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
B&N
BOOKDEPOSITORY
INDIEBOUND
BOOKS-A-MILLION
BOOKSHOP

ARC Review: “The Bruising of Qilwa” by Naseem Jamnia

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

Read if you like: blood magic, an overall science-based magic system, multicultural setting, healing, plants, sibling dynamics, a celebration of queerness, mentor figures, personal stakes, community, mystery, medicine/medical science, competent characters

Triggers: blood, dead bodies, disease, racial discrimination

Goodreads Summary:

In this intricately layered debut fantasy, a nonbinary refugee practitioner of blood magic discovers a strange disease causing political rifts in their new homeland. Persian-American author Naseem Jamnia has crafted a gripping narrative with a moving, nuanced exploration of immigration, gender, healing, and family.

Firuz-e Jafari is fortunate enough to have immigrated to the Free Democratic City-State of Qilwa, fleeing the slaughter of other traditional Sassanian blood magic practitioners in their homeland. Despite the status of refugees in their new home, Firuz has a good job at a free healing clinic in Qilwa, working with Kofi, a kindly new employer, and mentoring Afsoneh, a troubled orphan refugee with powerful magic.

But Firuz and Kofi have discovered a terrible new disease which leaves mysterious bruises on its victims. The illness is spreading quickly through Qilwa, and there are dangerous accusations of ineptly performed blood magic. In order to survive, Firuz must break a deadly cycle of prejudice, untangle sociopolitical constraints, and find a fresh start for their both their blood and found family.

Powerful and fascinating, The Bruising of Qilwa is the newest arrival in the era of fantasy classics such as the Broken Earth Trilogy, The Four Profound Weaves, and Who Fears Death. 

(Goodreads book profile here)


My Review:

Novellas have this peculiar innate power that always takes my breath away. They read succinctly—the shorter word count demands a scarcity of words, after all—yet there is such depth to unpack behind this succinctness that it can feel quite daunting as a reader to delve into.

Naseem Jamnia’s The Bruising of Qilwa also has this depth.

Plot and prose take a backseat in this book, thus allowing character, world, and thematic resonance to be the driving forces that hook the reader to the pages.

For starters, this is a book that includes minorities of all kinds. Ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, linguistic minorities, immigrant minorities, cultural minorities, religious minorities, political minorities—all types of minorities. The representation is thorough and consistent, and while we are dealing with minority groups, Jamnia still makes the world feel inclusive to the reader. Natural. As it should be. A large part of this is thanks to the great characterization of the nonbinary refugee main character, Firuz, and the way that we view the world through their eyes.

This is an extremely political book, at its depth, meaning it’s largely about the power of the individual within a group and how groupthink starts with the individual. We have an ideological clash in Qilwa (the main setting) that paints nobody a hero or a villain. Instead, the book invites us to consider the rise and the fall of power. Specifically, it invites us to discuss what it means to be an oppressed people when you were once an oppressor yourself. Jamnia derives from their own Persian heritage for this discussion, presenting the compelling answer of putting aside judgment and joining migrants (and other marginalized people) in creating a brighter tomorrow that isn’t built on fear and otherness.

To this end, the plot of the book is centered on the question of family. Of blood, as the title indicates. Firuz is a refugee practitioner who heals with blood magic. In the world that Jamnia has created, magic has a scientific basis. Magic is, in short, energy. It operates like energy. The transfer of energy becomes magic. In using the energy of their own blood, Furiz can heal the blood of others, for example. There are other types of magic as well. Structural and environmental. And they are all based on the principle of energy transfer.

The plot specifically revolves around stimulated/magicked parasitical blood that can kill (think an autoimmune disease), warping bodies to stay active even after (brain) death has occurred—and that’s all the spoilers I’ll give you.

Lastly, I want to talk about thematic resonance. I want to do so by bringing the title of the book into play. This book is about how blood bruises you—both literally and figuratively. It’s about bruises. About healing. It’s about whether you should hide your blood or use it for good at the risk of pain. It’s about what happens when a minority of any kind is not allowed to be at their best, to offer their best as they want to offer it, and to use their best to help others become better as well.

You will love this book if you enjoy thematic resonance and a character-driven plot, but you might find yourself less entranced if you’re looking for a twisty and unpredictable plot. What truly shines here, as far as I am concerned, is the theme, the world, and the characters.


PRE-ORDER LINKS

AMAZON
B&N
BOOKDEPOSITORY
INDIEBOUND
BOOKS-A-MILLION

Santa’s Secret Pen ’21 – Prompt: “A Wedding”

It was a fine, warm day in summer when the dove appeared. Suzie had been sitting by herself on a park bench, quietly reading, and then suddenly a flap of wings caught her notice. No sooner was the bird there then it flapped away, but left on Suzie’s lap was a torn-off piece of thick creamy parchment.

