Yzabel

Book reviews, and my personal reflections about writing.

Breakfast With Einstein

Breakfast with Einstein: The Exotic Physics of Everyday Objects  - Chad Orzel

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Not exactly easy to grasp—basic understanding of quantum physics (and some classical physics concepts, too) is definitely needed here—but the use of typical kitchen/breakfast examples helps when it comes to illustrating each point and show how deeply intertwined quantum physics is with what we take for granted in everyday life. There were more than just a couple things about which I had never really paid attention, and once the obvious was pointed at, it suddenly made a lot more sense.

I usually find Orzel’s writing pleasant enough to help me follow through physics explanations. I can’t say I’ve memorised every single thing in the book, obviously, however, my understanding is definitely better now.

If there’s one thing, I would say that the idea of drawing parallels with breakfast rituals, while interesting, was probably stretched out here, in that it was used at the beginning and very end of each chapter, but not really throughout. So even the comparisons were useful, this book has a more typical approach to physics than the author’s books where he has conversations with his dog.

Conclusion: With my limited but not completely ultra-basic understanding of the subject, I enjoyed this book a lot. This said, it would probably discourage complete beginners, at least partly.

The Consolations of Physics

The Consolations of Physics: Why the Wonders of the Universe Can Make You Happy  - Tim Radford

Clearly an introduction to physics and astronomy, and not something more developed in that regard. But that's not the point of this book. This book is a love letter to science. And that's where it shines.

Obsidio

Obsidio (The Illuminae Files) - Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

This ending to the series was unfortunately less strong than the other two books for me. I still liked it, but... it didn't strike me as much. Probably because it was harder to get invested in the new characters, after getting to know the previous ones, as they were spread thin throughout the story? While I liked Asha, I just didn't care about Rhys. At all. I cared much more about AIDAN, the murderous, unstable, evolving-yet-at-the-same-time-devolving AI, so that's telling. (But who am I kidding? AIDAN was creepy AF, of course, that was the point, but he also made an excellent villain you can't get rid of because you also need its help, and... I'm sorry to say, but its decisions aren't even illogical, and even though the characters were all shocked at them, they were decisions someone had to make at some point. In a way, AIDAN allowed them to keep their hands somewhat clean, and no one even noticed it.)

Special mention for AIDAN, as evidenced above, and also for Pauchok. When it came to the human characters, Ella was definitely my favourite. I am torn between wishing she had had her romance part as well (as in, it felt that 'romance was only for the main-main characters', which relegates her to the rank of secondary character when in fact she should've been a main one), and glad that she doesn't need to be in a relationship to shine.

I'm also a bit disappointed at the couples and at certain death scenes. The first one because I'd have enjoyed seeing more diversity in the couples, or no couple for a change (like, not necessarily involving a romantic relationship—friendship is a good thing, too). The second because... well, let's say it didn't go as far as it should have.

Still an enjoyable story for me, but weaker than the first two instalments (which I had loved).

Louis & Louise

Louis & Louise - Julie Cohen

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Interesting concept, but one that could’ve gone further, and didn’t.

The novel tells the story of “Lou”, who in one life was born a girl, and in another a boy, and takes them through events of life that aren’t always the same, nor with the same outcomes, depending on the character’s sex.

I enjoyed the characters in general, whether the main one(s) or their best friend and parents, and the parts of the narrative where they had to come to terms with the impending death of a beloved one: the latter came, in one case, with heavy baggage of secrecy and forgiveness that could potentially not be given, which is always a delicate theme to explore. (Or, at least, it is for me, because it’s never all black and white, and the part of me that feels the character should not forgive constantly clashes with the other part, which isn’t a vindictive one. I’m not a very revengeful person in my own life, after all.)

While it was a quick read for me, and I liked following Lou’s path overall, I wasn’t awed, though. I think I was expecting more out of it: more of the many subtle, day-to-day ways society enforces gender stereotypes, for instance. The novel has some, such as Louise starting to wear contact lenses as a teenager because “you’d be so much prettier without glasses”, or her grandmother chiming in with “ladies don’t do this and later you’ll marry and have children because that’s what girls do”, but those were more tiny bits lost in the narrative. I also felt that some parts resorted to easy shortcuts: the corresponding gender stereotypes for Louis were mostly the oh so typical “are you gay or what” (there are so many other ways gender stereotypes are enforced for boys), and Louise’s “catastrophic night” event was… so expected that I guessed it just from the blurb. (Someone please tell me -that- is not the only dark/striking event a woman can have in her life… I mean, no such event at all would be better, of course, but there are so many other possibilities, and I believe one should’ve been tackled here, instead of resorting to the obvious choice.)

