The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Genre : Fantasy, Romance
Upcoming Publishing Date : October 13, 2020
Publisher : Erewhon Books

A Regency-inspired romp with feminist flair, The Midnight Bargain has everything: female friendship, sweet/steamy romance, magical hijinks, and the cutest (!!!) spirit companion imaginable. Thanks NetGalley and Erewhon Books for the opportunity to read this amazing ARC.

Beatrice Clayborn is embarking on her very first bargaining season, and she must secure herself a wealthy husband in order to raise her family out of debt. But in Chasland, marriage for a sorceress means losing one’s magical powers – women are forced into warding collars on their wedding day to protect future offspring from spirit possession during pregnancy. Though Beatrice wants to help her family, more than anything she wants to master magic and become a full-fledged Mage. At the crux of this story is Beatrice’s choice – she must choose between saving her family from financial ruin or becoming one of Chasland’s greatest sorceresses.

There is so much to love about this book. Beatrice is such a fun, fiery heroine, and I loved following her as she navigated high society while pursuing her dreams of becoming a Mage. It is also so refreshing and exciting to have not just one, but multiple, Black characters in a Regency-esque fantasy – Ianthe is positively DREAMY (I am still thinking about him in that turquoise suit) but Ysbeta is hands down my favorite (human) character. Her passionate pursuit of knowledge, respect, and freedom was a joy to read, and I am praying to the Skyborn that we get a second novel devoted to Ysbeta!

The world of this story is so richly painted – Polk’s descriptions of the fashions, the foods, and the dances are absolutely decadent, and there are a multitude of balls and parties to satisfy any Regency romance reader. I also loved the magic system Polk created for this world – the spirits are such a fun and unexpected addition to the story (my favorite non-human character is Nadi, lesser spirit of fortune, who is the sweetest, goofiest character on the page).

Delightful characters and beautiful descriptions aside, I truly appreciated the themes and issues Polk explores in this book. At its heart, this story proclaims that every woman has the right to claim ownership over her own body and to choose her own future. But Polk goes one step further, and shows us that while self-determination is essential to a person’s happiness, individual knowledge and freedom mean nothing if it’s not shared with everyone.

Overall, I just really loved this story and I can’t wait to see what C.L. Polk writes next (and in the meantime I am 100% going to read their Edwardian-inspired LGBTQ+ series, Witchmark!).

The Midnight Bargain is out October 13, 2020 – preorder today!

August TBR

Somehow, July is already over and August has arrived (it’s only August 5th but already it seems like the month is over). I struggled a lot with reading this year, but have slowly gotten back into it. Here are some books (both newly published and books that have been sitting in my TBR piles for MONTHS) that I’m looking forward to reading this month:

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I am the WORST ~ I’ve had an arc of Harrow since before pandemic but, well, pandemic has prevented me from doing a lot of thing. Finally going to dig into all it’s skeleton-filled goodness.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

In keeping with the bone/necromancer theme…!!! Rin Chupeco is going to be one of the amazing keynote speakers at Sirens Conference 2021, and I can’t wait start this series.

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother, Fox, from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha―one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

My life has quickly become a series of reading one novella after another. I honestly don’t know why I never read SFF novellas before this year ~ they are the perfect dose of character, story, and wonder. I’ve had this book on my TBR for about a year now, and I am FINALLY ready to dive in!

In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air–in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie’s trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations.

Soon, Creeper, Oya, and the crew of the Midnight Robber are pulled into a perilous mission aimed to stop the Black God’s Drums from being unleashed and wiping out the entirety of New Orleans.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

Zen Cho’s writing is always a balm on my soul. A few days ago I sat down to read The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo (one of Cho’s earlier historical romance novellas) and devoured it in one sitting! I can’t wait to settle down with a hot cup of coffee and this delightful wuxia-inspired novella (also, I cannot get over how amazing this title is!!!).

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk (ARC)

From the beloved World Fantasy Award-winning author of Witchmark comes a sweeping, romantic new fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Regency England, where women’s magic is taken from them when they marry. A sorceress must balance her desire to become the first great female magician against her duty to her family.

