Book Recs, Reviews

Review: Into the Dark (Star Wars: The High Republic) by Claudia Gray

More at home in the archives than in the darkness of space, the last thing Jedi Padawan Reath Silas wants to do is join his Master, Jora Malli, in the recently colonised Outer Rim. But as he and a group of travellers make their way to the newly constructed Starlight Beacon, they encounter old terrors long forgotten alongside new threats freshly wrought that make Reath confront not only his place in the Jedi Order, but his place in the galaxy as a whole.

Cover of Star Wars: The High Republic: Into the Dark by Claudia Grey. A young man, Reath Silas, stands with his lightsaber out and behind him a young Black woman stands holding a bomb.

Into the Dark is the second book in The High Republic that I’ve read and it only strengthened my love for this new series. Claudia Gray is a mastermind at exploring quietly intimate groups of characters, and her work in Into the Dark is no exception. There is no one else I would have rather introduced the Jedi characters of Reath Silas, Orla Jareni and Cohmac Vitus to this series. As she has proved in her earlier Star Wars work, Master & Apprentice especially, Gray knows how to write Jedi who don’t fit the typical Order mould, who veer from their teaching and are determined to follow their instincts. Even so, it is not only the Jedi that Gray excels in writing. Into the Dark also has three non-Jedi main characters: humans Leox Gyasi and Affie Hollow, and Geode, a sentient being who resembles a boulder. While I understandably grew attached to both Leox and Affie, suffice it to say that only Claudia Gray could make me care so much about a sentient rock.

In my review for the first The High Republic book, Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, I praised the book for touching upon questions about the Jedi I’ve had as a long-time Star Wars fan while still adhering to the underlying theme of hope we’ve come to accept from the franchise. Into the Dark takes those questions broached in Light of the Jedi, dials them up significantly, and, rather than strictly focusing on hope, instead explores how people’s actions in the midst of reality can determine a situation.

As for my questions about the Jedi, there are a few sections in particular that I feel speak to my primary concerns regarding the Jedi Order:

‘When the searchers went around looking for Force-sensitive infants, they only checked for potential ability. Not temperament, and certainly no preferences. Nobody ever asked the younglings, “Would you like to become a swashbuckling heroic Knight? Or would you rather stay at home and read?”’ – Reath Silas

‘How does the dark side take form anywhere? Sometimes I think we, the Jedi, must be somehow to blame. We who refuse to look at the Force in full, to examine the darkness as well as the light.’ – Cohmac Vitus

‘If the Order was telling her to ignore the Force . . . it wasn’t the Force that was wrong.’ – Orla Jarenni

There is so much to take in with these three short quotes. First, is the lack of choice the Order offers its younglings and its insistence that they must be trained only from a very young age. The Order’s inability to understand how to train or exist otherwise is, as we know, a large part of their undoing. Similarly, we are most familiar with Jedi as warriors, heroes, especially during the Clone Wars, but if they are meant, above all to be peacekeepers, why is there such a resistance to Jedi like Reath, who have no desire to fight?

Cohmac’s quote feels like it was pulled straight from my prequel trilogy head and is followed nicely with Orla’s later thoughts. I’ll never understand how the Jedi OR the Sith could hear the phrase ‘balance to the Force’ and think it meant choosing one side over the other. Further, one of the Order’s biggest mantras is to ‘trust in the Force’, but time and time again we see examples of the Council enforcing their opinions, beliefs and law over the Force itself. It’s so exhilarating to have two characters, Cohmac Vitus and Orla Jarenni, who, before the time of the ‘Chosen One’, both rightfully question the Council and the Order and but who, ultimately, do so in very different ways. Where Cohmac dwells in his hurt and feels betrayed by the Order and the restrictions that come along with it, Orla finds a new trust in herself that she is able to, for now, allow to coexist with her Jedi training. In fact, the two Jedi’s responses to their doubts kind of remind me of the main difference between Anakin Skywalker’s and Ahsoka Tano’s responses to betrayal by the Order (could literally talk about that all day). I’m therefore excited (and terrified) to see how Cohmac and Orla grow throughout the rest of the series.

