Tuesday 29 December 2020

Video: The Impostor

Came across this hilarious video by Tom Ska last week. He's rated it 12+ for mild gore and strobing lights.
It's about the robot uprising in the future.

Tuesday 15 December 2020

History Book Review: Paris, 1200 by John Baldwin

Pros: a lot of detailed information, a good amount of images

Cons: would have liked more information regarding festivities

The book focuses on the events in and around Paris around the year 1200. Since there aren’t a lot of documents detailing that specific year, the author pulls information from the decades before and afterwards. After the prologue there are 6 chapters and an epilogue. The chapters are: The City and its Bourgeoisie; The face of Pierre the Chanter and Philip Augustus and the Hidden Visages of Women; King Philip and his Government; The Church, Clergy and Religious Life; The Schools; and Delight and Pain.

I found the first two chapters a little boring, being very detailed explanations of the various important nobles and churchmen of the day. I did enjoy the section on women, though due to a paucity of source material it’s less about actual women and more about sculptures depicting allegorical women (like Ecclesia and Synagoga). The government chapter was hit and miss with regards to my personal interest though if you’re researching bureaucracy in the middle ages, it’s an excellent chapter. The later chapters were very interesting for me, particularly the sections on how mass was performed and the seating arrangement in the choir at Notre-Dame de Paris. For most of the book the author fudged the year, bringing in information from as early as the 1180s and ending around 1215, with the fourth Laterin council. I was a little disappointed that the author stuck to the single year when talking about holidays and festivals, as the city was under papal interdict for most of the year and so wasn’t allowed to celebrate Easter, weddings or other major festivities. Christmas celebrations got a minor explanation but again, I’d have liked more.

There’s a handful of black and white images, including some nice panels from a Bible Moralisée made around that time, and some stained glass and sculpture photographs.

Paris is a fascinating city and it’s cool reading a book dedicated to a single year in it. There’s a wealth of minor details regarding life at the time (like the debate over whether prostitutes should be allowed to donate a window in the cathedral), and at the end of the book I felt like I had a fair grasp on what life was like there.

If you like the middle ages and want more detailed information about city life, universities, and government, it’s a good book.

Tuesday 8 December 2020

Video: Lord of the Rings theme song with lights

I saw this video on youtube and had to share it. The Lord of the Rings theme is a wonderful piece of music, and the light effects (making it look like the game Rock Band) is fun. The pianist is Patrik Pietschmann, who has a lot of other theme songs on their channel.


Tuesday 1 December 2020

Books received in October and November 2020

Many thanks again to the publishers who sent me book the last few months.

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire - I've enjoyed the other books in the Wayward Children series, so I'm anticipating loving this. While they are interconnected stories, many of them can be read as standalones, and as novellas they're quick reads when you're pressed for time. Out January 12, 2021.

A young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns in Seanan McGuire's Across the Green Grass Fields, a standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-wining Wayward Children series.

“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”

Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to "Be Sure" before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines—a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

The Conductors by Nicole Glover - I've read this and it is fantastic. It reminded me of Delia's Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer, which I loved. The characters were fun. I loved seeing a married couple working together and the community of friends they rely on. Out in March 2021.

A compelling debut by a new voice in fantasy fiction, The Conductors features the magic and mystery of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series written with the sensibility and historical setting of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Meet Hetty Rhodes, a magic-user and former conductor on the Underground Railroad who now solves crimes in post–Civil War Philadelphia.

As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Hetty Rhodes helped usher dozens of people north with her wits and magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, have settled in Philadelphia, solving murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch. When they find one of their friends slain in an alley, Hetty and Benjy bury the body and set off to find answers. But the secrets and intricate lies of the elites of Black Philadelphia only serve to dredge up more questions. To solve this mystery, they will have to face ugly truths all around them, including the ones about each other.

Honeycomb by Joanne M. Harris - I was sent an Advance Reader Copy (ARC), which is an unfinished version of the book. So some of the images are still pencil drawings. I'm surprised that in addition to full page illustrations there are also several half page ones that wrap around the text. It's going to be a beautiful book. I love fairy tales and should enjoy the collection. This comes out in May, 2021.

The beauty of stories; you never know where they will take you. Full of dreams and nightmares, Honeycomb is an entrancing mosaic novel of original fairy tales from bestselling author Joanne M. Harris and legendary artist Charles Vess in a collaboration that’s been years in the making. The toymaker who wants to create the perfect wife; the princess whose heart is won by words, not actions; the tiny dog whose confidence far outweighs his size; and the sinister Lacewing King who rules over the Silken Folk. These are just a few of the weird and wonderful creatures who populate Joanne Harris’s first collection of fairy tales.

Dark, gripping, and brilliantly imaginative, these magical tales will soon have you in their thrall in a uniquely illustrative edition.

The tales are beautifully illustrated by renowned illustrator Charles Vess (StardustSandmanThe Books of Earthsea).

Thursday 26 November 2020

Shout-Out: Curling Vines & Crimson Trades by Kellie Doherty

In this queer adult fantasy novel, rare goods trader Orenda just wants to live a simple life, but when her wife gets kidnapped, she has to complete some nearly impossible tasks and trades in order to get her back. The problem is, her friend also has a list, and her final job is to kill Orenda.

This is book 2 of a 5 book series and releases November 30th. Book 1, Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties, is available now.

Friday 20 November 2020

Shout-Out: Half Life by Lillian Clark

There aren't enough hours in the day for Lucille--perfectionist, overachiever--to do everything she has to do, and there certainly aren't enough hours to hang out with friends, fall in love, get in trouble--all the teenage things she knows she should want to be doing instead of preparing for a flawless future. So when she sees an ad for Life2: Do more. Be more, she's intrigued.