All I can say is REGENCY INSPIRED FANTASY!!!!!!!! This book is, in every way possible, my jam. I’m just guessing here, but I think I’m going to be yelling about this one for a looooooong time.

What My Animal Crossing Villagers Are Reading

It’s summertime on my Northern Hemisphere island and you know what that means – it’s beach reading time! (I hope I’m not the only one who makes up little stories about who their villagers are and what they like/dislike, ha!). Keep scrolling to see what books my villagers are reading:

Melba is reading…Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
By day, Melba is a botanist and a scientist. By night, she gobbles up the best new queer YA fairytales on the market.

Zucker & Marina are reading…A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
Marina and Zucker’s Octopus Book Club pick of the month is all about mermaids, friendship, and self-discovery! [Also, I couldn’t pass up this sweet pic my partner took with our two fave octopi!!!!]

Coco is reading…Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Coco stares in the void. Harrow stares back. (Coco definitely sold her soul for the ARC).

Rex is reading…The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Rex loves wearing dresses and reading graphic novels about love, art, and family!

Tangy is reading…Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Tangy’s favorite early quarantine read was Gods of Jade and Shadow! Moreno-Garcia’s next novel has the perfect spooky gothic vibe Tangy’s been waiting for.

Rosie is reading…Bingo Love by Tee Franklin
Rosie is the Sweet Romance Queen of the island! She could read Bingo Love over and over (and over) again!

Merengue is reading…I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn
As the most esteemed pastry chef on the island, Merengue is always looking for the next sweet YA romance – especially if it features dessert!

Pashmina is reading…Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power
Pashmina, queer farmer and part-time chef, exclusively reads thrillers. Power’s latest book has a queer protag and spooky cornfields – a perfect fit.

What summer reads are your villagers getting into this month? Comment below and PLEASE feel free to share who your fave villagers are!!! Mine is Melba 🙂

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Genre : YA, Speculative Fiction
Date Published : 
September 10, 2019
Publisher : Penguin Random House

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi was hands down my favorite read of 2019! In December, the library where I work held a staff event where we all shared our favorite 2019 books for kids and teens, and my coworker and I pitched Pet as the best book of the year (School Library JournalNPR, and New York Public Library seem to agree)! If you have yet to read it, I highly suggest you spend the rest of your Sunday afternoon doing so – at only 208 pages, Pet is a quick read, though it packs quite a punch in a short amount of time.

Where to start? I absolutely adored Jam – she is so sweet and determined and real. Jam is Black, trans, and selectively verbal, and while these parts of her identity are important, she did not face any hardships in the story as a result of her identities. Emezi populates the town of Lucille with an all-Black cast of characters who unabashedly support Jam in her transness and learn sign language to support her. I love that Emezi allows Jam to simply exist as she is and go on a life-changing adventure. That doesn’t happen very often in fiction these days, and it was super refreshing.

I also loved Pet as a character. Its emergence from the painting was so weird and beautiful, and really solidified the whole visual tone of the story for me. Lush, bright, and strange. I would pay so much money just to see this moment turned into an animated feature (and, let’s be honest, the entire story deserves to be made into a movie, animated or otherwise).

I think Pet is an essential read for our current political climate. Though Lucille is a “Utopian” society that is much better off than we currently are in terms of equality, the core message of the story is that humans must be vigilant our fight against evil. Even when we think we’ve made it to “Utopia,” there will always be monsters lurking where we least expect them. Emezi also challenges us to think critically about the different weapons we employ in our fight against evil. Violence is sometimes necessary, but so is restraint and forgiveness.

When I have kids, you better believe this book will be on their shelves. In the meantime, I am on a mission to make all of my friends read this quirky, delightful, powerful little book. I can’t wait to see what Emezi has in store for us next with The Death of Vivek Oji (August 4, 2020 from Riverhead Books. Preorder here.)!

[Review originally published on Sistershelf.com]

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Genre : Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Gothic
Date Published : September 10, 2019

Publisher : Tor.com Publishing

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

Tor.com Publishing

Gideon the Ninth was pitched to me as LESBIAN NECROMANCERS IN OUTER SPACE and I am confident in my assertion that this book not only lived up to this pitch but far exceeded it in literally every way possible.