Though I love the message of hope in Light of the Jedi, I am glad that Into the Dark was a bit more grounded in a reality separate from hope. There is no ignoring of the fact that many people in the Outer Rim view the Republic and the Jedi as colonists who think their way is the best, right and only way forward. Reath himself confronts this in Affie Hollow, who is far from impressed by his Jedi status and who makes him realise that there’s a difference between reading about people and places and actually getting to know and respect them and their stories. We may all be the Republic, as the tagline goes, but what does that actually mean? Who does that truly encompass beyond the Republic’s home on the upper crust of Coruscant?

There are few more random thoughts that have been stuck in my head since reading this that I’d like to leave here:

  • Protect Reath Silas at all costs
  • Protect Affie Hollow at all costs (though 100% she can protect herself)
  • Geode is, dare I say, a Rockstar?
  • Leox Gyasi is the high space uncle I’ve always wanted
  • This quote will live forever in my memory: ‘Time to lay down the law. Which he’d never laid down before. But he’d figure it out.’

I’m currently on a book-buying ban and my library doesn’t have Cavan Scott’s The Rising Storm, so who knows how long it will be until I have another The High Republic review. Rest assured, though. Just like the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in (slightly over) twelve parsecs, I’ll get to it as fast as I can.

Into the Dark is currently available in print and ebook formats.

Book Recs, Reviews

Review: The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino

I’d first like to thank NetGalley and Titan Books for sending me a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

When Tess Matheson uproots her life to protect her little sister’s future, she never expected to meet someone like Eliot Birch, and she certainly never expected to accidentally release the devil with him. Set in a college preparatory boarding school in suburban Pittsburgh, The Devil Makes Three follows Tess and Eliot as they fight to save themselves and their loved ones from death and from the inky grasps of the devil himself.

If there are two things I absolutely love in a book, they’re dark academia and devils/demons/cruel gods. Throw in a library with creepy stacks and a dark secret and I’m 100% sold. It should be no surprise, then, that I really enjoyed this book.

Image of the U.S. cover for The Devil Makes Three. A strawberry blonde girl holds an old book open. Her eyes are washed away.

Tori Bovalino does a great job at interweaving supernatural horror with real-life issues. She especially hits the mark when exploring internal strife and self-acceptance. Equally, Tess and Eliot are wonderfully crafted main characters, and their dual POV chapters were so well done that I had no issues at all with switching between the two. I loved the complicated feelings about relationships that Bovalino gave to Tess, which I felt accurately portray the uncertainty some teenagers feel when facing romantic emotions for the first time. That being said, my favourite parts of this book were the horror aspects.

In my experience, Young Adult horror books tend to be a bit . . . soft, for lack of a better word. Because the target audience for YA is primarily teenagers, this is understandable, but I also feel that that softness underestimates what teenagers can handle and often are already experiencing in their own lives (or, at the very least, are already watching on TV). Bovalino’s horror is anything but soft. She’s not afraid to use a little gore or to really dive into the psychological sides of horror. She also creates quite a unique devil who doles out torture in unexpected ways.

The small issues I have with this book mostly do not come from Bovalino’s execution, but rather from her choice to make the main characters so young. I really think this story would have thrived if it didn’t have to adhere to a YA designation. For example, the school Tess and Eliot attend is . . . confusing, to say the least. It’s supposed to be a preparatory boarding school where students can stay in halls over the summer. Those halls are basically unsupervised apartments. Tess’s little sister, Natalie, is only thirteen during this book, but as a Junior High student still attends the same school as Tess. She also lives in her own hall (though it is indicated that those are more supervised than Tess’s). Similarly, there isn’t a clear geographical description of the school’s campus, but based on what we are told, it heavily resembles a college campus. It almost felt like the characters were being forced to be teenagers when they would have better fit the roles of college students.

I also wish that some of the side characters, and Eliot’s supernatural abilities, had been given more space. Tess’s concern for Natalie makes up the central plot point of the book, but we only see the sisters together a total of two times. Similarly, Tess’s roommate, who is meant to be Tess’s best friend, felt sometimes like just another stand-in. I would have liked to see more depth to the interactions between them. And, like I said, Eliot’s abilities make up who he is, but we don’t get nearly enough detail about where they come from or how, exactly, they work. This is something I would normally expect to see in a book that’s starting a series, but as this is meant to be a standalone, I wish we’d have been given more.

