Three Books that Don’t Suck

Hey so remember back a couple of weeks ago when I said that I read a shitton of books during my five-month hiatus? Turns out some of them were actually really good!

ON THE EDGE OF GONE by Corinne Duyvis
On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
January 29, 2035.

That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?
I feel like this is the book that I’m going to have the least to say about, because while I liked it – really liked it, was on the edge of my seat reading it, got kinda misty-eyed at the end – a lot its effectiveness came from the fact that I knew very little about it going in. I didn’t even know which genre it would settle on! Gritty grimdark post-apocalyptic? Space adventure? Bloodless chronicle of the end of the world? A Melancholia-esque fatalistic drama? I had no goddamn clue even 90% of the way into book, and because of that, everything was more tense, the dangers more real. I don’t want to go into detail about this one because I think “clueless” makes for the optimal reading experience.

I will say that I liked this book a lot. The protagonist, Denise, was a compelling character, and I felt her family plight on a fuckin’ spiritual level. Her arc is thoughtful and…and a bunch of other things I can’t say without ruining it. Spoiler tag? Spoiler tag (highlight to read).

“Hopeful” is what I wanted to say, and it’s what I liked most about this book. On the Edge of Gone is an optimistic depiction of the most depressing situation a person could ever have to deal with. I mean “comet apocalypse” is a fucking nightmare just to think about. You’re staring down the barrel of extinction, the planet is done for, there’s no way you can save everyone, and some people have an even worse chance than others. Even the ones who do manage to survive might never see their loved ones again, and also ALL OF THE DEAD ANIMALS SOB.

But unlike literally every other apocalypse book I’ve ever read – which take a catastrophe use it as an excuse to demonstrate the “true nature of humanity” i.e. people doing TERRIBLE things to one another in the name of survival – On the Edge of Gone has faith. Not like, religious faith, but faith in humanity and its ability face the end of everything with dignity and compassion.

I can see where this might stray into “unbelievable” territory for some, but I loved it. I was surprised and thoroughly gratified every time a character chose to be kind, and not murderous.

So, hopeful. Denise finding her place, finding her people, finding her family. Humanity banding together to fight for survival instead of competing for it. The generation ship agreeing to stay in orbit and support the ones left behind instead of abandoning them to start over somewhere new. It’s an aspirational resolution, and I’m cool with that. Write the world you want to see and whatnot. Plus, it was still REALLY emotionally effective. Turns out, you don’t have to kill everyone to make your readers feel things!


Also, this book was diverse as fuck. We’ve got gay characters, trans characters, black and brown characters, a neurodivergent protagonist!!, and I thought they managed to effectively walk that fine line between homogenization and stereotype. Everyone was all allowed to be a full and participating character without having their differences/identities/marginalizations erased. And Denise! I’m not an expert on autism, but Denise was a boss-ass heroine and her perspective, struggles, and thought processes felt real. I found an article in which Corinne Duyvis talks about her goals and experiences in writing Denise (suitably un-spoilery), and fwiw, I think she accomplished those goals beautifully.

So yeah I really liked this one. Don’t let anyone tell you anything about anything, just get the book and read it. And don’t forget the tissues.

four stars


BORDERLINE by Mishell Baker
Borderline by Mishell Baker
A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.

For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she’ll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble’s disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.

No pressure.
UGH Borderline was SO GOOD YOU GUYS. Stripped down it’s got a pretty standard urban fantasy crime-of-the-week plot, but everything about the execution makes it feel completely different from any other UF book I’ve read before.

“Faerie” is the sub-genre of choice for this one, and the hook is that in this world, humans have “echoes”, or faerie counterparts that function as a sort of soulmate/muse hybrid. When a human and their echo meet, they establish a magical symbiotic bond, in which the flighty, chaotic fae gains some human rationality and mental stability, and the human is able to tap in to dat sweet sweet faery creativity.

