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.


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ARC Review: “The Carnival of Ash” by Tom Beckerlegge

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

Read if you like: political science, grit, lyrical writing, stories-within-stories, books, libraries, upheaval, thematic worldbuilding, setting as character, carnivals, the decline of man, (un)sympathetic characters, existentialism in the vein of Sartre/Kierkegaard, poetry, history, survival of the fittest, architecture

Triggers: suicidal ideation, gore, physical violence, sexual violence, torture, rape, blood, murder, disease, sexism, misogyny, fatphobia, emotional abuse, arson

The Carnival Of Ash

Goodreads Summary:

An extravagant, lyrical fantasy about a city of poets and librarians. A city that never was.

Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.

Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present. A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether…

(Goodreads book profile here)


The Carnival of Ash is a lyrical fantasy.

Keyword being lyrical.

And I want to start with this because I think people might expect differently. That they might be led astray by the synopsis. I think, personally, that people might expect less of the lyrical and more of the fantasy. To (grossly) generalize: the sprawling world makes it fantasy, but the existentialist themes and the experimentalist narrative style makes it literary/lyrical.

When something is lyrical, I find that it often approaches theme like a literary novel might. And, in my opinion, Beckerlegge’s novel borrows stylistic choices from the literary genre. If that’s not your thing, then you’re likely to be disappointed. But if it is your thing, exactly like it’s mine, then this book is for you.

There are a lot of trigger warnings for this book, given that it deals with a lot of existentialist themes. These triggering themes do run the risk of feeling underdeveloped at times, simply because there isn’t given equal room for every character. This is a product of the bold narrative/stylistic choices, I personally think, and not necessarily a reflection of the author (if at all). All of the characters have generous backstories and their different dynamics overlap in interesting ways that creates a subtle, but consistent throughline across the multiple stories.

But please note this: they’re not all sympathetic characters.

This is ultimately a book that explores one theme through many stories: the decline of man by his own hand. It’s about shooting yourself in the foot. It’s a story about the tragedy of a community as told through its various people and their interconnected lives.

Each chapter explores a societal angle of a world run on books, by books, for books. We follow a monk, economist, prostitute, poet, gravedigger, scholar, criminal, politician, murderer, immigrant, etc. You take that one element (books), and then you saturate a world with it, giving that world to the reader via stories-within-stories. These stories are tied together like dominoes, and it’s this narrative boldness that gives the novel a literary flair for me. Alongside the lyrical prose itself, of course.

Because the world within the novel venerates words, you’d think the story will venerate words—but no. To me, the story reads as more of a warning. It’s a story about how words can both create and corrode. In a way, it’s a very self-aware book. Almost a bit of a parody taken to the extreme. I hesitate to call it tragicomedy, but it runs a bit in that vein, making it almost Shakespearian in its thematic focus and approach. Or Sartrean. Or Kirkegaardian.

Lastly, without giving too many spoilers away: imagine The Great City of Cadenza as a parallel to the Great Library of Alexandria and let that guide your expectation insofar as plot goes.


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Can you have fantasy without magic?

In my 20 years of reading and writing fantasy, I’ve never thought much about the part that magic plays in fantasy—until recent years. It started with one book for me. A book that, paradoxically, isn’t new in the slightest, but was written in 1926.

That book is LUD-IN-THE-MIST, by Hope Mirrlees.

I picked it up in a bookstore at random. Or, I say at random, but I really picked it up because the cover was pretty and it had a Neil Gaiman blurb calling it “the single most beautiful and unjustifiably forgotten novel of the twentieth century.”

Like, how do you resist that?

Anyway, I read the book, loved it—and somehow, for some reason, realized that the magic within the book is solely contained to the land. The dirt. The soil. Meanwhile, the characters are all regular people, affected by this magical land, but they never contain any magic themselves. Neither are there any magical creatures (that are shown, not purely told).

Reading that book had a monumental impact on my own worldbuilding.

It affected every book that I wrote after it, honestly, with me moving all magic from my characters into the soil upon which they walk. Before this, worldbuilding was my weakness. But now? Once I realized I didn’t have to make magical people, but I could have magical soil instead? It changed everything for me. Magical people had always felt overdone to me, meaning I struggled finding a fresh spin on it that could keep me invested enough to write a whole book. But a magical land? Now, that was something different. For me, obviously. I can only speak for me.

This, in turn, made me think about the “classifications” or “locales” of magic in the fantasy genre.

