Book Review: Asunder

Title: Asunder
Author: David Gaider
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Version: Mass Market Paperback
Page Count: 485
Publisher: Tor Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Written by openly-gay man who was a head writer of the Dragon Age games
Recommended Readers: Dragon Age fans wanting to read some sweet, sweet lore
CAWPILE Rating: 9.57
Star Rating: ★★★★★

My Review

Picture this: I’m in my third, back-to-back playthrough of Dragon Age: Inquisition when I learn that my son, Cole, has a book that’s all about his backstory. Naturally, I had to find and read it as soon as possible.

While I’ve vaguely known that Dragon Age books existed, I hadn’t picked up any until now because, historically, books written to supplement a video game franchise are often lackluster comparatively. It can be hard to capture all the things that make a video game wondrous through text alone, without you there as the player character that makes all the decisions and ultimately saves the day. So imagine my delighted surprise when I read Asunder, only to find that I didn’t just like it; I devoured it.

Perhaps the book’s only major fault, which doesn’t apply to me, is that it’s not incredibly accessible to those who haven’t played the Dragon Age games. If you have, however, then it’s like falling back into the world of Thedas all over again. Asunder‘s primary setting is in the country of Orlais at the White Spire, which houses one of the many Circles of Magi. As this takes place after the Kirkwall rebellion, tensions between mages and templars have never been more taut, and now mysterious murders are taking place behind the Spire’s walls. When a mage named Rhys is pinned for the murders, he’ll do anything to clear his name, including venture out on a dangerous mission that will uncover knowledge that could change the fate of mages forever.

I’d heard Cole deliver his account of these events in DA:I, and luckily, it was a bare bones account because I was still surprised at many happenings that took place throughout Asunder. That is, of course, a testament to David Gaider’s writing, which balanced dialogue, character voice, description, plot, and pacing in a near-perfect fashion. The only minor flaw that I noticed were a couple of repetitive phrases like “sweat sliding down the face/brow” to indicate nervousness or strain. Aside from that, I loved how Gaider told this story and the regard he gave to every single character on the page, whether it was in their point of view or not.

This makes sense, given that Gaider was one of the lead writers of the games and is responsible for writing some of my favorite characters, such as Zevran, Morrigan, Fenris, and Alistair. Sometimes, this talent won’t translate to writing a full-blown novel, but this time, it did. All the new characters were wonderful to read, both as they all interacted with each other and as their own people: Ser Evangeline with her struggle of doing right yet performing her duty as a templar; Rhys with his sense of humor and compassion but his fears about his own fate along with that of his fellow mages; bold and brash Adrian; and the cold and harsh Lord Seeker Lambert. Returning characters were also a joy to experience, such as Leliana, Wynne, and Cole.

I really do have to single out Wynne for a moment. I felt like I had just gotten to know her in Dragon Age: Origins before the game was over, so having her as a major character in Asunder did wonders. (And, no, I haven’t played Dragon Age: Awakening yet, please forgive me.) Throwing her in a book with characters who all have strong opinions and personalities was also a great way to show off her own strengths and faults as well as how she’s changed since DA:O. I got incredibly emo about Wynne before it was all said and done.

Then, there’s Cole, my sweet boy, my shining star, my everything. He broke my heart and made me so proud, and that’s how you know he’s my Cole. Even though his dialogue is written slightly different in Asunder—closer to his more lucid moments than his alliterative, rambling ways in DA:I—I heard his voice come through loud and clear. And it made sense, in a way, given he did not fully realize his own nature in Asunder. Gaider played out Cole’s mystery, his tragedy, and his actualization beautifully. His character journey in Asunder transfers easily into DA:I, where he still has plenty of growing to do based on the decisions you help him make. Therefore, I couldn’t be happier with the justice Gaider did Cole’s character.

Even though the book only takes place in Orlais, the world-building is as rich and expansive as you would expect from Dragon Age. As you read, you experience the still rippling effects of the Kirkwall rebellion; witness politics and posturing in Val Royeaux and the Grand Cathedral; and watch the beginnings of the Orlesian Civil War unfold between Empress Celene and her cousin, Grand Duke Gaspard.

While the swells of history surround our characters, the mage/templar conflict rests firmly in the center of it all, the eye of our storm. Every scene in the White Spire mounts with tension and danger, tempers threatening to spill over on both sides even as compromises and peace attempt to be made—both ultimately dissatisfying to all parties. The distrust and wrongs committed by both sides are just too great a chasm to fill, and no matter what, you know something is about to take place. I felt like I was hovering upon a knife’s edge, waiting for the bloodshed to start, for one action to be taken too far, too personally.

