Wyrd & Wonder 2023 wrap-up

First I want to thank all the hosts for organizing Wyrd & Wonder again this year! Like always I enjoyed participating. On my blog I celebrated two of my favourite subgenres: Historical Fantasy and Portal Fantasy. I also shared my Top Three Magical Schools (besides Hogwarts).

During the month I reread The Magister Trilogy. I enjoyed it, but I did hope to like the trilogy more this time. After rereading three books, I didn’t stick to my TBR. I was eager for some new books and I read Sorcery of Thorns. Below are my spoiler-free thoughts of all the books I read during Wyrd & Wonder.

Books I Read

Feast of Souls (The Magisters Trilogy, #1) by C.S. Friedman4 stars (reread)
In four words: intriguing, magical, dark fantasy
What I liked: While rereading this story, I started recognizing parts. What I didn’t remember is how intriguing the Magisters are; powerful and immortal, but at the sacrifice of human lives. Especially Kamala is an interesting character. The book has multiple perspectives, but the story is mostly about her. Kamala managed to become the first known female magister. Now she has a lot to prove. I admired her determination, confidence and fearlessness.
What I disliked: Although I found the characters interesting, I wasn’t emotionally invested in the story. The magisters are too mysterious to really connect with. Other characters are just not remarkable enough. Kamala is one of the few characters I actually sympathised with.
Trilogy has trigger warnings for murder, death of loved ones and rape

Wings of Wrath (The Magisters Trilogy, #2) by C.S. Friedman – 3 stars (reread)
In four words: interesting, but bland sequel
What I liked: I’m glad this trilogy has a couple of strong, complex, female main characters. Female magister Kamala, witch queen Siderea and High Queen Gwynofar are all women who were able to get power in this patriarchal world. Siderea is already fascinating in the first part. She becomes more interesting due to an ambiguous choice she makes in the sequel. I liked how Gwynofar is stronger than she seems and gets more agency in this part.
What I disliked: After reading two books, I still felt mostly indifferent to the characters. A lot of the characters, especially the magisters, show little emotion. This makes it hard to identify with them. Siderea and Gwynofar didn’t get enough pages to really make me care for them. It’s a pity that Kamala plays a smaller role in this part. I liked Kamala and wanted to read more about her.

Legacy of Kings (The Magisters Trilogy, #3) by C.S. Friedman4 stars (reread)
In four words: strong, exciting, satisfying ending
What I liked: There are a couple of significant plot twists. They weren’t a huge surprise to me, because I seem to remember more from the story than I thought. I did like that we finally learn more about some of the characters. It’s interesting that the books have many “grey” characters, who are neither good nor entirely evil. During this last part, some of the magisters grew on me.
What I disliked: I still think this trilogy has too many characters for the amount of pages. If the writer would have focussed on a few of them, I would have liked the story more. I also think the world building could be better.

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson3,5 stars
In four words: bookish, action-packed, fun, enjoyable
What I liked: Elisabeth grew up in a library. Not a common library, this one has living books! Without doubt my favourite thing in this story. The book is set in a fascinating world with sorcerers and various kinds of demons. Elisabeth is alright as main character, but I liked the side characters more. Katrien is the kind-hearted rebellious friend I would like to have. It’s a pity that she hasn’t a bigger role. Silas appears to be a very interesting character when we get to know him.
What I disliked: This was a really enjoyable story, but I hoped it would have more depth. Some problems were a bit too easily solved. And I am left with so many questions about the magic system, the demons and the grimoires. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think the story has much more potential.
Trigger warnings for death of loved ones and murder

Podcasts I Liked

Good Stuff of Wyrd & Wonder 2023

  • Just like me, Celeste @ A Literary Escape & Annemieke @ A Dance With Books wrote a post about Historical Fantasy. Both recommended lots of new books for my TBR-list.
  • For Sia @ Every Book a Doorway it has become a yearly tradition to make a list of The Coolest Magical Abilities in Fiction and Cool Magic Systems. She always manages to recommend hidden gems I have never heard of!
  • Eustacia @ Eustea Reads made a great list with 7 Fantasy Books Based on 7 Different Mythologies.

Top Three Magical Schools

The Wyrd & Wonder prompt of today is ‘Magical community.’ My favourite magical community to read about is a school. I love school settings: I am passionate about learning things and in my daily life I work at an elementary school. The first magical school I fell in love with is Hogwarts. I dreamt of going there: I would become a Hufflepuff and my favourite class would be Herbology. Due to all the Harry Potter movies, games and websites (like Hogwarts is Here), Hogwarts feels very real to me. It still has a special place in my heart.