Despite these issues, I still really liked this book and look forward to what Bovalino publishes next, so I want to end my review with something positive. When I was sixteen, I went to the Texas Tech University main library and my life was changed. It was the first major library I had ever been to, and I was amazed by what the librarian called ‘the stacks’ – book shelves that you could move with the press of a button. I spent several days over the next week exploring those stacks, inhaling and savouring the musty, inky smell that emanated from the books as their shelves moved. I would not have been surprised to find out that something haunted the spaces between the stories on those shelves. I’d never read a book that reflected how those stacks made me feel until Bovalino put words to my emotions. I love libraries, but they can be creepy as f**k.

The Devil Makes Three comes out in the U.S. on 10 August 2021 and in the U.K. on 14 September 2021.

Book Recs, Reviews

Review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Chloe Brown does not take risks. Not with her health and not with her life. But when she has a near-death experience, Chloe decides that maybe she needs a change. Thus, her list on how to live a more extraordinary life is born. Redford Morgan, artist, building superintendent, and Chloe’s new enemy certainly isn’t on that list. At least not yet.

Once upon a time, when I was fifteen and spent summers at my older sister’s house, I read a lot of romance. Like, a lot, a lot. Somewhere in the twelve years between then and now, however, I stopped reading them so much. But, when I read books like Get a Life, Chloe Brown, I forget why I stopped. After all, who doesn’t like guaranteed happily ever afters every now and then? But, as I’m sure many romance novels are, Get a Life is more than its happy ending.

Cover of Get a Life, Chloe Brown. A Black, curvy woman leans into the side of a white, redhead man. A grey cat circles behind them.

Because it’s been so long since I regularly read romance, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the changes to the genre I noticed represented in this book. For one, the inclusivity. Chloe Brown is a chronically ill Black British woman with curves. Though I am neither disabled nor Black, I’m on Twitter enough to know that accurate, non-harmful depictions of both of those are few and far between in all book genres. I can’t speak to the accuracy of Hibbert’s depiction of Chloe, but it was nice to read a book that very clearly does not portray a disability or a thick body as something to overcome or to be ashamed of. Chloe is not only accepted, but loved and adored by her friends and loved ones for exactly who she already is.

Similarly, I absolutely love Redford as a romantic interest. He is the exact opposite of fragile, toxic masculinity. Even though he’s been THROUGH IT, he’s still hopeful and still wants to believe that life is better than what he’s been dealt. And, boy, does Redford know how to apologize. My favourite part of his character was that he knew he was capable of making mistakes, knew he wasn’t perfect, and wasn’t too proud to really make it up to someone when he knew he was wrong. May we all take a lesson from Redford Morgan.

I literally have no complaints about this book. It made me happy and giddy and I gladly skipped a day of thesis work to finish it. You can find me checking Amazon’s daily Kindle deals, waiting for the next two Brown Sisters books to go on sale.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown is available in paperback and digitally (and, for a limited time, Illumicrate is selling the entire Brown Sisters trilogy in special edition, hardback format! My birthday is also fourteen days away, so . . .)

Book Recs, Reviews

Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two? By Temi Oh

Set in an alternate version of Earth where space travel advancements occurred much earlier and interstellar travel is made possible by the year 2012, Do You Dream of Terra-Two? focuses on the preparation, travels and trials of six young adults who have been chosen to colonize Terra-Two, an Earth-like planet in a neighbouring solar system. Destined to travel for twenty-three years, Jesse, Juno, Astrid, Elliot, Poppy and Harry are tested to their limits and forced to ask themselves if their own dreams of Terra-Two are enough to get them through the vast emptiness and unrelenting darkness of space.

U.K. book cover of Do You Dream of Terra-Two?. A Black woman in a space suit looks upwards to the sky.

I have very complicated feelings about this book, but I want to start off by discussing what I actually really liked. Temi Oh’s prose is beautiful. Her descriptions of feelings are so cohesively and intricately put together, and I was never bored. Similarly, Oh uses her prose to create a story with firm moral questions: What is worth sacrificing our lives for? How does space travel morally fit alongside humanity, religion, government? Is it possible to ‘fix’ the troubles of our world by moving to another? These are all questions that I’ve not really seen asked in other Sci-Fi novels I’ve read, and it was nice to force myself to think about the implications of furthering space travel when our own world is so messy – especially considering Jeff Bezos’ recent orbit around Earth. Who is space travel for? What is it for?

