As an avid Magic the Gathering player and a Brandon Sanderson nerd, when I heard he was writing a Magic the Gathering novella I sorta lost my marbles. But as a literary critic, I feel strongly about keeping my standards and integrity high. So you will understand it is with the utmost objectivity that I say:
Children of the Nameless is awesome.
It’s awesome for characters: one a surprising villain that goes from reluctant to almost-hero (and makes an unusual but fitting choice in the end), another a plucky girl with more magic that she knows battling to save her family and village (a little more familiar, but there’s a reason we love tropes, right?). Both Davriel (now an actual Magic card! Not that you non-MTG nerds care) and Tacenda follow believable and satisfying inner journeys as the outer story rolls on.
Speaking of which, the story is awesome too—no surprise with Sanderson. The pace is fast, the mystery is well-plotted (who half-killed my whole village? Can I figure it out with this reluctant hero/villain’s aid in a single night, before they all actually-die?), there are plenty of twists and surprises (including, of course, the whodunit reveal), and the action is fun and magic-laden.
Which reminds me, the worldbuilding is awesome too (three?). Sanderson has made a name for himself in imagining very cool magical abilities (related, this MTG nerd is sure, to him playing Magic the Gathering for so many years), and working their unexpected consequences into plot and character moments. Children of the Nameless is no slouch there, and amazing in that the author fits Lovecraft-level epic entities into a novella-size story, with room for more human- (and demon-) -sized magic too. The demonic side characters, and the various carefully-worded contracts Davriel has bound them into, are some of the coolest and most fun parts of the story.
“So what’s cool and not fun, then, Mr. Objective Literary Critic?” you ask in your most skeptical tones.
There are actually a few things. One is part of Tacenda’s inner journey that feels a little cliché and forced, with her pondering fate vs free will and the supporting cast comforting her with platitudes. It feels like a placeholder for the real arc that she does in fact have (about power and heroism)—but placeholders Sanderson never actually filled. Given that, the pacing droops a little bit during her later introspective moments. There’s also a too-convenient-church-sketch clue discovered at a convenient time, and one of the Chthulu-sized entities talking in a pretty predictable voice…
But really I’m grasping at straws here. Children of the Nameless is awesome. So awesome this humble author wrote a free novella inspired by it, with a very different setting and pair of characters—and what better flattery than imitation?
So once again, I tell you as Objective Critic (and fanboy, and Magic player, and fantasy author): this novella is objectively awesome. And it’s free. So go get it.
The Popularity War
The Poppy War starts off with a bang. Actually, it starts with the foster child of some opium dealers scarring herself into passing the most difficult test in fantasy-China, saving herself from arranged marriage to a gross old man at the expense of propelling her into a severe military academy where her lowly roots earn her enemies until she outperforms them all and shows hints of forgotten magical power… Let’s just say it was hard to put the book down for the first hundred pages. This was Ender’s-Game-meets-Harry-Potter level awesome: clever plotting, fast-paced story, snappy dialogue, and spunky main character overcoming adversity, leading to an epic showdown that had me wondering how the book could possibly get better.
It was a valid question. The snappy dialogue continues throughout, but the fast-paced story takes a hard left turn that drops most of what made the first third fun. Kuang’s loveable side characters disappear to be replaced by others that aren’t as well fleshed-out, and the spunky main character becomes increasingly passive and internally tormented. That is, the story the book promises to tell is not the one it ends up telling, nor is it told in the same way as the first third. The Poppy War ends up feeling more like two books (or three) pressed into one, without much carryover between each volume. While it is well-written throughout, the lack of continuity plus the main character’s drop in proactivity made means the book does not live up to the promise of its opening.
Kuang likely had reasons for plotting the story like this: a student of modern Chinese history and advocate for the forgotten violence of the early twentieth century, The Poppy War wears its political themes and concerns on its sleeve. As a former graduate student studying spirituality and violence, I relate to a lot of these concerns, but it feels here like they take precedence over the readability of the story. Perhaps this a worthy sacrifice to make for the cause, as Kuang’s main character makes (insanely) large sacrifices for hers. It surely cannot be said that this is a timid or unambitious book. But if the main cause you are looking for is entertainment rather than advocacy for forgotten atrocities, The Poppy War may be a difficult read.