The company is looking for beta testers to enroll in an experimental clone program, and in the aftermath of a series of disappointments, Lucille is feeling reckless enough to jump in. At first, it's perfect: her clone, Lucy, is exactly what she needed to make her life manageable and have time for a social life. But it doesn't take long for Lucy to become more Lucy and less Lucille, and Lucille is forced to stop looking at Lucy as a reflection and start seeing her as a window--a glimpse at someone else living her own life, but better. Lucy does what she really wants to, not what she thinks she should want to, and Lucille is left wondering how much she was even a part of the perfect life she'd constructed for herself. Lucille wanted Lucy to help her relationships with everyone else, but how can she do that without first rectifying her relationship with herself?

Wednesday 18 November 2020

History Book Review: The Book of Sainte Foy Translated by Pamela Sheingorn

This is a translation of the various works associated with Sainte Foy (Sancta Fidis/Saint Faith) written in the 11th & 12th centuries for the Monastery of St Foy at Conques, in the Rouergue region of Southern France. These consist of the Passion of St Foy, four books of miracles performed by St Foy plus some miracles that appear in singular manuscripts but not in others, the Translation of Sainte Foy (ie, the movement of her body/bones from Agen where she was martyred to Conques), and the Song of Sainte Foy (translated by Robert L. A. Clark).

The introduction, while short, gives a historical overview of the foundation of Conques and why they needed a saint’s body as well as the politics and social conditions during which these works were written. It helps the reader put the stories into the proper context. Especially important here is the distinction that early Christian theologians made “…between the veneration that the saints deserved as channels through which God’s grace could flow to humankind and the adoration reserved for God alone…” (p. 3). Without understanding that miracles were believed to be performed by God’s power through the saints, the miracles performed by St Foy look like idol worship, similar to what the Roman pagans practiced.

The translations are all in clear, readable English. There are profuse notes regarding translation and content that are worth referring to often. The stories are varied and quite entertaining. The author of the first two books of stories is an erudite cleric who occasionally devolves into diatribes about how people should have more belief in the stories he’s telling.

While some of the miracles seem to have physical explanations (the translator points some of these out) others do not, and must be taken on faith (pun intended). So much of religion is based on believing without proof, and books like these must have given comfort to those with disabilities and illnesses that they too were deserving of a cure.

The book uses a lot more classical (ie pagan) allusions than I expected. After reading this I read Writing Faith by Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn, which goes into great detail what we can discern about the authorship and writings of the miracle stories. They point out that classical allusions were a way of proving one’s erudition. They also point out that the stories follow many tropes and cannot therefore be taken at face value as being informative of life at the time.

It’s an interesting work.

Tuesday 10 November 2020

Book Review: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

Pros: interesting worldbuilding, fast paced, great evil entity

Cons: somewhat cliche detective pair

Agents Hamed and Onsi from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, are sent to investigate a haunting at the Ministry of Transportation. But budget concerns make dealing with the entity harder than expected.

The book is set in an alternate 1910s Egypt during suffragette protests. I liked how the fight for women’s ability to vote was tied into the rest of the story. Though it’s a novella, there’s a wealth of detail making Cairo come alive. I loved the diversity of the city, its people, food, and clothing. I loved the included - historically accurate - references to ancient and medieval documents regarding the paranormal.

The evil entity they’re dealing with wasn’t one I’ve heard of so I found it interesting - and creepy.

I found Hamed a boring protagonist. He’s not quite the stereotypical detective with a new recruit, but he’s close. I found the female characters significantly more engaging and would have liked seeing more of them and their points of view.

It’s an engaging and entertaining story that had me looking for other stories and books by Clark, including the story alluded to regarding Fatma’s assignment at the end of this one.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Book Review: Dead Moon by Peter Clines

Pros: lots of twists, some tense scenes


Cali Washington took the job as caretaker (burying the dead) on the moon to get away from her failed dreams. A month in, a meteor hits and suddenly thousands of dead start to rise. She and her co-workers must figure out what’s going on as they try to survive.

This is an engaging horror story that takes an interesting premise and runs with it. I was impressed with the number of twists the story had, as the characters learn more of what they’re up against. This isn’t a simple zombie story.

You’re introduced to characters in small batches so it’s easy to keep everyone straight. Lots of people die, which keeps the tension high as each encounter could be your favourite character’s last.

It’s a quick read, that isn’t overly gross or terrifying. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday 20 October 2020

The Phantom of the Opera: The Graphic Novel - Script, art, and letters by Varga Tomi

Pros: expressive artwork, faithful adaptation


Christine Daae’s astounds the Paris opera house with her voice despite having no teacher. Even her old childhood friend Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, is entranced. But she has a secret teacher, the opera ghost that’s terrorizing the theatre. The ghost is a jealous master, who demands Christine’s affections for himself.

This is an adaptation of the novel by Gaston Leroux. If you’re only familiar with the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical there are a fair number of differences. The general story is the same and Tomi’s adaptation hits all the necessary beats.

The art, though not my preferred style, fits the subject matter. The colours are subdued with a lot of dark shadows. Faces are very expressive. The author apparently did research for the book in Paris, and illustration of the opera house that begins chapter one is magnificent in its photo realism. The costumes and opera house are lavishly detailed. The ghost looks suitably horrifying with his red eyes and missing nose. The illustrations really bring home the horror of Christine’s position.

It’s a faithful adaptation of a great book.

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Vintage Story: a Minecraft style survival game

 A few weeks ago my husband and I started playing Vintage Story, a video game that looks like Minecraft, and plays in a similar style, but which emphasizes the survival aspects. There's a limited lore implying a previous society collapsed (you find ruins of it all over with storage vessels containing some supplies and on rare occasions scrolls containing bits of story). 

The main enemy are called drifters, which come in different varieties, and every now and then there are 'temporal storms' which causes your screen to darken, the visuals to waver, and drifters to teleport in around you. The game also has animals that will kill or damage you (namely wolves, but boars and rams can do some major damage too). Staying underground too long causes the gear at the bottom of the screen to turn left. Apparently bad things happen if the greenish colour disappears (I know you start fading in and out but we haven't let it go out completely yet).