Let’s start with the LESBIANS! For all the SFF books I’ve read this year, I’ve been overall disappointed in the lack of queerness (a lot of the more popular SFF titles that I’ve been trying to ‘catch up on’ all seem to exclusively feature side character m/m relationships, which honestly got pretty bland after awhile). But Gideon the Ninth?! I literally cannot get over the queerness of this book. It was just so unflappably gay. Gideon is the snarky, butch, sword-fighting heroine I always knew I needed. Harrowhawk Nonagesimus (say that ten times fast) is the goth gay girl I never knew I wanted. And Dulcinea…oh Dulcinea…is the tragic lipstick lesbian of my (and Gideon’s) dreams. So, Lesbians? Check.

Now…the NECROMANCERS! Muir does a fabulous job of building her magic system throughout the story. Early on, we see the many ways in which Harrow is a talented bone necromancer – she raises the dead to do her bidding (which usually involved kicking Gideon’s ass) and can create entire skeletons out of a teeny tiny metacarpal. But even Harrow has her necromantic limits, literally sweating blood when she overexerts her abilities – a small but badass detail that I loved reading. If that isn’t cool enough, we soon learn that each of the nine Houses have their own necromantic specialty, ranging from soul-siphoning to psychometry. (I found this really neat article from Tor that breaks down each House’s necromantic specialities, which I highly recommend checking out). Necromancers? Check.

And, of course, the OUTER SPACE! If Muir had simply written a story of lesbian necromancers, I would have been satisfied. But she goes above and beyond and sets this story in an entirely different galaxy. There are a few ways to interpret the setting, but I read it as: eons ago, humanity fled the Milky Way and ended up in a new galaxy, where the primary energy source has become thanergy/thalergy (basically life energy/death energy). Each House literally has its own planet on which it resides, which opens up so many possibilities going forward in the next two books (Gideon the Ninth gives us glimpses of the Ninth House and First House planets, but the rest remain a mystery!). Without giving too much away, the book ends on a space ship headed to God knows where (hehe), which makes me even more excited for the possibility of deep space necromancy and all that could entail! Outer Space? Check.

So, yeah. Gideon the Ninth blew me away. I can very confidently say that is my favorite book of 2019. Gideon is the most snarky, loyal, lovable, and badass character I’ve read in awhile, and my heart broke into tiny little pieces when I realized the story was over. I don’t want to spoil much (the ending is WILD and UNEXPECTED and left me with SO MANY QUESTIONS!) but I am very excited to see what comes next in this trilogy – I am just very sad that I can’t read it right now. But, for the time being, I will have to satiate my need for more lesbian necromancers in space by plotting my Halloween costume, which will definitely involve aviators and skeleton paint.

[Review originally published on Sistershelf.com]

The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza

Genre : Speculative Fiction
Date Published : October 1st, 2018
Publisher : Dorothy

The Taiga Syndrome follows a detective/murder mystery novelist on her journey into the taiga, where she has been sent to find her client’s estranged wife and the wife’s new lover. The taiga is a place of wilderness, magic, and uncertainty, and as the longer the detective remains in the taiga, the more we begin to doubt her sanity. Many strange and inexplicable things happen on our detective’s journey into the wild northern forests – the more truth she uncovers, the weirder things get, and by the end there are more questions than answers. When the book finally came to a close, I was left feeling like I had just read a particularly chilling Grimm’s fairytale.

The overall vibe of this book is very folkloric in nature – it’s very lyrical and poetic, strange and unsettling, and a very quick read (it took me about 2 hours to finish). But Rivera Garza not only captures the feeling of fairytales – she also includes mentions of them throughout the story. The detective ruminates frequently on Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel, tying her experiences with the taiga back to the foreboding forests of these stories. A prominent and recurring image is that of a wolf – this wolf, real or imagined, follows our detective both into and out of the forest, and left me with chills when I finally put the book down!