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. It is a pleasant read, one that raises valid points and lends itself to reflection, but for me, it took the easy road, where it could’ve explored so many other paths.

The Psychology of Time Travel

The Psychology of Time Travel - Kate Mascarenhas

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A book that started a little on a rocky road for me, due to the writing style that I found at first fairly abrupt (too many short sentences stuck together), but that fortunately grew on me quite fast after the first few chapters.

The story doesn’t deal much with the science aspect of time travel, which in itself was rather wishy-washy—readers looking for ‘believable’ hard science won’t find it here. And I admit it rubbed me the wrong way at first, but I kept telling myself that when it came to this specific book, it wasn’t the important point here. The interest of “The Psychology of Time Travel” lies, like the title clearly hints at, in the characters’ psyches and relationships, in how the capability of travelling in different time periods affects them, in good and bath ways. All this articulated around a mystery and an investigation, following the discovery of a dead woman in a locked room.

Through the eyes of several characters, including the four pioneers of time travel and some of their descendants, we get to explore the various effects that going back and forth in time can have on human beings as well as on events. Here, the question of paradox, for starters, is tackled in the way events cannot be altered, even should a person go back in time several times to try and prevent it; as a result, time investigations do not aim at preventing a murder, for instance, but at making sure that enough clues can be gathered in advance so as to be able to convict the criminal. Following a similar logic, any person can also meet themselves in the past or future without causing the fabric of time to rip, which gives rise to interesting possibilities, such as dancing a ballet with several of one’s selves, having one’s older selves one’s (re)attend one’s own wedding, or even having sex with oneself.

With some characters going back and forth in times, it was sometimes a little difficult to properly follow the flow of the story; however, dates and names being provided at the beginning of each chapter help to quickly find one’s bearing again after the first moments of wondering who’s doing what, and when. The more the story progresses, the clearer it becomes, and there’s no confusion left at the end as to ‘whodunnit’ and why.

Exploring time travel-related mental health problems was definitely interesting, too. Due to one of the founders, Barbara, collapsing during the first live interview the scientists gave in 1967, her ex-colleagues, who kept forging onwards and created the Time Travel Conclave, adopted a hard stance when it came to psychological issues—especially Margaret, who immediately took the reins. On top of weeding out people who experienced some issues only once, for instance (such as situational depression), the Conclave paved the way for ruthless and dehumanising ‘tests’ and ‘hazing’, such as forcing a new recruit to announce to a person that their parent was about to die; this, and other acts, were meant to inure them to feelings and fear of death, so that the travellers wouldn’t develop issues after seeing their beloved ones die, then meeting them in the past, or conversely. This approach was both completely inhuman but also fascinating, in a way, because there’s no denying that such events -would- potentially traumatise a person (and repeatedly)—nor that people are able to behave in such callous ways, all the more when enabled through an organisation (see the Stanford Prison Experiment and the likes). The author explored several possibilities, such as that of an anorexic traveller who could only eat if going back to on a specific day in the past. It’s very likely triggering, or bordering on it—but nonetheless a different approach to the potential side-effects of time travel, veering away from the more usual ‘grandfather’s paradox.

It could probably have gone even further and deeper than that, too; so it’s a bid too bad it didn’t.

Where the novel lacked for me (and where it wasn’t helped by the writing style either) was in characterisation. I felt that I didn’t get to properly know most of the characters, the kind of people they were, and the way they built their relationships. Probably the only relationship that made sense was that of Bee and Ruby. The problem here came mainly, I think, from the fact that events couldn’t be changed, so whenever someone travelled in the future and saw that they were going to be in a relationship with someone, then back in the present, the relation just happened because that’s how it was meant to be—we don’t see it develop. (Also, due to that ‘fated’ approach, the Conclave’s judiciary system also made… uhm… well it did make some kind of sense, but also not so much at all.)

Conclusion: 3 stars.

