Truthwitch and Other February 2021 Reads
Wow, six books in the four short weeks of February? I can't believe it either! It seems I was on a roll last month, devouring book after book, blooming out of my reading slump from January. So let's get right to it!
Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Safia is a Truthwitch, someone who can sense whether people are telling the truth. She has kept this a secret all of her life, but the emperor found out and he has conspired to make her his empress. To save her from this fate, her family and friends smuggle her out, by paying Merik, a Windwitch and prince of a neighbouring kingdom, to take her somewhere safe. However, Merik only wants a trade agreement and peace for his long-suffering kingdom, and smuggling Safia seems to be making both of those harder to achieve.
I think the biggest strength of this book is its worlbuilding. The various ways magic manifests in a person are so creative, and the way the story is able to display these through its action scenes is shonen-anime worthy. That said, I did feel that the novel's plot and characters were always playing catch-up to the worldbuilding. Sometimes things happened that I didn't feel were fleshed out enough, or characters made decisions that weren't rationalized fully. I wish that the novel took a step back from showing off the magic to make a little more room for developing the characters more. I do understand where the hype is coming from. Like I said, it's almost like a shonen anime: it's fast paced, it's flashy, and there are many characters you can choose to root for.
Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass
Romy, once the beloved courtesan of the Shadow Lord, is banished from his estate after she requests his intervention in preventing her father from being punished for a theft he did not commit. Now she is once again back to living as a peasant in a city state where people with magic -- people like her -- are put to death. Romy must carve out a life in the harsh Beggar's Ring with her brother, all the while, trying to hide her magical abilities and save the Shadow Lord from the schemes of a political enemy.
I loved this book! Breezed through it in three days. Romy's voice was so captivating, and I adored her determination to make something of herself. Her life had such a terrible beginning; and even her time as courtesan where she was treated with some leniency and luxury due to the Shadow Lord's fondness for her was not really an experience that left her wholly dignified. But she took what she learned from those harsh years, and it was so impressive to see her build up her life again from nothing, even while she was dealing with an antagonistic brother.
The second part of the book is sort of like a heist type arc, where Romy, Neri, and the couple of friends they make during the first half, strive to thwart a plot that can ruin the Shadow Lord. It was very smart and interesting, and I was at the edge of my seat, wanting to know how it all turns out. I'm so glad that there are two more books in the series. I hope all would turn out well for Romy.
Torch by R.J. Anderson
Torch is the long-awaited conclusion to R.J. Anderson's The Flight and Flame trilogy, which is an extension of the Faery Rebels series, one of my favourites. The six books revolve around faeries, piskies, spriggans, and humans, and their complex history and interactions. The series tackles serious issues like disability, prejudice, and even inter/intra-ethnic conflicts, in a very nuanced yet approachable way. In this last installment, Ivy, a wingless half-piskey, half-faery, tries to free her fellow piskeys from the clutches of her tyrannical Aunt Betony and the poisonous cavern of the Delve.
You know what makes for a great ending? When the story sets up so many different threads, their stakes in direct conflict with each other, and you're there thinking there is no way all of these threads will end well. And yet, somehow, the characters manage to come up with a clever solution you did not see coming, and they solve all the competing problems. That was how I felt about this ending, and it was just so satisfying. And the author managed to do this without cheapening the issues at all. The complexity is still there, but the resolution sets a very hopeful outlook for the characters' future.
Trese Vol. 1 by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo
Trese is a popular comic series in the Philippines that has recently been acquired as an anime by Netflix. It rose in popularity a decade and a half ago in the Philippines, but with its recent acquisition, an international publisher finally picked it up, and I was able to buy it in my local bookstore. The premise of Trese is a police procedural, monster-of-the-week type of story, spearheaded by the heroine, Alexandra Trese. In this first volume, we follow five bite-sized cases of criminal activity involving mythological Filipino creatures in the underworld of Manila.
Many people may say that the premise is cliche -- even the introduction given by another Filipino author admitted so -- but Trese's strongest point is its execution of this tried-and-true premise. And we have to give props to the artist as well, Kajo Baldisimo, for helping to bring this wonderful execution to life. The dark, atmospheric style of the comic contributed a lot to the reading experience. I really appreciated the way the cases unfolded, the way the story showcased how various Filipino mythological creatures might live in modern-day Manila, and how they might be involved in certain criminal circles. Also, those little notes slipped between each cases by Alexandra's father really tickled me. They not only serve as a creative way to showcase the creatures to those who might be unfamiliar with them, but they also add a bit of history and worldbuilding.
Alone in the Woods by Charly Cox
Charly Cox is probably going to be my Courtney Milan of the mystery-thriller genre; it's not a genre I read very often (and neither is historical romance), but now that I know there's an author whose work I can really sink into, they're an auto-read for me.
Alone in the Woods is the third installment of the Detective Alyssa Wyatt series, which follows a detective named Alyssa Wyatt as she solves criminal cases in her home city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This book looks at a case of a rich couple who was murdered, and the disappearance of their daughter and her best friend. Alyssa and her team must quickly figure out who killed the rich couple to find where the missing girls might have been taken. The twist at the end gave me whiplash! I did not see it coming, but in hindsight, it made a lot of sense -- that's the best kind of twists. In the previous book I was able to spot the culprit pretty easily, but this time, it really blindsided me.
A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
Mona is a fourteen-year-old girl who can work magic on bread. One day, she finds a dead body in her Aunt's bakery. This murder turns out to be only one of the many strings of murders being perpetrated against mages such as Mona. In their city-state, there is a brewing plot to get rid of all mages, either through death or voluntary exile, and somehow, through the inefficacy and incompetence of the higher-ups, it's up to Mona to be the hero everyone needs.
I really enjoyed this! In the same vein as Minor Mage, it showcases how creativity trumps power when it comes to skills. I love epic magic systems as much as anyone, but one of the things I really love about fantasy stories is when they manage to show that a person's mind or humanity is really what matters even in a world with magic. This book also has a subversive message about heroism. There are lots of books where children get to be heroes and it's all fine and dandy, but this one actually criticizes a world where children are forced to be heroes. Because when that happens, then you know you live in a failed society, you know that the people who are supposed to be doing their jobs, supposed to be responsible, have failed. I thought that was a really interesting perspective.