That said, sometimes a difficult read it what we like. If a movie with Ken Liu building the sets, M.H. Boroson scripting the plot and N.K. Jemisin directing the themes sounds awesome, give it a read. Or, if you don’t mind dropping trad-pub dollars on a screaming good novella, buy it, read the first third, and see where the rest takes you.
The Third Kind of Fantasy
Some books are like a delicious piece of fruit: unadorned, unembellished quality. Others are like a banana split—still fruit-centric, but with some ice cream and toppings, there to set off the banana’s flavor, or sometimes to hide a bland banana. Then there are smoothie books, the ones where three or more genres get so blended you can’t exactly say what was banana, what chocolate, what yogurt and where that dash of citrus came from, but you know it’s good.
Lindsey Buroker’s Eye of Truth, the start of the Agents of the Crown series, is the third kind of book, a true genre-blender. Ostensibly, this is fantasy—set in a Renaissance (and slightly steampunk) world, replete with magic, elves and dwarves, and located high on Amazon’s Epic Fantasy listing. But the story is not fantasy’s classic quest to destroy a magical item, or take over an Empire, or defeat an arch-demon: the story is a mystery involving a detective and an espionage agent. To make things saucier, those two happen to be pining for love at the outset, and find it (or lust at least) by the close of the book.
So this particular genre smoothie is one of fantasy, mystery, and romance—one you might fear would taste too much of citrus for a chocolatey drink, or strongly of protein powder when you wanted kale and peaches. Fear not: Buroker balances her flavors well, and sprinkles enough fantastical set dressings on top that fantasy fans in particular will be pleased. There are religious orders, magical races, kings and mindreaders and embittered peasantry, with epic wars happening in the background.
The trouble is, for true fantasy fans, these elements feel a little too much like set dressings to really scratch the genre itch: the elves and dwarves are very Tolkienian, the Asianish setting and religions feel unimportant to the Western-acting main characters, and the steampunk/magic elements are not radically integrated into the world. And that may be true for mystery and romance fans as well—the clues needed to solve the puzzle aren’t given in enough detail for the savvy reader to solve the mystery a page ahead of the main characters, and the romance they fall in doesn’t feel as conflict-laden or surprising as a full Harlequin can.
Still, this is a smoothie, not a delicately-sliced dish of papaya. And if you read it as such, the balance of flavors is really quite nice—especially as Buroker relays it in clear, fast-moving prose (a true asset among indie authors!), the dialogue is relatively witty (and benefits from romance’s turn toward the sexy), and the side characters are colorful and well-imagined foils to the fairly-serious leads. One thing that did disappoint us was the lack of depth in the inner journeys of the main characters: though they find each other, the adventures they go through don’t seem to substantially change them as people, so the deeper story feels a little lacking.
That said, Eye of Truth made for a fun and engaging read during a plane flight and the first couple days of a vacation in Mexico. If what you’re looking for is not Truly Epic Fantasy or Truly Sultry Romance, but a light-hearted blend of some beloved flavors, try a sip of Eye of Truth and see where it takes you.
A Ryan's Shadow Novella
If you’ve read The Waking Fire, you’ll know Anthony Ryan is capable of great things—fun characters with snappy dialogue, epic and interesting worlds, engaging quest-based stories, and grand mysteries that resolve to reveal further secrets. All these elements are present in Many Are the Dead, a novella from his Raven’s Shadow world… they’re just not tied together.
Take the fun characters. We follow an experience-hardened monk living on the border of violent tribal mountains as he aids a resourceful nun from a different order in a perilous quest to retrieve an herb rumored to cure a plague spreading in the lowlands. The monk is pleasantly terse, the nun Nynaevedly resourceful, and their interactions, along with a mute monk, an expressive dog, and a bitter lowland-raised tribal shaman, make for great conversation. What they don’t make is for any meaningful internal changes in the characters, such as Lisbeth or Clay go through in The Waking Fire. Given, we can’t expect as much from a novella a tenth as long as his other works, but the ending lines of the novella hint at an unresolved love between the two main characters that could have been there, giving that ending punch and a pleasant ascetic kind of wistfulness, but isn’t. Instead it feels more like a grasping for satisfying internal journey than the conclusion to one.
The setting, emebellishing a hidden corner of the well-fleshed out Raven’s Shadow world, is lots of fun: there are terse and culturally alien tribal highlanders, abandoned fortresses built by fools, secret tunnels, and wild beasts under magical control. It feels just right for the scope of the novella, and is lots of fun to wander through as the mystery pulling the characters along develops.
That mystery is another place Ryan doesn’t live up to the work he’s done other places. What we love about mysteries is seeing all the pieces fall into surprising place, just a page or two before we would have guessed it. This is something Ryan is good at, but it doesn’t happen in Many Are the Dead. Instead of the magical conflict we wander into having something to do with the herbs or the plague that kick off the plot, they remain two separate story lines that coincidentally happen at once. Same with the sought-after mcguffins, a mysterious weed and two children of promise: they appear without effort and fulfill a role, but have nothing to do with each other, and little importance to the main characters. In place of the fun jolts of these pieces falling into logical connection, we often have cliffhangers where some beast or other attacks—which is fine in moderation, but it feels overdone here (after the third or fourth dire situation in which no one dies, it’s hard to believe anyone important ever will).
This is not to say Many Are the Dead is not a good read—it pulled us through readily enough, based mainly on the strength of the world and the promise of the characters. It just doesn’t tie together in the end to form anything larger than the sum of its parts (in the way that, say, The Emperor’s Soul comes crashing together at novella’s end), which is a shame only because Ryan has proved elsewhere he is capable of so much more.
Fantastic Science Fiction
How well does a fantasy author do writing space? Specifically, how do the things we love about 27th best-selling author in the world (acc. to Amazon) Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels translate into a technology-based future setting?
Quite well. Sanderson is best known for his world-building, with unique and interesting settings that peel back onionlike to reveal deeper and deeper secrets. Usually, that is the magical history of the world/shattered gods, and the intricacies of how that magic works. There is little room for that kind of magic here (though Skyward does have psytonics—but hey, Star Wars has The Force) but the world is still deep, with a refugee population baffled by an implacable and apparently rule-bound alien foe, battling across an epic sphere of dead tech in decaying orbit, with strange machines of war buried deep (or not so deeply) underground.
Sanderson is also known for magical main characters whose personal journeys tie into the role of magic in the world and plot, a feat harder to pull off in science fiction… and yet Skyward does it too, with a spunky teen female lead whose father died in mysterious circumstances related to both her ‘deviant’ mental abilities and the setting’s larger mysteries. If I can go deep for a moment, main character Spensa also seems to follow an arc of main characters in Sanderson’s oeuvre, starting with already-heroic Kelsier in Mistborn, with each new iteration of hero taking a little long to become heroic (see Kaladin, then Wax) and feeling a little more conflicted about it. Spensa is the most powerful expression of that to date, starting off with a false heroism based on defending her family’s besmirched name, then having that shattered when she gets into real combat, and building it back up again into something more real. Her inward journey feels human and believable, and in trademark style Sanderson ties it deeply and satisfyingly into the larger plot and setting mysteries.
Speaking of plot, Skyward is paced and plotted masterfully, with just the right amount of action and reflection and character development in just the right places—a real page-turner. While this is not the exclusive domain of fantasy or science-fiction, it is rare to see it done as well as Sanderson does here and in other recent non-Stormlight-Archive-chihuahua-killer books.
Is the book a perfect 10, then? Did a fantasy author stick his landing into sci-fi on the first go? Not to our eyes. A few of the major plot moments felt telegraphed from early on (SPOILERS: Spensa flying out of the planetary defense system like her father did, and M-Bot coming to save the day), and while the writing was strong enough that these moments still shine, they might have had more punch if they were surprising as well as inevitable. A little more disappointing was the eventual reveal of what was above the orbiting junk, and the reasons for her father’s betrayal. From an author known for inverting tropes and surprising twists, these felt… very familiar. I suspect as they get developed more in books two and three they will take on a more unique cast, but taking Skyward on its own merits, this part of the worldbuilding felt phoned-in, and central as they are to the book’s questions, were a bit of a letdown.