Lakes of Mars

Lakes of Mars - Merritt Graves

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

2.5 stars? (As in, between “it’s OK” and “I kinda liked it.”) The story is interesting, and it clearly has its good moments, along with mysteries for the main character to unveil, as he is confronted with layer upon layer of uncertainties about who’s lying, who’s an ally, who’s a friend, and who’s only pretending and getting ready to stab him in the back.

I had trouble to connect with the characters in general, though. The only one we really get to know is Aaron, and partly Seb, but due to all the conflicting hints he had to wade through, his position remained on the fence and made him somewhat passive for a while, which in turn made the narrative confusing and muddled in parts as to what was going on. There’s also what looks like a complex world-building underneath, but difficult to properly grasp. While I mostly prefer when stories unfold “in medias res”, they also have to contain enough hints from the start to help the reader get into their concepts, and here, what was clear for Aaron wasn’t always clear for me (for instance, the Box is mentioned from the first chapters onwards, but it takes a while to fully get what is is and what it’s used for).

I found the pacing lacking between the first 20% and the last chapters, too, and I had to push myself several times to pick up the book and keep reading. The ending is quite intense, though, and with a couple of surprises as well.

The Mouth of the Dark

The Mouth of the Dark - Tim Waggoner

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I enjoyed the story of this father in search of his missing daughter, when everyone else is brushing this off as ‘she’s an adult, she must’ve gone with a boyfriend, she’ll surface again later’. In itself, it’s a sad illustration of how people can sometimes be very callous and not pay attention to others, including Jayce himself, who acknowledged that he hadn’t been very close to Emory and wants to find her in part because he’s feeling guilty about neglecting her.

The world of Shadow was also fascinating, in a (gruesome) way: a catalogue of all that can go twisted in people, but given a sort of physical shape. This made for a weird read, with gory and sexual depictions at times, the latter diving at times into the very disturbing—for instance, when Jayce finds a sex toy in Emory’s bedroom, or that specific flashback when he goes home and finds her in the basement: the whole sexual angle intruding in a father/child relationship cranked up the creepy factor fairly high here, and I can’t say I’m comfortable with that. This ties well into the horror part, though, but let’s just say one has better steel themselves against it. For me, it was disturbing (= sex conflated with parent/child) rather than horrific (= it didn’t scare me).

From a storytelling point of view, I had trouble with the timeline: the whole plot unfolds over less than two days (if you except the flashbacks), and I felt that this was too short for Jayce to go from ‘don’t know jack to Shadow’ to ‘oh one more disturbing thing… m’kay, let’s go on’. I also guessed pretty early what the big twist would be, so I wasn’t surprised at all when that was confirmed.

All in all, what I enjoyed most here was the world of Shadow itself, in all its bizarre glory.

Conclusion: 3 stars

The Binding

The Binding - Bridget Collins

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This was a little of a rollercoaster book for me, in that the blurb -is- pretty misleading when it comes to the expectations it rises—so there were quite a few chapters when my interest ebbed and flowed, as I poised between “this is not what I wantedto read” and “that’s pretty interesting” and “I expected something different in terms of world-building”, etc. Especially, there’s a romance element that is -not- in the blurb, and since I’m not a big fan of romance for the sake of romance in general, my first reaction was pretty much ‘ugh, no, not yet another romance plot, you should’ve warned me about this, since I don’t feel like reading romance these days’.

However, as everything settled, as the plot fully came together, as I got to know the characters more, this change of mood abated, and I found that I was actually liking this novel. I do regret that the art of binding wasn’t explored more in depths, with deeper explanations of how it worked, and this is something that disappointed me until the end. Still, I nevertheless felt myself rooting for several characters, getting angry at how other people treated them, didn’t accept them, at the rampant intolerance, too. It wasn’t ‘enjoyable’ (I so wanted to slap the parents), no. The main characters were often annoying in many ways, too. But it made for a good story.

I must say that I usually have several pet peeves when it comes to romance (yes, there’s some romance in it), one of the major ones being when the lovers lose sight of priorities (typical example: “who will she chose, the boy she loves, or saving the world?” --> everybody knows that 99% of the time, the world is doomed). Here, there is strong potential for turning these characters’ world(s) upside down, but I didn’t get that feeling of thwarted sense of priorities, because all in all, most characters had bleak prospects to start with, and what hinged on them was something that wouldn’t have made so many other people happy anyway: arranged marriages, bad job prospects, abuse, cannot go back to their old lives, etc.

