The City We Became – New York Really Said Catch These Hands

The City We Became CoverI have been to New York City exactly one time. I took a red-eye flight from Las Vegas and spent a week walking city blocks during a heatwave. I thought I knew enough about NYC that it would be familiar and welcoming. I was wrong. And the trip mirrors my rocky introduction to The City We Became. It was a difficult book to jump into and N.K. Jemisin’s first title in The Great Cities series has a chaotic start. The story has no build-up and things got super weird quickly. This may be exactly what you want in a book – diving in and getting to the good stuff! However, my confusion after getting thrown into the story was getting in the way and slowing down my reading at first. It was like a tourist standing in the middle of the sidewalk (oh god, is that a selfie stick?) playing defense against New Yorkers on their way to work. I had to make a conscious decision to stop trying to understand every detail and roll with whatever Jemisin threw at me. Only then did I begin to appreciate this unique story.

There is an evil entity from another dimension attacking New York City. A giant white tentacle rises from the ocean and destroys the Williamsburg Bridge, and frond-like substances are attaching to everything in the city. Problem is, only a handful of people can see these events unfolding. NYC is a living, breathing thing in need of protection, so it seeks out individuals to defend its existence. The main characters of this story (Manny, Brooklyn, Aislyn, Bronca, and Padmini) become avatars for the city, and they each represent the borough where they live. But nothing is ever easy in the city that never sleeps. The avatars have no idea what they are or what they need to do, and the enemy is one step ahead. 

There is very little worldbuilding. I never fully understood why things were happening or what the evil entity was. There are no established guidelines or rules. There were glimpses of the avatars channeling a ‘power’ to combat the enemy, but it was described vaguely. At one point Manny weaponizes a credit card. Padmini completes a math equation in her head and jumps through time and space. Also, King Kong shows up. This all sounds like the makings of a bad book, but I promise it’s not. It needs to be approached from a different angle. I think The City We Became is more about the characters and their New York-ness and less about the events pushing the story forward. Honestly, the avatars were as clueless as I was, so we were tackling the weird together.

I fell in love with the story through the well-realized avatars. Jemisin characterized the boroughs of NYC and described the city through the eyes of people of varying races, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. It was a powerful experience hearing stories from people who are so often neglected. Diversity was an integral part of the book, and the villain often exploited prejudice and fear to accomplish its goal of taking over the city. And while this interdimensional creature was the main conflict, I was way more intrigued by the characters, their life experiences, and the culture that shaped them. I enjoyed the granular elements of NYC that Jemisin used to describe each borough and how it shaped its avatar and their personalities. This aspect of the book was insanely creative.

Unfortunately, not every avatar was given time to shine. The POVs are not weighted equally, so some of the avatars were fully fleshed out while others were just kind of there. The most love was given to Bronca, who easily became my favorite because she had depth and a colorful perspective. At the extreme end, there was Padmini who tagged along and contributed her concern now and then. She was apparently insanely good at math but I got, like, a New York minute’s worth of detail about that. There were a lot of interesting elements we could have explored with each character, and I mourn for the avatars I didn’t get to know as well. 

This book was one of the most unique stories I’ve read in a long time. A city was literally brought to life before my eyes. You might stumble a little at the beginning (What? Like keeping up with New York City is supposed to be easy?), but The City We Became is worth it. This story is more than urban fantasy. It’s about a city, its people, and the diverse cultures infusing its bones. It’s wild and weird and will make you see New York City in an entirely new light.

Rating: The City We Became – 7.0/10
-Brandee

 

 

A Broken Darkness — When the Light at the End of the Tunnel is But a Candle

Beneath the Rising was one of the early Dark Horses of last year, and boy, oh boy did it pack a punch. I wasn’t expecting a sequel, but Premee Mohamed decided to grace us with one anyway. If her debut novel had my curiosity, the follow up has my attention. A Broken Darkness is a strong follow up that builds on the foundation of its predecessor and delivers strong writing through great characterization. This review is primarily for those who have read the first novel, though some spoilers have been avoided. So if you haven’t I would recommend checking out our review of Beneath the Rising here instead.

Following the events of the first book, A Broken Darkness follows Nick Prasad on another dark adventure with his estranged friend and world renowned genius Johnny Chambers. They had managed to seal away the Ancient Ones, but their friendship was destroyed in the process. Johnny has another amazing reveal, promising the future of clean energy, and Nick is sent by the Ssarati Society to witness the event. While there, something happens that shouldn’t have, They have returned and in an even stronger fashion than before. Johnny says she didn’t know and was sure she sealed them away forever. However, Nick has his doubts, while also fearing that she may be the only one to save them once again.

Mohamed does a great job diving right back into the fray with A Broken Darkness. Nick’s head is just as jumbled as it was before, and in some ways he’s even worse off. The revelations of his relationship to Johnny at the end of Rising have clearly fractured his mind, and his choice to walk away from her only splintered it more. He constantly seems at war with himself, trying to convince himself that Johnny has every intent to save the world again, while having trouble with the fact that she has previously let him down. At times it gets a little repetitive, but Mohamed approaches it freshly enough that it didn’t feel like it was dragging. It helps that Nick’s mind and his body feel completely separated. He thinks one thing, but acts another in front of her, as if he can’t quite break the hold she has on him. This is excellently conveyed through their great chemistry, and his constant berating of her within his head. It’s painful to watch, but easily conveys the nature of their toxic relationship and feels realistic given their history and the events they are living through.

The story is still rip-roaringly fast. Nick and Johnny are globetrotting again to new places and also seeing some familiar faces. It’s fun, and at times scary. The lengths they go through to find the information they need are astounding. Mohamed is pretty good at reminding readers who specific beings are, and what purpose they had in the previous story without taking you out of the flow too. The writing is still incredible, specifically within Nick’s head. There are a few times where the dialogue was a little much, particularly when Nick and Johnny would share references to each other. There were times when it felt purposefully out of place, like Nick was caught in the trap of Johnny’s presence and needed to please her. Other times it just felt like it was filling space. Overall it wasn’t that big a deal to me, even with the pop culture references, because they felt real for the most part. It’s as if the only way to close the distance between them is through a shared superficial past. Darkness is filled with moments like this that remind you of who Nick wants to be, while constantly reminding you of who he is and how it’s directly tied to Johnny.

