The Book of Magic

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Genre: magical realism

I read it as a(n): hardback

Length: 383 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this fourth and final novel in Hoffman’s Practical Magic series, readers see Kylie and Antonia Owens, the daughters of Sally Owens, as young women living their lives in ignorance of their family’s history as bloodline witches. When the entire extended family gathers for a funeral, Antonia and Kylie learn of their magical heritage. Antonia, the logic-driven med student, scoffs and blows it off. Kylie is intrigued, and becomes involved up to her neck when her boyfriend is hit by a car and hovers between life and death. 

Taking off to England with Faith Owens’s dark grimoire in hand, Kylie is determined to break the curse that has followed her family for generations. Hot on her heels is her mother Sally, her aunt Gillian, and other family and friends met along the way. They learn what is important and just how much they are willing to sacrifice for those they love.

This was a great end to the Practical Magic series. I will miss reading more about the Owens women, but am grateful that I have the four books in the series to revisit when I feel the need for a fix of Tipsy Chocolate Cake and witchery. I also found recipes for both the chocolate cake AND the black soap that both sound honestly nice, so I’m going to make those one of these days and have myself a proper day of witchiness. 

It was nice to spend time with Kylie and Antonia and get to know them more. As expected, both strong and independent women. But we spent as much time, too, with the aunts, Sally and Gillian, and their long-lost grandfather Vincent. Adding to the cast is Ian Wright, a professor of history and magic, and Tom Lockland, a distant relative, each man with agendas of their own.

For me, this book dragged just a little in the middle, which is why I gave it 4 stars and not 5 stars. I got a little bored with some of the things Kylie and Antonia (mostly Antonia) were doing and it felt a little long. But it didn’t last long and it picked up again and gave way to a fantastic journey across England, through history, and through the human heart. Highly recommended!

Favorite lines (possible spoilers!):

  • Some stories begin at the beginning and others begin at the end, but all the best stories begin in a library.
  • Curses are like knots, the more you struggle to be free, the tighter they become, whether they’re made of rope or spite or desperation.
  • But stories change, depending on who tells them, and stories are nothing if you don’t have someone to tell them to.
  • “If you can’t eat chocolate cake for breakfast, what’s the point of being alive?” Franny said.
  • There are some things you have only once in a lifetime, and then only if you’re lucky.
  • When Kylie and Antonia were growing up, their mother had told them if they were ever lost it was always best to find their way to a library.
  • “There are no witches,” Antonia said. “Only people who want to burn them.”
  • “Do you think I’m a fool” “No, I think you’re a witch.” “Then you’re not so stupid after all.”
  • “If it isn’t written down, it will likely be forgotten,” Isabelle had told her. That was why women had been illiterate for so long; reading and writing gave power, and power was what had been so often denied to women.
  • A woman with knowledge, one who could read and write, and who spoke her own mind had always been considered dangerous.
  • If a woman doesn’t write her own history, there are very few who will.
  • It never hurt to have some assistance from a sister, and this was a simple spell that had been used by women since the beginning of time, with words that resembled the wild clacking of birds when they were spoken aloud.
  • What a life she had, most of it unexpected. She would not have it any other way, not even the losses. This life was hers and hers alone.
  • Love was inside every story. 
  • Her love was the fiercest part about her. 
  • The Book of the Raven was meant to go to the next woman who needed it. It might sit on the shelf for another three hundred year or it might be discovered the very next day, either way it would continue to live, for people often find the books they need.
  • Once, a long time ago, before we knew who we were, we thought we wanted to be like everyone else. How lucky to be exactly who we were. 
  • Women here in Massachusetts had been drowned and beaten and hanged, especially if they were found to have access to books other than the Bible…
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Nettle and Bone

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher
Genre: fantasy
I read it as a(n): hardback
Length: 243 pp
Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Marra is a princess of a small, unimportant kingdom that has the misfortune to also have the best harbor in the world. To keep the kingdom safe, her eldest sister is married to the prince of the Northern Kingdom. When she dies without a child, Marra’s next sister is married to him. Marra is sent to a convent where she will be out of the way but that doesn’t prevent her from learning a dark, centuries-old secret.