As I see it, we can roughly bulk the magical presence into three categories:

  1. Magical people
  2. Magical creatures
  3. Magical land

I view these categories as a powerplay between outlets of magic (not to be confused with the fantastical/otherworldly, which can also exist in sci-fi etc.), and I’ll try to explain it below.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

To give examples, recent fantasies that includes magical people as its primary outlet (aka, people controlling magic that is either their own or magic that is the land) could be DOWN COMES THE NIGHT by Saft, LAKESEDGE by Clipstone, JASMINE THRONE by Suri, WITHIN THESE WICKED WALLS by Blackwood, the ONCE AND FUTURE WITCHES by Harrow, WITCHMARK by C.L. Polk, THE UNBROKEN by Clark, and THE BONE-SHARD DAUGHTER by Stewart.

This seemingly remains the most popular way of including magic. The important point here is that while the land and the creatures might also be magical in this narrative, they are often somehow controlled by the magical people around them. Tamed, you might say. And that’s different from my other two categories of magic that lists creatures and land as having independent magic that people cannot contain and control.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso

Then there’s the magical creatures. Sentient, independent magical beings. Recent fantasies that feature magical creatures as a primary outlet could be BLACK SUN by Roanhorse and WOLF OF OREN-YARO/THE IKESSAR FALCON/DRAGON OF JIN-SAYENG by Villoso. I’d also include Chakraborty’s DAEVABAD trilogy here as well, and maybe even Moreno-Garcia’s GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW. And Stiefwater’s THE SCORPIO RACES, of course.

You could also bring in Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE here, although that’s not a recent release. Likewise, you could bring in Novik’s TEMERAIRE series, but it’s also not recent. It does seem to me that magical creatures aren’t as favored in traditional publishing as they used to be.

Drowned Country (The Greenhollow Duology, #2) by Emily Tesh

Then there’s the magical land. As with LUD-IN-THE MIST, the book that founded the entire basis for this article and my general view on magic in fantasy. Now, when there’s a magical land, there’s also often magical people. Novik’s UPROOTED comes to mind. And Solomon’s SORROWLAND. And Meyer’s INTO THE HEARTLESS WOOD. But there are also books where the magical land is the primary outlet. Tesh’s SILVER IN THE WOOD/DROWNED COUNTRY both fit that mark. As does THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Henderson, Sutherland’s HOUSE OF HOLLOW, Huang’s BURNING ROSES, and Ernshaw’s WINTERWOOD. You might say that in these books the magic of the land controls the magic of the people. And the land is often somehow hostile (in recent times). The antagonist to the protagonist. The reverse of the first category were the people controlled the magic of the land.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Then there are fantasies with very little magic in them, whether it be people or creatures or land.  SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN by Chan fits that mark for me. For books like SWBTS, it’s the secondary world that makes it fantasy while the magic is mostly absent. For other books, where magic is entirely absent, we’re talking non-magical fantasy which is a subgenre of its own.

A lot of this also depends on the POV of a book. 1st person POV lends itself well to (the inner struggles/goals of) magical people, I daresay, whereas 3rd person POV might lend itself better to magical creatures or magical land.

And then there’s also the age categories to keep in mind. Perhaps MG lends itself better to magical people because that’s what a younger audience needs most? A smaller-scale focus on family, friendship, etc.? And perhaps Adult fits magical land better because politics and military can play a bigger part (as in the case of SWBTS)?

And this is what I want to end with, I think.

The fact that, yes, we absolutely can have fantasy without magic, and these books often take the shape in secondary worlds that are fantastical rather than magical—but it’s perhaps more pertinent to look at the shape of the magic presented rather than the absence/presence of it.

Because, really, isn’t that what fantasy is about? Our attempt to define what magic can/can’t be? Our attempt to define the fantastical? With the caveat that the fantastical doesn’t have to be magical, but then this bodes the question, when is something fantasy (as a genre) and when is it science-fiction, for example? And when is it science fantasy? Or simply speculative?

Again, in my view, it’s all about the powerplay of the magical/fantastical.

And, more importantly, it’s also a matter of individual versus collective definitions of “magic” as a concept, which also necessitates that we consider reader expectation on top of that, meaning we’ll have to look into majority versus minority definitions of “magic” as a concept, and then also see where those definitions percolateit’s a lot, amirite?

I asked if you can have fantasy without magic, and yes, you absolutely can, but I also think it hinges a lot on personal/reader/industry definition and expectation of “magic” as a concept.

And that, folks, will be my ending note.

Thanks for listening!