Speaking of abuse, the world Emmett lives in is rather bleak in that regard as well. It reminded me a lot—and that was no doubt on purpose o nthe author’s part—of 19th century novels, with a strong country/town dichotomy: the countryside as a ‘pure, natural, innocent’ world where people have a chance to be happy, vs. the town as polluted, home to crime and vice, and where the wealthy treat servants and poorer people in general as dirt, as toys that can be broken and then mended at will. While the abuse is not depicted in gory ways, and usually alluded to rather than directly witness, the allusions are not veiled either. It is very clear who rapes their servants, and who gets others murdered for the sake of their own interests. Those aren’t triggers for me, but they could still be depending on the reader. All in all, that also reminded me of other literary movements of that time: there’s no shortage of showing people being sick, reduced to their ‘bodily functions’, shown as the cowards they are, and so on. If you’ve read Zola, you’ll know what I mean. This novel doesn’t sing the praises of human beings in general, for sure, and shows most people as being weak at best, and hidden monsters at worst.

I am… bizarrely satisfied with the ending. It’s fairly open, and there are still many loose ends, but it also allows the book to close on a kind of resolution that I found fitting, balancing between “it could still turn so sour so quickly” and “well, there’s hope left and the future looks kinda good”.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars

The Flower Girls

The Flower Girls - Alice Clark-Platts

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Interesting (albeit disturbing) theme: that of ‘the Flower Girls’, two children suspected of the murder of a toddler. The elder girl, Laurel, went to jail, where she’s still rotting many years later; the younger, Primrose, was considered as too young and traumatised to stand trial, and given a new identity. The story follows the two women nineteen years after the gruesome murder, when on New Year’s Eve, 5-year old Georgie disappears from the hotel where she’s been staying with her parents. A host of other characters quickly get tangled with the case: DC Lorna Hillier, writer Max, Hazel Archer and her boyfriend Jonny, the cook who was the last person to see the little girl alive, but also Toby Bowman, Laurel’s uncle who was the only one to stick with her, and Joanna Denton, the aunt of the murdered toddler. Of course, during the investigation, revelations start to surface, hinting at something else going on.

The first part of the novel was pretty engaging, as the search for Georgie takes place, and DC Hillier starts suspecting that the truth is not so nicely packaged as it seems. We’re also given to see snapshots of Joanna’s fight to keep Laurel behind bars, as well as Laurel’s relationship with Toby, who’s trying to get parole for her.

However, after that, the story started to peter out for me, and I found the ending rushed and lacking. I get the later twists (predictable, but I get them), and that novels don’t all have to end up tied with nice little bows, but I felt that too many characters were either ushered out the easy way, or left hanging to dry. Those I liked the most, all in all, were Laurel herself; Toby, who in spite of being reviled in the eyes of the rest of his family for helping his niece, was probably one of the most human ones; and Hillier, who wouldn’t let go and really tried to figure out the real truth behind it all. Unfortunately, they were all part of these characters who were left out in the cold, with their storylines “unfinished”. (Yes, I know, that’s how it often is in real life; but see, the thing is, when I read a thriller/mystery, it’s not to see a mirror of real life: I want an actual resolution at the end.)

So I reached the last page thinking “wha, that’s it?”, and that’s how it remains, which is too bad, because there was a lot of potential in this story.

Vox

Vox - Christina Dalcher

Something like 2.5 stars, as I'm on the fence with this one. It has powerful messages, including a reminder that often, all it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing. Not that you always have that much of a choice (I've spent all my voting life picking the lesser evil candidate for president in my country, because there's just no 'good' candidate at all), but nvm. And while these messages are delivered in a not-so-subtle way, well, at least that makes them easy to see and to contemplate. The book is also a fast and easy read, with short chapters, and the first 100 pages are quite anger-eliciting, which is good in a book IMHO regardless of its other flaws—when the book leaves me indifferent, that's when I have a problem.

The issues I had with "Vox" were more of the literary kind. For starters, the characters weren't so likeable. Some are definitely not meant to be, of course, and that was not the issue; but for a story where women should be the ones reclaiming power, Jean relies so much on the men around her, including at the end, and that was disappointing. Plot-wise, the scientific premise demanded too much suspension of disbelief (one week to develop a medication, that kind of thing), and the ending was very rushed, which weakened the story for me.