To save her sister and her kingdom, Marra sets off to kill her brother-in-law with the help of a scary dust-wife, an addled and wicked-but-doesn’t-want-to-be godmother, a quasi-suicidal warrior, a dog made of bones, and a demon-possessed chicken. It is exciting for everyone.


I loved this book so much! It was a great dark fantasy that read very similarly to something Neil Gaiman might have written. That is never a bad thing.


The story was exciting with lots of references to traditional fairy tales made along the way. There’s a little Goblin Market, a little zombie apocalypse, a little tatterskin, a little Sleeping Beauty, just a little of everything mixed into a fun and original tale.


I definitely plan to read anything else by this author and strongly recommend that everyone else do the same.

Favorite lines:

  • It was a cruel spirit that would punish starving people for what they had been forced to eat, but the spirits had never pretended to be kind (4).
  • He was a good dog. He had excellent bones and even if she had used too much wire and gotten it a bit muddled around the toes and one of the bones of the tail, she’d think that a decent person would stop and admire the craftsmanship before they screamed and ran away (21).
  • Then again, peasants and princesses all shit the same and have their courses the same, so I suppose it’s no surprise that babies all come out the same way, too. Having thus accidentally anticipated a few centuries’ worth of revolutionary political thought, Marra got down to the business of boiling water and making tea (36-37).
  • …the baby emerged into the world, looked around, burst into tears. “You get used to it,” the Sister told the infant… It was bloody and wrinkly and reddish gray and looked like the sort of thing you would drive back to hell with holy water (37).
  • The flat stones made for uneven footing. … They rattled and slid underfoot, talking to each other in stone language, saying all the words they had been saving up until the next time a human walked across them (66).
  • The old woman had not struck her as religious.
    But I could easily imagine someone making a saint out of her, a hundred years hence. Maybe some of the saints were like that, too – cranky, old women with strange gifts (77).
  • “How did you get a demon in your chicken?”
    “The usual way. Couldn’t put it in the rooster. That’s how you get basilisks (82).
  • “Enough of this place,” said the dust-wife. “Everyone have their souls still? Shadows still attached? Then let’s go before that changes” (97).
  • What did the abbess used to say? That our own flaws infuriate us in other people? (132).
  • Nothing is fair, except that we try to make it so. That’s the point of humans, maybe, to fix things the gods haven’t managed (181).
  • Injustice and the desire for revenge age the body, but they keep the soul going halfway to forever (199).

All Our Hidden Gifts

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue

Genre: fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 374 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Maeve is a typical teen – she likes hanging out with friends, doesn’t like school, occasionally has behavioural problems, and mainly just wants to fit in. When she randomly unearths a deck of tarot cards while cleaning out a room in detention, she discovers that she has a strange affinity and skill for reading the tarot. Maeve finds herself suddenly popular, her highly accurate tarot readings wildly in demand among her fellow students. But when a reading goes badly wrong and a girl disappears, Maeve once again finds herself on the edges of society. She finds herself assisted in some surprising ways as she struggles to fix what she broke, find the missing girl, and bring balance again to cosmic forces well beyond her understanding. 

This was a pretty fun read, though at times fairly standard. I liked that it was set in Ireland and had a plot involving some of the tensions between Catholics and Protestants. The way the author worked that into the story was nicely done. It invoked some historical elements that added some extra depth to the plot. I also liked how it seemed she was making a commentary on Christianity and how so often they are nowhere near as loving or whatever as they claim to be. 

The author also explored how being a teen is hard, yes, but it is also when you get new life experiences and the chance to have a lot of personal growth. A lot of the story revolved around this and other normal teen issues like learning how to navigate changing relationships. I think a big takeaway from it was that, even when things turn out fine in the end, that doesn’t mean they stay the same or even that they work out well. Sometimes you have to take life lessons with outcomes you don’t want. That isn’t bad, even if things hurt sometimes. It’s just the way it is. 

