Today I am sharing a batch of mini book reviews from participating in #IronTomeAThon in the month of July.
*Books included in this batch of mini book reviews: Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence, American Gods (American Gods #1) by Neil Gaiman, Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse, and A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan
» Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence
Red Sister is about a young girl named Nona who is beginning her training at Sweet Mercy, a convent that trains girls to become Sisters. We follow Nona as she navigates her new life at the convent and the rigorous demands of her training.
From the very first line, I was completely captivated by Red Sister. The characters are complex. The world is well developed and fascinating. The plot was fast paced, action-packed, and an adventure from start to finish. This book has everything I love in my fantasy books: bad ass leading lady, action, magic abilities, school/training setting, political drama, and an emphasis on friendships.
One thing that Mark Lawrence did in Red Sister was take a few common tropes we see regularly in fantasy and flipped them into something unexpected. You might think you know how a scenario might play out, but Mark Lawrence does a great job of keeping us on our toes throughout the entire book.
In my copy of Red Sister, Mark Lawrence included a glossary in the FRONT of the book, which I found very helpful. More often than not, when these are included in the back of the book, I am not able to utilize it because I don’t realize the book includes a glossary until I’m finished. This glossary included important information regarding the world, characters, etc. I did not need to use this glossary aside from a time or two because everything is laid out clearly in the story, but I appreciated the inclusion.
One of my only complaints about Red Sister would be the fact that Nona was supposed to be a very young girl throughout much of the story. Nona did NOT feel like a young girl of 9 or 10, but more like a girl of 14+ at the very youngest. This does happen to be a pet peeve of mine in books. While I do understand that this is a different world from our own thus a 9-year-old might mature faster than in our own world, it still bothered me slightly.
If you enjoy dark, gritty, and intense fantasy, I highly recommend Red Sister. I read somewhere that someone described this book as “Arya Stark at Hogwarts,” and it really is an accurate statement. Arya Stark is a character from Game of Thrones, and Hogwarts is the school setting in Harry Potter. It also gave me The Name of the Wind and The Poppy War vibes.
***Trigger/content warning: graphic violence***
» American Gods (American Gods #1) by Neil Gaiman
American Gods is about our main character, Shadow, and how his world gets flipped upside-down when he get mixed up with a man called Mr. Wednesday, and begins working for him. Wednesday insists that a storm of epic proportions is coming, and needs Shadow’s help rallying the troops. Shadow & Wednesday set off on an epic journey across the U.S, where they come across eccentric characters, run into sticky situations, and see the different landscapes America has to offer. Themes included throughout American Gods include identity, old ways vs. new ways, religion, belief, deception, etc.
I loved how Gaiman fused together ancient mythology with the modern, portraying the power struggle between the old ways vs. new ways. He gives us classic examples of ancient mythological characters (i.e. Odin, Anansi, etc) and creates a few new gods (i.e. technology, media, etc.) I enjoyed watching the rivalry and the build up to the big show down. Furthermore, I also really appreciated that Gaiman’s cast of “old gods” represent many different cultures’ mythology. For example, we see characters from Norse mythology, Slavic mythology, Ghanaian mythology, Egyptian mythology, Germanic mythology, etc.
Shadow was such an easy main character to root for. Despite being thrown in the midst of chaos, he was very level-headed, loyal, and compassionate. I could not help but love him and be invested in his journey.
American Gods is longer than Gaiman’s typical novels. Coming in at around 630-ish pages in the paperback and just under 20 hours for the audiobook. I listened to the audiobook, which was narrated by a full cast, and I really think this is how this story should be experienced. I doubt I would have enjoyed this story as much had I read it in print form.
I can totally see where this book would not be for everyone. If you’ve read a Neil Gaiman book before and not enjoyed his writing style, then you will most likely not enjoy this one. Neil Gaiman’s books tend to be dark, fantastical, odd, and quirky, so if you don’t enjoy those types of stories, Gaiman is probably not the author for you. Actually, if you’ve never read a Gaiman book before, I would recommend NOT making American Gods your first.
