Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

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 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.

Gideon the Ninth was…uh, I don’t even know. How to describe this book? It takes place in an ambiguously far future, in an ambiguous solar system full of necromancers. The emperor of said solar system, needing some necromancers, calls them to his big spooky gothic castle on a lonely sea-scaped planet. There is one necromancer from each House (of which there are nine), and accompanying them are their cavalier primaries, aka their parabatai, aka their sworn protectors and partners in crime. In this big spooky gothic castle, the necromancers search through the secrets that will allow them to ascend to Lyctorhood, a fancy immortal-type necromancer (who are incredibly powerful).

Gideon is decidedly not the cavalier primary of Ninth House, but her excellent swordsmanship and the trickiness of Harrowhark, Ninth’s necromancer, lead to her accompanying Harrowhark (Harrow for short) to the Lyctor trials. AND SHIT GOES DOWN.

I really can’t express how big of a finger this book gives to any genre stereotypes or tropes. It’s a science fantasy (?), but also gothic, oh and also, Agatha Christie. It is laugh-out-loud funny (like, genuinely hilarious), and incredibly chilling at times. There is some pretty brutal gore one page, and on the next our lovely Gideon is ogling girls through their too-thin nightgowns. The plot is an unpredictably wild ride across planets and skeleton-filled dungeons, with a nice dash of swimming pools in between. The story doesn’t follow a typical arc, so it may come off as a bit slow in parts for some readers. I didn’t mind it at all–I enjoyed getting to know the quirky cast of characters and just soaking up the atmosphere.

The characters are the main attraction of this show. Harrow, Ninth’s necromancer, is a skeleton queen, a snarky softie, and overall a major badass (in all black. all the time). Gideon is the strong and (unwillingly) silent type, but readers, privy to her inner monologue, get to see some other sides of her. She’s equally as soft as Harrow but with a goofy sense of humor, despite her giant sword. She laughs at all manner of puns and enjoys a good old “that’s what she said” punchline. Harrow and Gideon have a lovely frenemyship with lots of death threats and the occasional awkward hug. It was interesting to see them grow together when they weren’t fantasizing of ways to kill each other.

The overall tone, like the genre, was unique and riveting. Muir’s prose consisted of lovely descriptions punctuated by abrupt and occasionally raunchy humor. I thought this was a great combination because it created a sense of that lush, gothic, deep-space atmosphere while still keeping it genuinely entertaining. Five hundred pages flew by, and I was sad to see it end.

Luckily, the sequel comes out next week! If you are looking to binge some overdramatic sword fighting and skeleton servants, now is the perfect time to pick up Gideon the Ninth.

Happy reading,

Discussion: Do authors owe books to their readers?

Discussion: Do authors owe books to their readers?

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the disappointment of reading an excellent book only to find that its sequel won’t be released until a later month in a distant year. Sometimes, there is a complete lack of information about a follow-up, leaving readers feeling hopeless about ever diving back into their favorite worlds. As years pass, that feeling can morph into resentment and even outrage that an author has failed to provide a satisfactory conclusion to to a story. GRRM, Patrick Rothfuss, and Scott Lynch are common subjects (victims?) of these complaints, which have turned to bitter proclamations that a reader will refuse to buy their future works, or pirate them so that the author won’t get their money. On the other end of the scale, readers like D.R. Baker, author of the article Authors Don’t Owe You Books on Book Riot, implore that readers remember that these authors are human too—and they don’t owe you books. Thus, the topic of this discussion.

So which one is it? Are authors obligated to finish everything they put out into the world, or are we graced by anything they are able to produce?

One thing we must consider is that authors are people making a living creating art. It is a singular niche in our capitalist society because it is an art form with a fairly dependable market but its content is highly dependent on an individual. It is more widely available than fine art, but also not corporation-produced like movies and TV shows. And, unlike other forms of writing like journalism or nonfiction, this phenomenon is occurring for writing that is purely for entertainment purposes (don’t get me wrong, I know these stories hold a deeper place in many readers’ hearts, but that is a side effect rather than the goal). When was the last time someone raged online because there was no second edition of their favorite academic paper? What is it about these fictional stories, this one little category of consumerism, that produces such reactions?

