My April Reading Log

The Hands of the Emperor (Lays of the Hearth-Fire Book 1) by Victoria Goddard was over 900 pages of fantasy about creating a good government and having your family recognize your achievements and figuring out how to incorporate your culture into a dominant social paradigm. I don’t think it needed to be quite that long; I am not fond of having the same events narrated to different people at different points in the narrative, and the same issues addressed, unless the repetition is presented in much more different ways. But that’s a small complaint. Having the point of view character repeatedly come up against the same issues with his family and friends is realistic, since he doesn’t find a way to solve the issues for a while, and he’s been separated from them for his whole adult life. I was very engaged for almost all of the book regardless and was a little bereft when it ended. The plot concerns the government of Zunidh, formerly part of a magical empire that collapsed. Cliopher Mdang, born and raised far from the centers of power, is the only Islander to work in the Emperor’s palace, as the Emperor’s secretary and head of the bureaucracy. Cliopher, nicknamed Kip, is devoted to his lord and also devoted to making government that will serve the people instead of the princes, and he’s really good at it. Meanwhile, the Emperor is under great emotional strain from his long tenure and magical constraints; all of his food and everything he touches is subject to complex ritual taboos and cleansing rituals, and he is kept distanced from even those he works with closely. The first section involves Kip convincing Tor, the Emperor, to take a vacation, which he does along with Kip, his valet, and various guards including the head and second-in-command of the guards. I loved that it’s a bunch of middle-aged men who aren’t sure what to do with themselves on vacation. Tor begins to shift more power to Kip in preparation for retirement, which leads to Kip finally having to deal with having left his family and culture behind and changed out of their recognition. If you want something long and immersive, with a happy ending, I can recommend this.

The Return of Fitzroy Angursell by Victoria Goddard follows immediately after the end of The Hands of the Emperor and follows the titular character on a lighthearted first-person narrative Adventure in which he’s reunited with old friends and re-discovers many things about himself which he’d lost. I’m deliberately avoiding plot spoilers, so there’s not much to say other than I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Hearts on Thin Ice by Katie Kennedy was a romance between a hockey player and an interior designer, both of whom have tragedy in their pasts that felt a bit outsized to me based on the cartoon cover. Nick Sorensen has just recovered from a plane crash in which his entire friend group was killed; he’s now with a new team and has an apartment holding one armchair and a mattress on the floor. Alyssa Compton spent part of her young adolescence homeless with her mother and brother, and is devoted to making homes for others, though her current boss takes advantage of her employees. Nick’s coach pressures him to both make his apartment “normal” and go to therapy, which he sorely needs. Alyssa and Nick slowly realize how much they have in common, and Nick begins to face the enormity of his losses while dealing with survivor’s guilt. I was engaged throughout, though I felt the secondary characters were bland and the romantic issues towards the end frustrated me because I am not a fan of misunderstandings caused by a lack of communication.

Castle of Horror by Barbara Hambly is a short novelette sequel to Bride of the Rat God involving a possibly haunted mansion/castle in Reno, Nevada, and a truly haunted boarding house filled with ghostly cats. Norah’s sister-in-law is not in the movie but is accompanying her current paramour, who needs to be in Reno to obtain a divorce. I enjoyed the silent film-era setting that this time included a Black movie filming at the same location, with some of the same actors, as the Colossus film production; Norah is writing scenarios for both.

Spoilers ahead:
Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R. F. Kuang is excellent but does not have a happy ending; the empire is brought down by dying in the process of destroying the center of power, which makes a lot of sense thematically but was painful to read. The characters were, I felt, subordinate to the anti-colonialist plot, but I couldn’t help wanting the central characters to survive and thrive by overcoming the colonialism in which they were trapped despite knowing that wasn’t the point of the book. There’s a lot in there to think about.

Mortal Follies by Alexis Hall, like other Hall books I’ve read, has a strong narrative voice, in this case an omniscient narrator who is somewhat unreliable and who also, occasionally, interferes in the plot and refers to future events. On the surface, it’s historical fantasy that seems very Regency Romance, but some characters are quirkier than they appear, the romance is Sapphic, and the fantastic element is more Classical mythology than fairy folk (though it has those, too). This was a fun book and I very much enjoyed seeing how Hall played with point of view.

My April #TBR Challenge book was The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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