It’s perhaps not a surprise, then, that what I appreciated the most about Terra-Two was Oh’s ability to juxtapose the wonder and excitement of space with the realities of humanity. She writes lines that capture the ache for knowledge, like ‘How could she choose those insipid dreams of his over the splendour of the sky?’ and ‘He was no astronaut. He was no pilgrim, he was no humble dreamer fated for the stars’, and then crashes us back to Earth with reminders that we’re only human: ‘We’ll make Terra-Two better just by being there’ and ‘Perhaps the sand has washed up on the shores in quiet anticipation of the day we set our soles dancing across it’. We may dream of faraway lands, but do they, in fact, dream about us? Do they, in fact, need us as much as we think we need them? What right do we even have to them?

Again, I loved the concept of Terra-Two and the beautiful prose Oh brought to it. I just didn’t love the execution.

If I had to quickly surmise my issues with this book, I’d say that it was a very big task for any author to take on, let alone a debut author. This isn’t just space travel. It’s space travel in an alternate universe. There is not just one main character, but six. There are six points of view we hear from. Six imperfect lives we are supposed to become intimately familiar with. Unfortunately, the beautiful prose and admiral questions of morality weren’t quite enough to cover the faults.

One thing I felt was missing specifically due to how much this book tried to take on was a better description of what a universe so advanced in space travel would look like on Earth. Because advancements in space travel have historically been linked to further advancements in technology and other areas, I would have liked for the book to discuss that a bit more. Instead, it seemed like it was just the Earth we already know.

Another part that confused me was the inconsistency in the changing points of view. Though we hear from each of the six main characters, there are clear favourites. For example, of the fifty-nine chapters, twenty-eight focus on only two of the characters (Jesse and Juno), leaving a total of thirty-one for Astrid, Poppy, Harry and Elliot (and even those aren’t evenly split). For me, this resulted in a very uneven experience of the story and of the characters. While I felt like I understood Jesse and Juno quite well, I didn’t feel the same for the others. This also caused a bit of confusion over how I could expect characters to react to certain situations, meaning that their reactions didn’t always make sense with what I was told about them in their POV chapters. It was a real distraction from the rest of the story that I think could have been solved with more focus and fewer POVs.

When I was deciding what to rate Terra-Two, I was more torn than I have been on a book in a long time. That might surprise you, given that, of my reviews so far, this one has the most critiques, but it’s true. I genuinely loved Temi Oh’s idea for this book. I could see what she wanted to do with the story and the questions she wanted to explore. I could feel her heart in the prose and, above all, in the ending. It’s hard for me to give something like that, something I know was cultivated in the very being of a person, a low rating. Especially when I wouldn’t actually call it a ‘bad’ book. In the end, I’ve settled for four stars out of five. Why so high, if so much of it didn’t mesh with me? Because I want there to be more Sci-Fi books with a heart like this one. I want to see what else Temi Oh can make me feel with words as simple as ‘Do you dream of Terra-Two?’

Do You Dream of Terra-Two is published by Simon & Schuster UK and is available in hardback, paperback and digitally.

Book Recs, Reviews

Review: This is Yesterday by Rose Ruane

Set primarily in 1994 and 2018, This is Yesterday tells the story of Peach, a woman trying to understand who she is and where she fits in the world and within her own family. In 1994, Peach is seventeen and university-bound when she begins to realise that being an adult might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Twenty-five years later, a forty-two-year-old Peach is still dealing with the repercussions of the events of 1994 and forces herself to cast a critical yet sympathetic eye on her past.

An image of Roase Ruane's This is Yesterday in paperback against a light blue background. The cover consists of pink flowers still attached to bushes, with two arms reaching out to touch them.

Choices, regret, life and family are the pillars that Rose Ruane’s This is Yesterday rest upon. I don’t know how old I was when I first realised that some choices we make can stay with us forever . . . and the results aren’t always what we hope for. I do, however, remember the first time I realised that my choices weren’t always the right ones, and that sometimes those choices made me the bad person in someone else’s story. There’s a difference between being critical of ourselves and truly accepting our culpability in the mistakes we make. The latter is often much more difficult, and This is Yesterday touches upon that difficulty in a painfully beautiful way.