However, I don’t feel like rereading the books. The controversial things J.K. Rowling said are just a part of the reason. I also moved on, because I discovered new favourites and other fantasy worlds to emerge myself in. I still like to read fantasy books set on some kind of school. None of them can compare to Hogwarts. But I do like these schools for other reasons.

Scholomance in A Deadly Education
This may not be a magical school I actually would want to attend. Scholomance doesn’t have any teachers, monsters are lurking everywhere and there’s a big chance of getting killed before graduation. But this school is so fascinating! I loved to read how studying at a teacher-less school works. Naomi Novik also does a great job in describing the history of Scholomance. Of course there are good reasons why parents would send their children to this dangerous place.

The Red Church from The Nevernight Chronicles
Another school I never want to go to for real. At the Red Church the deadliest assassins of Itreya are trained. The teachers are dangerous and quite likely to murder their students. In classes like Potions and Thievery, students learns how to steal things and poison people. Only a couple of them will survive and become a Blade. This is a dark and bloody adult fantasy story set in an interesting world. But what makes the books extraordinary is Mia Corvere. Mia is loyal, confident, competitive and ready to fight for the people she loves. She also has a shadow cat that feeds on her fear.

The Untracable University in De erfenis van Richard Grenville
It’s a pity that this story is not translated to English (yet). The book is the first of trilogy (I still have to finish) and pretty unkown, even in the Netherlands. The Untracable University is the hidden part of a common university in London. Only people with magical talent can enter. This is a university I actually like to attend. I would be able to follow courses like Magic in Music, The Origins and Functionality of Spells, and Ethics in Magic. And there would be a lot of other magical places in London I could discover.

Celebrating a subgenre: Portal Fantasy

This is not a prompt from the Wyrd & Wonder challenge, but I do like to celebrate this subgenre. In a portal fantasy the real world is connected to one or more parallel worlds by some kind of portal. Most well-known are the rabbit hole that brings Alice in Wonderland and the wardrobe to Narnia. There are a lot more portal fantasy books, here are my five favourites:

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
This trilogy, starting with Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the US), is a childhood favourite I still love. It’s a magical, adventurous, coming-of-age story, but also has a lot of deeper layers. The story is full of portals. And while reading these books, I often wished I was able to go to other worlds as easy as Lyra and Will.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor
Karou may seem just another art student in Prague. However, she hides a secret life where she is able to fulfil small wishes with her necklace, and runs mysterious errands for a monstrous creature from Elsewhere. Karou knows little about that other world, but she is about to find out. And this world with chimaeras and angels is fascinating.

Firebird Trilogy by Claudia Gray
I really enjoyed this adventurous and exciting love story. The Firebird is an invention from Marguerite’s parents. It can be used to jump to other dimensions. When Marguerite’s father is killed, Paul is the main suspect. With the Firebird he escapes to another dimension, but Marguerite follows him. Interesting enough, she meets alternate versions of people she knows, including Paul.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
This novella is an interesting take on portal fantasy. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is the place for children who came back from other worlds and no longer feel at home in our world. This book is the first part of a series alternating between our world and various other worlds.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
In this story there are multiple versions of London. Kell is one of the few who is able to travel between them. I enjoyed reading this book, but for some reason I never read the sequel. But I still hope to finish the trilogy at some point.

Celebrating a subgenre: Historical Fantasy

Today’s Wyrd & Wonder prompt is ‘Historical Fantasy’, a subgenre that basically combines two of my favourite genres: fantasy and historical fiction. I love it, because I like learning about history through fiction and I enjoy reading about magic. It’s also interesting to see how history would have been different if magic was involved. Here is my top five historical fantasy books:

The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield
This book is amazing! It’s the best example of historical fantasy I have read so far. The Embroidered Book is a great historical novel with an incredbily well-thought-out magic system. It’s the story of Marie Antoinette and her sister Charlotte, if they would have a book of spells. The spell book gives them power, but every spell requires a sacrifice

