter. He told his daughter, Satu, many stories–romances like the girl who loved a star and changed herself into a nightingale so she could always see him shining–but the most important story he told her was his own. This storyteller was once the formidable North Wind, but he lost his power by trading it away in exchange for mortality–he loved her mother too much to live without her. The loss of his magic impacted more than just their family, however, and now the world is unraveling in the wake of this imbalance.

To save the North, Satu embarks on a perilous journey to reclaim her father’s magic, but she isn’t the only one searching for it. In the snow-laden mountains, she finds herself in a deadly race with the Winter Lord who wants the North Wind’s destructive powers for himself.

Satu has the chance to be the heroine of her own fairy tale, only this one has an ending she never could have imagined.

A hauntingly beautiful fairy tale about love and loss, this Echo North companion novel is perfect for fans of the Winternight Trilogy.

(Goodreads book profile here)


My Review:

Meyer has a supremely uncanny ability to get to the emotional core of her books within seconds. I know that if I read a book from her, I will cry. And, lo and behold, I teared up in the first chapter of Wind Daughter. To that end, it didn’t do much to dry my eyes that the main character is an empath. As the personification of the North Wind, she feels as deeply and volatilely as a wind sweeping across the unending tapestry of the world—literally and figuratively, mind you.

Meyer’s Wind Daughter is, at its essence, a fairytale about fairytales. Think “one story to save all stories.” Or “one story that ties together all the stories of the universe”. Love and empathy are at the forefront as the power that stitches all of these stories together until they become one. This is in large part due to Satu North’s nature as an empath. She uses her empathy as her greatest strength, which is also the thematic core of the book.

Meyer’s writing style in this book is slightly different from the style in her previous books. I believe this might be a conscious choice on her part. A stylistic choice. She uses a lot of telling rather than showing—perhaps to enhance the storyteller feeling of the narrative? I suspect she wants the reader to feel as if they’re being told this story orally by a storyteller of old, just like fairytales were told originally. And she achieves that just perfectly, in my opinion, helped along by the seemingly endless mythos of Satu’s world.

Because I promise you: this is as symbolically rich and imaginative a world as they come.

I mentioned before that the thematic core of the book is that love gives you strength—but it’s not only love. It’s all feelings. Meyer dedicates this book to everyone who feels “too much”, and the book truly is a lover letter to everyone who feels, unashamedly, and rejoices in it.

For Satu North, her primary character development lies in accepting that she can still be lonely even if she gets easily overwhelmed in crowds. She is allowed to feel lonely while also wanting to be alone. The greatest lesson that she learns is that loneliness is not the same as being alone. That existing is not the same as living. She also has smaller lessons to learn, such as the fact that her parents aren’t flawless, and that sometimes your worst enemy is really your best friend (yes, we have a glorious enemies-to-lovers trope here).

As a companion piece to Meyer’s Echo North (2019), we also have recurring characters in this book. I was most impressed by Echo North herself. While she felt familiar to me, she also felt like she was fully grown-up, thus presenting herself as a plausible mentor figure for Satu North.

But I also want to stress that this is a companion novel. That is to say, some of the worldbuilding and the lore may be difficult to follow if you haven’t read Echo North. And this difficulty is enhanced by the writing style that has a fast pace and rarely lingers, as in true “oral storyteller fashion”.

Lastly, if we talk comparisons, Howl’s Moving Castle comes to my mind almost instantly. The love story has the same tragic, but hopeful feel. Whimsical on the surface, but dark underneath. It also specifically centers around a love that is literally broken up by time, exactly as Howl’s and Sophie’s. And that’s all the spoilers I’ll give you for that comparison.

I also couldn’t help but be reminded of Inuyasha. As regards the plot, that is. Satu North goes on a journey to collect fragments of her father’s broken magic, exactly as Kagome went on a journey to collect necklace shards. And while Kagome travels through time, Satu North is chased by a magically unraveling universe (aka time).

And if you now want to be chased by Satu, then this is the time to pre-order this magnificently woven and tapestried book. It’s worth it. If anything, then only so you can fully understand my constant use of sewing terminology in this review. Apologies.


PRE-ORDER LINKS

AMAZON
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ARC Review: “The Sleepless” by Victor Manibo

(thanks to Erewhon Books and NetGalley for granting me an ARC of this book!)