Survival is the real test though. The game requires you to progress through the ages of man, starting at the stone age - knapping stone and flint tools to get meat and wood. You find seeds via storage vessels and wild crops. Then you can start farming. You originally harvest ores from the surface and have to find coal or create charcoal to smelt the ores (burning plain wood can't get hot enough) so you can mine. Making a windmill helps with the smelting, but takes time as you need a lot of flax fibers to make the cloth for the sails.

My husband deals with most of the mining, metal working and building. I tend to do more of the animal husbandry (we've got bees, pigs, and chickens), farming, and cooking.

The game makers are very friendly towards moders, which is great as we had to modify a few of the metrics. We've slowed the hunger rate (it starts unreasonably high) and added a keep inventory feature when you die (I die a lot so this would have earned a rage quit from me otherwise). We've also got a mod that allows for chiseled features, which is how my husband made the exquisite balcony on the house.

The game goes through the 4 seasons in a condensed year, which is cool as the colours of trees and plants change in autumn, getting more faded and white entering winter with the lakes freezing over, then to green, and finally a burst of variety for summer.

I took some screenshots so you can see our farm. This is the back of the house. We have 2 ponds. Below the windmill are my leather tanning and food preservation barrels. 

The front of the house. I built my farm onto a lake so I wouldn't have to worry as much about watering it. Off to the right, just out of view, is my apiary, also on the lake. Make sure to fence off your farm as the bunnies will eat your crops otherwise (and the 2 high fence areas are because we found out in winter the snow makes the ground high enough for bunnies to jump over a 1 high fence). 
A close-up of us on the balcony! You don't get to fully customize your characters - there are only a few model options. 

While trying to find salt for food preservation (found in deserts WAY to the south, like a real world hour's worth of walking to the south) we found jungle trees. I brought home some saplings, vines and flowers to create a little oasis near our farm. This shows the full play screen (the green gear, inventory, map and stats are from the basic game, the upper weather/time chart is an added mod, though the time can be accessed by hitting 'c'). 
My jungle without the extra info, and a wolf that tried (and failed) to eat me.

Like Minecraft it's an open world building game/adventure. It's a massive time sink (so keep that in mind) but also a lot of fun. The game costs 15 Euro and is available on PC, Linux (with some fiddling - check out their system requirements for info), and Mac (though apparently they won't be updating Mac OS after 2020).

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Book Review: The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell

Pros: great characters, lots of political intrigue, slow-burn romance, standalone


Twelve years ago the queen disappeared. Her sons, and many others, believe the tyrant king had her executed in secret. Rebels are stirring up trouble in the royal city and Prince Esvar is tasked with quelling it. But in administering a small justice, he chances upon Anza, a member of the rebellion. Years before, in collage, Anza stole two forbidden books: one a book of poetry, the other the queen’s journal. Negotiating various levels of politics, the two are drawn together even as the city is pulled apart by the king’s policies.

The book is told from three points of view: Anza, Esvar, and Queen Mirantha.  The queen’s entries are done in a different verb tense, so it feels more remote and historical rather than the third person action the other two used. Both women are highly educated and competent in their roles, which made the book feel delightfully feminist in some ways.

I loved all of the main characters. They each have flaws and do their best despite challenging circumstances. There’s so much political intrigue and second guessing motives and actions. The book does a fantastic job of showing how people survive prolonged abuse and fear, how they compartmentalize and cut themselves off from their emotions. It also does a great job of showing how difficult resisting evil can be.

The romance element is small but develops organically and was highly satisfying. Both characters have had past relationships and are very reasonable in their expectations, which I appreciated. Anza is bisexual, a state that goes without notice (indicating that in this world it’s considered normal).

There’s no graphic sexual or violent content, though rape and prostitution are mentioned. There’s so much grimdark fiction nowadays that I enjoy finding books that leave me feeling uplifted instead of depressed.

This was a fantastic book. I read it slowly so I could savour the intrigue. It does get intense at times. It’s a standalone novel, which is great if you don’t have time (or desire) to read 3-15 books. I highly recommend it.

Thursday 1 October 2020

Books Received in September, 2020

 Many thanks to the publishers who sent me review copies in September.

The Phantom of the Opera: the Graphic Novel by Varga Tomi - I LOVE the Phantom of the Opera (book, musical, etc), so this graphic novel is right up my alley.

Everyone has heard the whispered tales of the phantom who lives beneath the opera house, the mysterious trickster behind all the little mishaps and lost things. But no one has ever seen the monster . . . until now. When the promise of blossoming love lures him out from his intricately constructed hideaways in the labyrinthine building’s walls and cellars, a hideously disfigured artist trains the lovely Christine to be the opera’s next star for a steep price. Does she choose her newfound success or her beloved Count Raoul? This doomed love triangle threatens to combust when a tragic death, a series of betrayals, and increasingly dangerous accidents cast the players of The Palais Garnier into a heart-wrenching horror story that will echo through the ages.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the iconic gothic romance, is retold with all the spectacle its legend demands in this devoted graphic novel adaptation that marries stunning artwork with Gaston Leroux’s haunting prose.

The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson - 2020 has eroded my interest plagues and zombies. I started this and it just wasn't working for me. But tastes differ, so maybe it'll work for you.

Stranger Things
meets World War Z in this heart-racing conspiracy thriller as a lonely young woman teams up with a group of fellow outcasts to survive the night in a town overcome by a science experiment gone wrong.

Turner Falls is a small tourist town nestled in the hills of western Oregon, the kind of town you escape to for a vacation. When an inexplicable outbreak rapidly develops, this idyllic town becomes the epicenter of an epidemic of violence as the teenaged children of several executives from the local biotech firm become ill and aggressively murderous. Suddenly the town is on edge, and Lucy and her friends must do everything it takes just to fight through the night.

Machinehood by S. B. Divya - This book hits on several areas of interest to me so I'm looking forward to giving it a read. Out in March, 2021.

Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process.

All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week.

Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight.

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want?

A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?

