In Which I Admit That the Books I Hate Aren’t COMPLETELY Terrible (yes, it was hard)

So, I have a few books that one could call my arch-nemeses. There are books I strongly dislike, and then there are books that came into my house, punched me in the face, and stole my dog. (Actually, I’m just a drama queen.) I’m here to talk about the latter! In a strange way, I kind of love them. I mean, I hate them, but I love them, so why not talk about them? I just want to talk about the good things these books had going for them and why, ultimately, those good things weren’t enough to get me to like them. Poor books.

Sarah came up with this idea, and it was too good for me to pass up. So I stole it.

Six of Crows

That’s right! Because I like to start things off with a bit of spicy controversy, I’m here to bash the book community’s fave.

I mean, say good things. That’s what we’re here for.

I like that Inej was Romani-coded? It’s sad, but I’ve hardly ever seen Romani main characters. They’re usually relegated either to the MyStIcAl side characters or else to the eeeevil vagrant role. Sometimes both, for good measure! So yeah, I liked that this book actually gave Inej a real, major role.

I also liked…

Hold on. Let me think.

Okay, okay, I’ll be fair. I actually liked or at least didn’t mind most of the side characters. Inej, the deuteragonist, was underdeveloped with poorly written trauma, but her basic concept was good. I couldn’t connect with Jesper, but again, I think the basic concept was good, and he wouldn’t need nearly as much fleshing out in order to get me to like him as Inej. I actually genuinely liked Wylan and Matthias! I’ll always (sometimes) have a hankering for the cute, soft characters, so Wylan was nice, and Matthias was the one character I would say was genuinely fleshed-out and complex. I legit loved Matthias! He was cool! And yeah, he did a lot of stupid things and had kind of violent tendencies, but I think it definitely made sense in context with his backstory. I like characters who go through some kind of conflict. Especially characters who realize they’re on the wrong side and slowly realize they have to leave behind everything they were taught. Just…God, I will always love that kind of arc.

(As a side note, it’s been a while since I read this, but I cannot remember one personality trait Nina had? Did she have any??)

Anyway, I don’t think I’d hate this book at all if it weren’t for the fact that I wanted to punt the smirking edgelord of a hero across the Pacific the whole time I was reading. (Did Kaz smirk? He seems like the sort of guy who would smirk.) Now, I don’t think I would have liked it even without Kaz–I personally didn’t find a lot of depth to the story–but Kaz did a LOT to tip my feelings over the edge.

Also, I just love gratuitous glorified torture scenes!! 😍 We stan complex handlings of violence. (And the anti-Asian racism–I’m SORRY I know I’m supposed to be saying good things.)

In conclusion, I stan Matthias and kind-of Wylan and would ditch everyone else.

The Cruel Prince

Madoc. Madoc was the only good part of this book and I stand by what I said. The book kept trying to tell me he was sooo violent and unmanageable but he was actually the most reasonable and intelligent character in the book? I still agree with what I said in my review about how he should have been the protagonist of the story. Also, he’s the only character who actually, you know…does stuff?

I also like the premise of this story! Human girl takes over fairy kingdom is not a bad plot at all. I just wish there were more actually-taking-over-the-kingdom parts and less vaguely rapey parts.

Red Riding Hood

Actually, you know what, there were no good parts of this book. Throw the whole thing away.

I reviewed it, sort of

Snow Like Ashes

Oh God.

I hated this one for the girl-hate and the dissing of sewists. And also Meira was a brat and the soldiers fighting for the villain were demonized even though they were literally magically brainwashed?? Apparently? I guess? And the plot was the most cliche high-fantasy plot you can come across 😷

I read this when I was young, so it has been a while, but I thought the concept of dividing kingdoms into seasons was very cool. Like sure, it’s not actually possible if you apply logic to it, but fantasy doesn’t always work off of logical assumptions! Also, I liked how the people from Winter had white hair and were immune to the cold, especially because I would also like to be immune to the weather.

Also, THERON OR THEON OR WHATEVER HIGH-FANTASY NAME HE HAD. HE WAS THE BEST. I stan my poet prince! He literally was so unproblematic and just wanted to help people, and was so good at connecting with people on an individual level 💙 But of course Meira went for the cardboard one instead.

The Belles

The fat queer character got killed off in a really graphic and unnecessary way, but I mostly just disliked it because every character (aside from the fat queer character who died) was flat. And the worldbuilding wasn’t that developed, either?

But! I don’t really have strong feelings about this book one way or the other. I mean, I didn’t like it, but there wasn’t a lot I hated, either. I do think that, while the world was underdeveloped, the story definitely created a strong atmosphere? I liked that. Also, it was nice to have a black mc in a fantasy novel! (Do I capitalize the words black and white when referring to ethnicity? Google keeps giving me conflicting answers and I’m so confused.) Having a black main character in a fantasy shouldn’t be something that’s unusual, but unfortunately I feel like black mcs in fantasy can be a little hard to come across. (They’re definitely there, though!) Either that or else I’m looking in the wrong places.

I don’t even hate this book, I just dislike it. So it shouldn’t even be on this list, but I needed a way to pad out that word count somehow ❤

Strange the Dreamer & Muse of Nightmares

I said on Goodreads that this duology felt like a fever dream, and I stand by what I said! It was long-winded and just sooo problematic >.< The handling of slavery and sexual assault was low-key abysmal? I mean, Eril-Fane was okay, but Ruby being implied to assault slaves was not as quirky as the story thought it was! And Lazlo was such a Mary Sue, my God. Anyway, this and The Cruel Prince are my favorite books to hate! (I have favorite books to hate because I’m an incredibly hateful person.)

