spindizzy: (Be happy!)
[personal profile] spindizzy posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Well, we made it! I have FINALLY – F I N A L L Y – finished reviewing the books I read in 2018! Yay! I read some good things, I read some schlock, I apparently read huge quantities of stuff, which I wasn't expecting, but... 2018! Not a bad year for books! Next week should be my belated goals post (where has this year gone?!), and then after that normal service will resume with reviews of what I've been reading in 2019!


  1. The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang [Jump]

  2. DC Comics Bombshells Volumes 1-3 by Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage, Laura Braga, Mirka Andolfo, Sandy Jarrell, and Maria Laura Sanapo [Jump]

  3. Black Bolt Volume 1: Hard Time by Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward [Jump]

  4. Provenance by Ann Leckie [Jump]

  5. Death By Silver by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold [Jump]

  6. The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard [Jump]

  7. In the Vanisher's Palace by Aliette de Bodard [Jump]

  8. A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian [Jump]

  9. Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis [Jump]


Cover of The Black Tide of Heaven Cover of DC Comics Bombshells Volume 1 Cover of DC Comics Bombshells Volume 2


1. The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang [Top]
The Black Tides of Heaven was fantastic. It’s full of politics and fantasy and gender and revolution and I adored it. Akeha and Mokoya are donated to a monastery by their Protector of the Tensorate mother to get out of repaying a debt, and Black Tides of Heaven follows the twins from a childhood of prophecies all the way through to an adulthood of political responsibility and revolution. It’s so good!

The world setting of The Black Tides of Heaven feels like one of those stories where the author has gone “Here is everything that I think is cool,” which is great for me because I think they’re all cool too! There are mythological creatures rubbing shoulders with dinosaurs and magic and interesting takes on gender, okay, I ABSOLUTELY THINK THESE THINGS ARE COOL TOO.

([personal profile] bookgazing talks about the gender aspects of the story more articulately than I can, but I want to highlight that this is a world-setting where everyone uses they pronouns and dresses in a gender-neutral way until they feel comfortable confirming or choosing a gender! Or until they are manipulated into a gender that suits their mother’s political aspirations LOOKING AT YOU, PROTECTOR. And there are characters who have their bodies magically changed to match their gender and characters who don’t! And there is explicit consideration of which gender feels right for Akeha rather than the default expected by his family!)

But yes, the different sections of Akeha’s life feel completely distinct from each other, like they’re short stories that have been connected together. This makes sense, because the novella covers thirty years of his life, but there is a lot that happens in the gaps so it can feel like quite a jump! I really enjoyed watching Akeha grow and change his attitude to the world and his family, and the change from where he starts to where he ends, and the degree to which he cares about and is active in politics and revolution was fantastic. (Plus: THAT CONFRONTATION WITH HIS MOTHER THOUGH.)

As a fair warning: there was a weird publishing push at the time that The Black Tides of Heaven was released that you could read this and The Red Threads of Fortune in any order, but from what I’ve been told, there is definitely a correct order to read it in, and that order is Black Tides first, then Red Threads, just in case you were like me and couldn't read them until someone told you what the optimum order was! The important thing to know though is that The Black Tides of Heaven is great and I definitely recommend it.

2. DC Comics Bombshells Volumes 1-3 by Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage, Laura Braga, Mirka Andolfo, Sandy Jarrell, and Maria Laura Sanapo [Top]
DC Bombshells is something that I picked up based off [personal profile] bookgazing’s rec, because it’s exactly my thing. A 1940s AU of the DC universe, specifically centring the female characters! Batwoman is an adventuress and baseball-themed vigilante who inspires a team of Batgirls! Supergirl is training to become a night witch with her sister! Zatanna is trapped in a Berlin cabaret! Mera and Wonder Woman are trying to resolve World War II with as few lives lost as possible! This is the most my thing!

To start with, the art is beautiful – everything looks dynamic and dramatic, and I adore the different styles and fashions on display! My only real complaint about the art is that it’s sometimes hard to work out the panel order, so I’ll find myself reading down a page before realising it was supposed to be a two-page spread. It feels reminiscent of old pin-up art, especially for the covers, which might be a dealbreaker for some, but I think makes sense for a story where at least some of the storylines are specifically about image and the use of media to influence people.