Tuesday 29 September 2020

Book Review: The Jew, the Cathedral, & the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the13th Century by Nina Rowe

Pros: lots of black and white photographs, several maps, detailed explanations, enough historical background to fit the works into their setting


The book is separated into two parts, the first being the historical background of Jews in medieval European society, specifically how Christian writers addressed their continuing presence and necessity while condemning them for not accepting Christianity. This section also goes over some of the Jewish writings of the time, how their interpretations of the Talmud changed and their polemics regarding Christians. Finally this section examines the development of female personifications in the ancient world into Christian personifications of Church (Ecclesia) and Synagogue (Synagoga). Part two consists of the three case studies on Reims, Bamberg, and Strasbourg. These are the first 3 cities to include life sized sculptures of Church and Synagogue on their cathedral portals.

The first section of the book is informative and lays good groundwork fo the rest of the book and anyone interested in jewish-Christian relations in the middle ages. While other authors shy away from mentioning Jewish polemics and how certain Jewish practices could be seen as mocking Christianity (whether or not that was the intent) sheds important light on the complexities of the period. Jews were not passive victims, nor did their own scholarship lag into the Christian portrayal of preserving scripture for the Christians to use. Their society was vibrant, educated, and engaged with the times.

The case studies are highly detailed with a lot of excellent black and white photographs illustrating the author’s points. If you’re not interested in the minutiae of what sculpture specific workshops were responsible for or how the smile of an angle on one cathedral is similar to that of another, the chapters are still useful for the historical data regarding how Christians utilized the spaces (for example, the portals with these statues tended to be where ecclesiastical judgements were made and punishments meted out). I also appreciated learning how the Jews fit into the city better, how close they lived to the cathedrals and how this would have affected them.

If you’re interested in Jewish-Christian relations, life in the middle ages, or cathedrals and medieval art, this is an excellent book.

Tuesday 22 September 2020

The Warp Zone: Harry Potter: Hogwarts in 2020

The Warp Zone has put together a hilarious video of what Hogwarts schooling would look like under Covid 19 social distancing (ie, at home, with classes on zoom). 

Tuesday 15 September 2020

Book Review: Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe by Peter Spufford

Pros: lots of images and maps, so much good information

Cons: dense, took me several weeks to read

The book consists of 8 chapters: The transformation of trade; Courts and consumers; From court to counting house; Helps and hindrances to trade; Trade in manufactured goods; Trade in foodstuffs, raw materials and slaves; Imbalances in trade; and Conclusion: the pattern of trade.

The book on the whole goes into the nitty gritty of all aspects of trade, so if you’re not interested in how long it took for couriers to go from one place to another vs the same route travelled by a 4 wheeled wagon, 2 wheeled wagon, or pack animal, then this isn’t for you.

I found the writing style rather dry and academic at times. At other times it grabbed my interest, even if the section wasn’t on a topic I was particularly interested in. For example, I found the sections of the cost of road maintenance and who was expected to perform and pay for it really interesting.

Each chapter is subdivided, though unless you know where the information you want is located, you may not find it easily. For example, the section on how quickly couriers can travel isn’t in the same chapter as that of wheeled wagons, though the author does put in page numbers at times to help you find complementary information. I tried to return to an interesting paragraph about bridge building done by merchants and experienced some frustration as it wasn’t in any of the sections labelled as being about bridges, but in a section called ‘Commercial pressure for improvement’.

If trade in the middle ages is of particular interest to you than you will learn a lot about it here. If you’re interested in fleshing out a novel, again, there are some real gems though you may find it a bit tiresome locating them.

A few things I learned: some merchants paid innkeepers to store and repack good, then arrange transit to the next inn. Rooms in inns contained several beds separated by curtains and travellers found themselves sharing beds with strangers. Merchants braved passes in the Alps during the winter, even when the passes were dangerous. In some cases merchant houses paid for repairs (and even the building) of bridges if the communities responsible for them neglected them. Cities quickly grew up around fairs, and died out quickly if those fairs moved. Though inns were profitable businesses, hospices (hostels for pilgrims or the poor/hospitals), even when properly run, were not. Slaves were traded by Southern Italians from the 1300s on, and owning them was only illegal if they were Christians (and some, captured in the Balkans, were). The children of slaves were free, so there was no ‘self-perptuating’ market.

Chapter 5 on where and how trade goods were manufactured was very interesting. Each section was fairly short but packed in a ton of information. Chapter 6 on bulk trade items (things like raw wool and grain) was also interesting, talking about which goods were worth transporting and how larger cities needed to import food as the local areas couldn’t support them.

The book has a large number of black and white as well as colour images illustrating medieval processes. These are often later woodcuts, manuscript images or close-ups of the background in paintings where painters added scenes from daily life. There is also a lot of maps so it’s easy to understand the various trade routes and manufacturing centres.

It took a while to read as the information is very dense, but it’s worth the time and effort and you’ll come away knowing a lot more about the interconnectedness of the medieval world.

Tuesday 8 September 2020

Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Pros: very tense, interesting characters

Cons: is a bit gory at times

Ten years ago four friends went into the forbidden elder’s section of the reservation for their end of season elk hunt. Now the spirit of one of the elk they killed is back for revenge.

This is the first contemporary fiction book I’ve read in years so it took me a while to get into (in part because I’m not conversant with the shorthand for car names so spent some time trying to figure out what the character was talking about). The book is split into 4 sections, each dealing with a different point of view character involved with the elk event.

I wasn’t a fan of Ricky and Gabe, but really enjoyed reading Lewis and Cassidy’s stories, hoping they could shake the horror coming their way. The pacing was great, really ratcheting up the tension in all the right places.

In the first sections the author makes you doubt what’s going on, especially with Lewis. Is there really an elk spirit or is he having a psychotic break from reality? Either way things get horrifying fast. I almost stopped reading it was getting so intense.

While the horror is mostly one of anticipation, there is some gore. Thankfully the descriptions aren’t overly graphic. Part of the earlier horror is simply seeing the level of everyday, casual racism natives face. The characters are constantly double checking their surroundings for danger, ignoring slights, conscious of how ‘native’ their actions appear, due to criticism from others: natives and non-natives alike, for being both too native and not native enough. There’s a strong undertone that no matter what the characters do it will never be ‘enough’, whatever ‘enough’ even means. Because the characters aren’t just up against the supernatural, they’re against the biases and prejudices of themselves and everyone around them.