I think some of the concepts set up in this book were very, very cool. I still love the idea of the ghost bird, and I love the idea of someone who can manipulate dreams! I’d kind of like to write a character with dream powers myself someday. Also, I loved the library and I kind of wish the whole book could have taken place there!

Eril-Fane is the king of character development and you cannot tell me otherwise. He deserved a better book. He deserved to be the protagonist. I love him! (And frankly, I’m kind of salty over the fact that the narrative kept dragging him over the coals for killing those kids. Which sounds like an absolutely RIDICULOUS thing to say out of context, but seriously, he had no reason to believe that the kids wouldn’t be super-powered montrous spawns of Satan. His decision definitely made sense in context with both what Eril-Fane knew at the time and with everything he had been through, and he was just trying to prevent his country’s people from going through systematic mass rape and murder again. In fact, you know what? The kids we saw were spawns of Satan. I say Eril-Fane should have killed more kids and we should all respect his right to kill kids–is that a mob with pitchforks and torches I see outside my window?)

And the way science/alchemy (kind of the same thing in this world) was portrayed in this was beautiful and amazing and it should have!! been the focus of the book!! The science was waay more interesting than any magic systems the book had. But really, I think the author honestly got the magical, wonderful nature of science that a lot of people miss. (Including me. I FAILED at science.)

I loved Thyon, but I have no idea if I would have latched onto him if there were other good characters who had screen-time. (My king Eril-Fane deserved SO much more screen-time *cries*) There were…a lot of things that went wrong, to say the least, but his arc was so compelling! But yeah, I liked him because he was mentally ill and queer thank GOD I have Wei Wuxian to fill that need now he was a fairly unique take on a character type I love! Give me all the cold-hearted characters who realize they have feelings, okay? Some of his scenes were really emotional, especially in the second book? I wish the whole book could have been like the best Thyon scenes.

Anyway, there’s a lot I like about this book, which is why I hate it so much. There’s nothing I hate more than something I wish I could like. What was it Cardan said? ‘I hate you so much all I can think of is you?’ ‘I hate you so much I can barely breathe?’ Something like that? But I have a simple plan to fix this book, and all disaster can be averted! Except not, because it’s already published. But oh well!

anyway, I think the story should have been a trashy, problematic gay romance between Lazlo and Thyon. That, cutting most of the purple prose, and adding in some adventure would have made this one of my favorites. As well as cutting the weird parts with the sexual assault, the unhandled xenophobia and internalized homophobia (seriously, a word of advice to people out there, if you aren’t going to handle important topics and devote time to them please do not put them in your story), and the weirdly ableist bits. Then we would have the perfect story.

Or, you know, it could have just been a tasteful novel about Eril-Fane and Azareen and that would have been great.

Anyway, while you guys are absolutely not allowed to read my Strange the Dreamer review because it was my first review and it was TERRIBLE, here’s my Muse of Nightmares review

The Guinevere Deception

This isn’t a book I hate, more one that I have strongly mixed feelings about, but I put this here so I can say one thing:

MORDRED.

That is all.

Many thanks to Sarah for letting me borrow her idea! I literally had so much fun with this. I feel like this was more of a roast than actually saying good things about the stories, but oh well.

Muse of Nightmares; a review, in which bad decisions Were Made (by me, I made all the bad decisions here)

Trigger warning for brief discussion of sexual assault and harassment

This book was…rather infuriating.

There, I said it. I am aware that this is entirely my fault. No, I should not have read this. Yes, I should have known better. Yes, I am an idiot and tried to read it anyway.

*sobs* Why am I so stupid, I honestly thought this book would be better than the first one and have better pacing and writing and stuff I’m a MORON

I honestly gave Thyon waay too much credit in my review of the previous book. Why did I fall for the classist jerk? He’s kind of a moron. Also, HE DIDN’T NEED TO STEAL LAZLO’S BOOKS. HE COULD HAVE ASKED FOR THE FREAKING PRIMARY SOURCES, WHICH PROBABLY WOULD HAVE BEEN EASIER TO SIFT THROUGH THAN SOME COLLEGE STUDENT’S DERANGED SCRIBBLINGS. Anyway, I was way too nice to h–

Strange, a god? Through all his musing, Thyon had not allowed those words to scrape against each other. “That’s absurd,” he said tightly.

Calixte agreed, though for a different reason. Thyon objected to the notion that Lazlo could be divine, powerful.

Oh. OH. I remember why I love him now. It also really doesn’t help that he’s the only character who gets called out for his bad behavior. The others, who sometimes do horrific things, do not. Yeah, it’s possible I wouldn’t have liked him in a better book, but I like him in comparison to the others. Okay. Yeah, we’re already getting off to a good start.

There were still a couple of things I liked. Eril-Fane was definitely the high point of this story. He’s a person who has suffered, but who is still going to step up and do the right thing, even if he doesn’t always know the right thing is. He’s such a brave person, and he should have been the main character. He was ten times more interesting than everyone else combined. There, I said it. He’s amazing. I do have a problem with his character arc, though, specifically in regards to how the arc handles trauma-induced fear of touching people. Why does fiction treat this like some deal-breaking thing in a relationship? I have a huge problem with Azareen saying that he’s not exactly her husband. HE LITERALLY KILLED A GOD FOR YOU, AZAREEN. I’M PRETTY SURE HE LOVES YOU. Sometimes your husband goes through horrible trauma and can’t touch you anymore, and you have to live with them and love them anyway. It happens. Aside from that, I’m pretty happy with Eril-Fane’s arc, though. That was an annoying note, but the rest of his arc was really good.