I read this because my daughter loved it and wanted me to read it as well. I try to read at least a few of the same books as her throughout the year. Most of the stuff she likes is sort of fluffy fantasy and this wasn’t really an exception. I like that she loves reading so I am always happy to share her books if there’s one she really enjoyed. It is one thing that I hope we will always have in common, a love of reading.

A Song of Flight

A Song of Flight by Juliet Marillier

Genre: fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 446 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In this third instalment of Marillier’s Warrior Bards series once again gives readers several separate but connected plots, woven together as skillfully as any Celtic knot. In one, Prince Aolu and his bodyguard Galen are attacked simultaneously by humans and Crow Folk. Galen is badly injured and Aolu disappears. As a result, Dau leads a team from Swan Island, the elite and secret warrior training site, to aid in the search for Aolu. Liobhan is excluded from the initial team because of her relationship with Dau but also because Galen is her brother; she can’t be unbiased as a Swan Island warrior ought to be in this case. Adding to the intrigue is Brocc, the half-fey brother of Liobhan and Galen, who is exiled from the Otherworld and Eirne’s side, along with their daughter Niamh. Brocc’s crime, according to his Elf Queen wife, was trying to understand and help the Crow Folk, whom Brocc believes are not evil but are lost and damaged in some way. 

This one was interesting because we got to see Liobhan in a leadership role unlike anything else she’s done so far. Initially, she is the warrior primarily in charge of training a new recruit, Elka, to Swan Island. Later, she is put in charge of her own team on a mission. Liobhan being who she is, though, she quickly takes the mission on a whole new path after she and Elka see a vision in which Brocc is attempting to turn the Crow Folk into an army that he can control. Liobhan changes the mission without giving the full details to her elders, risking her position on the Island entirely. 

Dau is also growing as a person. He, too, was placed in charge of the initial team to be sent from the Island to search for Aolu. When they arrive at Winterfells, the prince’s home, Dau finds Galen, who is being tended by his and Liobhan’s healer mother Blackthorn, ready to tear off on his own to search for Aolu. Galen believes – rightly as it turns out – that the prince is in the Otherworld and he is determined to find him, with or without help. 

Brocc, meanwhile, is in shock from being banished by his wife, the Elf Queen Eirne. She exiled their infant daughter with him, so Brocc is struggling to care for her in the middle of nowhere and while still attempting to connect with Shadow, one of the Crow Folk he had helped rescue in the previous novel. Brocc knows there is more to the Crow Folk than mindless violence and evil. His actions highlight the optimism and compassion displayed by the best of humanity. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though it didn’t grip me as strongly as the previous one, A Dance with Fate, did. I liked the scenes with Brocc a lot more in this one since he mainly wasn’t dealing with Eirne, a character I really dislike. It’s good when characters are varied enough that there is a fairly central figure that you just can’t stand, but I found Eirne to be so irritating that I caught myself skimming the sections set in the Otherworld too quickly if she was in a scene. That wasn’t an issue in this book. 

Marillier left plenty of room for more books in the series, and I hope she does continue it! I think my favorite single book of hers is Daughter of the Forest, but my favorite overall series was Blackthorn and Grim. I love that they are still woven into the Warrior Bards stories as well. I look forward to whatever she decides to give her readers next!

A Dance with Fate

A Dance with Fate by Juliet Marillier

Genre: historical fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 491 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The second installation in Marillier’s Warrior Bards series begins with a fighting competition and tragic accident. Liobhan, daughter of Blackthorn and Grim, and Dau, both Swan Island warriors, are participating in a training exercise when Dau slips, hits his head hard, and wakes up blind. Dau’s father, a local chieftain, blames Liobhan and demands that she serve a year as a bonded servant in his household as payment, along with a handsome sum of silver coins. Liobhan readily agrees to that, even though she knows Dau’s blindness was an accident. Dau’s father insists, too, that he be returned to his family home to be cared for. This is a problem since Dau’s family, in particular his older brothers, are sick twists who love to hurt people. Going to his family’s home is the very last thing on earth Dau wants to do. But his chieftain father prevails and Dau is packed off home along with Liobhan, who is already being treated like a slave. During their time there, Dau and Liobhan have to learn to navigate the family dynamics, survive their abuse, and in the process, uncover a deep and dangerous secret involving the Crow Folk.