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Malaysia, in the 19th century. Her father asks Li Lan if she would like to become a ghost bride. A rich family wants her to marry their recently deceased son. While considering this proposal, Li Lan becomes involved in the Chinese afterlife. It’s an interesting world with ghost cities, corrupt officers and some vicious ghosts. I loved how the writer combined real Chinese practices with folklore and her imagination.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This book is set in the 1920’s, but inspired by Maya mythology. The result is a unique story with ancient gods and demons walking through modern Mexico City. The world-building is amazing and the story also has a couple of great characters. Especially Hun-Kamé, the God of Death. At the beginning of the book he’s a cold and quite awful character. At the end of the story I actually liked him.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows
A fun and very enjoyable story! This is a magical retelling of the life of Lady Jane Grey. She lived in England during the 16th century and is also known as the Nine Days Queen. Jane is about to become involved in a conspiracy and is going to mary a stranger who regularly turns into a horse.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Vasya lives in a small Russian village where it’s always winter. During the cold nights people tell each other stories about a demon that claims unwary souls. Vasya knows these stories aren’t just fairy tales, because she can see the spirits. The writer managed to create a very atmospheric world based on Russian folklore.

Wyrd & Wonder 2023 TBR

It’s already May, which means it’s time for Wyrd & Wonder! During this online event we celebrate all things fantasy. This year there are five hosts: Annemieke (A Dance With Books), Ariane (The Book Nook), Jorie (Jorie Loves A Story), Lisa (Dear Geek Place) and Imyril (There’s Always Room For One More). They organize two read-alongs: Lisa is going to read Howl’s Moving Castle and Annemieke will read The Bone Witch. I won’t be participating, but I am looking forward to reading all the discussion posts. Two years ago I read The Bone Witch trilogy, and really enjoyed it. I haven’t read Howl’s Moving Castle yet. There’s also a prompt challenge:

I certainly will use a couple of these prompts as inspiration. During the month I am going to post fantasy-themed blog posts and read only fantasy books. Usually I choose books I haven’t read yet. This year I challenged myself by making a To Be Read-list with only rereads:

The Magister Trilogy by C. S. Friedman
I read these books more than ten years ago. Since 2012 I never reread them, but I still kept the books around. I have almost no memories of the story. I know it’s about sorcery and I vaguely remember that the main character is woman with red hair. When I first read the books, I did grade them. I gave Feast of Souls a 7.5, Wings of Wrath got a 6.5 and Legacy of Kings received an 8. So I liked the books, but they didn’t really impress me. This month I’m going to reread the Magister Trilogy. I’m curious if I will recognize parts of the story and if I will like it more than the first time.

The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
I was quite surprised to discover that I read the Lord of the Rings only once. Although it’s ten years ago, I still remember a lot from the story. I could summarize the plot and know the names from most of the characters. I did watch the movies a couple of times. And of course The Lord of the Rings is discussed a lot on the internet. I would love to reread the story and experience it all again.

Wyrd & Wonder 2022 wrap-up

It’s already the last day of Wyrd & Wonder. Just like the previous years I want to thank all the hosts! I enjoyed participating and loved to read everyone’s contributions. On this blog I posted my reviews of the Hugo Award Short Story Finalists, a Top Five Bookish Characters from Fantasy Books and Five Forest Fantasy Books I read. I also finished two books and I’m currently still reading The Shadowed Sun. The Dream Blood duology by N.K. Jemisin is interesting, but not as easy to read as I expected. In this blog post you will find my thoughts about the books I read, some podcasts I liked and my favourite Wyrd & Wonder blog posts of the month.

Books I Read
Wyrd & Wonder 2022 - wrap-up

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – 4 stars
In four words: modern, dark fairy tale
What I liked: For this book the writer rearranged some fairy tale elements in a new and interesting way. There are faeries and there is a boy with horns in a glass coffin. He is surrounded by broken bottles and crushed tin cans and regularly tourists are gaping at him. The modern setting and the casual way the fearies are treated made the story feel almost real. I also liked the way the book is written. The writer doesn’t tell why something happens, she shows it. The characters are interesting as well. All of them have secrets and we slowly find out more about them.
What I disliked: I actually liked this book more than I expected. I’m not a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, but I enjoyed reading this book.

The Killing Moon (Dreamblood, #1) by N.K. Jemisin – 3 stars
In four words: fascinating setting, complex story
What I liked: One of the reasons I wanted to read this book was the setting. The world is inspired by Ancient Egypt and as fascinating as I hoped. The most memorable characters in the story are Gatherers. They are priests who harvest dream magic. This can be used to either heal sick people or give corrupt people a peaceful death. But who decides who has to be killed? And what if the people in whose decision you trust are corrupt themselves? These interesting questions are explored. The book doesn’t simply give the answers; you have to figure it out yourself. I like the idea of puzzling everything together.
What I disliked: We are thrown in the middle of a complex story with many strange names. Very little is explained. That’s why this book was at the beginning hard to follow. Throughout the story I slowly started to understand it. But in the end I can’t say I totally comprehended it. More information would have helped me to care more about the plot and the characters.
Trigger warning for murder