As for the story – I was worried that it would become hard to keep track of, because there are so many characters doing such different things all at once! But for the most part, I’ve been able to follow it! It took me a while to wrap my head around Harley Quinn’s storyline, and sometimes it felt like I didn’t have enough knowledge of the main continuity to recognise the significance of an event or a character, but for the most part it worked! It covers abuse survivors and their complicated feelings about their abusers, Jewish characters in a story about World War II era Berlin, revolutionary movements, and ethics in war! I think Mera and Kate Kain’s storylines were the most interesting to me, because they talked about responsibility and repercussions while also fighting and trying to avoid any sort of sincere emotion, although the Batgirls trying to keep order in Gotham and stop people preying on refugees was a close second!

(Also, pretty much everyone is canonically, textually queer in one form or another, and I am HERE FOR IT.)

Everything got a little muddled around the end of volume three; I think because it was the point where so many characters and stories converged, so everything was tangled together. I especially didn’t like the way that Supergirl got sidelined after the events of volume two, but I’m assuming that this will be fixed in a future volume. This must have been really strange and interesting to follow in floppies, because with a cast this large it must have been hard to guess who you’d end up following in the next issue!

But thank you [personal profile] bookgazing for the this rec, I now need to turn my book collection inside out to see what happened to volume four so I can devour that next!

[Caution warnings: abuse, Nazis and Nazi imagery, war profiteering, enslavement]

Cover of Black Bolt Volume 1 Cover of Provenance


3. Black Bolt Volume 1: Hard Time by Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward [Top]
This was honestly my first exposure to Black Bolt so I had no idea what to expect going in. Black Bolt is the ruler of the Inhumans, whose whispers can shatter walls – except that he’s woken up imprisoned, without his powers, surrounded by criminals, and trapped in a cycle of death and resurrection that he can’t get out of.

First thing’s first: the art is very pretty, albeit somewhat trippy in a way that can sometimes make it hard to follow. And the writing is equally good! It manages to get the clashing tones of Black Bolt (royalty since birth) and Crusher Creel (working class American) contrasting well together! The various people Black Bolt finds in this prison at the end of the world are well drawn out, but their character arcs feel somewhat inevitable, like you can SEE which characters are going to be nobly sacrificed coming a mile away, which makes it a little hard to invest in their redemption narrative?

I have no idea how this fits into Black Bolt canon and whether it’s a good representation of the character. But as a depiction of a prison break from an unsettling prison where you don’t know why you’re suffering and have no way to make it stop it’s really good!

[Caution warnings: torture]

4. Provenance by Ann Leckie [Top]
Ingray, in an attempt to put one over her brother, goes to get a notorious criminal smuggled out of an inescapable free-range prison – but it’s the wrong person. Cue crime, murder, several diplomatic incidents, mild alien invasions, and Ingray Getting Stuff Done.

What I’m saying is that Provenance is great. It has COMPLICATED SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS, which is my kryptonite. The relationship between Ingray and her brother, where they hate and envy each other but protect and cover for each other out of loyalty to their family is SO GOOD – and the way that it ties back to their relationship with their mother and their respective family roles makes perfect sense. And Ingray is possibly my favourite character, because she gets to be anxious and cry a lot, but still be the protagonist and really good at her job, whether it’s politics or managing the press or protecting her family! As a fellow anxious bean who cries a lot? 100% #Relatable. (I cannot express how much I am willing to throw down with people who dislike Ingray, she is SO GOOD.) (Also there are TWO subtle romances in this book that make me happy, I love them.)

Plus, as you could probably expect from a book by Ann Leckie: the world building is excellent and full of politics! Inter-family, interplanetary, inter-empire, some of the ripple effects from the Imperial Radch trilogy – it is set after the third book and technically contains spoilers, but if you don’t know what they are you might not realise, and it’s really cool that the planet Provenance is set on isn’t actually part of the Radch! There is so much going on, and watching Ingray navigate parts of it with ease and figure out how to navigate other parts of it was delightful. And I was fascinated by the worldbuilding – the culture on Ingray’s planet is built around vestiges, items that were present in significant events of history or someone’s life, and as you can guess from the title, their provenance and the meaning imparted on otherwise ordinary items is incredibly important! It’s a fascinating cultural note, and the conclusions people draw about vestiges by the end (considering how much of their world gets turned upside down) make me happy. Plus, I am always happy with stories where people get to choose their own gender at a cultural level, or choose not to have a specific gender, which is what happens here.