In spite of my rating, though, it is a story worth reading for its message.

How to Speak Science

How to Speak Science: Gravity, Relativity, and Other Ideas That Were Crazy Until Proven Brilliant  - Bruce Benamran

Definitely interesting, although the abysmal attempts at humour were terribly distracting, because they weren't funny at all. My Kindle counted 15 occurrences of the "People magazine" joke (which I'm calling joke for want of another word), but they felt like 50. And I kept waiting for a punchline that just never came, which made me wonder: 1) where did that 'joke' even come from, what prompted it? And 2) considering this book was originally published in French, was that even included in it, since it makes even less sense whatsoever in French?

To be honest, it's my interest for hard science that kept me reading, certainly not the tone.

Musketeer Space

Musketeer Space - Tansy Rayner Roberts

This retelling, while being very close in terms of plot and pacing to the original story (something that will or will not go down very well depending on the readers—personally, I wanted to read a close retelling, and that's what I got) did actually... endear me much more to d'Artagnan's character. The latter was never my favourite in Dumas' novel, but here, Dana actually stands on par with the other Musketeers. I also really liked the gender-flipping and diversity (including the fact this sci-fi world doesn't automatically assume that white is the default), the way Milady de Winter was approached here, and the roles given to secondary characters, who felt more important than the valets in Dumas' work.

(Note: Though the Kindle version I read does still have a batch of typos and a couple of names that are mispelled at times, that didn't bother me.)

The Monsters We Deserve

The Monsters We Deserve - Marcus Sedgwick

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This book is somewhat of an oddball: part essay, part horror story, part reflection about the writer’s craft and what bringing a story into the world involves.

The book the author-protagonist talks about is Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, but it’s also his own, his best-seller book, and the one about which he harbours the most doubts. It’s about disliking a story so much that you can’t help think about it; about the meaning of one’s writing, and how it completely escapes us from the moment it’s out in the world; about searching one’s soul and having to come to terms with our truths. Not an easy read, though it’s fairly short, and I admit I wasn’t entirely sold on it at first, but then it grew on me.

It’s also about monsters, of course, but not necessarily the kind we think at first.

Not my favourite book by Marcus Sedgwick, though, as parts of it are rather confusing and left me with a somewhat “off” feeling that I couldn’t place. Not to mention that if you’ve studied “Frankenstein” at least a little, most of the reflections outlined in it, as well as the “big reveal”, are kind of… super obvious?

2.5 stars. Interesting as a curiosity, I’d say.

Child of Nod

Child of Nod - C. W. Snyder

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

The story of a late teenager/young woman who finds herself stranded in a strange land, not knowing if she’s alive or dead, “Child of Nod” is sort of a retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, although it gets far enough from it that it’s not -that- close. It also draws on famous fairy tales and on mythology in general, but here, too, more as an inspiration than for full retelling purposes, so that the book stands on its own here. There’s madness, and horror, and memories, and strong imagery (like the Queen of Blades—this one screams to be drawn), and side characters, too, that I found oddly endearing, such as Dog.

The tone is overall quite dark, in that who and what Alice meets are usually not friendly, and even when she meets people who help her, the latter also have their own darkness to contend with: one suffers from leprosy, another is very likely dying from cancer, the Hunter himself didn’t exactly have a shiny childhood, etc. Nod as governed by the Red Queen is clearly not an enchanting place and there’s always something ready to devour something else around the corner. So, not a story for kids.

The story was definitely interesting, but I had trouble at times with the style (some sentences being abrupt and repetitive), and with the pacing. 90% of the book is spent on Alice’s travels through Nod, with brief insights into the lives of a few people she meets along the way, and by comparison, the final scene and the aftermath got very little screentime, and the ending felt rushed. I would’ve preferred something more balanced here, as well as seeing Alice’s journey and the other characters’ stories more solidly interwoven.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars

The Price Guide to the Occult

The Price Guide to the Occult - Leslye Walton

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I really liked the beginning—the prologue had a sort of “fairy tale” touch, introducing as it did the “legend” of Rona Blackburn and what happened with the first settlers of Anathema Island. However, while I kept liking the setting of a small island, fairly isolated from the world and losing itself in the fog as the danger approaches, I had more trouble with the story after that. I think I can chalk that to the following points:

- Nor makes such efforts to remain inconspicuous and not be noticed that she’s not a very interesting character in general. We know that she likes running, and that she’s had trouble with self-harm, but the latter was more brushed upon in a way that didn’t make it seem so bad, which in itself is… bad, I guess. She’s mostly passive, doesn’t speak of her fears with other characters, even when she knows something is coming. By the time she woke up, I had lost interest in her. And no other characters jumped to the forefront either. Except for Judd. Judd was cool.