Even if you feel strongly one way or the other about this conflict (pro-mage, always), the book takes great pains to show that every mage, templar, and Seeker of Truth has valid reasons and viewpoints for seeing the world and this specific plight as they do. It was impressive how well Gaider maintained that this conflict isn’t a black-and-white situation while also showing the truth of it in the self-awareness and actions of the characters, even when they were being their most unreasonable. For being as harsh and unforgiving as he is, even Lord Seeker Lambert demonstrates moments of thoughtfulness as well as insight, and I am surprised that I can admit that. That he wasn’t just a two-dimensional bastard villain.

It’s amazing what can be accomplished, how much depth even a little mass market paperback can have, when you write with nuance.

So yes, I loved this book and all the beautiful things it did, all the character moments and plot reveals with the lore woven expertly throughout. Whether you’ve already played DA:I or not, I cannot recommend Asunder any higher. Well done, Gaider!

ARC Review: The Gilded Ones

Title: The Gilded Ones
Author: Namina Forna
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 432
Publisher: Delacorte
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Female-led, POC cast; original, if underdeveloped, world-building
Recommended Readers: Older teens, but also no one unless you’re really in the mood for some grimdark
CAWPILE Rating: 2.29
Star Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

Well, what happened here? I’m flabbergasted.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna was easily one of my most anticipated books since it was supposed to be released in 2020, its publication date pushed back due to the pandemic. Finally reading it, however, has been a bizarre, disturbing, and deeply unenjoyable experience.

Synopsis time. Sixteen-year-old Deka waits anxiously for the Ritual of Purity—for her blood to run red, so she can be accepted as a pure woman by her village at last. In the country of Otera, women must wear masks and defer to the men in their lives at all times, and all Deka wants is to be accepted enough to be considered marriageable. When her blood turns out to run gold, she is deemed impure, a demon, and must face the Death Mandate all her kind go through. Except she doesn’t die. Before the male elders can find her true death, a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. These girls—alaki—are near-immortals with strength and speed men don’t possess, and they are the key to stopping the deathshrieks that plague the empire.

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New Books I’m Hyped for: January – June 2021

[Shaky wave] Hi, there. So, yeah, I’m back, sorta. 2020 was definitely not my year for reading or posting due to [checks notes] oh, yeah, everything that was going on. While 2021 is still proving to be emotionally and mentally taxing in many ways, I’m also feeling an affinity for reading and posting again. Frankly, I miss books, and I’m hoping that by being a bit more active about them, I will rekindle the fervor I used to have. I’m still not counting on posting as much this year as I did in past years. I want to focus much more on things that are exciting and fun for me, along with paying attention to my mental health and what it can stand.

I figured a post about what 2021 is bringing in terms of new books could be a start, a way to look forward about what will come. Here are the ones that seem pretty cool for the first half of 2021.

January

Crown of Bones by A.K. Wilder
(January 5th)

Raise. Your. Phantom.

For fans of epic fantasies and sweeping adventures, this ensemble cast will immerse you in a world of unique magic, breathtaking action and unforgettable characters.

In a world on the brink of the next Great Dying, no amount of training can prepare us for what is to come …

A young heir will raise the most powerful phantom in all of Baiseen.

A dangerous High Savant will do anything to control the nine realms.

A mysterious and deadly Mar race will steal children into the sea.

And a handsome guide with far too many secrets will make me fall in love.

My name is Ash. A lowly scribe meant to observe and record. And yet I think I’m destined to surprise us all.

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ARC Review: Persephone Station

Title: Persephone Station
Author: Stina Leicht
Genre: Adult Sci-Fi
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 512
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Characters that are predominately female and non-binary with LGBTQ+ rep
Recommended Readers: Seekers of feminism in space opera
CAWPILE Rating: 3.14
Star Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

I was taken in by Stina Leicht’s Persephone Station the moment I saw its beautifully artistic cover and was sold when I read what it was being compared to: a blend of Cowboy Bebop and The Mandalorian but with a leading cast of women, non-binary, and queer characters.