One of my favourite parts of this book was Ruane’s keen attention to the nuances of different types of relationships. From romantic relationships to familial and even to the most important relationship of all: the one we have with ourselves. My copy of This is Yesterday is covered in sticky notes, pointing out quotes about these relationships that punched me in the gut and took my breath away. But there are two that I want to focus the rest of this review around because to me, they speak perfectly to what this book gets so right.

‘Now she knew: her parents would never fit back inside their silhouettes. When Peach had drawn their shapes, she hadn’t left room between the lines for the people they really were’.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that when I became an adult is when I began to truly understand that my parents were not just my parents. Their lives neither began nor ended with me. Just because I am a biological and emotional part of them, does not meant that I am all of them. When this realisation first happens, it feels more like a revelation, and Ruane handles the emotions of such a revelation so well. When we face this with Peach, we’re not just getting seventeen-year-old Peach’s emotions, but the emotions of an older Peach who has experienced life and regret and pain enough now to accept that shift in her relationship with her parents and especially with her mother. There is a danger in placing our parents on pedestals, but we so often do this – are told to do this – that it makes their inevitable fall back to humanity that much more painful. And, as we see with Peach, sometimes the injuries from those falls take a lifetime to repair.

‘Just as art can transform an unmade bed into a sculpture, it can turn a person into an artist. Being bereaved of that identity will always hurt, if not replaced with another. Peach never wanted to be called wife, she never wanted to be called Mum; but she always wanted to be called important.’

Seriously – ouch. This entire book made me think a lot about my teenager years before and during university, but this quote specifically made me think about the hopes and expectations I had for myself during those years. Before I had to mess around with taxes and student loan debt and the ever-expanding separation between wanting something and obtaining it. Who doesn’t want to be important? Who doesn’t, at some point, equate being important with being successful and being successful with being important? Who doesn’t define success by someone else’s parameters? The truth, as Peach is forced to face as she gets older, is that the world isn’t as simple as we imagine it to be when we’re seventeen or even as we might still pretend it is in our minds. What Ruane does best in this book is explore how hard it is to accept when reality does not match our expectations. How hard it is to reorient ourselves after we fail, to match the person we saw ourselves as at seventeen to the person we are now.

This is Yesterday captivated me with Ruane’s poetic prose and introspective writing, but if I had to pick something it could improve on, I would choose the ending. It didn’t quite match up with the rest of the book for me and seemed a bit rushed for a story that relies so heavily on lengthening moments and feelings in order to inspect their very existence. I wasn’t exactly disappointed in the ending, I just expected more. Even so, this one critique of mine wasn’t enough to prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this story. It’s a book I can see myself returning to at different stages in life, to see if I relate to it differently when I’m thirty, forty, fifty.

And, as a woman one month shy of twenty-seven, I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have appreciated this book as much if I had read it any earlier in my life. It grapples with the kind of nostalgia and regret you can only really understand and relate to if you yourself have experienced them. It’s heartening to be reminded that some of the doubts I carry, some of the existential crises I feel at least once a month, are not singular to me. We are all human. We all make mistakes. Life doesn’t always turn out the way we hope. But there are, after all, so many different ways to be important.

This is Yesterday is now available in hardback, paperback and digitally.

Book Recs, Reviews

Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I could lie and say I never judge a book by its cover, but the truth is that I’m a sucker for killer-looking cover art. Gideon the Ninth’s cover is supreme and is partially what drew me to the book in the first place. A woman with a painted-on skull face, brandishing a sword, surrounded by bones and skeletons? Again, supreme. Still, covers aren’t always indicative of what’s inside the book, and for Gideon the Ninth, I found that this was only partially the case.

Picture of the book Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.

When I first saw the book, I expected a dark, horror fantasy. I didn’t expect that plus humour and space. (I know, the blurb on the front literally says ‘Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!’, but the space aspect still somehow surprised me.)