Podcasts I liked
  • Curses and consent – with Heather Walter at Breaking the Glass Slipper was an interesting podcast episode about fairy tales. They discuss why some fairy tales are actually quite problematic, but are still inspiring and fascinating.
  • The Marie Forleo Podcast is a (very American) self help podcast. Not all episodes are my thing, but I love the positivity of Marie and her guests. Recently I listened to episode 205: Rediscover Your Wild, Untamed Heart with Glennon Doyle. I sometimes struggle with being myself and this episode reminded me why it’s important to stay true to yourself.
The Good Stuff of Wyrd & Wonder 2022

2022 Hugo Award Short Story Finalists Reviewed

Today I tag along with the Wyrd & Wonder prompt ‘Bite-size delight’. I share my thoughts on the short stories that are nominated to win a Hugo Award. With some of them, I purposely stayed a bit vague. Because the stories are so short, I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. If a story sounds interesting, definitively read it yourself! All of them can be find online.

Mr. Death by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2021)
In this story reaper is a job you can get after you die. We get to explore this fascinating idea with an interesting main character and see his character develop during the story. This story about death is a bit heart-breaking, but also heart-warming and even has some humour. I admire the writer for being able to convey so many emotions in just five thousand words.

Proof by Induction by José Pablo Iriarte (Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2021)
The main character of this story is able to talk with his father after he died. The idea is interesting, but the conversations they have are quite boring. There were so much mathematical terms! For me all the math they talk about overshadows the better part of the story.

The Sin of America by Catherynne M. Valente (Uncanny Magazine, March/April 2021)
I just didn’t get this story. It’s about an American woman who had a life full of pain and disappointments. Her dinner at Blue Bison Diner & Souvenir Shoppe is meticulously described. The many details obscured the plot for me. In the end I’m not sure what the writer wanted to tell. This is the kind of story you have to read three of even four times to get. But I couldn’t find anything in the story that makes it worth rereading.

Tangles by Seanan McGuire (Magicthegathering.com: Magic Story, September 2021)
This short story tells about a meeting between a dryad and a mage. They live in a fascinating world with magic and trees that walk. We just get a small insight in this world and I would love to read more about it if possible. The story is also beautifully written.

Unknown Number by Azure (Twitter, July 2021)
If short stories could win prizes for originality, this one would probably get one. This story has the most unique format of all the finalists. It’s a SMS conversation between the main character and theirself from another universe. Their lives have many similarities, but there’s one big difference. The format made the story feel very real. I do think this story has the potential to have more depth. The writer spends quite a lot of time on setting up the story.

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, March/April 2021)
Another story with an unusual format. This one is formatted like a kind of website about a song called ‘Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather’. Various commenters discuss the phrasing and history of the song. Sadly it felt like a huge info dump. I didn’t really like the song, so I had no reason to be interested in its fictional history. The story may have worked if the characters were more relatable.

There were three short stories I enjoyed reading. My favourite was definitively Mr. Death by Alix E. Harrow. It’s based on an original idea that is well executed, and the story is beautifully written. Which one do you think should win?

Top Five Bookish Characters from Fantasy Books

Time for Top Ten Tuesday, the weekly meme managed by That Artsy Reader Girl. I love today’s topic: Bookish characters! Since it’s also Wyrd & Wonder this month, I decided to focus on bookish character from fantasy books.

Lazlo from Strange the Dreamer

“His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales his first day on the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange: head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy.”

My favourite fictional bookworm! Lazlo is a kind-hearted librarian. Since childhood he is obsessed with a mythic lost city called Weep. He collects all the information he can find about it. Lazlo’s dream is finding this city and solving all the mysteries surrounding it. When he gets the opportunity, Lazlo has to seize his change or lose his dream forever.

Meggie from Inkheart

“There was another reason [she] took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange. They were familiar voices, friends that never quarelled with her, clever, powerful friends – daring and knowledgeable, tried and tested adventurers who had travelled far and wide. Her books cheered her up when she was sad and kept her from being bored.”

Meggie lives with her father Mo. He is a book binder and they both love reading. One night she overhears a conversation her father has. Next morning, they suddenly have to go to aunt Elinor. After a while, Meggie finally finds out her father’s secret. He is able to bring things from a book to our world when he reads the story aloud. But this talent comes with a price…

Bastian from The Neverending Story

“Bastian liked books that were exciting or funny, or that made him dream. Books where made-up characters had marvelous adventures, books that made him imagine all sorts of things. Because one thing he was good at, possibly the only thing, was imagining things so clearly that he almost saw and heard them.”