I thought the pacing in this book was better! That’s not saying much, though, considering the pacing of the first book, and there were still parts in this that dragged. But stuff happened, and the periods of time where stuff did not happen were not as common as before. I think the writing was also better; the placement of adjectives was more careful, and there weren’t nearly as many places where I had to slow down to try to figure out what the author was trying to say. In fact, there were scenes in this that really gripped me. I LOVED the scenes with Nova. Nova was amazing and also would have been a better contender for the role of main character than Lazlo Strange.

(In fact, I have a list of characters who would have made better main characters than Lazlo Strange. I’ll let you guess everyone on that list. I think I’ve made my opinions clear.)

Lazlo and Sarai, as in the previous book, were incredibly boring. It certainly didn’t change in this book. I don’t understand why on earth anyone would fall for someone just because he has nice dreams. I have nice dreams sometimes, Sarai. Are you going to make a value judgement on me based off of that? The foundation of their relationship is incredibly flimsy, so when Lazlo considers risking an entire city for her, it’s painful to watch. Especially since they’ve only known each other for what, three weeks? Also, don’t…Please don’t make out in the room where Sarai’s mother raped people for two hundred years. That’s like making out in fantasy Auschwitz.* It’s gross.

*Do note that I do not lightly compare things to Auschwitz. I just can’t think of another place with as bad a connotation as the room in the story would have in the setting.

And Thyon’s character arc. Oh my goodness. It kind of felt like…Like I guess if the author tried to make me a cake, but she didn’t know which kind of cake I liked, so then she made me a coconut cake and coconut cake makes me gag. So now I’m left with a cake I can’t eat and a feeling of vague discomfort.

Tell me if this sounds like a good idea, okay? Let’s take a character. He’ll be a rich aristocrat and the vehicle we use to talk about classism, xenophobia, and sexism. But wait! He’ll also be gay, mentally ill, and an abuse survivor! There’s no way this can go wrong!

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that cute romantic bickering should never, ever consist of Ruza telling Thyon, ‘Hey, last time we spoke you seemed vaguely xenophobic, and why are you cutting yourself, lol that’s so weird.’ It makes both Ruza and Thyon look terrible. The whole scene seems so ableist! It is bad, bad writing. Also? Also, if Ruza lists several very good reasons as to why he dislikes Thyon and follows it up with, ‘and he’s so pretty he doesn’t look real, what a loser,’* it’s not cute, okay? It gives off the impression that Ruza is only into Thyon for Thyon’s looks (which was the impression I was getting throughout the novel, tbh, because I can’t think why else Ruza would be into him). And I don’t actually care if you’re deriding someone for being too ugly or too pretty. Negative comments on someone’s personal appearance ain’t cute, Ruza. Don’t do it.

*All dialogue in this paragraph is paraphrased. Obviously.

(Also, allow me to say that if Ruza really loved Thyon, he would have gotten him gloves when they worked with rope. True love doesn’t bandage your hands after the fact. True love gets you gloves.)

Oh, and remember how I liked Calixte in the last book? Yeah, I don’t…Why on earth did she ask Thyon if he was a virgin and if he was gay? Actually, I know why. She did it in order to get under his skin. That’s scummy. It’s especially unforgivable to me since Thyon comes from a homophobic society. I just…don’t like how Calixte handled any of this, and she never had a moment where she sat down and realized that she might have been unkind. Ruza also never sat down and discussed Thyon cutting himself and apologized for not taking it more seriously. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if Thyon apologized for how he treated Ruza, either?? At least the narrative treated Thyon’s wrongdoings as horrible, though, and he had actual consequences. Ruza and Calixte never got even that.

Also, I just…do not remember any of Thyon’s alleged xenophobia from the previous book? It’s possible I just missed it. It was a long book and I tended to ignore out-of-character actions anyway. I don’t have a copy on hand, so I can’t check, but if it was not mentioned in the previous book, then just…Yeah. Okay. Racism is a wonderful trait to give a character last minute, especially right before you get him together with the brown character. And I certainly never noticed Thyon being weird to Ruza in this book (please correct me if I was an idiot and missed something), so…why was this in there? The only thing the ableism and racism do for the story is to make the romance uncomfortable and awkward. Both characters deserve better.

I also love how Sarai criticizes Thyon for having nightmares. He probably has nightmares because he has PTSD, Sarai. Why on earth would you…I don’t know anymore. I don’t know why someone would be like this. She’s seen the effects of PTSD before! She has no right to judge someone for having nightmares! I guess if the trauma isn’t caused by her parents, it doesn’t matter? I don’t know. It’s a bad book.

Yeah, I don’t…I don’t really like Sarai. Is she just mad at Thyon because he interrupted her makeout scene with Lazlo in the last book? That’s the only thing that makes sense. I love Thyon for that, by the way. He may be a problematic fave, but he’s my problematic fave who saved me from the terrible makeout session.

I HATED that Minya was given a redemption arc. She’s an abuser and a slaver. She gaslights Sarai, she took away Sarai’s medicine in the first book, and she threatens to kill Sarai for good. And she’s literally enslaved hundreds of people. This isn’t a character you redeem. There’s a reason why some villains are only redeemed in death, okay? The things they have done are so awful that the narrative CAN’T let them live. They can’t feasibly make their way back into society. Also, was it just me, or did the narrative extend more sympathy to her than to Thyon? You…You know, the mentally ill queer abuse survivor who has not enslaved anyone? It was…uncomfortable.

