Mini Reviews: Weird and (Sometimes) Wonderful Fantasy

As my reading slump began to alleviate, I then experienced a reviewing slump because I wasn’t sure if I’d keep reading at the pace I actually was, and was scared to use up all my good blogging material!

Here are a couple of quick mini-reviews for A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland and Wilder Girls by Rory Power, that I should’ve probably written up a while ago…

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A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland

In a bleak, far-northern land, a wandering storyteller is arrested on charges of witchcraft. Though Chant protests his innocence, he is condemned not only as a witch, but a spy. His only chance to save himself rests with the skills he has honed for decades – tell a good story, catch and hold their attention, or die.

A Conspiracy of Truths was definitely a fantasy book that doesn’t really feel like fantasy. In the opening third of the book I wasn’t entirely sure why I kept reading, because nothing seemed to be happening – but I guess that’s kind of the point. Chant, the protagonist, is a storyteller by trade, and his voice is crafted in such a way that you want to keep reading and listening to what he has to say even when you’re not quite sure where it’s going to lead.

A political intrigue fantasy that is basically narrated by someone who doesn’t care about political intrigue, who also doesn’t see half of what is happening because he’s locked in a cell, I imagine this book was really challenging to write, and at points it’s challenging to read. The story is essentially about how small things initially snowball into much larger, cataclysmic events, which means it’s exceptionally slow paced, although it does have a very satisfying payoff once things start to really get going. I think where it excelled was making me feel really invested in the core group of characters – Chant, his solicitor, and his apprentice in particular – so that I was basically just willing to read on to discover more about their relationships in the slower chapters. I also loved all the small stories that Chant, as a storyteller, wove into his narrative. And Chant’s the fun kind of unreliable narrator who isn’t necessarily evil, he’s just a bit of a dick, unwilling to let you know when he really cares. The writing style made it obvious when he was repressing some information or emotion.

What I also appreciated was how casually the worldbuilding was laced through the first person story, and how unashamedly queer it all was. Chant argues that part of a storyteller’s job is to understand people, so we learn quite a bit about those who visit him and the country in which he finds himself imprisoned. Many of these characters are queer, and the country itself has a marriage system that is both polyamorous and also completely unconcerned with gender. While romance wasn’t a huge concern of the plot, I think all featured romantic relationships were queer in some respect. People who are fans of worldbuilding heavy books and secondary fantasy worlds which do away with the assumptions of our society will definitely love this story.

Conspiracy of Truths might not be for everyone because it is a very slowburn, worldbuilding heavy story with minimal action. But it was also cleverly written, unique in its setting, and super freaking gay.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

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Wilder Girls by Rory Power

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her. It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign.

I was excited for Wilder Girls, but it falls into a genre I don’t always get along with. The problem with weird fantasy mysteries like the Tox and its effect on the girls at Raxter is that it often toes a line between giving too few answers so that the conclusion feels unsatisfying, and too many answers so that all the horror and creepy atmosphere is completely lost. In the case of Wilder Girls, I felt like the ending had both: the final chapters felt way too open-ended for me, with so many forgotten characters and unanswered questions, and what answers we did get were so…anticlimactic that I almost wished they hadn’t been given.

The first part of this book was really strong for me. I loved the setting, and the idea of a group of half feral, monstrous girls, each with their own unique type of monstrosity. I think the central tensions of the story – the mysterious illness which plagues the school, its cause, their uncertain chance of a cure, and also just their fight for survival – were all really interesting starting points, and I was desperate to learn more. While I didn’t love the writing style because it felt a little too detached for me, it was wonderfully creepy and atmospheric.

I also loved that all the central characters were female. Wilder Girls focuses on a central trio of three girls: Hetty, Byatt and Reese. They are best friends, and have fiercely protected each other since they got sick. They are messy and unkind – I love a flawed female character, so in theory this trio was perfect – and it is implied that their illness and the monstrous powers it gives them aren’t necessarily seen by them as a curse. This book also features an f/f romance at its centre. It is entirely concerned with the relationships between these three girls and the other women on the island, and there are barely any named male characters.

However, I did get frustrated. The writing style, while eerie and perfect for the story it was telling, makes it hard for the characters’ personalities to come across. Hetty, the main narrator, felt very bland for me, as part of her character is that she feels very detached from life before the Tox. She felt to me less like a person and mostly like a window through which to see the rest of the story. I much preferred Byatt’s chapters, because we get a hint of personality and learn a bit more about who she was before the Tox – she’s much more outspoken about her desires and inner thoughts. Because of this, I found that the story lost momentum the longer I read it. I wasn’t really invested in the romance, because Hetty and Reese both lacked definition as characters, and therefore their interactions didn’t really have chemistry. I also would’ve liked to see more the Tox victims interacting more with the outside world, because this is what helped pick up the pace of the middle act of the book, but this didn’t happen and it just felt, again, like an anti-climax.

This book was unusual and wonderfully queer for a young adult novel, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would’ve liked. I found the ending unsatisfying, and while I loved the characters in theory, on the page they didn’t feel very compelling, and I didn’t really invest much in any of them.

 

Rating: 3/5

 

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