Overall, The Taiga Syndrome was such an odd and unsettling reading experience (in the best way possible). I was left with SO MANY QUESTIONS and am happy to say that none of them were answered during our book club discussion – in fact, I left our monthly meeting with even MORE QUESTIONS! (The big one being – WHAT THE HECK were those tiny elf creatures?! And were they real?!?). It’s been a while since I’ve felt so challenged and invigorated by a book, and I’m so grateful that Feminist Sci-Fi Book Club is constantly bringing new and strange speculative works like The Taiga Syndrome to my attention.

[Review originally published on Sistershelf.com]

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Genre : Science Fiction
Date Published : July 16, 2019
Publisher : Saga Press

This week I’m reviewing This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Amal Eh-Mohtar is one of my all time favorite short story writers (see: The Truth About Owls ) and I had the pleasure of taking part in Max Gladstone’s class for a Writing the Other workshop. Needless to say, I was over the moon when I heard these two brilliant writers were collaborating on a queer time-travel story! Thanks NetGalley and Saga Press for the opportunity to read this amazing ARC.

This beautiful little novella is set far in the future (and the past, and the present, and the alternate timelines of all three) where two warring civilizations – Garden and The Agency – are trying to gain control over the universal timeline. Garden is an ecological society, controlled by a plant-based organism called Garden that grows the organization’s agents. The Agency, in direct contrast, is a technological society lead by Commandant and comprised of cyborg and robotic agents.

Red, one of The Agency’s most prized agents, first encounters a rival from Garden early in the book. Her name is Blue, and she leaves behind a letter for Red that reads “Burn before reading.” This delightful exchange kickstarts a series of encounters between Red and Blue in which they thwart one another’s missions and leave behind increasingly playful (and serious) letters to each other along the way.

This novella is comprised of short scenes from the POV of both Red and Blue and the letters they exchange with one another throughout their rivalry, friendship, and (eventually) loooooooove. The prose was unbelievably beautiful – each chapter read like a sort of poem! I found myself putting this book down every chapter or so. Each scene felt like eating a really delicious slice of cake – I had to sit in silence afterwards to digest how brilliant it was!

I truly LOVED this book. Red and Blue’s relationship was such a delight to watch unfold – Enemies to Lovers is the trope I will stand behind ’til the day I die, and I’m so happy I got to read it here! Beyond Red and Blue, the universe that El-Mohtar and Gladstone created here is unbelievably delightful – from the Napoleonic Wars to Victorian London to the Mongol Empire to the time of the dinosaurs and beyond, this books takes you on a mind-boggling journey through both time and space. I loved how some scenes, like the one set in the fancy tea shop in Victorian London, felt so familiar and tangible. These scenes contrasted brilliantly with other more unusual settings, like the one set in Garden, which was the most otherworldly and alien setting I think I’ve ever read (it was also one of my favorite scenes from the entire book!).

[Review originally posted on Sistershelf.com]

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Genre : Fantasy
Upcoming Publishing Date : August 6, 2019
Publisher : Harper Voyager

As with so many other amazing authors, I first heard about R.F. Kuang while attending Sirens Con this year. People were raving about her first book – The Poppy War – and I finally had the chance to start reading the series in April. On GoodReads, Kuang describes the series as: “If you liked Avatar: The Last Airbender but always wished it were a little darker and more fucked-up, you might like this.” And fucked-up it is!

Grimdark wartime fiction isn’t usually my ideal genre, but Kuang is just so good at constructing the world of her story and the characters that inhabit it. I didn’t find The Dragon Republic to be as overwhelmingly violent as The Poppy War (which grapples with The Rape of Nanjing, an extremely violent massacre during the Second Sino-Japanase War) but the sequel definitely doesn’t shy away from the violence and horrors of war. Kuang does an excellent job of balancing the fucked-up things with a lot of darkly funny dialogue, which I appreciated so much (the character interactions were really what kept me going when I got too overwhelmed by the violence).

The first half of the book took about two weeks for me to get through – there’s a lot of necessary fallout from the ending of The Poppy War that Kuang has to deal with before moving us forward in The Dragon Republic. The Third Poppy War is over, but no one is satisfied by its conclusion. Vaisa, the Dragon Warlord (and Nezha’s father), wants to conquer Nikara, unseat Empress Daji, and turn the country into a Republic. Rin and the Cike have been trying to assassinate Daji on their own, and so after a bit of convincing they join forces with Vaisa and begin their military campaign against the Empire. As this unfolds, we learn two very important things: 1) the Mugenese army is still alive and 2) the Hesperians (the very untrustworthy Western powerhouse mentioned briefly in the first book) arrive and may/may not agree to assist Vaisa’s army.