But yes, Provenance had me at the complicated siblings, and the fact that it brought me a story about history and artefacts and politics and a competent female lead who’s working with a dry-as-a-desert non-binary escaped criminal just means that I am going to throw this book to everyone I know.

[Caution warning: children in danger, bullying, terrorism]

Cover of Death by Silver Cover of The Tea Master and The Detective


5. Death By Silver by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold [Top]
The tl;dr version of my review is that someone wrote a queer historical romance fantasy mystery and shockingly enough I loved it! A metaphysician (basically a very science-y magician) and a private detective are hired to investigate a murder in the family of their childhood bully! The mystery was satisfyingly twisty, the romance would drive [personal profile] renay up the wall because the conflict was entirely based on misunderstandings (but I ate it up with a spoon), and my biggest complaint is that I could have lived without the scenes of increasingly bleak and horrifying scenes of sexual and physical abuse in the protagonists’ backstory. I am very excited to get my mitts on the sequel, because apart from the abuse, this was exactly what I wanted out of my historical fantasy mysteries!

(Thank you to [twitter.com profile] tambourine for the rec!)

6. The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard [Top]
I knew I was going to love The Tea-Master and the Detective as soon as it was announced, because hello! It's a cis-swapped Sherlock Holmes AU set in Aliette du Bodard's Xuya universe (which I have visited before very happily), where the Sherlock Holmes character is a drug-addicted private investigator whose Watson is a mindship (a human-born AI that inhabits a space ship) with PTSD who brews stabilising tea for people who want to go into Deep Space. Of course I was going to love it. Seriously, I can’t find the specific tweet, but I believe my initial reaction was "I’ve never cared what you do with Sherlock Holmes as long as you get Watson right. I am five pages into The Tea-Master and the Detective and I would punch a man for the Watson character."

The mysteries – because there are multiple mysteries going on here for Long Chau and The Shadow's Child to unpick – are so satisfying, and the nods to Sherlock Holmes stories are woven in well! I really enjoyed how much The Shadow's Child was the one who was good at talking to people, despite being a mindship, and I shrieked a little over how good it was to see Long Chau trust The Shadow's Child repeatedly, in her own prickly, eccentric way. (The resolution of Long Chau's backstory was a little obvious to me, but it was still enjoyable to see it laid out!) And just! The Shadow's Child being constantly exasperated by Long Chau, but helping her anyway! Both of them being exceptionally competent at what they do! The Shadow's Child's relationships with other mindships! The way that the solution layers upon itself until the climax! The beautiful descriptions! Seriously, my expectations were high going into The Tea Master and the Detective and Aliette de Bodard still managed to exceed them. It's excellent and I cannot recommend it enough.

In the Vanishers' Palace Cover of A Gentleman Never Keeps Score Cover of Snowspelled


7. In the Vanisher's Palace by Aliette de Bodard [Top]
So I just wrote up my review of In the Vanishers' Palace and it was over nine hundred words long (I'm not kidding), so I guess maybe that's a little much for this post. What you need to know until the full review goes up next week is that it's a queer post-apocalyptic post-colonial Beauty and the Beast story, and it's great. There is family, motherhood, folklore, power, and magic! It's really cool, I really enjoyed it, and I am looking forward to shrieking with everyone when the review goes live.

8. A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian [Top]
A Gentleman Never Keeps Score is a sequel to Cat Sebastian’s It Takes Two to Tumble. The second Sedgewick brother, Hartley, was left his godfather’s London townhouse after his death, in payment for Hartley's sex work as a teenager, and is now clinging to the trappings of gentility despite all of his upper-class acquaintances snub him. Sam, a pub landlord, is trying to recover a scandalous painting of a friend before her wedding – a painting that happened to be commissioned by Hartley’s godfather. Together, they... Commit a small amount of crime and recover from trauma?

I’m not gonna lie to you; the ending is entirely predictable. You can see the broad strokes of how it’s going to end within a few chapters, but seeing that ending click into place with each character introduced was quite satisfying for me. (I admit, I did roll my eyes a little at the way the painting storyline resolved, and the plot seems to durdle in the background for chapters at a time, but it’s still interesting.) I liked the romance – it had a few more accidental misunderstandings than I normally like, but all of them can be and are resolved by people actually talking about their feelings! Plus, it’s funny and sweet and full of the characters surprising each other, which really helps, and this also carries over into both of the secondary romances (which I adored, because seeing men absolutely smitten with ferociously talented women is my favourite thing, as is people building their own little families)! I admit, the set up for what I assume is the romance in the sequel is a bit weird, but I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

I did like that Cat Sebastian kept Hartley’s touch aversion going for as long as she did – I wasn’t surprised that it got overcome by the end, but I was glad to see that development as part of Hartley recovering from trauma instead of just “Ah, but now it’s inconvenient because they need to bone.” (Q: Susan, that is not a trope. A: Friend.) I also found the subplot about Sam being harrassed by a police officer looking for (non-existent) prize fights to be timely, but also... Auuuuugh.