I have yet to read a book by Juliet Marillier that I don’t like. There are some I like more than others but I unreservedly recommend all of her books to anyone who likes the historical fantasy genre. This one was another hit for me. I liked the way the character development happened, especially with Dau. I thought it was interesting how he learned to adapt to his new circumstances and how his Swan Island training carried him through even the worst times. Seeing very strong characters like him and Liobhan become more vulnerable is always a thought provoking experience for readers. 

This novel was told from the POV of Liobhan, Dau, and Liobhan’s brother Brocc, who lives in the Otherworld, married to the queen of the fae. I generally enjoy when stories alternate perspectives like that, and this was no different. I didn’t like the parts with the Otherworld as much as in the “real” world, I think because I just don’t like the queen, Eirne, at all. I do think Brocc is an interesting figure and love that his voice can be a weapon or a balm. I like, too, Rowan and True. But unless the Otherworld time was primarily with those three, I didn’t care much for those characters or what happens to them, mainly because Eirne is such a dick. I suppose that is a sign of good writing, though, that I feel so strongly about a fictional character! 

I’m off to read the third book in this series, A Song of Flight. I hope Marillier writes a new book soon. I get so happy when I get to read her work!

Spinning Silver

spinning silverSpinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Website | Twitter )

Genre: fantasy

Setting: someplace very like Russia

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 466 pp

Published by: Del Rey (2018)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Miryem’s father and grandfather are moneylenders. Her grandfather is good at it; her father, not so much. Tired of living in poverty and seeing her parents be taken advantage of, Miryem takes it upon herself to begin collecting the debts her father is owed. She is so good at it that the people of her town grumble that she can change silver into gold. This, unfortunately, draws the attention of the Staryk king, a being from a snowy alternate world where gold is precious. He takes Miryem and commands that she change all his silver into gold.

Irina is the daughter of a duke, not beautiful and viewed only as a pawn by her father. Through a set of jewelry with magical properties, Irina becomes beautiful to all who see her, except to the tsar, a young man she’s known since childhood and who is cruel. Naturally, her father contrives to marry her to the tsar.

Wanda is a peasant in Miryem’s town. When her father is unable to pay his debt, Miryem allows Wanda to come work for her family to help repay it. Over the course of the months, Wanda and her brothers become family to Miryem. Their love and aid help Miryem and Irina to rid their land of a horrible demon that is hell-bent on feeding on Irina – unless she can bring him a snow king.

I loved this book. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading it, but I’m glad I did at last. I liked Novik’s earlier novel, Uprooted, well enough, though I remember not being thrilled with the verbal and mental abuse the dragon put the protagonist through. This book didn’t have that. What it does have are three very strong young women who are each, in their own ways, selfless and put the needs of their loved ones, whoever they may be, before themselves. Naturally, I like books that show women banding together for a common goal. Sometimes, it goes overboard and shows them being selfless to the point of overwriting their own needs or personalities, but that didn’t happen in this novel. I think it showed a good and necessary balance between helping others and helping oneself. 

The plot with the tsar and how he got his demon was a great twist. I didn’t see that coming and it added a lot of dimension to his character. He wasn’t just a flat character that is so common in folktales, purely good or purely evil. 

I liked, too, how Novik wove in a lot of Jewish culture and stories with this. I think it was a great blend of cultures and tales – Jewish culture, the girl who could spin straw into gold, and Russian Baba Yaga and Chernobog folktales. I definitely recommend this one. I should check out Novik’s Temeraire series one of these days!