Borderline is set in Hollywood, where this functionally translates to “famous creative people have faerie buds”, and those creatives fund the Arcadia Project, a sort of diplomatic service that monitors all things fae.

It’s a pretty neat combination of ideas! I love when diplomatic shit is involved, and the film industry stuff gives the novel a Hollywood-noir vibe that is just the best. The world-building was nicely paced and interwoven with the CotW plot (a missing persons case), which, while not totally unpredictable, kept the stakes high enough that I was always at least a little tense.

Really though I was 98% in this for the characters. Not that I didn’t enjoy the rest of it, but maaaaan that cast<3 Millie is the main character, and my absolute favorite kind of protagonist: an "unlikable" mess with all the agency in the world and no narrative judgement around to stifle her. Millie is allowed to be clever and aggressive and vulnerable and abrasive and awkward and talented and cruel and self-destructive, to screw up royally and hit rock bottom, and then work hard to fix her mistakes, all while uncovering some faery conspiracy shit!

It’s ~ w o n d e r f u l ~.

I know next to nothing about borderline personality disorder, so you know, grain of salt, but as far as I could tell the portrayal seemed reasonable and respectful. It wasn’t some magical mental illness bullshit, but neither were the BPD or her physical disabilities forgotten when they became inconvenient. The book really felt like it engaged with Millie’s physical and mental state. It meticulously portrayed the everyday aspects of her conditions, and the ways in which they informed her character and her choices. I really liked that.

Even putting Millie aside, I want novellas about like every single one of these side characters and villains. The cast got varying levels of development in this book, but even the ones with limited screen time felt real, and like a person, not a stereotype or prop. This book is also diverse as fuck, with characters of varying ethnicities, physical ability, and neuro-typical-ness, and like Millie, they all felt informed by these aspects of their identities.

There’s not anything I hated – not even the romantic stuff, although it was sparse, so we’ll see how THAT goes in book two – but I was kind of bothered by the body count in the climax. I mean, I appreciate how fucking costly it was for our heroes to save the day, but so many of those interesting, diverse characters got wiped, and it felt like a waste. I’m hoping there will be some follow-up on that in the sequel. Fingers crossed.

I’ve gone on way longer than I intended, but the tl;dr is that this book is the kind of UF that I want to read forever and always, and I can’t wait for book two. It is rad and you should purchase it immediately.

four stars


SORCERER TO THE CROWN by Zen Cho
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Magic and mayhem collide with the British elite in this whimsical and sparkling debut.

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.

But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…
Okay so look, I genuinely liked all of the books I’ve talked about so far, they were all good, and I love all my children equally, etc, etc, but really Sorcerer to the Crown is my favorite. It was so fun, and also basically tailor-made for me: Jane Austen but with MAGIC and a sweet, awkward, prim-and-proper black hero, and a sly, clever, shamelessly ambitious South Asian heroine, who fight against oppression and fall in love????? AND IT’S EVEN WRITTEN IN YE OLDE REGENCY STYLE?

PARTY TIME
THE BOOK GODS HAVE ANSWERED MY PRAYERS.

I love mmm, basically everything about this book. I love the way that the world is put together, with the magic and the dragon familiars, and the non-magical-warfare treaties between England and France, and the relentless magical politicking. I love that the plot is serious and important and has potentially devastating political consequences, but that there’s still room for talking caterpillars and lecturing dragon aunties and witty banter. I love the characters, OH MY GOD did I love the characters.

The male lead, Zacharias, is Sorcerer Royal, the highest-ranking magician in Britain, who gained the position when his mentor, the previous Sorcerer Royal, died mysteriously. He’s also a black man in Regency England, so like nobody in the magical establishment wants him around, much less running things. Zacharias has to deal with all manner racist bullshit on top of the potentially politically devastating overarching plot, with little to no support and ALL OF THE OPPOSITION. Poor bb.