Ruby and Feral were AWFUL, as they were in the previous book. Ruby gets upset at Feral at one point for not spying on her in the bath without her consent. Ruby also spies on Feral without his consent and Feral claims to be…happy about it. That wasn’t creepy at all. (It was that point when I knew I was never DNFing this book. I was going to see this to the bitter end so I could scream my rage into the void that was the internet.) Ruby and Feral are…fifteen. Honestly, Ruby is so weird that I’d almost think that it’s intentionally set up to show that Ruby has no morals and has been raised by wolves, basically. That would have been fine. The problem is that people from the outside do not seem to view her general behavior as odd. That is a big problem.

Apart from the creepy consent issues (and that’s a pretty big thing to ignore), I just…don’t really want to read about a fifteen-year-old exploring her sexuality? I’m pretty sure most fifteen-year-olds don’t want to read that, either? Am I wrong?

Also, just something personal that bothered me: Why are a bunch of characters in what I assume is a vaguely pan-West Asian setting referencing purgatory? Isn’t that a very specifically Catholic concept?

As for the stuff I liked…Well, as mentioned, I loved Eril-Fane and Nova, and I thought the scenes we saw from Thyon’s point of view were interesting, even though I hated how some of the issues were handled. Honestly, some of Thyon’s thought patterns got me. The way his anxiety was portrayed was realistic, even though I didn’t like how the other characters reacted to it. I think I would have liked it a lot better if Thyon could have come to his own personal realizations away from the main friend group, both for his sake and for Ruza’s. I did think that the scenes where Thyon learned humility were really powerful, despite my issues with the arc. And there were moments where I got lost in the story! Some scenes, particularly the ones with Nova, were enthralling. Overall, though, I think a lot of this story could have been better thought through, and a lot of it could have been made more interesting. I get why other people like it. I just…couldn’t get behind it.

You know what infuriates me the most, though? When I first started Strange the Dreamer, I thought Lazlo/Thyon was going to be a thing. Thyon really was introduced like a love interest! But as I kept reading, it soon became clear that Lazlo/Thyon was not, in fact, going to be a thing. Essentially, I was cheated out of two Renaissance era gay scholars–an alchemist and a historian–teaming up to save an ancient city in the enemies-to-lovers romance of the century. I was CHEATED of that, and no, I am not over this. I will never be over this.

[Edit: My sister was reading aloud a Lazlo/Sarai makeout scene and laughing at it, and apparently…Sarai’s…hearts and veins…started glowing? Anyway, I leave you with this:

(Source)
You know, if Sarai had actually been some Eldritch abomination, I would have liked it a lot better.

]

[Edit no. 2: Can I just say the way slavery was handled in this was HORRIBLE? Minya’s slaves were such an afterthought. Only three of Minya’s slaves were named. One had no lines, and the other two were villainized. Sarai briefly mentions that they really ought to free the slaves, and Lazlo hastens to reassure her that the slavery is not her fault. However, I never noticed her fighting very hard for the slaves’ freedom in either book, and she certainly wasn’t willing to sacrifice herself for them. I also notice that Nova, the woman who has freed many slaves, is villainized, while Sarai and her friends, who own slaves, are not. Essentially, what with Minya’s slavery and Ruby’s sexual assault*, both characters are doing the same thing their parents did while everyone else looks the other way. It is GROSS.

*For context, Ruby is described in the first book as forcing the slaves to kiss her and there’s this scene in the first book where she’s making out with her boyfriend and says something among the lines of “wow…his warm hands are so much better than the cold unwilling hands of the ghosts…” or whatever (I read that book when I was seventeen and I cannot remember if they were about to have sex or if they were just kissing, but the implications were still fucking weird either way. I’m pretty sure I thought they were about to have sex at the time, but I was seventeen and my reading comprehension was not great back then lmao). Anyway! That was creepy!]

Please do note that I do not blame the author for any of the stuff that bugged me. I don’t think anyone sets out to write a mentally ill queer character or a brown character with the intention of portraying them in an offensive or off-putting way (except for a few people, but let’s not go there). I don’t know the author personally, and it’s possible she’s a perfectly lovely person who just wrote something that annoyed me. It’s also certainly possible that some mentally ill queer people out there did enjoy the book! I just had problems with it, but my problems are with the book, not her.

I did get some fanfic out of this endeavour, because I did lowkey like the first book, so reading this duology wasn’t entirely pointless! Overall, though, it wasn’t really for me, and I should have known.

(As an addendum, since you could argue Eril-Fane is kind of a King Arthur figure–both characters are war heroes who killed children in an attempt to protect their kingdom, the comparison might be a stretch but whatever–can you IMAGINE how amazing Sarai would have been as a Mordred figure? I want Sarai who is an actual antiheroine instead of being ‘sympathetic’ and vaguely unpleasant. Minya does not count as a Mordred analogue btw, because for all Mordred’s flaws, he never enslaved anyone. Mordred is a good boy. Minya is not.)

Also, I am living in fear of the day the author announces that it was not, in fact, a duology and she’s writing a third book and then my stupid brain won’t let me leave the series unfinished, but hopefully that won’t happen (sorry, fans of this book)

Goodbye, 2019 (I didn’t think I would miss you, but I guess I kind of do)

I refuse to believe it’s 2020. I feel like, in some part of my brain, it’s still 1215 and we’re still talking about the Magna Carta and King Arthur and whatever it was we all talked about in 1215, I don’t know. But anyway, I decided to write a yearly recap of 2019 or somesuch. God knows why, because no one could be less interested in what I did this year than I am.