Rising was great at highlighting the racial and class tensions between Johnny and Nick, and Darkness is no different. In fact, Mohamed doubles down on the race and class aspects, making them impossible to ignore. The ties between these two tensions run incredibly deep between the two books and it’s impossible to cover them without spoilers. To avoid them, I want to highlight a few ways Mohamed weaves them into the narrative, keeping the story going while alluding to the darker themes hiding in the shadows. The phrase that reverberated through my mind as I read this book was “she can’t keep getting away with it!” Johnny constantly thinks she can do whatever she wants to save the day. Many times the Ssarati Society, a secret organization of watchers that Nick now belongs to, tries to foil her plans, but often Nick gets in the way. Johnny can never be defeated, and often brushes Death’s shoulder while pulling off some grand scheme. And Nick, for all his internal bluster, lets her get away with it and fights for her, even though he hates her. It leads to a somewhat baffling but terrifying climax that doesn’t attain the heights of the previous book. However, it made me do a double take so I could be sure I read it right, and it really clarified the rest of the book for me.

If you enjoyed Beneath the Rising, I am sure you will enjoy this one too. In some ways it’s a little more of the same, but Mohamed has gotten sharper. It’s semi-repetitive nature feels like a feature, begging to be examined instead of brushed off. Nick’s point of view is messy and it’s hard to trust him and those he embeds himself with. There were fewer moments of dread from the Ancient Ones this time around, but it felt far more tailored to Nick and Johnny’s relationship, and Johnny’s hubris. The ending is definitely worth the read on it’s own, but the journey only makes it more horrifying. While it does not break new ground in the way it’s predecessor did, A Broken Darkness still represents a great addition to this story. If you haven’t picked up either book, and are curious about Lovecraftian inspired horror with a modern twist, I implore you to read them.

Rating: A Broken Darkness – 8.0/10
-Alex

Hidden Gems Of Science Fiction That You Should Be Reading

Welcome back to another curated special list of hidden finds that will dazzle and delight. This piece is a follow-up to the hidden gems of fantasy which you can read about here. If you find yourself tired of reading the great and famous minds of science fiction and are looking for something a little more on the DL and with some fresh takes, I have some books for you. Below is a list of science fiction series/books that have approximately 5000 ratings or fewer on Goodreads, but are absolutely worth your time. These books are criminally underrated and have a ton of great ideas and stories that deserve to see the light of day. Go check them out so you can also be smug annoying people to your friends and claim you had already read these before they got big. 

The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Kless – I don’t usually go in for post-apocalyptic stories, but this one stands out among the pack. The world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland stuffed full of mysteries I want to solve. Puzzlers are people with a special talent to unlock mysterious puzzle box-like caches of technology that are scattered across the world. These boxes are hidden away in dangerous mazes and dungeons and contain treasures of the lost Tarkanian civilization. Diving into dungeons for lost technology became one of the major forms of progress in the new world, which made puzzlers extremely important as they are the only ones who can unlock the nodes. Reading it felt like the literary equivalent of solving a Rubik’s cube, and I liked that a lot. The book is grim and dark without being depressing and it knows how to keep you coming back to puzzle out its many questions.

Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja – If you are looking for an irreverent laugh, this might be the entry for you. The plot of Mechanical Failure revolves around a disgraced engineer being continually placed in fish-out-of-water scenarios. The book reminded me strongly of a whole slew of post-apocalypse/tragedy games where you try to figure out what happened to create the huge mess you are presented with; except instead of horror, Mechanical Failure reaches for humor. The book is quite funny, with a sense of humor along the lines of the classic Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. The characters are constantly being placed in humorous paradoxes with terrible outcomes. In addition, the book has no problem making fun of several sci-fi tropes and can be refreshingly original in many places. While the mystery of what is happening in the book is fairly obvious, the real power of the comedy comes from the hilarious detective work the characters produce as they discover it for themselves. The characters are all original, relatable, and interesting, and the prose was simple and clean. The book is very easy to read and I found myself losing track of time as I flew through it. 

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason Thorne is a fantasy and science fiction hybrid, one of my favorite things to stumble upon, and a genre that is often overlooked. It’s about a fairy princess that eschews being rescued in order to save her family’s galactic empire. Thorne leans more towards science fiction, with the fantasy sprinkled in for some magic realism…in space. The formula works well for the book as the magic always feels like a subtle catalyst that keeps the plot moving and keeps things interesting without overstaying its welcome or stifling character achievement. Its pacing, storytelling, tone, and genre-blending are all uneven, but they serve to enhance the power of the narrative instead of detracting from it. Rory is a relatable and endearing protagonist that you would need a heart of stone not to like.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White – If I had to describe this book in an elevator pitch, I would say it is Firefly meets Fast and Furious meets National Treasure. Building off that last sentence, Big Ship is a story about an unlikely and eclectic spaceship crew with a penchant for danger and huge ridiculous vehicle stunts, on the hunt for historical treasures. They are searching for a lost ship worth more money than a person can spend. The book just radiates energy and action. It feels like being locked into a cocaine-fueled nitro boost in a drag race. It has this blockbuster energy that paints the story set-pieces as these vivid events you can picture with perfect clarity and I cannot wait for it to be picked up for a visual medium. Grab yourself a copy if you want to be able to say you read it before it got big.

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman The Half-Made World is a book that is fundamentally about order and chaos. Taking place in a world reminiscent of the American West that is quite literally only half-finished, we are introduced to a conflict between the Line and the Gun – representatives of order and chaos. These two forces are embodied by demonic spirits who use human emotions to enslave operatives to their service. The Line are housed in great Engines that push forward the ideas of industry and progress. They build monumental rail lines that cover the West, flattening anything in their path in order to build orderly stations and factories. The Guns prefer a more personal anarchy-driven approach and like to inhabit the weapons (guns) of their bearers, whispering into their ears like a warlock’s patron. They shape their operatives into killing machines, with both regenerative powers and speeds faster than the eye can follow. Between these two awful sides are the innocent people of the world that get caught in the crossfire as the two sides fight for dominance. The Half-Made World is a bombastic ride from start to finish that uses hyperbole and intensity to add new life into an age-old conflict. If you are looking for something loud and gritty, look no further. 

Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter – German philosopher Immanuel Kant explains the “noumenon” as a thing in itself or something that exists beyond the realm of human experience, whereas a phenomenon is something that can be explored and related to through our senses and emotions. Marina Lostetter’s Noumenon is a novel as intricate and thought-provoking as the idea from which it draws its title. From the very first chapter, she plays with the reader’s sense of right and wrong. The characters especially help to sell the ideas at play in the book. They feel incredibly human. Their lamentations and inner thoughts felt relatable as they opened up to themselves or others around them. Every character feels imbued with the author’s own experiences of sadness, shock, anger, ambition, hopelessness, and ultimately with her curiosity. It’s a deeply moving book that more people should give the time of day, and it’s a definite hidden gem.

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe – Reading Velocity Weapon is joy synthesized with breakneck thrills, and it’s a drug that does not lose its potency upon repeated use. The story takes place in the far future of humanity, centered on a single star system (called Ada) that seems to reside on the borders of a greater human civilization. It has a single jump gate that leads to a wider universe populated by humanity, and two planets that are competing for control of the gate. Our narrative revolves around two siblings that are central to the conflict but are separated in time by thousands of years due to an accident. The story is about how the past informs the present, and how these two individuals can find a way to change the timeline to make a better future for everyone. The book is a non-stop roller coaster that just never ends. O’Keefe slams the throttle to ludicrous speed from the opening chapter and does not let up. I found myself constantly amazed with O’Keefe’s ability to weave back and forth between the two stories and hanging on the edge of my seat to see how they came together. I am confident that this book has what it takes to pull you in and never let you go, check it out.

Hidden Gems Of Fantasy That You Should Be Reading

Recently I had a strange conversation with a gentleman on Twitter. We had posted an update about what our reviewers were reading, and one of the selections was The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. This gentleman got upset that we were giving attention to such a well-known series. What this random person didn’t realize is that it’s important for people in our position to read the big popular series to make sure we have topical context when reviewing other things. However, while I was informing the rando politely that he should shove off, I found myself thinking, well why don’t we also put out a piece on series that should be getting more attention than they currently do? So, below is a list of fantasy series/books that have approximately 5000 ratings or fewer on Goodreads, but are absolutely worth your time. Go check them out so you can also be smug annoying people to your friends and claim you had already read these before they got big.  Links to our reviews are in the titles.

Blood of an Exile by Brian Naslund Blood of an Exile is a book with powerful characters, a rich world, and a fairly inventive plot. While Blood of an Exile is also very much an action-packed adventure fantasy, it is primarily a story about amateur scientists desperately trying to keep humanity from destroying the Earth for fiscal gain – an angle I was not expecting and loved in equal parts. It’s an eco-fantasy exploring the effects of carelessly damaging parts of the natural world through a versatile cast of memorable individuals. It brilliantly combines exciting action, sympathetic characters, smart themes, and a deep world to create a coherent and unique story. It is always rare when you find a book that is both smart and fun at the same time, and Blood of an Exile has both in spades.

Soul of the World by David Mealing – They say when you write your first book you should start small, which is apparently a saying that Mealing completely ignored. Soul of the World is a huge epic fantasy and just the opening chapter of a complicated and interesting world. The book is set in a semi-alternate history American revolutionary war, except that the English and the French have switched places in the story. The book is initially very confusing with regards to what is going on, but it is still a blast to read as you try to get your feet on solid ground. Our plot follows three protagonists, each a paragon of one of the three magic systems and a window into three different factions in our story. On top of having just a ridiculous number of magic systems, our characters gain an absurd number of powers as the book progresses. In most fantasy novels I have read, you might have a protagonist find one or two new powers in a story and then spend the entire book contemplating how it changes their lives. I kept a counter next to me as I read Soul of the World, and by the halfway mark the protagonists had collectively gained over twenty new powers. It is a magical book, almost overflowing with originality.

Bookburners by Max Gladstone and Company Bookburners was published as a serial novel, with each chapter a self-contained story that plays out like a TV episode. The story follows a team of Vatican specialists as they travel the world and deal with rogue books and artifacts that contain demons. While the book did feel like the pacing suffered compared to traditional books, the overall story translated well into half-hour chapters – and it makes the book really easy to put down and pick back up. It’s written by a group of authors, and they did a great job unifying their voice. While I could pick out which of them wrote a chapter by their writing, the tone and the feel of the book always remained consistent. In the end, it did give me the experience of reading the same way I watch a TV show and it was a lot of fun. If I had to pick one sentence to describe it to someone I would say that it feels like Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Warehouse 13. Serials are a bit of a new thing on the reading scene, and this entry is a great place to start.

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher – Look, just read this book. You are going to like it. Swordheart, by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), is an impossible book to dislike. It’s a fantasy romantic comedy that positively radiates humor, joy, and character. The plot, and the voice, of the book is best summarized by its first line: “Halla of Rutger’s Howe had just inherited a great deal of money and was therefore spending her evening trying to figure out how to kill herself.” Now you can’t tell me that line hasn’t piqued your curiosity. The book is the story of how a woman who has no joy in life falls in love with a cursed eternal warrior bound to a sword, and it’s hilarious. I don’t know what more you can ask for.

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay – Alright, this one in particular really bothers me. Not only is Guy Gavriel Kay a popular and well-regarded author, but this particular book of his was also our #1 book of 2019 – yet it is criminally underread. Brightness is one of the best character stories I have ever read. It is my second favorite Kay novel, behind Sailing to Sarantium, and only by a little bit. It might be my favorite stand-alone story of all time, so go read it already. If you are curious about the plot you can find a write-up of the story here in my review. This one is certainly worth your time.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu – Each year, like clockwork, Bradley P. Beaulieu puts out an enormous, detailed, and dense epic fantasy about an original Arabian-inspired world. And each year, like clockwork, I tell people to go read it – but only a select few follow my advice. I get it, a six-book epic fantasy (five of which are now out, with the sixth coming this year) plus supplemental novellas is a large project to take on. But, honestly, there are few series out there that will give you as much bang for your buck as the Song of Shattered Sands. There are not many authors who seem to love writing their series as much as Bradley P. Beaulieu does. His passion for his books bleeds through every single page, and I frankly don’t understand how he has the stamina to put out this many books so quickly. He has published one book per year(ish) and each one has absolutely no filler. These books are nothing but thousands of pages of plot and story; there is literally zero downtime. I don’t even know how he managed to track all of this when he was writing it. With five out of six books sticking the landing so far, it is looking like a safe bet that this series will be one of the hidden gems of this era.

