Despite the occasional lack of activity here recently, I do read a lot and naturally, those books don’t always make it onto the blog. So I’m looking forwards to this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, which is a weekly challenge hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, where each week you write a list of ten particular books.
This week’s theme is: books you loved but didn’t review.
Not all of these books are my faves, but I did definitely enjoy them all. Most of them I haven’t reviewed because they are a single book in a series that’s either too well-known or I haven’t read (or it hasn’t been released). Others I did not enjoy enough to review, but I think they still deserve some recognition so hopefully putting them here will do that!
I’ve also included my thoughts/why I didn’t review them for a bit more info.
The Dragon Republic – R. F. Kuang
Is this book destined to end up on every single of my posts recently? Maybe so! However, I’m perfectly fine with this. The book is the second in a series based on a wartime period in Chinese history. The story follows Rin, a poor orphan who discovers she’s actually very well-suited to a life in the military.
It is quite dark and very violent, but I think this is balanced out by excellent characters.
Synopsis: (for book 1) When Rin aced the Keju – the test to find the most talented students in the Empire – it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who had hoped to get rich by marrying her off; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free from a life of servitude.
The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden
This book takes inspiration from Russian folklore to tell a story about how old magic, demons and spirits of another world, slowly lose power as the church gains prominence in the country. It mostly follows Vasya, a young girl who has the unique ability to see these creatures.
I loved this book – the lyrical quality of the writing really made you feel like you are in the midst of a fairytale. I don’t know much about Russian myths so I loved that this opened the door to them a little. I did not review it because I didn’t really enjoy the sequel of this book, The Girl in the Tower, as much, and stopped reading it halfway through. I still recommend reading this first though – and perhaps you’ll enjoy the rest of the series too!
Synopsis: In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church. But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…
Call Down the Hawk – Maggie Stiefvater
The first in a spinoff series about Ronan from The Raven Cycle, this has garnered mixed reviews I believe. I have only read TRC once, but I did love Ronan’s character and was excited for this book. It delves more closely into the magic of Ronan’s dreaming ability, where he can conjure up dream things into the real world.
A lot of this book closely sticks to that dreaming element to create something almost fable-esque. Stiefvater likes to write prose that hints at poetry, but really I think her subject matter here – the world between dreams and reality – does a lot of the work for her! The main thing that sold this book to me was one of the new characters, named Jordan. I could literally read a whole series about her, and I think it’s worth the read just for her! (Do it for her.)
Synopsis: Ronan Lynch is a dreamer. He can pull both curiosities and catastrophes out of his dreams and into his compromised reality. Jordan Hennessy is a thief. The closer she comes to the dream object she is after, the more inextricably she becomes tied to it. Carmen Farooq-Lane is a hunter. Her brother was a dreamer … and a killer. She has seen what dreaming can do to a person. And she has seen the damage that dreamers can do.
Red Sister – Mark Lawrence
The first of a series, this book is about a poor, orphaned girl who is rescued to a convent where she learns how to be extremely deadly and about the ancient powers she has.
My main gripe with this book was that it felt unnecessarily long and complex in several places. By which I mean I spent half the time wondering what was actually happening re: the world building, and also wondering why every single moment needed to be narrated. It did feel very much like the introduction to a series, which I cannot really fault, as it was! And despite my complaining I did enjoy it and I’ll read the rest of the series eventually.
Synopsis: At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist. But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.
The Magicians – Lev Grossman
I am talking about the trilogy here rather than any single book, which largely follow a boy who goes to magical university, essentially, and discovers a whole world of, well, magic. Grown-up Harry Potter.
Truthfully, there is a lot to dislike about this series. I am sure it would not stand up as well on a second read (especially when compared against the TV show…), as there are many points throughout the series where it does feel tired or unoriginal, or painfully like self-insert fiction. However, there are also many good bits, and I tore through all three books very quickly due to the addictive worldbuilding and character potential.
Synopsis: Quentin Coldwater’s life is changed forever by an apparently chance encounter: when he turns up for his entrance interview to Princeton University, he finds his interviewer dead – but a strange envelope bearing Quentin’s name leads him down a very different path. Instead of Princeton, he finds himself invited to study at Brakebills – a secret college of modern-day sorcerers.
Down Station – Simon Morden
This is an abrupt two-book series about a bunch of Londoners that end up in a parallel world, kinda, where some of them have powers and there is a sinister authority looming dangerously.
