Five Mini Reviews, Part II

How is it already mid-February (and time for another five mini reviews)? This round of reviews includes two books I really loved, and a few I wished I enjoyed more than I actually did.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell
One of those books that has some objective flaws, but that I had too much fun reading to care. I enjoyed the sci-fi and mystery elements, but the highlight for more was definitely the slow-burn romance between Kiem and Jainen; miscommunication as a trope is very risky, but here it was the good kind of painful as both characters worked through the various personal traumas they carried into their arranged marriage. Maxwell uses various romance tropes to great effect to showcase the characters’ shifting dynamic over time. 4.5/5

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite being more renowned for his long fiction, Tchaikovsky is responsible for two of my favourite novellas in the past twelve months, this one being the second. It’s a pretty simple concept – sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – but I loved how Tchaikovsky played with the language barrier between Lynesse and Nyr, and the idea that we all interpret meaning in different ways. It’s also – surprisingly – the best book I’ve read about clinical depression that I can remember, as Nyr struggles to keep his brain chemicals in check with the help of medical aids, while doing his anthropological duties and trying not to suffer under the weight of being the last of his kind on this particular planet. It does suffer for balance, due to Lyn’s POV being essentially standard epic fantasy fare and therefore far less engaging than Nyr’s, but it’s still an excellent read. 4/5

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
Valente is an an author I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and I definitely admire her chops – there is a lot of wit in this story about Eurovision in space. Too much, in fact; it takes a long time to establish who the main character even is, and it’s quite clear that they’re of secondary interest compared to various tangents that poke at some pretty uncomfortable truths about 21st century British society, but also seem designed to show off exactly how smart the author is. Also, there was way less singing than I would have expected from a (literal) space opera. 2.5/5

The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
Martha Wells is an author I admire greatly and this book came highly recommended, but sadly it wasn’t for me. There’s some really excellent world-building: it feels expansive, and it’s full of non-human shifters that genuinely feel alien in perspective. But I never connected with any of the characters and didn’t find the plot particularly compelling either. 3/5

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
I finally came back to this series almost two years after I read (and enjoyed) the first book. It still has all the things I enjoyed about book #1 – the fast-paced plot, the seamless blend of Arabic and Roman influences, the well-executed plot twists – and I found myself easily re-immersed in the world. That said, I found the villains rather cartoonish; there’s a lot of deaths in this book that feel like the mass murder equivalent of the evil dude kicking the dog. 4/5

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