- The villain was just a villain. We’re told that what she did, she did for love, but it’s fairly obvious that she was never really in love and just wanted something she couldn’t have. There’s also no explanation as to how she came upon her powers: the means are known, not the cause. Same with Nor’s ability: is it because she’s the ninth daughter? Does the curse change after a while?

- The romance. How can I put this… Maybe it’s high time to stop putting romantic love in YA just because it’s YA and romance is a trope of YA and everyone expects it, but 99% of the time it’s not handled well? The love interest and the romantic subplot were bland at best, and the -second- love interest just came out of the blue as insta-love, and yet Nor is all about “I’m dangerous so I should put an end to it”, which in the end amounts to much ado about nothing. It’s not like it was essential to the plot, really.

- The writing itself was nothing exceptional. Often a character’s name would be used as sentence subject several times within the same paragraph, when it was obvious this very character was the subject all along. So it felt repetitive.

Conclusion: A very good start for me, that went downhill quickly after that. 1.5 stars.

Breach

Breach - W. L. Goodwater

[I received a copy of this book through the First to Read program, in exchange for an honest review.]

Set in an alternate 1950s Berlin, “Breach” presents a different version of the Cold War: one where the bomb did help the Allies to win World War II, but against an enemy that had both an army and magic. The Berlin Wall, therefore, is not here merely a material wall: it is also made of magic, cast by a mix of Soviet magicians at the end of the war. And now the Wall is falling, and it’s up to both the CIA and their counterparts in the East to figure out what’s happening, how to rebuild it, and how to prevent a new war. From the USA, young magician Karen O’Neill is sent to help investigate; of course, as she discovers, things aren’t so straightforward; the men in Berlin have just as much trouble to adjust to the idea of a woman doing something else than having a husband and children; and there’s no way of telling who’s a liar, who’s not, and who’s mixing both so well that finding out the truth becomes the most difficult task ever.

The novel has its rough edges and, at times, awkward sentences and point of view switches. Some characters are clearly on the cliché side (like George, the manly-male magician who can’t get over seeing Karen sent to Germany rather than him, or Kirill, who apparently just likes to be cruel and doesn’t do anything else in life?), and not as developed as they could’ve been. And Karen’s way of facing her male peers usually amounts to giving in to the same attitudes as theirs, which makes her look perhaps too much on the defensive, which in turn diminishes her stronger side.

However, in terms of the world presented here and of the story itself, this story was a fairly enthralling read. It had, all in all, what I was looking for when I requested it. Spies and a Cold War backdrop. Magic that from the beginning offers a glimpse of its darker side (Karen and her colleague are desperately trying to find a way to use magic to heal people, because otherwise, magic seems pretty much suited for destruction and killing first and foremost). A female character, too, who has her flaws but refuses to give up and wants to get to the bottom of things. Secrets from the War, resurfacing. Extraction operations and forays into more the enemy side of Berlin. While at first, the magic itself doesn’t look terribly impressing (old, musty spells in Latin, etc.), there comes a moment when more about it is unveiled, and it hints at something definitely worth keeping in check. At all costs. (Not going to spoil, so let’s just say it dealt with a kind of effect that typically fascinates me.)

Unexpectedly, or maybe not, I found myself rooting for Erwin more than for the other characters. He has his own very dark past, but is also honestly redeeming himself, and not by hiding behind other characters—he gets his own hands dirty just as well.

Even though the pacing in the first half was slower, discovering this alternate world was enough to keep my attention here. The second half is more dynamic, although I’m torn about some of it (the finale being both awesome and “too much”, and I really can’t tell where I stand about it). The very ending, in hindsight, wasn’t unexpected; this said, it still got me, so cheers to that.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. This novel has its faults, but also enough good points to make me interested in picking up the sequel later.