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Mid-Month Check In: New Year, New Starts

Just a very quick check-in today, as I’ve been in such a reading slump for the last couple of weeks! Still, I’ve managed to tick off three of my books, so here are some very short thoughts on them:

My very first read of the year was Cold Magic by Kate Elliott, which I was surprised to find myself really enjoying! I’d seen a few lacklustre reviews that said that this was very slow-paced, but I found it a very light read in terms of language and pace, which kept the pages turning nicely even though this is a real chonk. I ended up reading the two subsequent books right away while I still retained all my knowledge of the story, so even though this is a 1700+ page series, it was all done in the first week of the year! I have some qualms about some aspects – while the world is incredibly diverse, I wish there were more own voices reviews of books two, which felt a little bit rough in its depiction of Caribbean characters – but on the whole, this is a fun, YA-adjacent fantasy with a nice romance and very interesting world.

After all that fantasy, I switched over to A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn next, which is a Victorian-set murder mystery with a very cool lepidopterist heroine and some slightly ridiculous, but very engaging, plot twists. I really loved Veronica Speedwell as a character and narrative voice, and was instantly invested in the will-they-won’t-they romance with grumpy scientist Stoker. It’s just great fun and I instantly put the next two books on my wishlist!

Next up was Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw, which despite it’s very historical-looking cover is actually a modern urban fantasy. It’s an incredibly fun one, featuring a doctor who only works with monsters, several vampires from the literary canon, and more tongue-in-cheek twists on Gothic literature than you can shake a haunted castle at. I was charmed by Greta and her friends, and the story itself is super pacey, so I read this all in one go and quickly added the rest of the trilogy to my wishlist too.

On a bit of a roll, I decided to pick up some books by authors I’ve previously enjoyed, but I ended up not clicking with either Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell and The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells as much as with their other series! In the case of Traitor’s Blade, I just felt that the style wasn’t quite the type of fantasy I love – it’s very men-focused, a bit too heavy on the sword-fighting scenes, and there’s some uncomfortable ways the female characters are used that I really didn’t like (one is raped and fridged for the main character’s backstory, another appears for the sole purpose of magically sexing our hero back to health??). It’s very readable, thought, and I liked a lot of the dry humour, so I’m going to read the next two books and see if the less-great elements improve.

With The Cloud Roads, I just… found myself bored. There’s a lot of clever worldbuilding to this, and it’s put across very accessibly, so I felt like I should be having a good time, but there is so little character development that I struggled to connect to the main character at all. He’s grumpy, mistrustful, and clueless and those are really his only character traits, so why should I care if he finds a new home with the other characters (who, equally, don’t seem to have much of an interior life)? What I will say, thought, is that I immediately read the second book in the series, The Serpent Sea, because I had it on my shelf, and it was so much better. I really think book one should have been condensed to fifty pages of st-up at the beginning of book two, and then the actual character and plot development of book two would have been much more interesting as a starter to the series. Taken as a split book, I’d say I enjoyed a lot of the elements here but it does feel strangely dated – more like an Anne McCaffrey sci-fi book than a modern fantasy, with its slightly detached depiction of an unusual society and its misfits. On the whole, I think I’d read the rest of the series if I stumbled across it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek it out – book two had a satisfying enough ending to leave it there.

So, I’ve actually made great progress on the list, which I’m very pleased with. Last year I often found I did most of my TBR challenge reading in the first half of the month, so I’m not going to add anything extra to the list, but for the rest of January I’m hoping to read Between Two Thorns and then finish up the remaining Greatcoats books as I mentioned above. I probably won’t do a full end of month check-in, but I’ll let you know how I get on in my wrap up!

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