I don’t know where to begin with this book. I was unprepared in the best way possible. You see all these blurbs and quotes about lesbian necromancers in space and you think “that sounds neat”, and then you meet Gideon Nav of the Ninth House and her necromancer, Harrowhark and see them try to kill each other in like, the first two chapters and then get summoned by the Undying Emperor to earn a place at his side, and Gideon smuggles sunglasses to this undying party, and suddenly, the things I thought I knew going into this story were decimated by Gideon’s glorious biceps. I was utterly blown away by this book, and the incredible writing. Seriously, everything about this novel is goals.
“Blood Calls” (this was the books previous title) is the story of a man-child, Corbin, and his sarcastic dragon, Blood. Both face prejudice because of their outsider status, and thus use drinking and a healthy dose of withering sarcasm to survive. And they aren’t afraid to fight back against bullies. Which means that Corbin’s war hero uncle can only protect Corbin for so long before his antics and womanizing cause more trouble than his uncle can fix. He ships his nephew off to a sleepy country as the nation’s junior ambassador, where Corbin doesn’t necessarily abandon his drinking, but at least the people there don’t automatically hate him and his red dragon, either. While there, Corbin is able to make friends for the first time in his life, and stand up for what’s right when his adopted country gets invaded, rather than just standing up for himself. He and Blood are able to show that the abilities they have, while considered evil, in the “right” hands, aren’t any more monstrous than any other weapon of war. Don’t let this book’s cover fool you, underneath is a really fun and funny story that never takes itself too seriously, even with the serious topics it tackles. Plus, who doesn’t love a telepathic, sarcastic dragon?
At its core, “The Cretin Gene” is a satirical look at how technology, junk food, and our current culture’s protest and counter protest mentality is making us, not just stupid, but violently stupid at that. It follows an aging cartoonist who is thrust into the limelight when someone looking to disrupt the world order commandeers one of his benign vegetable characters and assassinates someone. The assassination is a front for the true villain to inject society with the actual cretin gene, which has been supplied to the populace via their phones and their food. They essentially go crazy, and can be defeated when you read literature to them, or show them real books. See? Satire. Kind of. Satire is very hard to pull off in the best of circumstances, and maybe this ended up just not being for me, but the satire never really got to be the commentary it was supposed to be, and instead stalled out on caricature characters that got very difficult to read.
“The Tribulations of August Barton” is a sweet, kind of coming-of-age novella. Except it aims to show how the college experience has helped Augie find his voice, and with the help of his ex-prostitute grandma, Gertie, get a hold of his anxiety during a period of change. Augie may not have ventured very far to go to college (hey I didn’t, either) but it’s not about the distance. It’s about putting yourself in new situations and meeting new people, broadening your horizons in every sense of the word, and Augie definitely does that! Everything from his first time getting drunk, to falling in love, to even streaking in freezing temperatures, August finds his footing more than most in college. But throughout all of Augie’s adventures, there is this undercurrent of appreciating your elders, and spending time and enjoying the elderly while we have access to them that I found to be quite beautiful.
I tend to waffle on zombie books. I can get burned out on them real fast because they are just so popular; they seem to be the go-to epidemic for apocalyptic books, that or hunger game levels of dystopian. But “The Afters” was an awesome read, and all because of the narrative voice of Charlie, our main character. O’Connell had me laughing within the first chapter of introducing us to Charlie, and in a genre where most everything has been done 80 different ways, but often the same way (I’m looking at you, Walking Dead), it was so refreshing to have such a strong character. Because that’s what you need at this stage when almost everything else has been done before: a unique, strong voiced character that you are invested in, but is also incredibly sarcastic and funny in an otherwise super dire situation. Charlie lives in a very loose community of survivors, he’s an awesome scavenger and hunter of the undead, but he also is a good guy, a softie, a romantic, and his attachment to Bertha, Trey, and Ellie was both sweet and entertaining to follow.
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