The Neverending Story is one of my favourite books from childhood. It’s about a boy reading a book about Fantastica. This world needs a human to save it. While Bastian is reading, he goes into the book. The best thing is: he doesn’t only become part of the story, Bastian is also able to shape it with his imagination.

Charley from The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep

“… I really have no circle of acquaintances outside work. None nonfictional or unrelated to me, anyway. I’m busy. There are a lot of books to read.”

Charley has the magical ability to bring a character from a book into the real world. His brother Rob thinks this family secret causes mostly problems. But I would love to have this power! Not only the characters, but also the plot of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is really interesting.

Tilly from Tilly and the Bookwanderers

“With very few exceptions Tilly found that she much preferred the company of characters in her books to most of the people she knew in real life.”

Tilly is a young girl wo lives above her grandparents’ bookshop. One day a character from the book she’s reading appears in the shop. That’s when she learns about `book wandering.’ This magic works both ways: Tilly can bring characters from books into our world and she can get in the book herself.

Five Forest Fantasy Books I read

This post is inspired by the Wyrd & Wonder prompt ‘Top Five Forest Fantasy Recs’. I actually have read exactly five forest fantasy books. So I decided to just make a list of the books I read. In of all them there is some kind of enchanted wood. I’m currently reading a sixth forest fantasy book: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The forest in this book is evil and powerful. It takes people who enter it. The ones who survive, come out different and just as dangerous as the forest itself. Agnieszka lives in a village close to this forest. Her people rely on a wizard known as the Dragon to protect them. Once every ten years the Dragon demands a young woman to serve him.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
This atmospheric book is set in a small village close to the cold Russian wilderness. During the nights people nestle around the fire and tell each other chilling stories about strange creatures. Vasya loves to hear them. She also knows the stories are more than fairy tales, because she can see the spirits. Better than anyone else, she realizes the importance of honouring the spirits who protect them against evil creatures lurking in the forest.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
I didn’t give this book all the stars, but I did like the out-of-this-world vibe. Alice and her mother always have bad luck. It gets even worse when Alice’s mother is kidnapped. She left behind a message: ‘Stay away from the Hazel Wood’. This is the secret estate of Alice’s grandmother, a woman Alice has never met. Hazel Wood is of course the place Alice has to find.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy
I received this book as a present and I keep it for the beautiful illustrations made by Carson Ellis. Wildwood is an enchanted forest in the middle of Portland. It’s inhabited by talking animals. When Prue’s baby brother is kidnapped by crows, she has to save him. With the help of Collin, she follows her brother into the forest. I wouldn’t recommend this book for the plot, but I liked the world the story is set in.

The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb
These books are about ships fashioned from wizardwood. The special wood for these ships comes from the Rain Wilds, an area with enormous trees. Settlements are built high in the trees. The forest plays a bigger role in The Rain Wild Chronicles, but I haven’t read those books yet.

Wyrd & Wonder 2022 TBR

In May I will again participate in Wyrd & Wonder! A yearly celebration of all things fantasy. This year it’s the fifth anniversary of Wyrd & Wonder. Forest fantasy will be the theme of this special edition. Wyrd & Wonder is hosted by a team of five bloggers: Imryl from One More, Lisa of Dear Geek Place, Jorie from Jorie Loves A Story, Ariana at The Book Nook and Annemieke of A Dance With Books. Read here about everything that is planned during the month.

On my blog you are going to find fantasy-themed posts next month. I also hope to read at least three fantasy books. I’m going to participate in the read-along hosted by Lisa of Dear Geek Place. And there is a great duology I want to read. This is my TBR-list:

The Killing Moon (Dreamblood #1) & The Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood #2) by N.K. Jemisin
I’m looking forward to finally reading something from N.K. Jemisin! I decided to start with this duology, because it sounds amazing. The first thing I like is that the world in the books is based on Ancient Egypt. It’s also interesting that dreams play a big role. The main character is a priest of the dream-goddess. It’s his duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal. However, someone uses this magic to kill people…

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
This book is chosen by Lisa for the read-along. Following the theme, it’s a forest fantasy. The story sounds like a dark fairy tale. It’s about Hazel and her brother Ben who live in a town where humans and fae live side by side. There’s also a glass coffin in the woods with a sleeping boy in it. I’ve never read anything else by Holly Black. So I’m curious what I will think of this book.