The best bit of it for me was that there was explicit discussion of exploitation – yes, people may have consented to things that happened to them, but the people taking advantage of their desperation are the villains here! It’s a lesson that the characters have to learn, and it’s done well.

I liked A Gentleman Never Keeps Score better than It Takes Two to Tumble; it’s a mostly sweet historical romance with found families that’s built around a core of serious issues. I just have no idea what to expect from the sequel!

[Caution warnings: mentions of underage sex work, touch aversion being overcome for sex, exploitation, police harassment]

9. Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis [Top]
I need you all to know that this book has MUTUAL PINING and SIBLINGS and a woman trying to discover her place in the world after she falls from the place she carved for herself. Oh yes, and trying to solve the mystery of who’s whipped up an unnatural storm that’s trapping people in a manor house where they’re scheduled for a house party and magic ritual involving the fae, because OF COURSE. OF. COURSE.

What I’m saying is that Snowspelled is like Stephanie Burgis took a list of my interests and went “Yeah, I can work with that.”

Snowspelled keeps the trappings of nineteenth century British society despite being set in an alternate fantasy history where Boadicea successfully fought off the Romans, and also there's fae and magic. (I'll be honest, I enjoy the novelty of it being men who can be compromised if they spend too much time alone with a woman, rather than the other way around, because THAT SCENE WAS GREAT.) I found it really interesting that in a world where gender politics are reversed (Politics and warfare are now women’s work, while magic is now for men, with most of the status and prestige in the women’s roles), it’s still a story about a woman carving out a place for herself among men! It’s a twist on the “woman overcomes The Patriarchy to demonstrate her skills” that I wasn’t expecting, and I hope that it gets explored more in the sequel, Thornbound. (Plus: casually diverse world-setting! Yesssss!)

And THAT ROMANCE THOUGH. THEY PINE AND IT’S BEAUTIFUL AND I WOULD GLADLY READ EIGHT MORE BOOKS ABOUT CASSANDRA AND WREXHAM PINING AND BEING DESPERATELY IN LOVE DESPITE THEMSELVES WHILE HER BROTHER AND SISTER-IN-LAW LAUGH AT THEM. Seriously, they are both very obviously in love and it makes me happy. I love Cassandra pushing herself so hard and being so prickly and so determined to not be a burden, and slowly realising that LETTING THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU HELP YOU IS NOT YOU BEING A BURDEN. This is my jam!

I loved Snowspelled so much. It was satisfying and fun and sweet, and I believe the sequel is coming out this week, which I am so excited for!

[This review is based on a giveaway copy from the author.]

Reading Goals


Reading goal: 228/180 (11 new this post) Prose: 118/90 (7 new this post, 60/111 short fiction) Nonfiction: 7/12 (0 new this post)
#getouttamydamnhouse: 25/50 (1 gone this post)
#unofficialqueerafbookclub: 71/50 (8 new this post; The Black Tides of Heaven, DC Comics Bombshells, Provenance, Death by Silver, In the Vanisher's Palace, A Gentleman Never Keeps Score)

Date: 2019-03-04 12:04 am (UTC)
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
From: [personal profile] forestofglory
Yay for finishing 2018 books! You read so much last year!

Date: 2019-03-04 10:41 am (UTC)
sweet_sparrow: Picture of two cats lying back-to-back with two black spots connecting to make a heart. (E: Heart)
From: [personal profile] sweet_sparrow
GO YOU! You read SO MUCH last year! :D <3

(Also yes Thornbound is out now. SO EXCITING!

Date: 2019-03-07 08:15 am (UTC)
ealgylden: (Jet Boots)
From: [personal profile] ealgylden
Bombshells was part of DC's Digital First line, so some of the page layouts end up a little off-kilter on the printed page. Especially for people used to something like Comixology's guided view mode, I assume- I never use it myself, but I bet it helps with some of these books.

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