Or is that true? It’s true that, as of the past two months, things have been looking up. I’ve been writing far more. I’ve been (astonishingly) learning lots of things. I’ve found books I love, and have been, in general, interacting with my life more. It figures that I only start liking the year once it’s almost over.

Life

Nah, I don’t really want to talk about this.

Okay, I turned eighteen this year! And I also did decently on my SATs. That’s…Is that all I did? I feel like I spent most of this year in hiding.

But hey, I started a blog! That’s something.

Reading

You know, sometimes I see people say, ‘so, I’ve hit such a massive reading slump lately. I’ve only read 5401 books this month,’ and I’m just…No! You people are doing fine, don’t beat yourselves up over it! Sometimes I only read two books a year!

Shockingly, I did not only read two books this year. Let’s see if I can get these in order (I may miss some):

This one was very good. This book is so delightfully quirky while still getting quite dark in places, and can I say that dark fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously is my favorite thing? I also loved the bi rep so, so much, and it came at a time when I needed it, too. I’ll admit I was a bit scared when I (accidentally) read a spoiler about Adam and Ronan, because I just couldn’t see how they would work well together? But Adam got a lot of character development in this book, and I actually like him now, and something about Ronan and him really do just click. I will admit that I do think their relationship could have been built up over the previous two books, but it still works.

And also like…the plot was good and whatever other boring stuff you want me to talk about, but we all know I’m really here for the ships.

I will say one thing, though: More could have and should have been done with Gwenllian. You can’t just drop a magical character from the 14th century there in your story and then leave her to her own devices.

Eh. The Raven King was okay, and the writing was still gorgeous as usual. But I can’t help but feel like the ending was pretty anticlimactic. I remember feeling, right after I finished it, that I wish the author had written a historical fantasy about Glendower instead. I don’t know why. (I guess it is kind of an unfair complaint to say, ‘I liked this book, but I wish the author had written a completely different book in a different genre.’) I think the history behind all the worldbuilding was the really, really fascinating thing about all this, and it’s the part of the story that is consistently underplayed.

Also, did Ronan…Did Ronan really make a racist joke behind his Asian friend’s back, or did I misread that? And Blue, who gets so up-in-arms about other stuff, was willing to just laugh it off? I hope I misread that. (I don’t have a copy on hand right now, so I can’t say for sure. It did jump out at me when I was reading it, though. I know someone else mentioned it too, so I assume I didn’t misinterpret because tired or something.) I mean, it’s definitely not unrealistic for a white boy from the south, but it is a bit…disappointing.

Yeah. It was an okay book. Definitely not perfect. I still love the other three books, though.

This was just a three star read. Maybe a two? I don’t know. It wasn’t the worst book ever, but I didn’t love it at all. I liked parts of it (the setting, a couple of the characters, how alchemy was portrayed), and I hated other parts (the fact that most of the cast was underdeveloped, among other things). I wrote a review of this, which was actually my very first book review? I’m unreasonably proud of the post, considering it’s terrible, but the review still does make me laugh, so that’s good.

On the bright side, I did write some fanfic for this, and the book got me to look up some stuff about chemistry and alchemy, so that’s excellent. Did you know that the science of chemistry actually comes out of alchemy? Darn it, now I wish I’d actually learned some more chemistry. I want to be an alchemist, too.

I actually did pick up the second book at the library, and so far it’s way worse than the first one. My plan is to power through on the sheer force of my own salt so I can write a review, but I may DNF it.

In case you’re wondering, the English title is Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation

So, objectively, this is a terrible book. Or, more accurately, there are very large peaks and dips in the quality. The plotting is excellent, and it can actually get very suspenseful and creepy sometimes. The romance is freaking cringey. Like, it’s probably a Shatter Me on the levels of books that I like, as in, this got a LOT of emotions out of me at five in the morning, but is it good? Would I read it again? Nah.

But this is also the first book I’ve ever read with a bi main character. And I know it’s kind of stupid to look for representation in a Boy’s Love novel, from everything I’ve heard about the genre, but–I don’t think it was terrible? It wasn’t the best ever, but I don’t think it was terrible. And the characters honestly seem to love each other and have a lot of chemistry and they don’t die at the end. So I think that was what caused my unreasonably happy reaction over this book.

(Note that I am not averse to queer main characters dying at the end, as long as it’s because they’re going up against the evil empire and there was no way out of that alive, and not because one character dies of AIDS and the other jumps off a cliff because something something homophobia. Just like…don’t make it tacky. But it’s still incredibly nice when queer characters don’t die.)

I will say that I think the denouement is the weakest part of the book. Sex scenes are nearly impossible to get right, and kinky sex scenes are not really my preferred thing to read–no shame to you if you like them, of course (I should note that I skimmed the sex scene hard after about a quarter of the way through it, so I can’t tell you much about the quality, except…it is difficult to make a sex scene appealing to me and this wasn’t any different). And I also skimmed through a couple of the post-credits short stories and it seemed like they were kinda shit, so I didn’t read them ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But I’m reviewing the novel here, not the short stories.

I also honestly cannot tell you if any parts of this novel were problematic, because I read this at five in the morning and my brain can not tell what’s problematic and what isn’t at five in the morning. Sorry.

Overall, I liked the book, but I’m not sure I’d read it again, just in case those happy memories were a lie.

A really excellent book overall, but I won’t say much here because I actually wrote a review and have yet to post it.

I LOVE THIS BOOK. Easily my favorite book of 2019. I do plan on writing a review, but just in case I don’t get it up, read this for demon butlers, stubborn librarians, and absentminded sorcerers. And also, the story has a Howl’s Moving Castle feel, and it’s just really amazing in general. Go read it.