Favorite lines (potential spoilers!):

  • (Irina considering political marriages): But he wasn’t a fool, or cruel. And more to the point, I was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to try and devour my soul. My expectations for a husband had lowered (229-230).
  • I had never seen any Jew but Miryem’s family before except the woman on the line and her son. Now I did not see anyone else. It was a strange feeling. I thought that when Miryem had to go to the Staryk Kingdom maybe it was like this for her. All of a sudden everyone around you was the same as each other but not like you. And then I thought but it was like that for Miryem already. It was like that for her all the time in town. So maybe it hadn’t been so strange (303).
  • But I won’t ever tell you what it is (466). [My favorite last line of a book in a good long while.]

Binti: The Complete Trilogy

BintiBinti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: Earth, Ooma Uni, and spaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 358 pp

Published by: Daw

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Binti is a young woman from Earth, a member of the Himba people of Namibia. She is what is known as a master harmonizer, a person who has a skill in bringing balance to all, usually through math. Her role is to succeed her father as her tribe’s master harmonizer. However, that is upended when Binti is accepted into the prestigious Oomza Uni, an entire planet devoted to learning. Binit runs away against her parents’ wishes to study, but while her ship is en route, it is attacked by the warlike Meduse, leaving her the traumatized only survivor. Binti eventually forms a bond with Okwu, one of the Medusae from the attack, and a link is created between their two peoples, paving the way for an unusual peace.

I read these novellas in the form of an omnibus paperback, so I can’t really separate the three stories in my mind. To me, they’re all one story. But, as always, I am impressed with Okorafor’s skill in creating such rich characters and culture in a relatively short span of pages. The Himba people are not fictional; they have a long and complex culture from which Okorafor could draw. But she fleshed out the people in ways that made them entirely real. I cared about every character on the page, which is a rare thing for me. 

I loved Binti’s search for herself, her bravery in leaving the only home she’d ever known in an attempt to create a different life for herself. The act of leaving home, becoming independent, learning new things about yourself is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves. I feel bad for people who never experience that in any way. 

The ways that humans and the Medusae were at conflict and how they resolved their problems is sadly still a relevant metaphor for human society as a whole. We seem plagued with people, whether groups or individuals, who only care about enriching themselves or enforcing their agenda and worldview. There isn’t enough peace anywhere. So much can be said about this but, as I’ve said for years, SFF is an ideal medium in which to discuss real-world issues. Binti is no different. There were many themes that made me think: home, community, identity, conflict, colonialism, friendship. I’m sure examinations of these themes and more could be made, and wind up longer than the book itself. I love that; books that make me think while also providing a good story are to be treasured.

Overall, I liked this story, though I think I enjoyed Okorafor’s other works that I’ve read a little more. This trilogy (plus the short story included in the omnibus edition) seemed to focus more on how to fit in social issues than how it impacts the plot, so I think there are some gaps that need to be filled. But still, the Binti trilogy is a terrific story and one I definitely recommend. 

Favorite lines:

  • Will his happiness kill him? (Okwu asked this without a hint of irony or sarcasm. Me, too, Okwu. Me. Too. Deeply suspicious of happiness.)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

the hundred thousand kingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin (Website, Twitter)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: the city of Sky

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Cassaundra Freeman

Source: my own collection 

Length: 11:47:00

Published by: Daw 

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Yeine Darr is the daughter of a disgraced noblewoman of the Arameri, the rulers of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Their seat of power is in the city of Sky. Yeine is summoned to Sky by her grandfather, her mother’s father, who is also the ruler of the Arameri. To her utter shock and horror, he names her as one of his three heirs to the throne. Now she will be expected to compete against two cousins she never knew for the throne. While she is learning the ways of Sky, rife with political machinations and corruption, Yeine also learns that several gods are held by the Arameri as slaves after they lost to the god Bright Itempas in the Gods’ War. Now those gods are bitter, unsurprisingly, and they have a plan to help Yeine win in her struggle for the throne.