Upon reading it, however, my excitement quickly fizzled. By far the coolest thing about the book is its cover, not the representation it delivers. The author seems to have focused so hard on providing good, squeaky-clean diversity and rep that she forgot a key element: making the characters and its plot interesting. There isn’t a hint of the eclectic friction found in the Cowboy Bebop cast, and it’s also sorely missing the heart of The Mandalorian. If I could sum up Persephone Station and its characters in a few words, they would be “safe and boring.”

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ARC Review: Black Sun

Title: Black Sun
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Genre: Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 454
Publisher: Saga Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: POC, LGBTQ+, and blind characters
Recommended Readers: Anyone wanting a fresh, non-European take on epic fantasy
Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

Yes! This is it! This book is… wow!

Maybe my 2020 reading life has experienced a drought of easy, five-star reads. Maybe everything about this year has been utter shit and brimming with disappointment. So when I picked up Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, I was begging, Please be good. You sound so interesting and your cover is gorgeous and if another of my most anticipated reads disappoints me, I will cry.

Well, Black Sun wasn’t just good; it was wonderful. It wasn’t just interesting. It was page-turning and original. I’ve already ran out and bought a copy for myself because I fell for it so hard.

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Book Review: So You Want to Talk About Race

Title: So You Want to Talk About Race
Author: Ijeoma Oluo
Genre: Nonfiction/Social Justice/Race
Version: Paperback
Page Count: 256
Publisher: Seal Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Accessible language combined with honesty of the lived experience for Black people and non-Black POC
Recommended Readers: For white people who need a primer on race relations in America and for POC who need knowledge of how to navigate these discussions and white reactions
Rating: ★★★★★

My Review

I’m not sure what can be said about Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race that hasn’t already been said by those more knowledgeable and eloquent than I, including Oluo herself. So instead, I will endeavor to be honest.

This book has timely messages written in a clear, accessible language that have been needed long before its initial publication in 2018. They are timely now in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders at the hands of police brutality and White Supremacy. And I suspect they will be needed regardless of what the outcome of the U.S. 2020 election is for years to come.

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Book Review: The Silvered Serpents

Title: The Silvered Serpents
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 416
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: POC, LGBTQ+, and autistic characters
Recommended Readers: Lovers of character-driven, fantasy adventures set in the real world (19th century)
Rating: ★★★★★

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

What a dramatic and tragic return! Roshani Chokshi has taken everything that made The Gilded Wolves fun and intriguing and added so much more for The Silvered Serpents. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s an easy 4.25 stars from me because I felt swept away from the first page. Everything here is richer. The world, the magic system, the stakes, the consequences, the characters, oh my, the characters.

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Book Review: The Unspoken Name

Title: The Unspoken Name
Author: A. K. Larkwood
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Version: Hardcover
Page Count: 464
Publisher: Tor Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: LGBTQA+ characters, loose orc and elf descriptions not of Tolkien making
Recommended Readers: Fans of messy, badly-behaving characters and a sprinkling of sci-fi to go with your fantasy
Rating: ★★★☆☆

My Review

I was so excited to read The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood. I coveted it every time I traveled to the bookstore or saw it online until I wore myself down with my longing to buy it. It sounded like everything I had been craving and not finding in my reads lately. A priestess—who happens to be an orc—turning from sacrificing her life to her god and following a morally-questionable, duplicitous wizard instead? A wizard who also happens to be a hot elf exiled from his seat of power, and now has a weapon, an assassin, at his disposal? And the priestess’ god might one day call its debt due? You couldn’t have sold this to me any harder.

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Blog Tour | ARC Review: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

Title: Where Dreams Descend
Author: Janella Angeles
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 464
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Diverse cast of characters, vivid descriptions, dark romance
Recommended Readers: Magician enthusiasts and anyone else who’s tired of all the bland, boring romances being put out there
Rating: ★★★★☆

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC and to Wednesday Books for asking me to participate in the Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

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Blog Tour | ARC Review: Lobizona by Romina Garber

Title: Lobizona
Author: Romina Garber
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary/Fantasy
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Add To-Read on: GoodReads, StoryGraph
Notable Notables: Latinx cast of characters, Argentine culture and folklore, the immigrant experience, feminist commentary
Recommended Readers: Those who’ve been waiting to see real Spanish on the page and fans of werewolves and witches
Rating: ★★★★☆

Thank you to NetGalley for providing this ARC and to Wednesday Books for asking me to participate in the Blog Tour in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis

Some people ARE illegal.

Lobizonas do NOT exist.

Both of these statements are false.

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past—a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.

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