I think that was all the fiction I read this year? I could have read more and forgotten, but I don’t know.

Writing

I barely wrote anything at the start of the year, but I’m starting to get back into the flow of things. I’ve actually started writing fanfiction, which I used to never write, and so far it’s really fun. I also put four short stories onto my blog! I was going to link them in this post, but then I realized I have a little page with their links up there at the top of this website. So you can check them out if you want to.

In case you were wondering about my opinion on them, which you probably weren’t, I think ‘Bran and the Bear’ and ‘The Skeleton Harp’ are the best written, technically speaking, but ‘Sepideh and the Jinni’ and ‘The King and the Courtier’ are my personal favorites. My opinion could change completely by next week.

I also finally learned how to actually plot things this year, I think. And I think my writing may be beginning to hold together better? Hopefully? Anyway, I love writing, and even though it tried to the best of its ability, 2019 did not get to change that.

Blogging

Obviously, I started a blog. I also posted some things on the blog, and I can’t really pick a favorite or even list my top favorites because I’m just that self-absorbed and like all of them, but I liked all my fairy tale and fairy tale-related stuff and also I reread my Cruel Prince review every time I want a laugh.

When I started this blog, I expected to consistently cringe over my posts a month after I put them out, but I actually don’t? It feels kind of nice to put my most badly-written self out on the internet. I mean, sure, my first couple of posts are objectively cringy, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ And some of them aren’t as bad as I thought they would be. I thought my post on Mordred and Guinevere’s relationship was terrible when I first put it out, but when I reread it a couple months ago, I didn’t think it was too bad. (Now, I could be completely delusional on this matter.) (Also, man did I used to overuse italics.)

I was thinking about listing my favorite bloggers like El did (with permission to take her idea, of course), but then I realized I’d have to list literally everyone I follow, so maybe not. You’re all great, seriously.

Anyway, screw it, despite the hard stuff, it has been a great year, and I’m so happy to make it to the end of it with you guys. Thank you for supporting me this year, and happy New Year!

Strange the Dreamer; a review in list format

Synopsis: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

I got Strange the Dreamer from the library, not knowing anything about it but still feeling a little bit skeptical, just because popular YA novels and I don’t seem to get along for some reason–I sound like such a snob, I know. I read the first five chapters on the way home, and I loved them. The writing was lush and descriptive. The characters weren’t the worst. (Maybe ‘characters weren’t the worst’ should have been the first sign.)

And then it all went downhill from there, and I gave it up at 50-75% and skimmed the rest.

Heh. Yes, I am hard to please. But I think I read enough of the book to form an opinion on it, and I just thought I’d post my thoughts anyway, for your enjoyment (or unenjoyment). And it’s in list format! Because I like lists! And I am sorry I didn’t like this book, I feel bad and hard to please. But I didn’t. And I’m slightly bitter.

So to sum up, this is very much a just-for-me post.

Nice Mothling (the things I like):

  • Ooh, the cover. Blue and gold are like my favorite. And it has moths! Heh heh.
  • It’s definitely not badly written. The prose is amazing. It’s like eating a cake. So many writers (including myself) completely forget description. This is coated in description, and it. is. Beautiful.
  • The worldbuilding has holes, but it is gorgeous. And I love the sort of surrealist magic that you see. The actual magic you see the characters doing wasn’t as interesting to me, but that is purely personal opinion. Maybe I’ll write an article about the types of magic I like seeing in books and the types of magic I’m tired of. And then I can proceed to go against everything I say in my own writing, because I love not following my own advice.
  • I’ve kind of had a taste for surrealist magic lately, and I love the demon bones and ghost birds. Those were cool.
  • The characters weren’t the worst, but I do wish she had focused on character dynamics more? Character dynamics are the one thing that will keep me from nitpicking. And this does tie back into the description, because I think she focused so much on description she let this fall to the wayside a bit? It’s a problem with description when it keeps the story from feeling in the present, and yes, that happens in this story. And I do sympathize, because mixing action and character and description is incredibly hard, and I have that very same problem. But it’s so so important to do. So no hate here, but I just feel like it could have done better?
  • I like Thyon, and he’s the only character I deeply connected to. He suffers and hurts and overworks himself. He sort of plagiarizes Lazlo’s work–Lazlo is the one who helped him make his breakthrough on alchemy and learn about the Unseen City, also known as Weep, and yet he never says that Lazlo is the reason why he got that far (it’s a bit…more complicated, but that’s a basic summary of what happened without going into all the lengthy details). But I still understand why Thyon did that in-story. That being said, there really are moments in the book where Thyon feels like a caricature, and I’m not sure why. For some reason it always happens when he’s not working on his alchemy? He needs to work on his alchemy 100% of the time, it’s the only time when he’s a relatable character, lol.
  • I also like how Thyon’s abuse is portrayed and how it isn’t treated as an excuse for the things he does. That is not addressed nearly enough in fiction. Yes, an abusive background can make a character’s actions more understandable in a novel, but sympathetic? Definitely not always. Your choices are still your own. There was a bit of unreality for me in the way Lazlo handled the abuse though. Lazlo’s reaction was basically, ‘Oh, he’s being abused! I feel bad for him and want to help him! Oh wait, he’s a jerkface. Never mind.’ Please give me more conflicting emotions. Or else have Lazlo feel like Thyon has no excuse since Lazlo went through sort of the same thing! That would be a more convincing reaction, too!
  • Can you tell Thyon is the only thing I like in this book? He’s such a bit-part character, it’s sad. Although why did he get two chapters introducing his backstory if he was going to fade into the background for most of the novel? It’s not my fault, the novel tricked me into thinking he was going to be a major character!
  • Why does Lazlo miss so many cues? I could see Thyon’s motivations for wanting to leave the city, and Lazlo just…couldn’t. Lazlo, it’s not rocket science, it’s obvious. Also, that’s where Thyon started feeling like a caricature. Exact point. He recovers later, but it’s a while later.
  • Having an unreliable narrator is hard, I know, but what you do is put in subtle cues and clues. Show me the desperation in Thyon’s eyes when he’s offered the chance to leave the city. Hint that he has a bigger motivation than what Lazlo attributes to him.
  • They could have shown Lazlo as being less ‘introverted’ and more ‘insanely socially awkward without a clue as to how to relate to people’. And it would have made more sense and I would have loved Lazlo ten times more.
  • Oh God, I’m complaining in the part where I’m supposed to be talking about the things I like, I’m sorry
  • Calixte is a queen, and I needed the rep right now, thanks. I appreciate that.
  • I like Sarai and friends much better than I expected. Most of them. Ahem.
  • And I do love how this book doesn’t do the, ‘oh, someone got raped! They never think about it again and it never gives them any more emotional trauma.’ Like, that stuff is scarring and this book treats it as such.
  • I do like that Lazlo is a little older than usual. I’m sick of teens who think exactly like 40-year-old adults.
  • Minya is a frightening murder-child yet she’s so broken and I like her, not as a person, but as a character. She was grating at first, but once I saw the chapter from her point of view…Oh. My heart.
  • “Lazlo thought they looked like a pack of ghosts on coffee break.” THAT IS A GREAT LINE.
  • WE NEED. MORE SCHOLARLY. CHARACTERS IN YA. Thyon is a very science-focused character, and Lazlo is a historian, and I love that. We do not get NEARLY enough of these types of characters in YA. In fact, this whole book read like a love-letter to academics, and I really, really appreciate that. Unfortunately, there were some ways in which academics were portrayed that were…not very realistic IMO, but who knows, I could be wrong. I am a smol moth without much life experience. Although honestly I would have just liked a book that focuses more on the research side of things while still managing to have some adventure? This was mostly adventure. I loved the Amelia Peabody series for that reason!