Gideon the Ninth, first book in The Locked Tomb trilogy, introduces a universe of necromancers who live on different planets, adhere to a system made up of nine houses/planets, and serve a man they interchangeably call ‘Emperor’ and ‘God’. The crux of this book rests on a competition held to find the next hands of the Emperor. Eight of the houses each send one of their necromantic heirs and the cavaliers who have sworn loyalty to those necromancers to compete in a crumbling, gothic palace where their skills, morality and relationships are tested. Gideon Nav is sworn enemy to necromancer Harrowhark Noneagesimus, who she’s forced to work with in the competition in order to gain her long-awaited freedom.

It’s not an exaggeration for me to say that I’ve never read a book quite like Gideon the Ninth. The combination of epic fantasy, gothic horror, hard science fiction and comedy makes for a book that has something for everyone, but that definitely is not for everyone. From the very first page, the reader is thrust not only into a story, but into a world and an entire solar system as if we have lived there all along. The author gives very little blatant information or background, leaving the reader to make sense of this universe for themselves piece by piece.

As I read this 444-page novel, I felt like I was working on a really intricate, really confusing puzzle. Despite the frustration, I hoped the end would be worth it and that everything would eventually make sense. And, as I got further along, the pieces coming together to form a larger, beautiful picture, I found that my frustration had faded into fascination. Every piece of this literary puzzle had a significant purpose and was placed where it was because the author knew when the reader would need it the most. She knew exactly where to place it to trigger the ‘Ahhhhhh. So that’s why this happened!’ Each piece felt like a reward for my hard work, for trusting the author and sticking with her book long enough to really understand what she was doing. And now, I desperately want to re-read it because I know I would get the story in a way I didn’t the first time around.

Don’t get me wrong, I would absolutely hate if every book I read was styled this way. By the time I finished Gideon, my brain hurt the way it used to in my Calculus classes. (Note: I was not good at Calculus.) Still, this style seemed to fit this book perfectly and I don’t know if I would have loved it as much if it’d been anything other than the way it is.

That being said, no book is perfect. And there were definitely aspects of character building that could have been improved. All of Gideon is in third-person, and I speak from experience when I say it takes work to make readers care for and relate to a main character in third-person. It’s not impossible – literally thousands of books attest to the possibility and success of this narrative style – but it does take work. It takes dedicating space in the novel to show emotions and thought and character rather than telling. And I honestly think the amount of space needed to create the setting and the plot took away a bit from that which could have been offered to the characters. This doesn’t mean I didn’t feel anything for the main character – I love Gideon and the other characters so much. There’s just room for more, and I hope the next book picks up on that a bit.

Anyway, I prefer to focus my reviews on positive notes, so here are a few things I liked best about Gideon:

The humour. It definitely won’t be for everyone, but I loved the humour in this book. It struck somewhere between raunchy and dad jokes, which sounds like a weird combination, I know, but . . . it worked for me.

The fight scenes. I really don’t know how the author was able to conceive of some of the fight scenes, but they were top tier. The detail and emotion and tension were so spot on and made me wish, not for the first time, that I was cool enough to know how to wield a sword.

The necromancy. The magic, even if it’s not called that, in this book is unique and, therefore, complicated and detailed and something an entire other book could probably cover. I don’t exactly understand how the necromancy works, but I know that the descriptions of it are pretty freaking cool. The kind of cool that would be difficult to translate into our perception of reality, so if this series ever gets an adaptation, I kind of hope it’s animated.

The main character. Gideon is who I imagined myself to be at 18 but who I absolutely wasn’t. She’s a badass. She’s caring. She’s a goof. She’s a heart-sick fool for any attractive person who gives her a lot of attention (OK, this aspect of her might be familiar to me). She’s dedicated to herself, to others (when she decides to be) and to her beliefs and wants. She’s arrogant. She has a chip on her shoulder and something to prove. Above all, she is aware of her imperfections. Still, she never lets them get in her way.

Like I’ve said, this book is not for everyone. There are actually very few people I personally know who I would recommend it to. Not because I don’t love it (obviously I do), but because I know only certain readers would find the act of putting this particular puzzle together worth the bigger picture. So, if you like complicated epic fantasies and don’t mind working every part of your brain while reading, I’d say give Gideon the Ninth a shot. I certainly don’t regret it.

Gideon the Ninth is available in hardback, paperback and digitally.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought!