And it’s just, so good? It has a little bit of a half-finished and playing-it-by-the-ear quality to it but I did really enjoy it and I’m glad I happened across it. Wish there was more to this world tbh! There is a sequel, White City, which I enjoyed, but I still feel like I need more. The characters here are absolutely the winner of both books – they’re real, human, and it is so easy to empathise with both heroes and villains I was a little shocked I’ve never read any of Morden’s writing before.
Synopsis: Instead of fire, there was water. A wave slapped through the open doorway, and a gust of wind blew into the smoke-filled corridor, dragging a spiral of soot outwards and away. MARY. One slip away from prison, fighting to build herself a future from nothing. DALIP. The gentle son of a warrior tradition. A young man who must fight for independence from his family. STANISLAV. A fierce and capable man carrying the wounds of a brutal war. They left London in flames for a place where everything was different. A place that can uncover your secrets.
Monstress – Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
I finally sat down and read beyond just Volume 1 of this excellent graphic novel this year and I am so glad I did. The world presented here is just mind-blowingly good: an 1800s steampunk Asia, in a matriarchal system where eerie monsters exist on the horizons.
I really feel like there could not have been a better creative team for this book. The art perfectly captures the haunting feel of the story, both the narrator’s urges to give up and continue fighting and all of the background world building. Similarly, the actual story, the words, are very carefully chosen to tell Maika, the protagonist’s, story, and her battle with both the outside world and the power trying to get out from within her. If you’re going to read any graphic novel, make it this one.
Synopsis: Monstress tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.
The Binding – Bridget Collins
This debut novel is set in a hodgepodge world where magic exists alongside medieval aesthetics alongside gothic houses. It follows Emmet, a boy who has suffered a mysterious illness before the beginning of the book, and is invited to leave a future of farming for a profession in bookbinding that everyone is oddly afraid of.
I mentioned this book recently but I have not actually properly reviewed it. I really enjoyed it
on the first read – aside from the unique and absolutely captivating story, the narrative is plotted out in such an excellent manner I think it really speaks to Collins’ skills as a writer. I would like to reread it tbh, mostly because I think having foresight of plot events will definitely change how you read the story. (I would also recommend not looking too closely at reviews/descriptions if you want to read this as it could be spoilery and the plot twists are just… so good.)
Synopsis: Emmett Farmer, a farm labourer whose life is irrevocably altered when he receives a cryptic summons, pressing him into service as an apprentice to a Bookbinder. It is an invitation he is both drawn to and desperate to run from. For a Bookbinder’s trade is like no other.
Beasts Made of Night – Tochi Onyebuchi
This book is the first in a two-part series of Nigerian-influenced fantasy, following Taj. He is a sin-eater: he is one of a group who can call out sin from people and then get rid of it by fighting the animal form it takes – except he is then left with the sin on his own body. The trouble starts when he is called to eat a sin from a member of the royal family.
My favourite thing about this book is that I’ve never read anything like it. I absolutely love fantasy stories that are simultaneously wildly inventive yet inspired by a real life culture, and this ticks both boxes. My least favourite thing about it is there is so much potential that is wasted! I definitely enjoyed it, but I felt it could have been so much longer, with a lot more worldbuilding and space given to the excellent characters that do not get room to grow as much as they could have. Still worth the read, however, if only for a look at the ways fantasy can be different!
Synopsis: In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts–lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt. Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family. When Taj is called to eat a sin of a member of the royal family, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos.
The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett
I read this last year or the year before as part of my drive to finally get through Discworld. Unfortunately I stopped after about five or six books, but be assured I am definitely delving back into all of those stories as soon as I can! I didn’t review this because, who reviews Discworld? We already all knows its good!
That said, this is an excellent place to start the series. I immediately gained an appreciation not only for the comedy in every part of Pratchett’s writing but in the way excellent character building is given to you in as even pace as the plot, so you are never without both.
Synopsis: Somewhere on the frontier between thought and reality exists the Discworld, a parallel time and place which might sound and smell very much like our own, but which looks completely different. But then, some things are the same everywhere. The Disc’s very existence is about to be threatened by a strange new blight: the world’s first tourist, upon whose survival rests the peace and prosperity of the land. Unfortunately, the person charged with maintaining that survival in the face of robbers, mercenaries and, well, Death, is a spectacularly inept wizard…
Wow, this got long! Somehow I have included mini reviews in a whole post about not writing reviews but sometimes I just cannot stop myself from sharing my opinions. It is likely I will review one or two of these books in the future, but as I do all of my reading challenges and try to keep up with constant new releases, I’m content with this. Hopefully there are some new books on here to interest you!
What books did you enjoy that you haven’t reviewed? Link me to your TTTs!