Angry Mothling (The things I nitpick, and for some of this, do keep in mind I could just be an ignorant little moth who doesn’t know how scholarly things work):

  • How the heck does Lazlo teach himself to read? I don’t know if no one’s ever done it before, but…let me just say I find it about as likely as the BFG stealing a book and teaching himself to read solely from that. Except Roald Dahl was writing a charming sort-of nonsensical story, so it’s okay in The BFG.
  • Which leads into the next problem—Lazlo, a poor kid with no college education, has managed to teach himself linguistics well enough to have reconstructed an entire dead language by the age of twenty. By himself. Along with a good portion of the dead culture.
  • I thought I would love reading scholarly wish fulfillment, but it turns out all I can do is scream. Maybe I’m just jealous.
  • Also, I have trouble believing that Lazlo is reconstructing a dead culture that no one else has ever done any scholarly work on—and he has no one to check his work—and there aren’t a bunch of ridiculous mistakes. Here is how this sort of thing works, in my experience: 1.) Someone comes along to an unexplored field and does work in it. 2.) They hit on some truths. 3.) They also come up with a lot of crazy and stupid theories. 4.) Other people come along, see the work that they did, and improve their mistakes. Conclusion; history–and science, and literally anything–isn’t done alone.
  • Or at least have someone else who’s also interested in Lazlo’s field and who can check his work! I vote Thyon. We need more Thyon scenes.
  • Also, finding a record of a sale for some immortality elixir is definitely not proof that immortality elixir was real, Lazlo. People bought unicorn horns back in the day. At least his boss does point out that he could be looking at something other than what he thinks he’s seeing, but I’m kind of surprised Lazlo didn’t go in with that mindset already. (I told you this was nitpicky!)
  • Okay, and then there’s the entire concept of the mythical city of Weep. Why is it a myth? If they have enough primary documents that Lazlo can reconstruct the entire language, no one in their right mind would consider that a myth! Am I missing something?
  • Also. Why do they have monasteries and cathedrals and a freaking concept of purgatory and yet they’re all pagan? Excuse me, I just have trouble believing that you could superimpose paganism onto the Christian trappings and not change those trappings a lot.
  • And the characters, ooh the characters…
  • I just don’t like Lazlo! His bad past never really affects him strongly, not in a mental or moral way. He grows up uneducated, yet by the time he’s twenty he’s reconstructed a whole dead language. He grows up being insulted and mistreated, yet he never seems to have any deep self-esteem issues or moral problems or any mental issues whatsoever. I genuinely don’t know why he didn’t have good parents, and it would have made much more sense if he had been raised by scholarly people who could have put him on that track. Not every character needs the stock orphan backstory. Some need to be orphans, some don’t. It wouldn’t have changed anything in the story or in his character if he had been raised by Hyrokkin (who is a great character).
  • We never even see him work for anything. His backstory is sort of brushed over—Thyon had a more emotional, heartwrenching backstory than him, and Thyon’s backstory was told in two chapters—so we never actually see him doing the work. We only see the results. We don’t see him getting frustrated and feeling like he’ll never be able to figure out this dead language, we only see him once he already has it down. We don’t see him doing the grueling labor and getting exhausted and hot in the desert, we only see him once he’s already fit and muscular. He doesn’t work hard enough. He doesn’t have enough setbacks.
  • Thyon, by contrast, you see putting in grueling hours into his alchemy and getting sick over it. And it’s weird to say he’s the one who works hard since he’s the one who sort of plagiarized the hero, but I mean in the sense of what you actually see the characters doing. You see Thyon struggling to get what he wants. And yet Thyon is only given the answers to his alchemy once Lazlo the god-librarian shows up at his doorstep. And proceeds to solve all his problems within the course of five minutes, even though it’s not Lazlo’s field of study.
  • Oh goodness, I wrote that joke about him being a god-librarian when I was halfway through the book, and let me just say, after having skimmed through to the end…AUTHOR NOOO
  • This novel should have had a smaller cast than it did, there were a ton of characters, but only a few were developed. Only a VERY few were fully developed.
  • There weren’t really any stakes in Lazlo’s chapters, but there were much higher stakes in Sarai’s chapters, and…it was like watching slice of life try to be action-adventure. It didn’t work. I ended up bored all through Lazlo’s parts, which was most of the book. It’d be fine if it were supposed to be slice of life, and I’d actually be interested in reading slice of life fantasy. But the novel wanted to be a high-stakes fantasy, and it couldn’t.