This first instalment in Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy is, in many ways, a pretty typical fantasy narrative: a young warrior woman loses her family, is named an heir to the kingdom, falls in love with a god, is used as a pawn by a variety of people, and eventually is victorious. But Jemisin sort of upends a lot of traditions as well, which was her stated goal in writing her novels. 

The people who were the ruling class, the Arameri, were the highest class because the high priestess of the goddess Itempas was an Arameri when the Gods’ War occurred millennia ago. So that part makes sense within this story. I really like how Jemisin then creates a society that is more and more corrupt the closer one gets to the gods. I don’t think it is untrue at all here, but it is certainly not what most people want to believe. This story tackles it head-on. 

The world building in this novel is amazing. That is one of the best things about Jemisin’s writing. I did find it a little hard to keep track of at times, which might be partly because I listened to the audiobook rather than eyeball reading this one. Sometimes the dialogue was not well marked that I could tell, so I wasn’t sure who was speaking for kind of big sections of discussion. But I’m not sure, again, how much that is a function of listening to the book instead of reading it. 

In line with the rich world building are many, MANY different themes. Off the top of my head, there is slavery, colonialism, racism, power, tradition, and religion. These are intricately woven throughout the entire narrative in ways that are sometimes startling or subversive. It’s a great way to get readers to think about many things we believe and hold dear without really knowing WHY we do. So many traditions in this novel were followed simply because that’s what has always been done, which is of course why something is a tradition. But if a tradition blows, then you should change it or abandon it. Columbus Day, for example, isn’t a traditional holiday we should still be observing in the 21st century. It is being replaced in many states by Indigenous Peoples Day, which is far better. Change can be a good thing. 

Every single character in this book is richly nuanced and complex with the exception, I think, of Scimena Arameri, Yeine’s cousin and another potential heir. She was all hate and bitterness, all the time. I’m not too sure why this one character was so one-dimensional but I’m sure Jemisin has her reasons. I may have just not picked up on what it was. She was an easy character to despise, though. Otherwise, the rest of the cast was really interesting, even those who you don’t like. 

Looking forward to getting into the second book!

Mexican Gothic

mexican gothicMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: Gothic fantasy

Setting: 1950s Mexico

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 301 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Noemi Taboada is a young socialite in 1950s Mexico City. Her father is a wealthy merchant and the head of the family. As such, he is concerned about image and avoiding scandal. So, when his niece Catalina sends a letter to him that sounds completely unhinged, he wants to get to the bottom of that and fix whatever needs fixing before it hits the society pages in the newspaper. He sends Noemi to visit Catalina in her husband’s home manor of High Place in the remote Mexican countryside. Things go downhill from there. 

I really loved the first part of this novel. It was everything a proper Gothic novel should be – eerie, mysterious, dark, neglected, and so on. Very much felt like a Mexican Jane Eyre. I kind of lost the Gothic feel around 2/3 of the way through, when I think it felt more like a straight horror novel than Gothic. That said, I still really loved all of it, it just felt like it switched genre a little bit in the middle there. I wouldn’t even care that much except I’m not a huge fan of horror. 

I thought Noemi was a very believable character. She was sort of shallow and vain at first, but then we learn she wants to go to university to get a master’s degree in anthropology. She is something of a flirt and prefers the chase or courtship to being caught in her relationships, but she is self-aware enough to know it. She had hidden depths that reveal themselves nicely throughout the novel. She was a really well-developed character.

I didn’t think that so much about Catalina. I know that her flat personality was actually a part of the plot, but the glimpses we got from Noemi’s perspective about her were not really enough to give her much depth or make her into a fully-fleshed person in the story for me. She felt more like a prop than a person. 

The rest of the characters – Virgil, Francis, Florence, and Howard – were suitably developed for the roles they played in the novel. I don’t think they were super deep but they all did have certain nuances to their personalities and were fine for the purposes they served.

