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 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
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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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