  • Sarai doesn’t show up until, like, 100 pages in, and their ship and the book suffers for it. I think the point where Lazlo and Sarai got together was the exact point I started skimming? Sarai should have been a fascinating character, and I liked her, just…for some reason, we didn’t entirely click? I liked her better than Lazlo, though. She actually has serious issues she has to deal with throughout most of the book (like not dying), which made her chapters much more interesting to read. I didn’t really expect to like her chapters the best.
  • Although…ALTHOUGH.
  • Ruby forced Feral to kiss her and I’m pretty sure it was played for laughs? I’ve been having trouble with YA recently for this reason. I know handling sexual assault and harassment is hard, but…Oh well, this definitely isn’t the worst portrayal I’ve seen in YA recently. Ow.
  • After I thought about it for a few minutes after reading, I realized that Ruby was doing the same thing with the ghosts? She mentioned kissing them, and it was definitely heavy making out. The ghosts are Minya’s slaves and magically bound to her will, and the girls can’t always tell when Minya is forcing the ghosts to do something or not. And even if the ghosts did want to, I would still seriously question Ruby for consenting to that in that situation.
  • If this was ever addressed as an issue, I didn’t see it. And badly mishandling issues like these can happen, I’m not saying the author is a bad person, I just wish someone had caught it. The author. The editors. SOMEBODY.
  • Ugh
  • Poorly handled sexual assault will be the reason I quit reading
  • And I almost missed this! Shame on me!
  • Back to Lazlo, because I don’t want to think about Ruby anymore.
  • Lazlo is special
  • “Their vivid faces showed their surprise—not because Lazlo had called out, but because he had called out in Unseen, and unlike Thyon, he didn’t treat it like a common thing, but the rare and precious gem it was. The words, in the reverent tone of his rough voice, sounded like a magic spell.” AM I THE ONLY ONE INCREDIBLY ANNOYED BY THIS.
  • I don’t speak Latin like other people, especially not my arch-nemesis. I speak Latin with love.
  • It genuinely kind of annoyed me at first how entitled Lazlo was when he realized he wasn’t going to be able to go to the Unseen City–I’m SORRY you’re a historian with no practical skills, it happens to some of us, Lazlo–but when I reread the scene, I realized the main point where he felt like that was after Thyon was gloating to him, so…maybe understandable? I still have no idea why Thyon did that, by the way. You’ve won, Thyon. Something about that scene yanked me out of reality so hard, and I can’t exactly put my finger on it?
  • Remember how I said that Thyon started feeling like a caricature at a point? Well, it’s more like everyone felt like a caricature during that point, and Thyon suffered too. Lazlo…tended to pass sweeping judgments on everyone and it was a little hard to read? Or maybe the novel passed sweeping judgments on everyone? Minya was handled much better–she worried me at first, because I was worried they wouldn’t address what she was doing, but after a while, it was clear she was supposed to be bad. But though she was bad, the book didn’t pass judgment on her, per se. It just let her actions stand for what they were. She does much worse things than all the other characters, and yet the bad characters in Lazlo’s sections are treated as being one-dimensionally bad, even characters who by rights should have been very complex.
  • Lazlo has every right to be angry at those people, but he doesn’t have the right to not be emotionally complex about it.
  • And then when Lazlo was proven right about the bet. Ugh. We get it, Lazlo! We don’t want to read your high school diary entry about how your bullies got their comeuppance in every way!
  • Notice how much longer my negative part of the review is. I’m sorry I’m so mean, guys.
  • And I’m making this novel sound awful, but it’s definitely not the worst book I’ve read, there are just parts of it that grate on my nerves!
  • Of course Lazlo’s ‘male scent’ is sandalwood and musk (yes Sarai said that). That is the only scent males have. Remember that, romance writers.
  • I hate this word, but I sort of think of Lazlo as a Mary Sue? I like all the characters who are not him. Or Ruby. Ugh. *cue much visceral shuddering at the mention of Ruby*
  • After giving up on this book, I feel drained and exhausted, sort of like Thyon after distilling too much Azoth

In conclusion: I am never forcing myself to try to finish a book again, especially not when it’s six hundred pages. I know I sound incredibly bitter, but it really wasn’t the worst book, I just didn’t like it. The problem was that I tried to force myself to finish it, and apparently I lost that ability at age fifteen. Which is why I am left a bitter and angry moth, rather than the happy moth you know and love.

But we do definitely, definitely need more scholars in fiction. I do love that aspect, even though I don’t think it was explored enough. There is a hole in the market.

I am sorry this got so scathing. And so long. I had a lot to say.