You are invited to a wedding, Winslow Forest Preserve, 5 o’clock today.

Well now, that was strange, wasn’t it? Suzie had never been invited to a wedding by bird, much less a wedding without a named bride and groom, or bride and bride or groom and groom or whatever combination of people was about to take vows. She made to crumble the thing up and toss it in the rubbish bin—but something stayed her hand. A curiosity? No, a compulsion. Now that she had read this note, she couldn’t put it out of her mind. She even tried using it as a bookmark and returning to her reading, but across her mind it would blip, over and over, You are invited to a wedding, Winslow Forest Preserve, 5 o’clock today.

“Well, this is silly,” Suzie told herself. “I’ll just go.” Five o’clock was only half an hour away and she sat, incidentally, in the manicured park that abutted the forest preserve. She wasn’t dressed for a wedding, in her stretchy black pants, blouse, and flats, but then, if her hosts wanted her dressed appropriately, they should have sent the message hours ago, and perhaps by e-mail.

Dog-earring her book, Suzie marched across the turf towards the forest path, oblivious to the other park-goers having their pleasures. The grass felt springy and light beneath her shoes, and she had the sudden urge to remove them, so she did. My, she was having strange fancies today. But the grass was lush as a carpet to her bare feet, and even the path, when she gained it, only a little gravelly and coarse.

She walked along into the forest. It was more luscious than she had ever seen it, thick green algae carpeting fallen logs, branches clustered close with shiny green leaves, wildflowers peeking up between the brambles. A heady scent soon had her feeling calm and comfortable, even as she diverted from the forest path and made her own way into the depths of the forest. Where was she going? Well, her feet seemed to know, so she followed them, even as the tiniest blip of a warning signal buzzed in her brain, alerting her that something strange was going on.

She lost her book somewhere in the process of climbing over a fallen tree. “Oh bother,” she said, but didn’t mind it much. It wasn’t a terribly compelling book, and she could always get another. She continued to scramble with bare feet and hands over fallen logs, through questionable patches of plants, until she seemed to be in quite an old part of the forest. The trees here scraped the sky and their girth could have accommodated a small car, and between them it was all lush thick foliage, fiddle ferns and other primordial plants. Suzie was just despairing of growing lost when she caught a glow out of the corner of her eye.

At last! The wedding! Suzie clamored towards the glow and found herself very suddenly in a clearing hung with fairy lights. Two sections of chairs had been fitted up for the guests, leaving a central aisle studded with wildflowers. A tinkling music lilted over the crowd from seemingly nowhere.

And what a crowd it was! There was a shirtless man with a faun’s legs; a woman adorned in rushes and reeds, dripping as though she had just emerged from a pond; a person with skin the color and texture of river rocks. And more, until Suzie realized she was staring and that she should take her seat; it was almost five o’clock, and the wedding would be beginning. She chose the left side, and sat primly next to a lady in a mouldering wedding gown. Well, now, that was a bit of a faux pas, wasn’t it? At least Suzie was wearing black.

Just as Suzie’s watch buzzed the hour against her wrist, the music crescendoed and floated into the familiar wedding march. When Suzie wasn’t paying attention, a man had appeared at the end of the aisle. He would have seemed ordinary, except for his pointed ears and unusual attire, a black suit that could have been comfortable in a museum, covered in cobwebs, and black lip stain that emphasized the pallor of his skin. He stood in wait next to a man with antlers who seemed to be playing the role of priest. My, what interesting costumes! Suzie wished she’d had advanced notice. She loved to play dress-up.

Then from the midst of the forest came the lady. She was radiant in a white gown studded with the palest pink flowers, roses and rhododendrons, whose train, when she reached the front, covered the length of the aisle. She too had pointed ears and creamy-pale skin that set off long strawberry blond tresses. Glittering dust gave her skin an intense luster that had Suzie blushing in her seat.

She and the cobweb man looked into each other’s eyes as though no other people existed in the world.

The man with the antlers announced, “My friends, we are gathered here today to witness the union of Celestine and Noxfern. May their blessings be many, their troubles few, and their table always full.”

The antlered man took from his pockets a length of scarf that he used to tie together the forearms of Celestine and Noxfern.

“May the gods grant legitimacy to their union and luck to their life!”

The guests clapped, so Suzie clapped too. She seemed to come back into her body; the wedding had transfixed her.

The antlered man beckoned with a hand. “Susan Price, please approach the front. Our special, our honored guest.”

Me? Suzie mouthed, and when the antlered man nodded, she quickly left her seat and tripped up to the front, where Celestine and Noxfern were smiling beatifically. The bride and groom bared sharp, pointed teeth.

Said the groom, “Ah, my dear, here has arrived our dinner.”

Then they lunged.

BY @sarcasmlemons