The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding – Chris Wooding is one of our favorite authors here at QTL for his popular Ketty Jay series. However, Wooding recently started a new series that has flown completely under the radar. The Ember Blade feels like an epic fantasy that anyone can sink their teeth into while paying tribute to the series that started the genre, Lord of the Rings. Chris Wooding describes the book as “a return to classic fantasy adventures and values, from a modern perspective” and I think this description really hits the nail on the head. The worldbuilding in this story is excellent. There is a large set of characters, and it would have been both easy and understandable to leave them shallow. However, Wooding takes no shortcuts and each member of the cast has a memorable and enjoyable personality. In particular, all of the cast are flawed and complicated individuals who all undergo growth over the course of the book, and not all for the better. The Ember Blade does an amazing job of showing the reader how hard times and experiences shape people. Some grow stronger and more tenacious, and some wear down and succumb to weakness. The cast does an amazing job of speaking to humanity as a whole and I promise you will be engrossed by every single one of them.

The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley The Heart of Stone (tHoS) follows the story of Task, a war golem and the last of his kind. Task was built for a specific conflict roughly 400 years prior but has outlived the war, and even the people waging it. The last of the war golems, he has drifted from owner to owner and conflict to conflict until he has arrived at a new land embroiled in a civil war where our story begins. Task has a lot of personality, and frankly, I love him. He is ironically a very human character and it will not take long for you to grow attached to him. After seeing essentially centuries of war and subjugation, Task is understandably quite jaded when it comes to his opinion of people. His thoughts and commentary on human nature and reactions are excellent and bring a lot of thoughtful psychology to the story. Adding to this is Task’s supporting cast of characters that all bring just as much to the table. Whether it be a young girl who is surprisingly wise, a drunk knight whose actual fighting skill is never clear, an armchair general trying to prove his father wrong, or a spy who seems to be on no one’s side but her own – the cast brings a lot of life and excitement to the book. The combat is thrilling, the world is interesting, and The Heart of Stone is a great gem that deserves more appreciation.

The Unique Fantasy Appeal Of Survivor

Are you a fantasy die-hard? May I introduce you to Survivor?

In 2001, families across America glued their eyeballs to the screen as Survivor revolutionized reality television. 16 Americans hopped off a boat and onto a beach, where a full production crew awaited and Jeff Probst introduced the very first season of the show that would become the baseline template for reality competitions for years to come. 

As you read this, chances are you remember watching that first season of Survivor, or perhaps you just know of the show through cultural osmosis. Survivor has staying power, but it’s not just because it has the deed to valuable real estate in the annals of TV history. In fact, Survivor is…

STILL ON. 

The show that changed TV is still going strong, now enduring a Covid-caused hiatus after its legendary 40th season. 20 years later, millions of fans tune in every Wednesday evening for a dose of Jeff Probst, survivalism, crazy challenges, and next-level gameplay. 

Few people realize Survivor remains on the CBS schedule. Even fewer people realize that Survivor has a distinct fantasy appeal, and bookworms who appreciate classic fantasy tropes should take notice. If you’re a Game of Thrones fanatic, a Sanderson aficionado, or you just love the pure magic of fantasy, Survivor might be your next obsession. 

A Quick Disclaimer

I originally had 1000 words written about how Survivor works and where to start, but this isn’t an essay about how Survivor works, is it? No, this is about the unique fantasy appeal of reality television’s crowning series. 

Want a primer? The Ringer has a whole series about Survivor that’s better than I could do with limited space here (the Survivor dictionary should be required reading for newcomers), so check that out if you want to get up to speed. I will indulge myself for a moment, however, to offer you a short “Where To Start” guide because I feel that similar posts get it oh so woefully wrong. Starting with Survivor’s first season is like reading LOTR as your first fantasy book. I have a friend who told me recently that he wanted to read more fantasy. He asked for a recommendation, and I directed him to The Lies of Locke Lamora. Instead, he picked up The Lord of the Rings and bounced off within 100 pages, then tried to tell me “I’m just not a fantasy guy.”

No, friendo, you’re just not a Lord of the Rings guy…yet. And why should he be? It’s early fantasy, the OG. A fantasy newcomer (here’s an article just for you sword and sorcery rookies) might struggle with LOTR because:

  1. They don’t leave the Shire for 150 pages
  2. When they do leave The Shire, it’s a lot of tracking and eating
  3. After that, it finally–oh wait, no, now they’re talking, tracking, and eating

Point being, Tolkien didn’t have a guidebook. He was the guidebook. The Lord of the Rings is slowly paced and densely written because Tolkien was exploring uncharted territory. A modern fantasy with quickfire pacing and plenty of action is a more logical place for a newbie to start. The same goes for Survivor. I’ve seen a handful of lists that recommend new viewers start with Borneo, the very first season. 

Bad idea. Borneo is Survivor in its barest format, without all the bells and whistles the show would evolve to employ over its 20-year legacy. Borneo is great. Richard Hatch is one of the all-time great players. But the first season simply set the stage for what was to come, and Survivor hadn’t yet blossomed into the cutthroat competition it’s known as today. Instead, start with something modern, fast-paced, and action-packed. Here are a few suggestions:

Survivor New Viewer Tips

  • The following seasons offer some of the best Survivor starting points because they feature excellent characters, amazing gameplay, and generally capture the essence of the show. Watch them in any order you choose:
    • Micronesia: Fans vs. Favorites 1 (Season 16)
    • Heroes Vs. Villains (Season 20)
    • Caramoan: Fans vs. Favorites 2 (Season 26)
    • Blood Vs. Water (Season 27)
    • Cagayan: Brain vs. Brawn vs. Beauty 1 (Season 28)
  • Old school Survivor, particularly seasons 1-13, is a much slower game. These seasons are still excellent, but you should wait until you understand modern Survivor before you dive into how it began.

That’s really all you need to know to get started. Choose your own viewing order and get ready for a wild ride that has a unique appeal for fantasy readers. 

Power To The Players: Survivor’s Magic System

Look at the most popular fantasy series: Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth, Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. Today’s best fantasy books are accompanied by unique and original magic systems. Mistborn’s allomancy is one of my personal favorites. Allomancy is governed by rules that never change, yet characters find new ways to employ its power to their advantage. 

Survivor, too, has a magic system that works within the reality competition framework. 

Survivor’s main branch of “magic” is the hidden immunity idol. Usually a small piece of jewelry or a small symbol, the hidden immunity idol (as the name suggests) is hard to find. But a player in possession of its power has a huge advantage in the game.