Zacharias’s personal arc is pretty rough, too, as he tries to find a way to reconcile his relationship with his mentor and his life as the Sorcerer Royal with his own complicated feelings about them. The stuff with his mentor is particularly difficult, but really gratifying to see acknowledged and addressed. This book feels pretty fluffy, initially, but there’s more weighty, meaningful shit in here than I’ve seen in lots of other books that take themselves way more seriously.

Also Zacharias is a goddamn DOLL. He’s sweet and gentlemanly and SO FLUSTERED by the force-of-nature women that come into his life. Like Prunella.

OH PRUNELLA YOU GUYS. Prunella is the co-narrator of the book, and she gets the more typical fantasy hero origin plot, as a naturally gifted orphan sorceress who discovers her powerful magical heritage. But Prunella WORKS that cliche premise, because she only gives a fuck about her magical destiny as far as it will secure her economic future. I live for this girl’s drive and shameless self-interest. Magic is rad and all, but it’s not gonna keep her off the streets and out of the poorhouse, so when Prunella learns that she has an inheritance of super-rare magical artifacts, her first thought is “HOW CAN I SELL THIS SHIT TO GET SOME CASH?”

Well, second thought. Prunella DOES get an emotional arc as well, which is set off when she’s shown, somewhat abruptly, that her “place” in the world isn’t what she thought it would be, and certainly isn’t what she deserves. She has to secure a better future for herself, by any means necessary.

It’s also worth mentioning that while Prunella and Zacharias face similar social obstacles, as non-white people in a white supremacist society, the ways in which they opt to deal with them are completely different. Zacharias holds his tongue, turns the other cheek, and does his best to play nice, because he knows that his anger, however justified, will be used as evidence of his inferiority. Prunella, on the other hand, gives no fucks. She knows that she deserves more than society is willing to give her, and she has no qualms about saying so. There are moments where you think she’s going to be hurt by what people think of her, as a woman and as a brown person and as a brown woman, but instead she just laughs at the utter ridiculousness of it all, and goes on her merry way. While it’s glorious to see in action, I liked the characters had varying survival strategies, and weren’t shamed for them.

I see Prunella get a lot of hate online for her ambition and her self-confidence and audacity, and it ANGERS ME SO. I’m SO HAPPY to be able to read a series with a heroine like this, and I want it to happen more, so y’all need to take you misogynistic ideas of how a female character should act, and stuff them. Prunella is the best, and if you don’t like her, you are categorically wrong, please come back when you have better taste.

So Prunella is awesome, and Zacharias is ADORABLE, and THEIRS IS THE KIND OF ROMANCE I WANT MORE OF. This is one of the few relationships where I feel like the characters are actually equals, but not gender-swapped versions of one another. They have different strengths and weaknesses, and those traits compliment one another – Zacharias is disciplined and chill, studious and polite; Prunella is powerful and ambitious, charming and quick-witted. THEY’RE BASICALLY THE PERFECT LOVERS/CRIME FIGHTING TEAM AND I WANT THEM TO HAVE THEIR OWN BUDDY COP SHOW WHERE THEY RUN AROUND SOLVING MAGICAL MYSTERIES.

And once again we’ve got a rad cast of side characters who are funny and interesting and badass and I would talk about them more but then I’d just be talking about every scene in the book that I liked, and I’m trying to keep this quick, so really, you should just go read this book. Go read this book now, and be assured that it has men and women of color (and some white folks) helping one another and being friends and mentors, fighting the white patriarchy and overturning the status quo. It’s got sadness and sacrifice and bad-ass magic fights, inter-dimensional politics, DRAGONS AND MERMAIDS AND SHIT, an adorable romance, and a fucking A+ satisfying ending that will hopefully be the start of something beautiful.

READ THIS. READ IT NAO SO THAT IT’S EVEN MORE RIDICULOUSLY SUCCESSFUL AND WE GET A THOUSAND MORE LIKE IT, KTHNX.

five stars


 

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