Is American Gods my favorite Neil Gaiman book? No. Neverwhere, Stardust, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane still hold the top spots as my favorite Gaiman books. Do I think it is still a very worthwhile book to read? Absolutely! As long as you know what you are getting yourself into going into the book 🙂
I’d recommend this book to those that enjoy mythology, folktales, and longer epic saga type stories.
» Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Trail of Lightning is about a young monster hunter named Maggie. Maggie is determined to uncover the truth behind a new breed of monster, but she quickly learns that the truth is much more evolved than she ever imagined. Trail of Lightning features themes like survival, good vs. evil, what makes someone a “monster,” PTSD/anxiety, and morality.
What really worked so well in Trail of Lightning was the post-apocalyptic world that Roanhorse creates. In this story, a global flood has wiped out most of the population. Dinétah, the former Navajo reservation before the “big water,” is such a cool backdrop for this story. In this new world, mythological beings and monsters walk among the survivors. I loved the infusion of Native American mythology within a post-apocalyptic world. The concept behind the magic system, that certain individuals receive certain clan powers like speed, fighting, weather control, etc, was also intriguing.
Maggie, our main character, was a very complex character. While she was courageous, fierce, & strong, she was also withdrawn and guarded. I appreciated that she was not perfect, and struggled with her own morality throughout the novel.
I must admit, this was probably a 3.5 star read until the last 100 pages. For only being 287 pages, the first half of the book was a slow build up. The first two chapters were action-packed and brutal, but then things slow way down from there until the final 100 pages. Since the book was so short, I feel like some of the plot and character development was a bit rushed. Trail of Lightning could have been 100 pages LONGER to give more time to develop some of these elements. The final 100 pages, the climax and resolution, were on point! I look forward to reading the next installment in this series.
I’d recommend this book if you like books that give you a western-ish feel, enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, and books that feature Native American mythology. Trail of Lightning also gave me similar vibes to the TV show Supernatural, so if you enjoy that show d I think you’d enjoy this book.
***Trigger/content warning: graphic violence***
» A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan
A Natural History of Dragons is told in a memoir style narrative of a prominent dragon natural scientist in her early years before she became “Lady Trent.” As a young girl, Isabella dreams of studying the natural sciences, specifically dragons. A Natural History of Dragons follows Isabella as she grows from a young girl with a dream, to becoming a young woman traveling to the far off mountains of Vystrana on an expedition to learn more about the creatures that have fascinated her for years.
There was so much that I loved about this story: the Victorian era setting, the feminist tones, the fantasy-historical fiction mash up, the challenging of gender norms, the focus on natural science, the mystery story line…
With a title like “A Natural History of Dragons,” you’d think that the book would include a lot of dragons or interactions with dragons, but it really doesn’t… A Natural History of Dragons is really more about Isabella, her early years, her early interest in the natural sciences, her courtship, the expedition, and the mystery surrounding the expedition. While I was a tad disappointed that dragons were not featured more throughout the story, I highly enjoyed Isabella’s personal journey. I’m hoping that this first book is setting up the subsequent books for more dragon action.
Isabella was an excellent female lead who wasn’t about to tolerate the gender norms of the times. While other girls her age are dreaming of making a suitable marriage match, Isabella is stealing books from her father’s library. She is intelligent, ambitious, energetic, and persistent in her pursuits. I loved that she refused to settle for a provincial life, but thirsted for more. I also really appreciated that Isabella was very flawed, and admitted when she made mistakes. She felt very realistic, and as a 19-year-old character, felt age appropriate.
It was refreshing to read a book from a single first person perspective that followed a linear timeline. The storyline was easy to follow because I was not distracted by POV switches or a nonlinear timeline. Since we are given access into Isabella’s thoughts and feelings through this first person perspective, I felt very invested in her character.
If you are looking for a book with lots of action and dragons, then A Natural History of Dragons is not going to be it. If you are looking for a book that features a young woman that is passionate about the natural sciences and her struggle to overcome the limitations on her gender in a Victorian era setting, then this book is for you.
Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think?
Comment below & let me know 🙂