Book Recs, Reviews

Review: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule

Could it really already be nearly two years ago now that we first heard about the High Republic adventures planned to span books, comics and manga? The anticipation for this series fueled my pandemic self, but I was worried the hype would be much more exciting than the execution. So, I delayed reading Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi, the book that sets everything off 200 years before the Skywalker Saga. But when it came up as a Kindle Daily Deal, I couldn’t resist. And now, I’m glad that I delayed, if only because I haven’t had to wait very long for the next books.

As I said, Light of the Jedi is the beginning of this new High Republic era and takes us back hundreds of years before Anakin, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Padmé (not quite before Yoda, though). The galaxy, under the leadership of fierce yet hopeful Chancellor Lina Soh, has begun exploring and, let’s be real, colonizing the Outer Rim when a large-scale travesty disrupts those plans. Jedi, technicians and politicians work together to determine the cause and encounter a mysterious enemy of the likes they’ve never seen before.

Picture of the cover of Light of the Jedi. Four Jedi stand with their lightsabers out and a space ship flies above.

Soule had the unenviable (or maybe enviable?) job of introducing us to most of the main characters of this new series in the span of just under 400 pages. That might seem like a lot of space, but when you have to give enough depth and emotion to about a dozen (if not more) characters in order to garner readers’ interests in their later stories, 378 pages is far from enough. Even so, Soule pulled it off. In my opinion, he pulled it off completely. My heart now cares way too much for these new characters, many of whom might very well meet sad ends.

I don’t want to give too much away about the book, because I firmly believe my reading of it greatly benefited from barely even reading the synopsis. But I do want to explore some of the themes Soule touched on and why they resonated so much with me.

First, Hope. Star Wars fans know that the underlying theme of every Star Wars project is hope. Episode IV is literally called A New Hope. Jyn Erso confirms in Rogue One (which is, in my opinion, the best Star Wars film) that ‘rebellions are built on hope’. But something we’ve never quite seen in the Star Wars canonical franchise is what hope looks like when there isn’t a war. When there’s not a struggle to overcome a specific evil for the greater good. When the galaxy isn’t just recovering from the results of that struggle. Light of the Jedi exists in the midst of a travesty, yes, but the characters don’t yet know how big that travesty is. They don’t yet know how their lives will change because of that travesty. Where does hope exist here? Some might say that hope is shown most prominently through the character of Chancellor Soh, who has hope for the betterment of the galaxy, and I agree to an extent. But I also saw hope through the individual actions of Jedis Avar Kriss and Bell Zettifar. They reminded me that, more than rebellions being built on hope, Jedi, too, should be based on hope. And trust. Trust that the Force will always guide them. Hope that their actions reflect and return that trust.

Next, Evil. The Star Wars universe has introduced its fair share of villains. Sith lords and apprentices. The Inquisitors (HELLO Second Sister!). The Empire. The First Order. Thrawn. Some have been forced to the dark side and some chose their own paths. None have given me the creeps quite as much as the villain introduced in Light of the Jedi. Their character arc from opportunistic inconvenience to orchestrated mastermind was truly one of my favourite parts of the book. Soule shaped this character well and made me so excited to see what else they destroy in later books.

Finally, Love. What is Star Wars without love, in some shape or form? Love, Anakin argues to Padmé in Attack of the Clones, in a lake house on Naboo, is encouraged amongst the Jedi because they have to care about the living Force within all things. Though Anakin definitely stretches the truth here in hopes that Padmé will give him a chance, I have always kind of agreed with him. It’s why I never understood how the Jedi got to the point where they could allow themselves to glance over slavery within the galaxy. And it’s why I have always hated the Jedi council. You cannot live a life without some form of love and still expect to be what the Jedi expect themselves to be. And I am so grateful that Soule included passages that hinted at this. From love for a creature to love for a friend, we see, yet again, that Anakin was not alone in his belief that Jedi could, and should, love.

Now that I’ve rambled for quite some time, I’ll wrap this up by saying that literally anyone can read Light of the Jedi. You don’t need to know anything about Star Wars except that there’s a really big galaxy with lots of different beings. Soule does a great job of introducing concepts well-known to hardcore Star Wars fans without over explaining and, in some cases, providing a much-needed refresher. There’s something in here for everyone, and I hope the rest of the High Republic carries on from this fantastic start.