When the votes are cast at a given Tribal Council, Jeff Probst will announce “If anybody has a hidden immunity idol and wishes to play it, now would be the time to do so.” At that point, a player can use the idol, nullifying any votes cast for him/her. The fact that it must be played before the votes are read makes this particular power hard to use effectively. You could play it without having received a single vote against you. But the game has checks and balances in place. One player-invented balance on the hidden immunity idol has made its way into multiple seasons: a fake idol. Savvy players have gathered random trinkets from the island and hidden a fake idol in a rather obvious spot, allowing unsuspecting pawns to pick it up and think they have protection that is, in fact, useless. 

More Survivor magic comes in the form of advantages. That’s an umbrella term that encompasses various powers granted by something in the game. Sometimes an advantage is just a clue to the location of a hidden immunity idol. Sometimes it’s a Steal-A-Vote power. Other times it’s just an extra vote that can flip the numbers. 

The “magic” itself is fun and all, but the glorious part of Survivor is actually watching the players use these powers. What’s more, it’s fun to watch a powerless player with no idols or advantages work every angle they possibly can to avoid getting burnt by an idol-shaped fireball. Just as fantasy magic systems add a unique layer to the story, so do the magical items granted to Survivor players. 

And this isn’t some “Chosen One” narrative. Instead, it’s a tale of power and access to it. Every Survivor contestant has the same chances of finding a hidden immunity idol or advantage. Only the cunning players will succeed in their quest, though. And only the most cunning players will use their power correctly.

Cunning And Cutthroat: Survivor’s Big Moves Economy

You know the Red Wedding in A Game of Thrones? The scene where readers/viewers dropped their collective jaws onto the floor and probably needed a steam shovel to pry them back into place? Iconic fantasy moments like these and many others resound throughout the genre’s great stories. 

In Survivor, big moves find their most fitting parallel in fantasy’s climactic moments. The difference is that in a fantasy book, you may get two, maybe three or four jaw-dropping scenes that completely obliterate your expectations. Survivor welcomes these seismic shifts in so many episodes it’s hard to keep track. When you start watching Survivor, you have 40 seasons of big moves ahead of you. 

I’m being deliberately vague to avoid massive spoilers. But these big moves, which anyone familiar with the Survivor vernacular will understand, represent only a handful of the show’s most impressive gameplay moments. Some involve idols or advantages while others simply involve one player convincing another to make an undeniably dumb decision. 

Imagine the feeling you get when your favorite protagonist does the thing. When the lovable thief pulls off the heist. When the bard earns his pipes. Character triumphs almost always have a great Survivor analog. And as you watch the show’s biggest blindsides, idol plays, and shifty moves play out, you’ll get that same rush as you do when your favorite magical main character triumphs. Especially when your favorite players return for future seasons (more on that below).

Oh, you want incredibly stupid moves, too? Survivor has them in spades, but I want you to discover those on your own. Bottom line: if you love bold moves and big decisions in your fantasy, you’ll love Survivor

Sequels And Stars: Survivor’s Staying Power

Survivor’s 40 season run isn’t a fluke. The show is a masterclass in character development and franchise-building. 

Imagine this: you finished an amazing book. You loved it, so you bought the sequel right away. Finished that one, too. Now you spend your days frantically googling when the next book might come out to no avail. 

When you watch Survivor, you get a full-fledged pantheon of content that has evolved, grown, and learned from its mistakes. The show introduces new twists and powerful items at a rapid clip. The best part? If the fans don’t like something, the production team usually cuts it. Survivor is made for an exceedingly loyal fanbase, and the show changes based on how those fans feel. One of the show’s biggest changes came in the form of season eight: Survivor All-Stars. Every contestant had already played on a previous Survivor season, and they each returned for a second shot at the title of Sole Survivor and the $1 million prize. 

Since All-Stars, Survivor has hosted a variety of seasons either completely comprising returning players (Game Changers, Heroes Vs. Villains, Second Chance). It’s almost like getting a sequel you didn’t expect and watching your favorite protagonist (or villain) give the game another go.

But Survivor also has hybrid seasons, which feature a combination of new players and returnees (Fans vs. Favorites, Redemption Island, Edge of Extinction). 

That’s all fine and dandy, but it’s what this format produces that gives Survivor an added layer of kinship with fantasy. The show creates full series arcs with characters that you come to love or hate–and everyone’s opinion differs. 

Survivor’s best players – be they the “honesty and integrity above all” folks like Rupert and Woo or the “Win at all costs” assassins like Sandra or the “I only fish and win challenges” beefcakes like Ozzy – have arcs that span multiple seasons. One player from the show’s first season came back 15 years later to play again. Others have played in back-to-back seasons. To play Survivor multiple times is to be a fan favorite. And when these characters return after a hiatus or a few new-player-only seasons, it’s a real treat. 

And that’s not even the best part. These players change, for better or worse. It’s just as satisfying to see a wide-eyed Survivor newbie come back and play like a grandmaster as it is to watch a former strategic force fall from grace on a returning season. And it just keeps going. Some players play on three or four seasons, as if Survivor is expanding on its fantasy-esque world. 

Of course, there are plenty of rookie seasons available, too. Think of these as debuts. First-time players can be just as entertaining as veterans, if not more so. And these seasons replicate the joy of reading a particularly riveting debut novel. 

As you dip your toes into the Survivor waters, remember there’s a whole ocean attached to that first little splash. Survivor is a fantasy universe all on its own, complete with heroes, villains, shapeshifters, and eager-to-please newcomers. And in this series, the new debuts are often just as fun as the sequels. 

The Book Rookie – The Kingkiller Chronicle

Welcome back to The Book Rookie, everyone!

Last year, we kicked off a series aimed at getting me, the eponymous Book Rookie, up to speed with some of the biggest fantasy and science fiction books available. We started off the series with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. Here are the first three installments of The Book Rookie:

Now we’re back with a new addition to The Book Rookie series: Patrick Rothfuss’ divisive Kingkiller Chronicle. I say “divisive” because a mere mention of the series can set some SFF die-hards on a rampage about reader expectations and whatnot. But I’ve yet to find a person whose vitriol is aimed at the books themselves.

Does the fantastic prose and storytelling of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear make the wait for Doors of Stone worthwhile? Give the latest episode of The Book Rookie a listen for our thoughts!

