“Forge a Compass From Your Sorrow” – A Review of City of Miracles by Robert J. Bennett

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This is the third book in a trilogy. Therefore, this review may contain spoilers for the first two books, though it contains no spoilers for this specific book. If the reader has not yet read the first two books, he or she is advised to do so before reading this review.

Trigger warnings for this book can be found at the very bottom of this review.

When I found out last year that Robert Jackson Bennett had written a sequel for his amazing novel City of Stairs, I admit that I was rather skeptical. After all, City of Stairs functioned quite perfectly as a standalone, and I was not quite sure what he would do to continue a story that was already perfect in and of itself.

But then I read that sequel, titled City of Blades, and it was an absolutely amazing read. Not only did Bennett succeed in creating a sequel for what I thought would be a standalone book, but created that sequel in such a way that it was connected to its predecessor on several levels (not just in terms of characters and worldbuilding, but also in terms of thematic coverage), while still making sure the story is more or less self-contained, not requiring a refresher read of the first book in order to recover the thread of the plot. And with this novel, City of Miracles, Bennett brings his series – now confirmed a trilogy – to an appropriate, mind-blowing close.

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New Feature: Trigger Warnings

In my review for The Stars Are Legion, I commented on how disturbing a lot of the book’s imagery was: images which might be a bit much for people with weak stomachs, or for people who might find such images troubling on a psychological level. Because of this realisation, I decided to put out a poll on both Twitter and on my Facebook account about whether or not I ought to begin using trigger warnings for the books I review.

I understand that trigger warnings are controversial. On one hand, I understand how they can be misused, especially in the pedagogical and educational environment, but on the other hand I also know how useful they are. I have a few close friends who have experienced extremely traumatic events in their own personal lives, and for them, trigger warnings can be useful if they wish to avoid specific content or, at the very least, brace themselves against any triggering material while they are reading something.

It is for the sake of these friends, and for other people like them, that I have decided to include trigger warnings in any applicable reviews I write from now on. In line with that, I have decided on a handful of terms to describe the triggers I will warn for. They are as follows:

  • Rape
  • Physical and/or Emotional Abuse
  • Body horror
  • Extreme blood and gore

The wording has been kept deliberately vague in order to ensure that I avoid giving away spoilers, which was one of the primary concerns those polled mentioned when I asked about the feasibility of this idea. If a reader wishes to know more specific information, said reader is free to contact me in a comment, provided they are willing to run the risk of being spoiled.

There were also concerns about how obtrusive the warning would be, so I have decided to make it a relatively small graphic, placed at the very end of every review, right below the book’s overall rating. I will place a note at the beginning of the review if I included a trigger warning for the book, with a note to scroll down to the bottom of the review to find it. In this manner I hope to keep the site mostly the way it is now, while still incorporating this feature which many people may find useful.

Finally, since I mostly do not have triggers – squicks, yes, but not triggers – I may read a book and not note something in it as triggering content. In such cases, readers are free to contact me in the comments and suggest that I include a trigger warning if they think the book needs one. If so, please indicate the specific scene that is considered triggering, so I may consider which of my four aforementioned categories it falls under. Please specify the chapter to make it easier to find.

Two Sides of the Same Coin – A Review of The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

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When I first picked up Vic James’ Gilded Cage, I did so initially with some trepidation because of the book’s blurb, which made me think that it would be yet another example of bog-standard young adult fiction of the kind that’s become all too prevalent post-Hunger Games. However, since it was next on the list of books to read for the little online book club-slash-discussion a friend of mine and I currently have going, I knew both of us would have to give it a chance, despite our own concerns regarding its potential content.

We did, however, console ourselves by lining up Kameron Hurley’s standalone space opera The Stars Are Legion as our read right after Gilded Cage. Our logic was simple: if we liked Gilded Cage, then all would be well; if we did not, then at least our next read would be something of guaranteed quality, because both of us are fans of Hurley’s writing and knew that, no matter what she did, she would not disappoint – or in the unlikely event that she did, then surely it would not be as bad as reading yet another example of White People’s Love Triangles at the End of the World.

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An Axe For the Frozen Sea – A Review of A Tyranny of Queens by Foz Meadows

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This review is based on an ARC given to me for free by the publisher, Angry Robot Books. This does not in any way affect my review. The book is slated for release on May 2, 2017.

This book is second in a series. Therefore, it may contain references to events in the first book, An Accident of Stars, which may be considered spoilers for said book. Please read An Accident of Stars before reading this review.

I will admit: I am one of those people who reacts emotionally to the books I read. I don’t show such reactions publicly, of course: my poker face has been honed by years and years of reading smutty fan fiction out in the open. But beneath my seemingly-unperturbed expression there is much emotional turbulence: plenty of screaming, arm-flailing, and rapid-fire bilingual cursing. Sometimes those reactions are indicative of a very good read; other times, they are indicative of a very bad one – it really all depends on which buttons the book in question presses. But in the best-case scenario, I am reacting the way I do because I am reading a very good book. In the best best-case scenario, I am reacting to a book that has dug down deep and forced me to break my poker face – to the point that I need to seek the nearest bathroom to use as a hiding place because I am at work and therefore cannot simply lock the door like I would at home and bawl my eyes out.

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A Surprisingly Pleasant Reading Experience – A Review of Gilded Cage by Vic James

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I sometimes find it difficult to manage expectations for the books I read. I attribute this partly to something my professors at university told me: that writers should always write with the best possible reader in mind. By this, they were suggesting that any writer must always assume that the reader that picks up his or her book will be of the sharp, erudite sort who is also generally intolerant of lapses in writing quality. Writers must always turn out the best work they possibly can, so my professors insisted, because they can never know who will read their work, and so they must always imagine that that imaginary reader will be smart enough to notice all the potential weak points in their writing and call them out on it.

As a reader, therefore, the above thought process means that I always assume any book I read will be the best possible job a writer can do – that said writer is writing with the best possible reader in mind. While I am not presumptuous enough to imagine that I am that idealised reader, I do like to think that, in pursuit of such writing excellence, the writer has at least attempted to do as good a job as he or she possibly can.

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