While all of this geopolitical maneuvering is happening, Kuang also forces Rin to grapple with her addiction to opium, come to terms with the destruction she wrought on Mugen, and deal with her grief from Altan’s death. I’ll admit it – I really hated Rin’s character in the first half of the book (though I think we’re supposed to!!). She’s impulsive, irresponsible, and sooooo self-centered. There were quite a few times where I felt like throwing my ereader across the room, because she was being so freakin’ reckless!! But, this being said, all of this made me love her so much more in the latter half!

When I reached the 60% mark (thanks ereader) the pacing of The Dragon Republic really picked up again and I had such a hard time putting it down! Rin has a truly breathtaking character arc in this book, and it was beautiful watching her evolve throughout the story. I particularly loved the way Rin’s relationship to the fire/the Phoenix (and, in effect, her own anger/rage) matured in this book – there were quite a few moments where I got all teared up thinking about how much Rin had changed since The Poppy War.

Of course, Rin couldn’t have done any of this without the help of the Cike, Kitay, or Nezha (!!!), all of whom I was so excited to have back on the page. Ramsa, Baji, and Suni were such a delight to read, and I was so thrilled to get more backstory for Chagan and Qara. Nezha and Kitay in particular take center-stage in The Dragon Republic (both in terms of plot and their relationship to Rin), and I’m very excited to see what happens with them next.

The Dragon Republic is such an amazing follow-up to The Poppy War. While it was a bit of a slow burn at the beginning, I was internally screaming throughout the entire final quarter of the book. (Seriously – shit gets WILD). I’m so excited for the third installment in the series (whenever that is!). But for now, I’m content with filling that void by crying about Rin/Nezha and daydreaming about firebending.

[Review originally published on Sistershelf.com]

Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

Genre : YA Fantasy
Publication Date : July 30, 2019
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Somehow, 2019 has gone from Hot Girl Summer to Hot Dragon Summer. I don’t know HOW it happened, but at the start of 2019 I very firmly Did Not Like Dragons and yet, here I am, seven months into the year, with 80% of the books I’ve read having involved a scaly flying fire-breather in some capacity. And honestly – I kind of love it. (Thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC!).

Dragons lie at the heart of Rebecca Kim Wells’ debut novel Shatter the Sky. The story opens in the mountains of Ilvera with Maren and Kaia, childhood sweethearts. Ilvera, once the land of the dragons, has been reduced to a shadow of its former glory ever since the emperor invaded and stole the dragons away. Kaia, the more bold and daring of the two, has grand plans of leaving Ilvera to travel the world. Maren, less certain of adventures, is reluctantly resigned to follow the love of her life wherever she goes. All of this changes, however, when the emperor’s band of Aurati come to Ilvera and steal Kaia away. Maren, usually timid and cautious, decides to steal a dragon from the emperor and use it to break Kaia out of the mysterious city of Lumina where she is imprisoned.

I really and truly adored the world of this story – Wells does a brilliant job at making her universe seem real and lived-in. I particularly loved all the small details of Ilvera culture, especially the focus on music and its connection to dragons. I was also super intrigued by the idea of the Aromatory and the use of condensed scents to control and communicate with dragons. Unique details like this are sprinkled throughout the book, keeping me interested and wanting to learn more and more about the characters and the world they live in. I can’t wait to learn more about the Aurati and the emperor going forward – Wells just touches the surface of these subjects in this first book, and I know things are going to get wild in the sequel!

Maren’s journey and character arc was such a delight to read, and rightly my favorite part of this book. She went from timid and cautious to fierce and independent in the span of 300 pages – and I believed every moment of it. Watching her become more and more self-confident throughout the book was so beautiful (I particularly loved all the scenes at the dragon training academy!). I can’t wait to see how her character continues to develop and grow moving forward, especially in relation to other characters like Kaia and Sev!