Light of the Jedi is now available in hardcover, paperback and digitally.

Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments!

Book Recs, Lists

Latine/x Recs

These aren’t in any particular order and aren’t split into genres, just a list of books by and about Latine/x that I really enjoyed!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I was late to the game reading this book, but Dios mio did I love it. It’s very character driven and the plot is more about finding yourself rather than any big event, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is a book I wish I had when I was fifteen and lonely and feeling like there would never be a place for me in the world. I will carry this book in my heart for a long time.

Her Body and Other Parties / In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Machado is the kind of writer that flits across genres seamlessly. Her Body is a collection of short stories that don’t seem like they should fit together but they absolutely do. Dream House is a splintered memoir that plays with genre the way only a truly talented writer could. I will read anything Machado ever writes.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Reading this book felt like sitting in my Abuelita’s house, surrounded by my too large, nosy but loving family. Until I read Cemetery Boys, I’d never got that feeling from a book before. I love it now, but let me tell you, I would have been obsessed with it as a teenager.

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

This book is absolutely only for fans of horror, or, at the very least, those who don’t mind reading about body horror or cannibalism. If you’re OK with all of that, this book is really great. It’s a quick read, but it packs an emotional and, at times, uncomfortable punch. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

Gods of Jade and Shadow / Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

These are two very different books, but I enjoyed them both equally. If you like fantasy and mythology, Gods is for you. Mexican Gothic, however, is a slow-burn gothic horror/thriller. Moreno-Garcia is another writer who doesn’t see genres as barriers or firm walls, and I’m really exited to read the rest of her work.

You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

I don’t read a lot of romance anymore, but Hola sucked me in and kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning. It doesn’t have the highest rating, but it clearly entertained me. If you need a break from the heavy-handedness of most books, this is the perfect relief.

About Me, Interests

Welcome! ¡Bienvenidos!

As I say in my short ‘About Me’ section, this blog is a long time coming. I’ve wanted to have a book blog since I knew what blogs were, but I always got distracted by something. If I’m being honest, now, as I enter the final year of my PhD, isn’t such a great time to start this blog either. But if I’m going to procrastinate finishing my thesis, what’s better than sharing my love for books?

I wanted to use this first post to set the tone for the rest of the blog and discuss the types of books I enjoy reading, so here we go!

My Top-Tier Genres:

  • Science Fiction: I LOVE a good space story, whether quiet opera or punching action. Becky Chambers owns my heart with her Wayfarers series. The Star Wars Extended Universe (Legends and the new canon) fill me with excitement. Seriously, give me More Space.
  • Fantasy: I can’t remember the name of the first chapter book I ever read, but I do remember that it had fantastical adventures of a talking dog. I’ve been obsessed with fantasy ever since. Schwab, Lynch, Jemisin, Bardugo, Morgenstern. I’m always looking for a good fantasy world/story to get sucked into.
  • Young Adult (anything): I grew up with some classic early, early 2000s YA (Dessen, Cabot, etc.) and I haven’t looked back ever since. From contemporary to fantasy, paranormal to science fiction, I love it all. Not because I wish I still was a young adult, but because I love to see how much more inclusive the field has become. I like to read now what wasn’t available for me then.
  • Horror: Though I’ve loved Poe since I was small (seriously, I was about 12 the first time I publicly defended him to classmates), horror as a genre beyond him is still a bit new to me. But I’ve been exploring some Latin American horror recently and have been absolutely entranced by them. These authors include Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mariana Enríquez and Agustina Bazterrica.
  • Thriller: I really do love thrillers. I don’t even mind if I guess the ending (sometimes, that’s just good storytelling!). My most recent favourite is Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street.
  • Magical Realism: I was hesitant to put this on here because a lot of Latin American books get tossed under the MR label even if they aren’t exactly that. Regardless, I do love the casual mysticism in Isabel Allende’s and Gabriel García Márquez’s work. It reminds me of the casual mysticism in my own Mexican-American culture. It’s comforting, and I’m always looking for recent LA books that have the same feel.

So, those are my reading interests in a nutshell! I can’t wait to get started with this blog and my reviews, and, of course, I’m looking forward to hearing your own bookish thoughts!

-DS