We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep – Glory, Partially Submerged

If there is something we always wish there was more of, it is the role of religion within science fiction stories. Neither of us is at all religious, but religion is nigh inescapable within the human experience. For it to just disappear, or not have a meaningful place within a world that is far beyond our own feels off sometimes. So how can we pass up a story that melds a nuclear apocalypse with religion? Due to a logistical error and someone (*cough* Brandee) misreading our calendar, Alex and Brandee teamed up to review the powerful forces at play in Andrew Kelly Stewart’s debut novella, We Shall Sing a Song Into The Deep.

A lone submarine called The Leviathan traverses the ocean with an all-male crew after a nuclear fallout has ravaged the land. The inhabitants–members of a religious order– pass the time in prayer while desperately trying to keep the deteriorating sub afloat. The world is slowly fading away, at least that is what the protagonist is made to believe. A young girl hiding among the crew, Remy knows little about life outside The Leviathan. However, secrets begin to unravel as her captain falls ill and entrusts Remy with the launch key to the world’s last nuclear missile. A new leader takes the helm and begins preparations for the Second Coming, with plans to launch the missile and deliver God’s Last Judgement. The crew’s days are numbered, and a hostage taken from the surface opens Remy’s eyes to the truth – it seems her Brothers have been keeping secrets of their own. Holding the world’s future in her hands, Remy must combat her beliefs and determine her true purpose.

We Shall Sing has a lyrical beginning that pulls you deep underneath the waves. It’s downright enchanting…at first. About halfway through the story, there is a defining shift in Stewart’s writing. The second half of the book loses its hushed, reverent approach and turns its turbines into overdrive to propel the now predictable plot forward. In terms of worldbuilding, we know little about the “Topside” world that exists on the surface. However, Stewart does a splendid job bringing you into Remy’s world on The Leviathan. The daily grind of the religious order is captured alongside mechanical details about the submarine, effortlessly easing you into their small, severe world. However, as the second half becomes more of a thriller, the descriptions and atmosphere take a backseat as exposition takes the forefront.

The characters follow a similar path to the atmosphere. Remy herself is easy to follow, as she seems wary even after several years amongst the crew. But she’s also instilled with purpose, much like the rest, but is questioning in the way a child insulated from the world would be when given an undue amount of responsibility. She is a delight in the first half but seems to very quickly acclimatize to the new situation halfway through, and it’s a little jarring. The side characters are recognizable archetypes but Stewart adds intimate details that really flesh them out, even if they don’t have much to do. They make the submarine feel like an enclosed ecosystem that has learned to make do with whatever resources it has.

Alex 


This is a tough one for me because I was particularly excited to read this novella. Its premise was so unique within post-apocalyptic fiction. Stewart hooked me deep, luring me with his siren song as he sang about life on the ship. It felt enclosed, filled with purpose, and sailing slowly to its horrid task. Where the book fell apart for me was the halfway point, as the prose switches to a more standard action-oriented and dialogue-heavy affair. It’s abrupt and really pulled me out of the story. My least favorite thing about post-apocalypse stories is when it comes time to talk about the actual apocalypse, I just lose interest. The disaster never feels as interesting as the flow of life after the end. Stewart, for his part, imagines an interesting one, but it’s delivered in such a matter-of-fact manner, it’s impossible to question it from a reader’s viewpoint. I felt it should feel like the story Remy has been told all her life, but instead it just immediately reeks of fact, and Remy adapts to it incredibly quickly. It changes the rest of the book so that the two halves feel very different from each other. It should have felt like a revelation and instead, it just was. Stewart was able to make it feel tense towards the conclusion with a couple twists and turns here and there, but I wasn’t as engrossed.

Brandee 


The element that drew me in like the tide was Stewart’s integration of religion into the story. I was fascinated by the belief system the Brothers established and how it attached itself to the sub’s radioactive power. Religion created interesting dynamics, and I enjoyed seeing how the crew’s beliefs played out. The creative doctrine and cult-like ongoings are definitely the novella’s shining stars. The story itself is well-rounded overall, but it clearly reads like two separate pieces. The beginning was hypnotizing, but the shift quickly snaps you out of the story – eventually dampening the rest of the tale for me. I was ultimately satisfied after reading, yet wished that holy energy had permeated the story until the end.

We both agree that Stewart excelled in capturing an often ignored human experience in the aftermath of nuclear fallout. We Shall Sing A Song Into The Deep was a presentable, and often engaging, story despite its balancing act. If you can marry the story’s poetic beginning with its determined end, the novella accomplishes much.

Rating: We Shall Sing A Song Into The Deep – 7.0/10
-Alex and Brandee

The Unbroken – Cracked But Not Shattered

After the absolute tour de force of Winter’s Orbit, I had high hopes for my second Dark Horse debut of the year: The Unbroken, by C.L. Clark. This book is all about picking sides and watching characters choose between a rock and a hard place. It has a colonial African setting, which is delightfully refreshing, and an interesting premise. With all of this information bouncing around in my head, my expectations were extremely high. So, when I finally got my hands on an ARC of Clark’s debut, I was mildly disappointed to find that my impressions of the book were mixed. There is nothing enormously problematic with this piece of fiction, but it feels like it’s just slightly off in a number of small ways that add up over time to a middling experience.

The plot of The Unbroken centers around two characters: Touraine and Luca. Touraine is a Qazali native, and slave conscript of the Balladairan empire. Balladairan feels like a pseudo fantasy France allegory (given its naming conventions and culture), and Qazali feels like a representative of France’s African colonies. Touraine was shipped off as a youth, stolen from her homeland, and forced into an experimental colonial regiment of the Balladairan armed forces. She rose up the ranks to lieutenant and has now been deployed as a peacekeeping force back in her home country. This has left her understandably conflicted as she wrestles with her allegiance to an overwhelming power that has given her a token of authority despite their constant mistreatment, and her actual homeland who resent her as a Balladairan lapdog and want nothing to do with her.

The second lead is Luca, a Balladairan princess. She has been shipped off to the colonies by her scheming regent uncle to keep her out of the way and reduce her influence. Luca, being a brilliant and cunning woman with her sights on early ascension to her throne, decides to use this semi-exile to cement her power outside her uncle’s control by rallying the colonies to her banner. After an unfortunate series of events that leave both women in a bad position, they decide to essentially team up and see if they can navigate the complicated political morass of the situation together. Unsurprisingly, a romance begins to brew between them.