Read if you like: existentialism, mystery, angst, politics of all kinds, relatable/”lower” sci-fi, murder investigations, anti-capitalism, unreliable narrators, psychology, amnesia, anarchy, the power/cost of love, workaholism getting its due, intellectual worldbuilding

Triggers: workaholism, profanity, alcoholism, narcotics, violence, corruption

Goodreads Summary:

Journalist Jamie Vega is Sleepless: he can’t sleep, nor does he need to. When his boss dies on the eve of a controversial corporate takeover, Jamie doesn’t buy the too-convenient explanation of suicide, and launches an investigation of his own.

But everything goes awry when Jamie discovers that he was the last person who saw Simon alive. Not only do the police suspect him, Jamie himself has no memory of that night. Alarmingly, his memory loss may have to do with how he became Sleepless: not naturally, like other Sleepless people, but through a risky and illegal biohacking process.

As Jamie delves deeper into Simon’s final days, he tangles with extremist organizations and powerful corporate interests, all while confronting past traumas and unforeseen consequences of his medical experimentation. But Jamie soon faces the most dangerous decision of all as he uncovers a terrifying truth about Sleeplessness that imperils him—and all of humanity. 

(Goodreads book profile here)


My Review:

Manibo has created a deeply intellectual novel that explores the common existentialist question:

“What if we had more time?”

What if we never had to sleep, for instance? What would that mean for us? For those we love? For history? For culture? For politics? For the environment?

Humankind has always been obsessed with legacy. With time. With immortality. And Manibo’s book is centered on what that obsession might mean for a modern, diverse society.

Manibo’s answers to all these questions are successful, in my opinion, because he manages to root the answers in a world that feels concurrent (despite technically being set in the future). I could see this happening. I could believe it. And this is because I’m given a solid social, cultural, and political framework that felt relatable. If I woke up tomorrow and was told that Manibo himself is sleepless and that this is his way of breaking the news to us, then I wouldn’t bat an eyelash. I’d say “duh!”

Moreover, Manibo also succeeds at providing answers that consider all angles. There is no antagonist and protagonist here. There are just individual people believing in whatever they believe in, for whatever personal reason. Just as in real life. It’s a stark reminder that politics are made up by individuals. Politics is all about what individuals want, and how they achieve it via allies and opposition. It works on a much more singular scope than what it pretends to do, and Manibo reminds us of this.

If we delve into the actual plot of the book, Manibo specifically addresses how capitalism exploits the existentialist fear of “so much to do, so little time”. He addresses toxic work culture, unethical business practices, and corrupt politicians. He also highlights the sustainability debate and how a world of sleepless people will negatively impact the environment.

But this isn’t just a book of high stakes; it’s also a book of low stakes.

The low stakes are the personal stakes of the protagonist, Jamie, a journalist who is thrown into a murder investigation. The novel is a whodunit scenario in which Jamie must solve the details of the murder to prove his innocence in the matter. The murder is of his boss and mentor, meaning that Jamie’s arc is largely centered on loss and grief. Throughout the book, Jamie must decide what he’s willing to personally sacrifice for professional success. He goes from being a workaholic who is in denial of his situation, to a workaholic who attempts to save what few personal relationships he has left (alongside his freedom and life, of course). He must decide how selfish he wants to be, and how selfless he needs to be in order to turn the tide around. These are existentialist choices in their own right, albeit of a smaller scale, but they make you care about the book as a whole.

I’ve talked a lot about politics and plot so far, but this is a very character-driven story at its core.

Being character-driven, the pacing is also on the slower side. Especially for a whodunit plot. It’s less “piecing different plot elements together” and more “personal revelations that alter the plot and thus the mystery”. Basically, we care about this world because we care about Jamie. Not the other way around. And Manibo expertly unveils Jamie’s backstory at just the right pace for a character-driven narrative, weaving it seamlessly together with his relatable sci-fi worldbuilding.

And this, of course, reinforces the point I made earlier, namely that politics are made up by individuals, and Jamie is one such individual.

Even if you don’t like reading about politics, you will like reading about Jamie.