I especially loved how the house, High Place, was described. It was in the tradition of the best Gothic manor homes, like a cross between Thornfield Hall and the Haunted Mansion. Old, dusty, neglected, falling apart, mouldy, and of course it had a cemetery! Minus the mould, I would love to have a house like that. I’d put just enough money into it that it had proper amenities but keep the abandoned Gothic feel. 🙂 

Overall, I thought this was a fun read. Didn’t blow me away, but it was fun. Would certainly recommend.

The Second Blind Son

the second blind sonThe Second Blind Son by Amy Harmon (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: fantasy

Setting: Saylock

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Rob Shapiro

Source: my own collection 

Length: 15:58:00

Published by: Brilliance Audio (2021)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Second Blind Son is a sequel of sorts to Amy Harmon’s earlier novel, The First Girl Child. I say of sorts because this story ran concurrently to the events of TFGC, rather than portraying a continuation of that story. In this, the focus is on Hod, a blind man who is raised to be a Keeper of the Temple by Arwin, a cave keeper. Arwen has taught Hod how to listen, smell, feel in ways that are uncanny to help him compensate for his blindness. As a result, Hod is adept at hunting and fighting through the use of his heightened senses. He can identify the heartbeats of individual people, their specific scent, and so forth. And then one day, he rescues a girl who washes up near his cave from a shipwreck. Ghisla is the sole survivor from her people, the Songers, whose voices are ethereally beautiful, and she wants to die. Slowly, she and Hod become the best of friends and, when she uses a rune carved upon her hand, Hod is able to see. Their paths are often separated but they retain their connection through the years, through political upheaval, and across vast distances.

I loved this book so much. I really liked the way it wove into the earlier story of TFGC and made you remember events from that story alongside this new one. I hadn’t realised it was that sort of timeline, so I kind of wish I had reread TFGC before jumping into this one, but it in no way hindered the ease of following the story. It is just a thing I would have done to refresh my own memory. And yes, it can probably be read as a standalone, but I truly think readers are short-changing themselves not to read TFGC first. Not only will you become familiar with the world of Saylock, but the characters from that book who make appearances in this one are familiar and welcome. You’d miss out on that if you only read TSBS as a standalone.

The narration was excellent as well. The narrator did some different voices for various characters, but only enough to differentiate them within the scene. He didn’t go crazy with melodrama, he just read the story in an engaging way. There were times when he sounded just like Tuvok, though, so that was a bit of cognitive dissonance. I kept expecting Star Trek. 

The character development throughout was decent, though I would have liked to get more scenes with the other Daughters of the Temple. They were an important part of the story but I feel like I didn’t get to know them very well. Maybe future Saylock books will focus on them more in some way. Ghisla becomes one of the Daughters when she is forced to leave Hod’s cave and is given in lieu of a clan chieftain’s daughter to the Keepers. There, she is known as Liis of Leok and no one learns her true identity. Hod is the only one who knows her real story. Also, YAY for the book sample on Amazon having the spelling of characters’ names! I would not have gotten some right from just listening to it.

I thought it was interesting how King Banruud was a hateful, horrible person but Ghisla could help keep him from raging too much with her music. I don’t remember his madness at all from TFGC, but here it struck me as horrific, persistent tinnitus. I know that can make people crazy – mine sometimes wakes me up – but if one is already crazy and cruel to begin with, what new horrors could the condition bring about? Doesn’t make his actions at all ok, but I thought it was an interesting reading of madness. 

Keeping Hod and Ghisla apart in distance but giving them the means with which to communicate with each other was a great touch. It allowed them to grow and mature, and their relationship did likewise. The rune magic that helped them speak to one another really keeps things humming along for readers so we can sense their desire to be together but we don’t get bored by the separation. 

Probably there is a message in there about how true love doesn’t need to see to recognize one’s beloved. Or something. Ick. I don’t really do romance, though I find this sort of non-melodramatic, non-bodice-ripping romance within many fantasy novels to be entirely acceptable. 

Overall, a thoroughly lovely story, nicely paced, and I can’t wait to read more of Harmon’s fantasy novels!