Shatter the Sky is 100% the kind of book I wish I’d had in middle school and high school – it has passionate and resourceful young women, beautiful world-building, DRAGONS, and of course a totally amazing and earnest love story between two girls (and a possible love triangle with a handsome prince???). Basically, this is everything I ever wanted as a kid, and I’m so delighted that young readers have access to books like this now!

P.S. ALSO OK I don’t know if Rebecca Kim Wells is familiar with Avatar: The Last Airbender but there was a scene involving a cabbage merchant that had me laughing OUT LOUD for way longer than was necessary…so if you’re an A:TLA fan, keep an eye out for that lol

[Review originally posted on Sistershelf.com]

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

Genre : Historical Fantasy
Date Published : March 28, 2006
Publisher : Del Ray

For this week’s blog post, I’m doing a bit of a throwback ~ His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (the first in the Temeraire series!). The past few months I’ve been reading quite a lot of Regency fantasy novels (Sorcerer Royal series by Zen Cho and the Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal to name a few others!) as research for the Regency fantasy novel I’m currently working on. It’s been so wonderful seeing the many different approaches writers take to the genre. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I fell in love with His Majesty’s Dragon.

Growing up, my mom loved (LOVED!) the Horatio Hornblower television series, and so from the very start this book felt so nostalgic and familiar. I remember watching this show with my mom a lot as a kid, but most my memories of it involve 1) Lots of Big Boats and 2) Very Proper English Captains. The Temeraire series starts off in a similar vein – Will Laurence, our MC, is a captain in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. After a grueling naval battle, Captain Laurence’s ship takes a French vessel under their control and are lucky enough to find a dragon egg aboard the ship. Life in the Aerial Corps is generally frowned upon by polite English society, and so the crew draws lots to see who will harness the dragon when it hatches (and thus be bound to the dragon for life). All their preparation is for naught, however – when the dragon hatches, he takes an immediate liking to Laurence, who is then forced to harness and name him (Temeraire!). The rest is history!

I felt so connected with Laurence throughout the book – I even shared his apprehension towards dragons in the beginning! My truth is that before this book, I was not a dragon girl (I’m a unicorn gal through and through). I am ashamed to admit it, but before reading this book, I thought dragons were, dare I say, kind of corny. But from the moment Temeraire hatched from the egg, I was as smitten with him as Captain Laurence came to be! Every time he called Temeraire “my dear,” I had to put the book down so I could smile. It was so adorable. This series made me a Dragon Girl convert, which really is saying something.

What I loved most about this book was just how well integrated dragons were into the world. At first I thought the first half of the book was going to deal with Laurance learning about/coming to terms with the fact that dragons existed. I was pleasantly surprised that everyone in Novik’s world already knew about dragons – the big thing that Laurence had to learn was how to be a good friend/dragon companion and how to navigate his shifting position in society as a result of joining the Aerial Corps.

“I should rather have you than a heap of gold, even if it were very comfortable to sleep on.” 

I also loved the ways in which Novik involved women in the story – it was such a brilliant move to have some dragons only take female handlers, thus forcing the Aerial Corps to secretly take women on as captains (a practice that is completely unheard of in the Army and Navy!). Watching Laurence grapple with the idea of women being more than swooning maidens was truly a delight to read – I can’t wait to read the next two books in the series and see more of Captain Roland and Captain Harcourt.

I was also so impressed with Novik’s ability to write captivating battle scenes. In general, I don’t enjoy war stories, and so I was super impressed by how engaging the battles were to read. Novik was so knowledgeable about battle strategy and aerial/naval terminology – even though I sometimes had no idea what she was talking about, she wrote these scenes with such conviction that I didn’t struggle with visualizing any of the battles. I even cried while reading one of the battles (COMPLETELY UNHEARD OF!!!).

My biggest takeaway from His Majesty’s Dragon was just how fun it was to be pushed out of my reading comfort zone. Dragons, war, and men are pretty low on my reading list requirements right now, but Naomi Novik is such a genius that I found myself actually enjoying all three of these subjects! I can’t wait to read the rest of the series and see what happens next ~

[Review originally published on Sistershelf.com]