Tuesday 30 May 2023

Book Review: A History of Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult by DK

Pros: lots of information easily digested, plentiful photographs, varied topics

Cons: I feel like there was more magic from the African continent that deserved mention

The book has 5 sections, each broken down into numerous subchapters going into more detail. The sections are: Ancient roots (prehistory to 400 CE), Curse or Cure (400-1500), Scholars and Sabbats (1500-1700), Secrecy and Ceremony (1700-1900), and Modern Magic (1900 onward). There is also a glossary at the back of the book. I was impressed by the number of subsections there were and how thorough the coverage is both in terms of history and geography.

Most topics got a 2 page spread, with a few getting 4 pages. Occasionally side information would get its own spread, like images of fetishes or amulets from different cultures or the meanings of rune stones and how to use them for divination.

I would have liked to learn more about indigenous African beliefs. The authors did a good job of trying to differentiate between magical practices, superstition, and religions still being practiced (which only showed up as they intersected with magical practices, like the Christian persecution of witches). I was impressed by the sheer breadth of information covered. Much of it I was familiar with, but there were sections, like Finnish native beliefs that I had never heard about.

There are a lot of excellent photographs and good use is made of box text diving into specific practices and practitioners that needed a bit more coverage.

I didn’t expect the modern sections to interest me as much as the ancient and medieval sections, but it was fascinating to see some practices return and others morph over time.

If you’re looking for a broad overview of magical practices, this is an excellent book.

Tuesday 23 May 2023

Book Review: The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

Pros: fast paced, fun characters

Cons: ending felt a bit underwhelming

Roboticist Tesla Crane and her new husband, Shalmaneser Steward, are enjoying their honeymoon on a cruise ship from the moon to Mars When Shal is accused of murder, Tesla must use her fame and money, and Shal’s experience as a detective, to try to clear his name.

The book is very fast paced, introducing just enough character and setting to get you going before the first murder takes place. Then it’s a whirlwind of the couple investigating and trying to figure out what’s really going on while not becoming victims themselves.

The characters are a lot of fun. Shal and Tesla are a sweet couple who flirt a lot and really want some alone time. Tesla had an accident that’s left her with chronic pain and PTSD. The book does an excellent job of showing how trauma works as well as a brilliant future device that allows her to ‘dial down’ her pain, though there’s real danger in her injuring herself more by doing so. Their dog is absolutely adorable.

While I liked Tesla’s determination, towards the end of the book her bullheadedness started to grate a little. She comments at times about how she’s using her money to push for things regular people wouldn’t be able to, and to an extent she uses this for ‘good’, but it does seem to go too far at times. From a novel standpoint, there isn’t much getting around this if you want to stay with a singular point of view character, as you need your reader to learn things too, but it did feel like she was getting too much access, especially at the end. I wouldn’t have wanted to be any of the service people she dealt with.

The secondary characters - and potential suspects - are all eccentric in different ways, that makes them fun to learn about.

The resolution left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. I’m not entirely sure why as there was a good actiony sequence involved.

Ultimately it was a fun mystery in space.

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Book Review: The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Pros: brilliant world-building, interesting characters, fast paced


Raised as a princess in one of the 6 remaining book eater houses in England, Devon Fairweather learns at her first marriage, that being pampered is not the same as being free. Now, she’s trying to escape the families along with her mind eater son.

The book alternates between scenes in the present with Devon on the run and scenes from the past that explain how she got to this point. The pacing is great and there is a mix of highly tense moments an downtime where you really get to know the main characters.

The world-building here is great. The book eaters are unique, and the mind eaters terrifying. The author does a great job of blending their curious and often antiquated style of living, with the modern day world. I also loved how she worked in knights and dragons.

Devon is a complicated woman. She loves her son, enough to get him humans to feed on, while also being scared of that need to feed. In some ways she’s suffered greatly, in others she’s still weirdly naive. I didn’t quite agree with some of her principles, but despite her crimes she still comes off as sympathetic and you still want to see her succeed.

It’s a strange book, telling about a strange people, and is wildly entertaining if you like darker urban fantasy.

Tuesday 2 May 2023

Book Review: Dragonfall by L. R. Lam

Pros: interesting characters, great worldbuilding, non-binary protagonist


Arcady Eremia wants to clear their family’s name, so they need money and a new last name. Their spell was only supposed to change their name seal, not pull someone into their world. Certainly not someone magically bonded to them.

Everen Emberclaw’s been given a chance to fulfill a prophecy to save dragonkind from their dying world. But to do it he must properly bond with Arcady and then kill them.

This is a story about trust between two broken people that involves a fun heist towards the end of the book.

The worldbuilding was excellent. The human world has a fair amount of variety, with several kingdoms that have different customs, and a religion centered on the worship of dragons.

Arcady is non-binary and the world has a nifty way of dealing with pronouns, using honourifics until you learn the correct forms of address.

There are light romance elements with a fun will they/won’t they aspect.

Arcady’s gruff and a bit unlikeable at first, but really grows on you as time goes on. I loved Everen completely, especially watching him learn about the human world and trying to fit in.

Giving dragons feathers was kind of unique, and I loved that they have a smaller -preterit- forms.

This is the first of a series so while it ties up some loose ends it’s only part of a larger story.