You might notice that I have devoted a lot more review space than usual to the plot of The Unbroken. That is because it is easily its strongest point and what kept me coming back to push through a number of other issues that erected barriers in my path. The Unbroken’s biggest issue, which compounds all its others, is that it just feels too vague most of the time it is telling its story. Motivations feel undefined, locations feel unfinished, and sometimes dialogue feels like there are pieces of the conversation missing from the page. Here are some examples. Luca tells you that she needs to use the colonies, and their unknown mysterious magic, to offset her uncle and win back her throne. But for a very large portion of the book, Luca never explains why she needs these things, how she expects to use them, and what the end result will be. You are just expected to take these statements at face value and run with them. The main event that causes the two protagonists to fall into league is the court marshaling of Touraine for a crime that she obviously didn’t commit. There is absolutely no evidence, no motivation for the crime, a crystal clear alibi, and no clear reason why she would be accused in the first place. It feels like a moment of plot convenience to catalyze getting the two POVs on the same team – but I can’t tell if Clark just expects me to be fine with a bare-bones justification of why this is happening or if this is a comment on how corrupt the Balladairan court process is to colonials that I just missed because of how underdeveloped the cultures can feel.

Let’s talk about worldbuilding. Early on in the series, you get a glimpse of the mysterious magic of the Qazali. It is part of the driving reason why Luca wants to use the colonies as a base for her power, and that is pretty much all of the worldbuilding you get for an entire half of a book. It is agonizingly frustrating because the book noticeably ramps up in descriptives as it moves into its back half, but I don’t understand why I had to slog through the first half without a clear grasp of the world I was exploring. A point in the book’s favor is that both protagonists are actually great. I felt they were nicely complex, their romance is very believable (despite some slightly awkward dialogue here and there), and they are very different from one another in a way that compliments each other. Then we have the antagonists, such as Rogan, who feel like ridiculous caricatures. Rogan is a noble officer of the Balladairan armed forces whose entire purpose is to continually say he is going to rape Touraine with no repercussions to show you how poorly the colonial soldiers are treated. It feels absolutely absurd and instead of railing against Rogan, I found myself waiting for a more interesting antagonist to present themselves.

On the other hand, the themes of choice in the book are very nicely realized and kept me coming back despite my misgivings. I felt a lot of emotional investment in the complicated situation Touraine finds herself in and I found myself hungering to see if she could find a way to find an answer to her problems. Her story picks up significantly once the two POVs team up about 20% into the book, though the first fifth is very slow. Luca is more consistently interesting from start to finish. Her scheming makes her feel more like a treacherous royal advisor archetype and it was fun to see the troupe as a protagonist we are routing for instead of an antagonist.

Ultimately, my thoughts on The Unbroken remain unclear even after finishing it and thinking about this review. The premise and story have massive potential, and some of it is very clearly realized. However, there is a lot of energy lost thanks to the overwhelming sense of vagueness that the narrative exudes that sometimes smothered my interest in pressing further into the book. I think I still recommend this series and think Clark has a lot of promise, but The Unbroken is certainly not a flawless masterpiece.

Rating: The Unbroken – 6.5/10
-Andrew

The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires – No Sparkles, But It Shines

The Southern Book Club's Guide To Slaying Vampires CoverI can’t even start talking about vampires without saying this first: No, I was not obsessed with Twilight. Honestly, my exposure to stories with these bloodsuckers is limited, and it’s hard to tell what’s out there when the hypersexual versions of vampires cast a shadow on everything else, despite, you know, vampires not having real shadows. At a base level, I get that vampires aren’t necessarily supposed to be good, but I was completely unprepared for how terrifying they could be. That is until I encountered Grady Hendrix and his sweet tea tale of The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires.

Patricia Campbell is a stay-at-home mom in a sleepy southern town. Her husband spends all his time at work vying for a promotion. Her kids, Korey and Blue, run free in that blissful era of the late ‘80s. When she’s not busy mom-ing, Patricia meets with her book club to read true crime novels featuring serial killers like Ted Bundy. Outside these stories, Patricia’s life is pretty boring, and she longs for a little excitement. However, things start to get weird when James Harris moves next door. The handsome stranger effortlessly charms his way into the lives of Patricia and her book club. There are some strange occurrences, but it isn’t until several children go missing that Patricia decides to take matters into her own hands. Unfortunately, she discovers James’ terrifying secret. Armed with unbelievable information, Patricia must convince her well-mannered book club to prepare for the fight of their lives.

I have an irrational fear of humans crawling on their hands and feet. It’s unnerving. I also hate cockroaches. BOTH of these fears came to life in The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires. And that is only the beginning of the many horrors within these pages. There are even vicious R.O.U.S.es, but the Dread Pirate Roberts (insert fangirl sigh) wasn’t there to smolder all my fears away. I was expecting this story to zero in on the vampire and his dastardly deeds, but there were so many other disturbing scenes. The pacing of the book was fantastic, it made me uneasy enough to be wary but still found ways to shock me over and over again. Hendrix casually drops little elements of horror throughout the entire story, and it made my skin crawl. There was a simplicity in the way he wrote these moments. Hendrix got straight to the point and hit on the details that would ignite your base-level fears. This book is a guaranteed frightening read. 

In case you couldn’t tell from the back cover, James Harris is a vampire. All creepy signs point to him immediately, and it’s obvious what role he plays. What form he takes is a horrifying note I’ll let you discover for yourself. Have fun and don’t forget your flashlight! This book is scary, and yeah, the vampire-ness freaks me out. But what’s worse is that Hendrix created a supernatural psychopath. It’s this extra, almost human, layer that James possesses that keeps me up at night. Hendrix crafted a creature so evil and cunning I felt powerless when reading. This isn’t a vampire who solely relies on his abilities to get his way. No. He meticulously seeps into the book club’s lives and manipulates their families all while victimizing Patricia in agonizing ways. This is where the story’s true terror lies. His actions are all too real, mirroring accounts of violence and abuse we see in the real world. It disturbed me to my core, and I appreciate Hendrix building out this character to be something more to fear outside the supernatural.

The one part of the book that felt out of place was Patricia’s son, Blue. There are a lot of periphery details about Blue’s obsession with Nazis. This is a topic that Blue and James bond over, but it’s mentioned in an offhand way. Hendrix may have intended to draw parallels between invasive Nazi ideologies and James’ insidious integration into the households. However, it’s not a clear connection, and much of the framing for James’ character is established through a true crime lens. Patricia relies on the knowledge she has gained from her book club and the killers making headlines to inform her decisions about James. Blue’s concerning idolization felt out of place and disrupted the story. I’ll file this away as another horror element Hendrix included to push me off-kilter. 