I was shocked by some of the people who died. Which made the ending, that last section, very tense. I DID NOT want that character to die. Not this way. I was on the edge of my seat urging them on, not to give up, just one more step.

The ending fits the story.

If you can handle horror this year (no shame if you can’t, 2020’s horror enough for a lot of us), this is a good read.

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Books Received in August, 2020

Many thanks to the publishers that sent me books for review last month.

The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell - Sounds like an interesting story. 

When a country is held in thrall to a vicious, despotic king, it’s up to one woman to take him down.

Long ago, Queen Mirantha vanished. King Karolje claimed it was an assassination by a neighboring king, but everyone knew it was a lie. He had Disappeared her himself.

But after finding the missing queen’s diary, Anza—impassioned by her father’s unjust execution and inspired by Mirantha’s words—joins the resistance group to overthrow the king. When an encounter with Prince Esvar thrusts her into a dangerous game of court politics, one misstep could lead to a fate worse than death.

Esvar is the second son to an evil king. Trapped under his thumb and desperate for a way out, a chance meeting with Anza gives him the opportunity to join the resistance. Together, they might have the leverage to move against the king—but if they fail, their deaths could mean a total loss of freedom for generations to follow.

The First Sister by Linden Lewis - I've actually read this but chose not to review. I thought the first 2/3 of the book were interesting but that the ending didn't land. I had some issues with the world building, especially towards the end.

First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.

Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.

The Year's Best Science Fiction vol. 1: The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020 Edited by Jonathan Strahan - Coming out September 8th the line-up for this collection is excellent.

A must-have collection of the best short science fiction and speculative fiction of 2019, showcasing brilliant talent and examining the cultural moment we live in, compiled by award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan.

With short works from some of the most lauded science fiction authors, as well as rising stars, this collection displays the top talent and the cutting-edge cultural moments that affect our lives, dreams, and stories. Authors include past award-winners Rebecca Roanhorse, Ken Liu, Carmen Maria Machado, Aliette de Boddard, Kim Stanley Robinson, Yoon Ha Lee, and Ted Chiang.

An assemblage of future classics, this anthology is a must-read for anyone who enjoys the vast and exciting world of science fiction.

Thursday 27 August 2020

Shout-Out: Divine Heretic by Jaime Lee Moyer

Everyone knows the story of Joan of Arc, a peasant girl who put Charles VII on the throne and spearheaded France's victory over Britain before being burned by the English as a heretic and witch.

But things are not always as they appear.

Jeanne d'Arc was only five when three angels and saints first came to her. Shrouded by a halo of heavenly light, she believed their claim to be holy. The Archangel Michael and Saint Margaret told her she was the foretold Warrior Maid of Lorraine, fated to free France and put a king upon his throne.

Saint Catherine made her promise to obey their commands and embrace her destiny; the three saints would guide her every step. Jeanne bound herself to these creatures without knowing what she'd done. As she got older, Jeanne grew to mistrust and fear the voices, and they didn't hesitate to punish her cruelly for disobedience. She quickly learned that their cherished prophecy was more important than the girl expected to make it come true.

Jeanne is only a shepherd's daughter, not the Warrior Maid of the prophecy, but she is stubborn and rebellious, and finds ways to avoid doing - and being - what these creatures want. Resistance has a terrifying price, but Jeanne is determined to fight for the life she wants.

But when the cost grows too high, Jeanne will risk everything to save her brother, her one true friend and the man she loves.

Not everyone is destined to be a hero. Sometimes you have no choice.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Book Review: The Mother Code by Carole Stivers

Note: I read and reviewed this title in March, just after my area entered lock-down due to Covid-19. The original release date for the book was May 5th, later pushed back to August 25th.

Pros: the relationship between the robots and kids was interesting

Cons: I intensely disliked the government personnel, the book made me feel angry and anxious

After a biological attack in Afghanistan goes wrong, a team of scientists is assembled to both find a cure and - if that fails - ensure the continuation of human life.

Reading this while in social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic was… not ideal and definitely coloured my reception of the story. The novel has 2 halves and two narratives, that of the scientists and military personnel trying to get a handle on the manufactured virus starting in 2049, and that of some of the kids from the plan B of the scientists, starting when the kids are 6 years old, in 2060. As a Canadian, the US characters’ decision to kept the knowledge of the plague from the rest of the world, deciding in their arrogance that they and they alone could solve the problem, rather than asking for help from scientists around the world, was infuriating to read. I found myself really hating the US scientists despite the author’s attempts to humanize them with love stories and heartbreak. Even at the end it seemed they were hellbent on compounding their errors.

The kids’ story in the first part of the book wasn’t that interesting and really cut down on tension for the other storyline, as the reader knows from the start of the book that at least some of the mother robots succeed. I found their story more compelling and interesting in the second part of the book. The author nails the tension in this half and I was worried about what was going to happen to the kids.

In terms of characters, I did like learning more about the kids and their bonds with the mother robots. I was impressed at how capable the kids all were in terms of caring for themselves, despite their youth.

I felt conflicted by the Hopi inclusion. On the one hand it was neat seeing them, on the other it made them feel like ‘mystical natives’, only there to help the scientists survive. Aside from Nova, we never see them from their own point of view, living their lives. We only see how they help the scientists with medicine, scouting, and food, which made them feel like servants.

I was also unsure what the end goal of the scientists was. Even if all 50 kids survived, that doesn’t seem like enough genetic diversity to repopulate the world.

In better times I think I’d have enjoyed the story more. As it was, I found the book made me feel a mix of anxiety and anger.

Friday 21 August 2020

Homemade Wax Tablet

 Sometimes it's fun to recreate historical items to see how they really worked. 

A while back I saw several people make wax tablets and thought that would be a cool activity. A LONG time ago I made rolled beeswax candles and still had them, so getting the wax was easy. (To make these, you roll sheets of beeswax around a wick.) I considered (and even started) carving a tablet base, but found a suitable wood piece at the dollar store in the lid of a small jewelry box. I unscrewed the lid, sanded the sides and filled in the holes with wood glue. I then painted the entire thing in a coffee stain (which made it feel grainy so I probably wouldn't do that again). I varnished it to keep the stain in and then got to melting my wax. I used a silicone cup in a pot of water as my double boiler. It took longer for the wax to melt than I expected and I had to do it three times to fill my tablet. I probably used around 1 cup of wax for this.

Here you can see the tools I used:

I used all of a black candle and half of a dark blue one, giving me a fairly dark writing space. The wax is denser than I expected, harder to scrape (though I don't have a proper tool). I was surprised how quickly - and how much - wax built up on the writing tool I used (I tried with a matchstick and then a crafting tool that has a small ball on the end). I wonder if proper styli had a way of dealing with this.

I'm using my heat gun to reset the top layer of wax. It appears you'd lose a layer of wax each time you change your message. But your message will stay there unless it gets very hot or you scrape it off. I wonder if people kept a jar for the wax they remove so they can melt it and add it back on...

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Book Review: The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Pros: lots of intrigue, thought provoking, nuanced


I’m using the publisher’s synopsis as there’s so much going on I can’t come up with a better one. You can read my reviews of The Traitor Baru Cormorant and The Monster Baru Cormorant by clicking the titles.

The hunt is over. After fifteen years of lies and sacrifice, Baru Cormorant has the power to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest that she pretends to serve. The secret society called the Cancrioth is real, and Baru is among them.

But the Cancrioth's weapon cannot distinguish the guilty from the innocent. If it escapes quarantine, the ancient hemorrhagic plague called the Kettling will kill hundreds of millions...not just in Falcrest, but all across the world. History will end in a black bloodstain.

Is that justice? Is this really what Tain Hu hoped for when she sacrificed herself?

Baru's enemies close in from all sides. Baru's own mind teeters on the edge of madness or shattering revelation. Now she must choose between genocidal revenge and a far more difficult path—a conspiracy of judges, kings, spies and immortals, puppeteering the world's riches and two great wars in a gambit for the ultimate prize.

If Baru had absolute power over the Imperial Republic, she could force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes.

This is the third book in the Masquerade series, with a 4th book on the way. If you haven’t read the previous two books recently, it’s worth doing a reread as there’s so much nuance that you’ll be lost if you don’t remember the details of all that’s happened.

The book is told from several points of view including: Baru, Xate Yawa, Aminata, and Svir. There are scenes set in the ‘now’, contrasted with a direct continuation of the events from book 2 as well as scenes set 23 years prior, continuing Tau-indi’s story of when Cosgrad and Farrier stayed with the Mbo princes.

It’s not a quick read. There’s so much going on and so much nuance that I often had to stop to process what the characters were doing and what that might mean for their future. It’s easy to fall into Baru’s trap of forgetting there are other players on the board when she acts. Each time I assumed things would go the way she’d foreseen because she’s a savant, but everyone in the story has their own motivations and few align with hers, so there’s generally a mess of consequences you don’t expect.

It’s a book filled with hard truths about colonialism, racism, sexism, and what people and nations will do to gain power over others, and what they’ll do to keep that power. As such, it’s very thought provoking, forcing you to see people and ideas from varied perspectives. In several instances the author uses reversed language to get these ideas across, so ’matronize’ instead of ‘patronize’, ‘anti-mannist’ instead of ‘feminist’, etc.

I was surprised that I still found Baru a sympathetic and likeable character after all she’s done. I still want her to succeed. With all the horrors going on (and there are a lot of them) there’s still a sense of hope to the story, that in the end things just might work out the way Baru wants. I even started to like Yawa, which was kind of a shock given her previous actions. I really enjoyed seeing Tau-indi’s growth, overcoming what happened to them at the end of the last book. It felt like the various characters were all growing as people, learning more about the world and themselves and really taking a look a the world they were making and deciding if their choices had helped or not.

While this isn’t the series end, this book does tie up several plot threads into a satisfying climax. I can’t wait for the final book to wrap up all the remaining loose ends.

Tuesday 4 August 2020

Movie Review: The Cat Returns (猫の恩返し)

Directed by Hiroyuki Morita, 2002

IMDb listing

When Haru saves a cat from being run over, she’s unprepared for the cat kingdom’s attempts to make her happy, which include kidnapping her and bringing her to their world.

This is a Studio Ghibli film that I first saw in theatre when it came out in Japan. It didn’t have English subtitles and my Japanese wasn’t that great so I’ve always kind of wondered what was really going on in the film. Well, it’s currently on Netflix so I watched it with my husband.

I warned him that it’s not a particularly good film, it’s just batsh*t crazy. And having watched it and fully understood the plot, I stand by that statement.

Haru is a typical teen, unsatisfied with how her life’s going. The boy she likes is dating someone else and she’s not sure what she wants to do with her life. Still, she’s not particularly keen on what the cats are doing. They don’t understand the human world and so give the gifts of mice and catnip. 

As expected from a Ghibli film, the artwork is cute and stylistic. The kingdom cats stand on their hind feet with their paws down in an adorable and strange way. I still found some parts laugh out loud funny (the entertainment at the feast in the cat kingdom is fantastically weird and by far my favourite part of the film). It’s short enough that the rather thin plot doesn’t seem overplayed. The soundtrack is fantastic, with some great instrumental pieces contrasted with the cat kingdom's use of a modified Japanese court music. (Japanese court music uses a lot of what Westerners would call discordant - or minor - notes. It's... unique and really fits the film with its otherworldly quality.) I especially love the end credit song.

Not worth multiple viewings, it is a fun romp that will leave you feeling uplifted. Indeed, if you need something fluffy to distract you from the pandemic horrors we’re currently living with, this is a great choice.

Thursday 30 July 2020

Shout-Out: Auxiliary: London 2039 by Jon Richter

The silicon revolution left Dremmler behind but a good detective is never obsolete.

London is quiet in 2039—thanks to the machines. People stay indoors, communicating through high-tech glasses and gorging on simulated reality while 3D printers and scuttling robots cater to their every whim. Mammoth corporations wage war for dominance in a world where human augmentation blurs the line between flesh and steel.

And at the center of it all lurks The Imagination Machine: the hyper-advanced, omnipresent AI that drives our cars, flies our planes, cooks our food, and plans our lives. Servile, patient, tireless … TIM has everything humanity requires. Everything except a soul.

Through this silicon jungle prowls Carl Dremmler, police detective—one of the few professions better suited to meat than machine. His latest case: a grisly murder seemingly perpetrated by the victim’s boyfriend. Dremmler’s boss wants a quick end to the case, but the tech-wary detective can’t help but believe the accused’s bizarre story: that his robotic arm committed the heinous crime, not him. An advanced prosthetic, controlled by a chip in his skull.

A chip controlled by TIM.

Dremmler smells blood: the seeds of a conspiracy that could burn London to ash unless he exposes the truth. His investigation pits him against desperate criminals, scheming businesswomen, deadly automatons—and the nightmares of his own past. And when Dremmler finds himself questioning even TIM’s inscrutable motives, he’s forced to stare into the blank soul of the machine.

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Books Received in July, 2020

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster's Saga imprint for sending me the following:

Savage Legion by Matt Wallace - Sounds like my kind of fantasy.

They call them Savages. Brutal. Efficient. Expendable.
The empire relies on them. The Savages are the greatest weapon they ever developed. Culled from the streets of their cities, they take the ones no one will miss and throw them, by the thousands, at the empire’s enemies. If they live, they fight again. If they die, there are always more to take their place.
Evie is not a Savage. She’s a warrior with a mission: to find the man she once loved, the man who holds the key to exposing the secret of the Savage Legion and ending the mass conscription of the empire’s poor and wretched.
But to find him, she must become one of them, to be marked in her blood, to fight in their wars, and to find her purpose. Evie will die a Savage if she has to, but not before showing the world who she really is and what the Savage Legion can really do.

Live to Tell the Tale: Combat Tactics for Player Characters by Keith Ammann - This is a follow-up to Ammann's The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters. Though I know the principles, I've never actually played D&D.

In his first book, The Monsters Know What They’re Doing (based on his popular blog), Keith Ammann unleashed upon the D&D world a wave of clever, highly evolved monster tactics. Now it’s only fair that he gives players the tools they need to fight back…and prevail!
An introduction to combat tactics for fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons players, Live to Tell the Tale evens the score. It examines the fundamentals of D&D battles: combat roles, party composition, attacking combos, advantage and disadvantage, Stealth and Perception, and more…including the ever-important consideration of how to run away!
Don’t worry about creating a mathematically perfect character from square one. Survival isn’t about stats—it’s about behavior! With four turn-by-turn, roll-by-roll, blow-by-blow sample battles, Live to Tell the Tale breaks down how to make the best choices for your cherished characters so that they can survive their adventures, retire upon their accumulated riches, and tell stories about the old days that nobody will ever believe.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Book Review: The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Pros: interesting characters, quite scary and intense

Cons: uncomfortable race relations

Sixteen year old Immanuelle Moore is the daughter of a black man from the Outskirts, who burned on a pyre for having relations with her mother. Her mother was a white bride of the Prophet, who went mad after seeing her lover die. Raised as a good believer in the Holy Scriptures, she doesn’t understand why the Darkwood, home of the witches who once terrorized Bethel, calls to her so strongly. When she finally succumbs to that call, she unwittingly unleashes a series of curses on her home.

Immanuelle is a great protagonist, conflicted in her beliefs and desires. She’s strong willed and passionate. Her terror of the witches and determination to end the curses were palpable. I loved the slow burn romance with Ezra.

The world itself was terrifying for a liberal reader. Bethel is a closed community with very strict religious rules and no recourse against the hidden evils Immanuelle discovers taking place within the church: abuse of power - physical and sexual - and the subjugation of women.

The division between the villages of the ‘holy’ white congregation and the shanty towns on the Outskirts of the black former refugees was stark and left me feeling uncomfortable. I would have thought that with the conversion of the refugees, more intermingling would have occurred. The fact that Lilith, the head witch, was a black woman also left me feeling unsettled as it seems to continue this ‘black is evil, white is good’ theme, which is clearly undercut by the churches’ abuses on one hand but not really by anything on the other. Yes, Immanuelle fought against the witches, but as she was from the village and not the Outskirts it didn’t feel like she broke that aphorism. Nor does Vera, as it’s unclear if she ever practiced witchcraft or simply used protective sigils.

The horror elements are very terrifying. There’s a lot of blood and the story centres on events in womens’ lives that feature blood. The witches are evil and things get so grim I had to take breaks when reading this. Descriptions aren’t overly graphic, so though the imagery can be intense, it never feels gratuitous.

The writing is quite lyrical, which brings the world to life and really drives home the terror.

On the whole this is a fantastic story, provided you can handle a horror novel right now.

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Video: Hildegard von Blingin'

Saw this recently and just had to share it. Hildegard von Blingin's youtube channel is pretty new but their song rewritings, turning modern pop songs into medieval lays, is awesome.

Friday 10 July 2020

StoryBundle's World SF 3 bundle

StoryBundle is doing their third World SF bundle. These are pay what you want ebooks (with a minimum payment of $15 if you want to unlock the bonus books) that are DRM free.

There are some interesting sounding titles in this offering. Click on the link above to see their site (where if you click on the covers you'll see a synopsis of each book).

Thursday 9 July 2020

Shout-Out: Only Love is Deathless by Sita Bethel

Sreka’s younger brother, Dobrina, is in love. The only problem is that the law forbids him from courting until Sreka is married. Sreka hires the local adventurer, Košmar, to marry him so Dobrina can wed his love.
Even if he has to sleep on the couch, instead of with the crown prince on their farce wedding bed, Košmar will get to live like a king for a year. And once Dobrina is married, Sreka will quietly divorce him and send him on his way with gold for his services.
Nothing says destined romance like a battle with a dragon, so Sreka and Košmar stage their first public encounter to fool the royal court. However, as fate would have it, the dragon that was supposed to be as fake as their love is real.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Book Review: Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Pros: lots of twists, great characters, interesting magic system


Three years have passed since the events at the Mountain. Orso, Berenice, Sancia and Gregor have created a library for scrivers in Foundryside. But after celebrating a major acquisition, Valeria, the hierophantic construct, warns them that Crasedes Magnus, first hierophant, is being reborn. The gang jumps into action, using their various skills to stop the most powerful entity in existence from enacting his plan.

This is a real rollercoaster of a read. There are so many twists as the group faces off against several powerful enemies. I was really shocked by some of things that happened.

The characters were great and felt fully developed. Berenice and Sancia have such a loving relationship. While it was unfortunate seeing Gregor’s pain, I appreciated that his unresolved trauma was dealt with.

The author continues to do interesting things with the unique magic system. I loved seeing the various ways twinning could be used.

This book didn’t wrap us as nicely as the previous one, nor does it end on a similar positive note. While it’s not exactly a cliffhanger, it will leave you wishing the third book in the series was already out.

Tuesday 30 June 2020

Books Received in June 2020

Many thanks to Ace and Saga Press for sending me the following debut novels for review.

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell - Sounds like it uses an interesting form of magic and has a lot of political intrigue.

In this brilliant debut fantasy, a story of secrets, rebellion, and murder are shattering the Hollows, where magic costs memory to use, and only the son of the kingdom’s despised traitor holds the truth.
Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.
In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.
What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson - Given 2020 this may be too dark for me at the moment, but it sure sounds awesome.

A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet's word is law, Immanuelle Moore's very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.
But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.
Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones - When I heard about this book a few months ago I was told it was a psychological horror. Consider me intrigued.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Thursday 25 June 2020

Some Dark Fantasy Book Recommendations Without Sexual Assaults

Around the time grimdark emerged as its own genre I was getting tired of traditional fantasy tropes and wanted something new. It seemed perfect timing. I read Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy and it so expertly reverted the fantasy tropes I was familiar with that I loved them.

Something strange happened after that though. Other books I picked up seemed to be less a clever conversation with the past and more just a glorification of abuse and violence. Suddenly fantasy books didn't leave me feeling better about myself and the world, they made my escape from the real world into a hellscape of rape and gratuitous violence. So I stopped reading grimdark. I also started and stopped reading urban fantasy (for several reasons but the standard list of things that started happening to all the protagonist - lost memory, got raped - was a deciding factor) and started reading more science fiction.

I've hit a point in my life where I'm not willing to finish a book I'm not enjoying, and with a few exceptions I now stop reading if there's a rape scene or if there are no redeeming protagonists. If I don't want to main characters to succeed in their goals...

So here's a list of books that have darker themes but (as far as I can remember - PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I'M MISREMEMBERING) do NOT have rape scenes. They do have other violence and can be really intense at times (I often need to break up series so I don't get too depressed reading some of this stuff), but there are no sexual assaults.

I haven't been reading as much fiction lately, and dark fantasy isn't my favourite, so this will be a short list. If you've got others, please leave a comment as I'm always looking for good, rape free fantasy.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickenson - I just finished reading the first 3 of an incomplete 4 book series about a woman whose island was colonized by a major empire, destroying their way of life. Baru determines to join the Empire and destroy it from within. There is betrayal, rebellion, colonization, mutilation, and more.

Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield - Set in an alternate medieval Belgium, a woman must find her undead husband to secure her daughter's inheritance. There's war, a hellmouth, and women doing what they must to survive.

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Steveley - The first book in a completed trilogy (there's also a standalone, Skullsworn, set in the same world and focused on an assassin/priestess). The Emperor has died and his three unprepared children must deal with the fallout. Contains assassins, eagle mounts, subtle magic, armies, fanatical priests, etc.

City of Stairs* by Robert Jackson Bennett - I'm currently reading a different series of his, but I think City of Stairs is the grittier book. There are hints of assault (ie, it's known assault happens in this world) but there are no on page assaults. The plot centres around a female diplomat sent to uncover a murderer in a colonized city. (If you ever thought computer programming would make a cool magic system, I highly recommend Foundryside.)

Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan - An interesting completed trilogy about a society built on the use of dragon blood in a world where few dragons remain. There are navel battles, betrayals, wars, etc.

Lamentation by Ken Scholes - The first of a completed 5 book series that was so intense I needed a break between books. When an ancient device destroys the city of Windwir, war comes to the Named Lands. There is a lot of violence, sometimes graphic torture, assassination, political intrigue, plots within plots within plots.

This next book isn't technically grimdark (being older than that label) but the author really puts her characters through the ringer (which is true of all the books I've read by her).

Transformation by Carol Berg - The first of a trilogy but can easily be read as a standalone. A slave who used magic in the past must help his new master overcome his possession. This is one of my favourite novels because there's a surprising amount of humour to it. Black humour, to be sure. It also doesn't pull any punches. There is off page assault (it's clear the protagonist was assaulted in the past and he tries to warn another character who is assaulted off page).

Carol Berg's Song of the Beast is also a brilliant book, but so harsh I've only been able to read it once.

Another hesitant recommendation is The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter*. One side character is assaulted off page, which results in several things going bad for other characters (who try to avenge it). The book is about a man in a structured society who manages to go beyond his station. So much violence and fighting. I haven't read the second one so I'm not sure if the protagonist remains someone I can root for.

If you've had enough dark fantasy and want a palate cleanse, E. K. Johnston's The Afterward is excellent. It's about a group of female knights (one of whom is transgender and several of whom are gay) who go on a quest to defeat the bad guy. It will leave you feeling good about the world.

[*Sorry, I wrote this quickly and have edited out some typos like "City of Stars" and Evan Winters. My apologies.]