I guess a first step in reaching some sort of conclusion is determining what causes people to lash out, unprovoked, with such vitriol. I’ve seen claims that readers are an author’s base of success—they are their income, their support. That author would be nothing without them. And that’s true. But, as consumers, this is true of everything we buy. Hungry customers allow restaurants to succeed. The desire for beauty drives patronage at hair and nail salons. And, while these services differ in that they fulfill recurring needs, they work in the same way books do: you get what you pay for. So yes, you (probably) paid for those excellent books that authors put out. But… did you pay in advance for anything else? Did you invest to ensure future content?

That’s a rhetorical question. No, you didn’t, because that’s not how this works. You paid for something that an author poured their heart and soul into, that they spent years crafting so that it could be presentable to the world. If anything, shouldn’t we be grateful that something with such a low price (probably never more than $30) touched us so deeply that we feel the need for more? Any time we put in to books is our choice. Any emotions they make us feel can only serve to make us more empathetic human beings. Does an incomplete story render that time and emotion useless, a waste of energy? I guess I’m getting a bit off-topic, and while typing this I’ve definitely solidified my opinion.

Another common stance on this is that authors don’t owe us books, but they owe us updates. Letting readers know that there is a completed first draft or that editing has commenced can reassure them that there is hope. Some claim that any sort of silence on the subject is selfish and indicates a lack of gratitude or respect for a fan base. But what if the author didn’t write that book for you? Does releasing that book to the public erase the personal ownership the author has over the story? Does it now belong to the reader or the writer?

I understand the frustration that people feel when they can’t have more of something they love. It is that love in the first place that leads to such passionate desire for more. That love is why we read. But ownership of a physical book is different from ownership over an author’s career. Especially when that career is an art form that is highly intertwined with the emotions and health of its creator. This point, however, brings up a counter argument : reading is an act of vulnerability for every party involved. Perhaps that is why some feel the need to turn their backs on authors when they feel their vulnerability has been exploited.

I really would love to hear your opinions about this, even if (nay, especially if) they are contrary to mine.

Happy reading (but don’t send death threats to authors from whom you are waiting for a sequel)!

Moon Bath by Dakota Hills and Sierra Brashear

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

This luxurious guide invites you to immerse yourselves in the healing powers of nature. Here are 16 transformative bath and shower rituals aligned with the lunar cycles and the natural rhythms of the cosmos. Organized by moon cycle—New Moon, Waxing Moon, Full Moon, and Waning Moon—each ritual includes a bath recipe featuring healing natural ingredients, plus affirmations, meditations, and journaling prompts to promote reflection and self-discovery. Presented in an enchanting package with lush, nature-inspired photography throughout and brimming with Ayurvedic wisdom and plant-based medicine, MOON BATH is a lovely companion for modern mystics, wellness enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to wash away the stresses of daily life.

This book, more of a reference guide, delivers exactly what it promises in the description. There are 16 bathing rituals that align with phases of the moon and seasons, so ideally, you would do one about every 3 weeks. Each one is a “recipe” of sorts, with ingredients and steps to follow (including some herb-steeping/tea-making). The ritual’s ingredients and suggestions about water temperature correspond to the season, so each one feels fitting for when it should be completed. There are digestible bits of text throughout the book that offer explanations and meaning behind each step; it reminds the reader to channel intention as they complete the bath and the accompanying breathing/meditation/mindfulness activity. There were also little side-pieces about historical use of certain items, which I appreciated.

I believe this book will only be available as a hard copy, which it definitely deserves because the photos and text are absolutely beautiful. The tactile feeling of heavy pages and lush imagery will help to set the tone as you read about the ways in which bathing can rejuvenate your body, mind, and soul. This book will definitely be a perfect gift (whether it’s for you or someone else) for those looking to step up their self-care, find serenity, or reconnect with that feeling of something more. Highly recommend!

Happy reading,

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

Continue reading “The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson”