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

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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
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ARC Review: “The Book Eaters” by Sunyi Dean

(thanks to Sunyi Dean for granting me an unproofed ARC of this book!)

Read if you like: mystery, genre-blending, vampires/parasitic creatures, history, cults, books, family dynamics, queerness, dual timelines, ticking clocks, bad blood, secret societies, emotional burdens, hard choices, the struggle for freedom, sacrificial mothers, sassy kids “acting” old beyond their years, cursing, tension, suspense

Triggers: alcoholism, addiction, blood, murder, arson, human trafficking, drugs, profanity

Goodreads Summary:

Sunyi Dean’s The Book Eaters is a contemporary fantasy debut. It’s a story of motherhood, sacrifice, and hope; of queer identity and learning to accept who you are; of gilded lies and the danger of believing the narratives others create for you.

Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories.

But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

(Goodreads book profile here)


My Review:

This is a genre-blending book that’ll stay a favorite of mine for years to come.

I’ll be buying every special edition of this book that I can get my hands on.

It ticked so many boxes for me, both on a structural and emotional level, and I’ll try to peel them apart below here, but I can only apologize if I fail. The books we love most are often the hardest to deconstruct, after all. It’s much easier to be specific about what we don’t like than what we like.

Let’s start with the emotional level.

This book absolutely ripped my chest open, pulled my ribs apart, and plucked my staccato heart from my body as if I was nothing but a deflated, fleshy reliquary for something bigger than myself—and I was totally fine with it, actually, don’t let my death rattle stop you on your way out the door. Put less viscerally, this is a book that depicts an ugly truth so beautifully that you can’t look away from it. The truth in question?

Love makes monsters of us all.

Even mothers. Especially mothers. Especially those that we love in return.

“The Book Eaters” is the first book I’ve read in a long while that handles this theme as delicately and thoroughly as it does. It always tethers on a tightrope. Too much love; not enough love. Too much loyalty; not enough loyalty. Too much sacrifice; not enough sacrifice. It’s ultimately a book about choice.  Every book is about choice, of course, in the sense that choice creates character engagement and investment—but this book specifically addresses the struggle of choice. The cost of choice. The cost of freedom. The promise of freedom.

This grand emotional toll of the book is in large part due to the complexity of characters, which leads us into the more structural aspect of why I loved the book. Dean writes characters that straddle your chest, clasp your face between their hands, and force you to look at them. To see them at their very worst, yet root for them regardless. This is a high demand to make of a reader, and it’s a hard balance to strike for an author.

Dean also peppers the character dynamics and interactions with a wry, uplifting sense of humor. It feels very “if-I-don’t-laugh-I’ll-cry”. It’s a humor that fits the theme of the book. After all, when your five-year-old son’s starvation for human minds makes you a serial killer, it’s hard to do anything but laugh off the pain.

What truly shone for me structurally, however, was how the dual timelines of the book slowly inch towards each other, finally meeting at the end, gradually unveiling (purposeful!) holes in the plot until everything suddenly makes sense. This suspenseful thriller of a book doesn’t deal so much in twists as it deals in mysteries—and I’m here for it. Dean masterfully distracts you from the obvious, from putting two and two together, and so when the obvious thing does happen, you slap your forehead and scoff at yourself—because you should’ve seen it coming.

Then, of course, there’s also the worldbuilding. This is technically a contemporary setting, but a lot of the worldbuilding stems from an older and more traditionally rooted age. An Arthurian-inspired age. In many ways, the world also mimics that of classic vampires in that the main characters are parasitic non-human creatures that feast on humans while living secretly among them. Only in this case, the feasting isn’t blood, but books and brains. Literally. And yet, while the world feels culturally steeped in old tradition, the origin story is distinctively science-fiction. This is a book that blends elements from so many genres that you never quite know what to expect. And perhaps it’s this unpredictability of the world that distracts you from the obvious and from figuring out the mysteries prematurely; you’re so busy piecing the world together that the plot itself kinda just cruises along, bringing you along for the ride. You need to understand the world in order to understand the plot, and Dean keeps both elements so close to her chest that you only really understand it when she wants you to understand it.

I could keep going, but I think I’ll leave it here with one last note: I’m not a mother, struggling or otherwise, but this book made me feel like one, and that fact speaks volumes.

If you like character-driven books that blend genres and keep you rooted to your seat despite (because of?) the trainwreck you know is about to happen, then this is a book for you.


PRE-ORDER LINKS

AMAZON
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