Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
This was kind of fun but also a bit eye-rolly – not because it was fanfic but because it really wasn’t that good as far as fanfic goes. Most of the book is lifted whole cloth from the original novel, which makes it a decent read but also makes the failings of the added bits really obvious. The zombie killing was fine, but the whole warrior code aspect was quite ham-fisted. Seeing Lizzy kill the living for no good reason in a zombie apocalypse ruined her for me, and the resolution of Wickham’s arc (which was ableist AF) ruined Darcy for me. By the end, I couldn’t root for either & I didn’t really care that they were getting hitched any more.
I read/write a lot of fanfic, especially AUs that do the same kind of thing this book attempted to do and bottom line is: you can’t just add zombies in & ignore the fact that the structure of polite society would shift drastically. I’d expect better world-building (and more of it!) from any Zombies AU on Ao3.
Needed a beta reader & a talking to from Tumblr.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Baru Cormorant remembers the day the Empire of Masks came to her island; she remembers how they rewrote her culture, criminalised her customs, and murdered of one of her fathers. But she is smart and she is patient. She goes to the Masquerade’s school, studies their version of truth and nurtures her rage in silence. Baru has a plan: she will claw her way into power and take the Empire of Masks down from the inside.
Sprawling political intrigue in a low-fantasy setting with a healthy sprinkling of dastardly plots, secret rebellions and all-out-war? Yep, that sounds like exactly my cup of tea. I did love large parts of this book, I thought it was well-written, and I was very, very invested emotionally. The sense of danger, urgency and secrecy was palpable throughout, even in the middle section which is all about accounting and finances.
I had more of a problem with the ending: there’s a twist in there that relies on the narration withholding crucial information from the reader. I wasn’t convinced by Baru as an unreliable narrator, just felt like I was getting the rug pulled out from under my feet with no warning.
Also, as many people have mentioned, there are some gruesome deaths of queer characters, but it’s a pretty gruesome book all the way through.
Geek Girl by Holly Smale
The title, cover and blurb for this all gave me super-high warning signs that I’d probably hate it. I only picked up a copy because there was one going for free at an event I attended. The first two chapters were extremely irritating and I might not have continued it past page 15, except I wanted to read at least 10-15% (given how much the outside of the book annoyed me, I thought I should give the inside a fair shot to change my mind).
I read about 80 pages before I abandoned it. The narrative wasn’t as annoying past chapter two, but it had way too much second-hand embarrassment for my liking, not to mention the hugely stereotypical cardboard characterisation. The main storyline was also extremely predictable, I could see what would happen a mile off.
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones
Rupert Venables, junior Magid in charge of Earth, is having a bad time of it at the minute: His mentor has just died, finding a replacement seems like an impossible task, even with the shortlist Stan left him. To top it all off, he’s got to deal with a succession crisis in the Koryfonic Empire, possibly the worst world in the multiverse.
I bought this one after seeing Rachel’s video on it, mainly because she mentioned that it features an SFF convention. I expected the con setting to be a bit of fun & it didn’t disappoint: I almost cried with laughter reading this on the underground. It works because it’s gentle ribbing from someone who clearly knows this community and its quirks, who clearly has a great fondness for it. It made me want to be back at an SFF con already. <3 (It did include one too many references to con attendees being really fat; that was the only thing that felt kind of off.) Rupert is a bit of a prickly git early on in the book, but I didn't mind it that much: at first I was just excited to get to the convention, and by the time we got there it was so obvious that Rupert had no clue what was going on and was in way over his head, I couldn't be too annoyed with him any more. As with all the Diana Wynne Jones I've read, the magic is weird and organic but makes this instinctive kind of sense. There are a lot of strands of story coming together, crashing into each other, and I was impressed with how skillfully all of it was handled.
First Class Murder by Robin Stevens
The next installment in the Murder Most Unladylike series, this one follows Hazel & Daisy onto the Orient Express!! I’m not a huge Agatha Christie fan, or a huge fan of mysteries in general, so maybe I missed some references to Murder on the Orient Express, but I really loved this nonetheless.
Hazel & Daisy continue to be great protagonists, growing from one book to the next and dealing with their previous experiences. They’re learning to manage their fears and their feelings as they are once more confronted with death, violence and danger. Hazel is also forced to reassess her own moral compass when she had to lie to her father in order to continue her investigation.
And Hazel’s Dad, he was just wonderful! From the quiet dignity with which he bears the era’s casual racism to his obvious care for his daughter and his respect for her intellect and character. It was great to see on the page, and he is now up there with Keith Mars as one of my favourite fictional Dads.