PRE-ORDER LINKS

OFFICIAL SITE
AMAZON
B&N
BOOKDEPOSITORY
INDIEBOUND
BOOKS-A-MILLION
BOOKSHOP

ARC Review: “The Stardust Thief” by Chelsea Abdullah

(thanks to NetGalley and Orbit for granting me an ARC of this book!)

Read if you like: found family, banter, adventure, betrayal, loyalty, hard choices, resurrection magic, elemental magic, ghouls, multicultural setting, desert setting, multiple POV, smooth pacing, storytelling as a theme, magical trinkets, merchantry, questing, daggers, cinnamon rolls, stoic bodyguards, well-kept secrets, character-driven narrative, imagination in spades

Triggers: murder, blood, death, implied torture, family loss, off-page parental neglect and abuse, violence, profanity

Goodreads Summary:

Neither here nor there, but long ago…

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, The Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp. 

(Goodreads book profile here)


My Review:

I read this book in one sitting.

For a fantasy book that rounds the 400 pages, that’s an incredible achievement on the author’s side.

This is also why the superb pacing absolutely made this book for me, and why I want to start off talking about that. Specifically, about how Abdullah’s mastery of tension across multiple POVs reminded me a lot of Stewart’s “The Bone Shard Daughter”, which I also read in one sitting. It’s a flex of a balance act to weave gradual tension into a secondary world narrative that spans across several personalities and multiple POVs, and Abdullah manages to do this with ease, hence why I read this book in literally one afternoon. Each chapter transition pulled me in so expertly.

In my opinion, balance is the keyword when it comes to creating the coveted “unputdownable” book—and Abdullah understands this, 100%.

The way that she creates tension also reminds me a lot of videogames. And I want to dwell on that for a bit. Firstly, the book is built around a quest narrative, meaning that the plot itself is reminiscent of many videogame plots. Secondly, there’s as much necessary exposition in this book as there is in any fantasy novel, yet Abdullah twists exposition into the plot in such a way that I felt like I was playing a videogame. One with various possible storylines splayed out in front of me, endlessly. I felt that anything and everything could happen, all the time, so I had to keep reading, you know? It felt like I kept leveling up, yeah?

This also applies to the worldbuilding. Specifically, the magic. The scope of the world and of the magic that governs the world constantly evolve on the page as the backstories of the characters are revealed and the history of the world is conveyed. It’s a bit like spoon-feeding. This means that we start out with a scope that feels narrow (but never lacking), and we end up with a scope that feels broad (but never overwhelming). Again, we have balance. On a knifepoint.

As for the theme of the book, Abdullah doesn’t beat around the bush.

This is a story about stories.

In particular, it’s about the way that stories empower those who take the time to listen to them.

It’s just like Mazen, our storyteller prince of the book, would say: “It’s in the details.”

Storytelling is how humans understand the world. How we understand power and the lack thereof. That’s what the “The Stardust Thief” is about. We have a group of people that become united by stories over the course of 400 pages. Their own stories. The stories of those they care about. Even the stories of the people that they don’t care about. There are no good or bad stories, Abdullah seems to tell us. And the power is not in the story itself, or even in the storyteller, but in the audience. That’s where stories have power; they empower.

A second theme that resonates strongly throughout the book is the theme that the dead are never truly gone. Rather, they live on in the stories we tell and the trinkets we keep. Abdullah takes this theme very literally, incorporating ghouls and thereby resurrections into the plot, but she also keeps it emotional. For starters, each character suffers from the loss of someone they loved. Additionally, we have Loulie, our business-savvy merchant, whose character arc and transformation in large part revolves around this same discovery; that the dead are never truly dead and that she must now change her way of life to account for this. How that comes to be and how she achieves that, I’ll let you read and find out (because it’s worth it, believe me, and enough that I initially spoiled it here out of sheer excitement).

Lastly, let me talk about voice.

As far as I am concerned, voice really boils down to the joy of storytelling. If the reader can feel that the writer truly enjoyed writing their book (even if it’s a sad book, yes), then the voice is there—and Abdullah has voice in spades. She has joy in spades. And it shows. And I personally can’t wait to see where her joy takes us next.


PRE-ORDER LINKS

HACHETTE (official)
AMAZON
B&N
BOOKDEPOSITORY
INDIEBOUND
BOOKS-A-MILLION