There is so much more to The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires than its horror elements. It’s a love letter to mothers, their tenacity, and the great lengths they are willing to go to keep their families safe. Don’t underestimate the homemakers who spend their days managing life behind the scenes. They’re the only ones that see what’s really going on, and we need them to keep the vampires at bay. 

Rating: The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires – 7.5/10
-Brandee

 

Soundtracking A Story

If there’s anything I love as much as books, it’s music. When I read, there are melodies that play quietly in my head. When I listen to music, each lyric often captures a character or moment in a story. For me, music can embody the essence of a book. It becomes an extension of the story that exists off the page. I like that I can easily revisit a fictional world by listening to a song. Much like a book’s back cover, I believe songs can also summarize a story. Lyrics easily portray characters or themes in the story, but other elements found in music can replicate it as well. What if you picked your next book, not by judging its cover but by its song? Give these books a listen and find your next read

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House Cover“Is There More” by DrakeThe setting of Ninth House might take place on the distinguished Yale campus, but this book isn’t a classical performance piece. This is a story that takes place in the shadows, and only the strongest survive when the rules are broken. Listen to the tone and lyrics of “Is There More,” and you will find a great representation of the main character, Galaxy “Alex” Stern. Drake is questioning, yet confident. Much like Alex’s balancing act between her vulnerability and strong will. The lyrics are powerful and convey a sense of perseverance that resembles the driving force pushing her forward throughout the book. “Still I rise, Maya Angelou Vibes. 
When life comin’ at you from all angles and sides.” Drake spins this familiar line of poetry into something more, and Leigh Bardugo does something similar by expanding our perception of Yale in more sinister ways. The music itself elicits an otherworldly feeling that perfectly captures the mysterious ongoings of Yale’s secret societies. The haunting, repetitive note that can be heard in the background complements the story’s supernatural elements. The entire song is a compilation of the book’s spooky vibes and grit. It’s unsettling and inspiring and most definitely plays in the background when Alex takes matters into her own hands.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Black Leopard Red Wolf Cover“Alligator Blood” by Bring Me The HorizonThis is a violent tale steeped in myth and the powerful will of men and monsters. The only song bold enough to capture the chaos, schemes, and tricky magic of this story is one with roots in metalcore. The volume, intensity, and heaviness embody the brash protagonist, Tracker. He even takes after the term “alligator blood” which describes a fierce poker player who keeps skin in the game no matter how the cards are dealt. The vicious lyrics give away the story’s political machinations and untrustworthiness that infect the characters. “Tell me, who will make it out alive?” This song might be a little too much for you. But guess what? That means Black Leopard, Red Wolf is too much for you too. “Alligator Blood” is as brutal as the acts carried out in this book, and it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Skin&Earth by Lights

Skin&Earth Cover“Skin&Earth” by LightsThis one might be cheating because the goddess, also known as Lights, combined her musical and artistic talents to create Skin&Earth: the graphic novel and album. The story of Enaia Jin is told through two unique mediums as her emotions and experiences are illustrated by Lights’ hand, then portrayed by her musically. The album opens with a layered intro that echoes Jin’s introduction in the comic as the threads of her story begin to weave together. The comic really kicks off in Issue 1, Chapter 2 alongside the album’s first full-length song, “Skydiving.” This is the first of many instances the reader will find lyrics in the character’s dialogue bubbles. “It all starts here. With a rush of blood to the head, and I feel no fear.” The combo is exhilarating, and it doesn’t stop there. Each chapter coincides with a track, so the entire story can be experienced in both forms. Lights gave a voice to Jin in more ways than one, and it’s a masterpiece. You can listen to her story or read it, but of course, I recommend both because it’s a beautiful pairing.

The House In The Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House In The Cerulean Sea Cover“Euphoria” by BTS  – I’m guessing Korean isn’t your first language? Or second? That’s okay because music transcends language and conveys emotion marvelously. “Euphoria” paints a beautiful picture that encompasses the magic and love found in The House In The Cerulean Sea. It mirrors the plot and Linus Baker’s development wonderfully. You will hear how the song starts tentative and wistful like Linus’ initial apprehension as a by-the-books caseworker. Then it develops into full-blown awe and excitement just like when…oh right. Spoilers. The lyric translations are not exact when changed to English, but they still honor the story nicely. The words liken a special someone to the sun, and they conjure up childhood dreams for the K-pop phenoms. There is also a reference to hearing the sea and the euphoric clarity summoned by the sounds of the water. I wonder what Linus finds when he arrives at a house in the Cerulean Sea?

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan 

Wicked Saints Cover“Faith” by The WeekndThe whole vibe of this song is troubling and expresses the doubt experienced in this gothic, bloody book. The characters are wary of one another, their magic systems, and the mysterious gods. Some of The Weeknd’s vocals have an echo effect, which makes the song especially eerie while conjuring the sound of a church choir. The duality of this effect mirrors the complexity of the story: blood magic and faith, selfish motives and devotion. Doubt seeds destructive behavior and emotional pain in both “Faith” and Wicked Saints. Nadya questions her gods, and it ignites her distress and poor judgment. “‘Cause I lost my faith
, and I feel everything. I feel everything from my body to my soul.” Serefin and Malachiasz doubt Nadya’s belief system, instead choosing painful blood magic which sows sadness and chaos. “Cause I lost my faith
, so I cut away the pain.”

The Invisible Life Of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue Cover“Fear and Loathing” by Marina and The Diamonds“Fear and Loathing” is sorrow, exhaustion, and hope. Marina’s musical expression in this song matches the cyclical emotions found throughout Addie’s 300-year existence. The song starts, quiet and low, like Addie’s quaint beginning in the small French village. The first piano chord is striking and mournful, noting Addie’s deal with the dark deity and her despair following this life-changing event. “Fear and Loathing” slowly builds in intensity, and it comes alive like the sun rising for Addie each day. The beauty of this song and Addie LaRue is that it’s human. All emotions are on display to tell a complicated story of living. “I lived my life in bitterness. And filled my heart with emptiness. Now I see, I see it for the first time. There is no crime in being kind.” Both the book and song are fluid and don’t rely on one feeling, capturing the good, bad, and ugly.