Nitpicks aside, Skyward kept us up way past bedtime (and in this case, freezing in an uninsulated North Dakota garage when we should have been stoking the fire and climbing under blankets) in all the best ways, and proves more unites scifi and fantasy than it often seems. Enough so that we thought it could fit on a fantasy review site—and even if you’re set on the magical past, you might enjoy a journey Skyward too.
Romancing the Fantasy
There are a few reasons we read fantasy: to escape to another world, to live an adventure only possible with magic, to ponder our own situation through the lens of one far off and sorcerous, or just because we like it. Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch is for those of us in the final camp. If worldbuilding so detailed and engrossing is your entry into the genre (a la Sanderson or Jordan), Truthwitch’s YA pacing and vaguely European/Mediterranean setting may not be rich or otherworldly enough to hold you. If it’s the story that keeps you coming back, this book may fare better, but it doesn’t feel like a single quest with an epic finale (a la Brent Weeks or Pierce Brown) so much as two or three episodes strung together with a showdown tacked on at the end. If the metaphorical implications of magic for human nature are what tickle your fancy (see Beagle or Pratchett), Truthwitch is likely to come off a little thin, both in the elegance of the magic system and the ways it’s used to reveal human nature. But if what you like is witty dialogue, fast-paced action, and magical battles in far-off lands (see Robert E. Howard or Anthony Ryan), plus perhaps a smattering of romance, you’re likely to love this book.
Because this is not so much fantasy as fantastical romance: for all the elements of fantasy Dennard leaves thin in the book, the relationship between its two best-friend female protagonists and its dreamy-but-edgy male protags is much thicker than in most fantasy novels, and that’s a breath of change. Not the supernatural-here-and-now of shifter romance or the just-barely-not-this-world romance of Madison Faye, Dennard manages a true blend here. Meaning if you generally like fantasy, you will generally like this—and ditto for romance.
If you happen to like both, Truthwitch is some serious paydirt. You might also go in thinking you like fantasy, only to find out you love romance.
In full disclosure, we fall on the fantasy side of things (no surprise, since this is posting on TopNewFantasy dot com and not a romance review site!). That said, the entire book has a rushed feeling, and the romance is no different. The magic system felt like, with a little more development, it could all link together and make sense as another set of natural laws. The world and polities, too, felt developed a step beyond stereotype but not quite to the historical specificity we love from the worldbuilders mentioned above. The romance is at least not the well-worn triangle, but rather a foursome more reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (to mention another talented author who blends magic and romance well). The opportunities for swapped and mistaken affections abound but… still it felt clear from early on who would end up with whom. Likewise, a few too many of the battles serendipitously involved these affectionates ending in close and compromising quarters to easily suspend disbelief.
Still, a solid read for those of us who are happy with any fantastical romp, and I’d assume the same for those who like romantic relationships to be the focus. And if you have a foot in both camps, Truthwitch may just sorcel its way into your heart.
A Must-Read from One of Epic's Modern Masters
I was a fan of Brian Staveley’s Unhewn Throne series: epic in setting, plot, and character, it was everything good about epic fantasy.
Skullsworn is better.
Better setting—the strange, swampy no-man’s land and forgotten heretic city the book is set in is so vivid I remember the details of the red-scale fish lanterns they hang, months after reading the book. One of those settings so strong it becomes a character in itself, a reality all the other characters must deal with.
Better plot--The Unhewn Throne was epic, and often surprising, but Skullsworn twists and turns its way through a mystery that starts political and ends supernatural, a main character good at everything but the one thing she must do to win (love), multiple characters with motives hidden from each other in important ways, ancient bayou cults… every detail about the story feels carefully crafted and polished, in a way only someone with a series as epic as The Unhewn Throne could manage.
Better characters—Staveley could rightly be accused at times of not doing female characters justice in his main series. Not so here—the main POV, beloved side character and death priestess Pyrre, is a badass in her own right, who must learn to do the one thing she never has, in twelve days’ time, as part of a larger and more difficult trial to finally become a full priestess. She starts a revolution to do it—but the real story is her internal revolutions, trying to get past a lifetime of neither loving nor being loved, and questioning the religion that has become the core of her being, in why it would demand this of her.
Because of course she has to kill the one she loves once she’s managed to love them—another part of the book’s brilliant design.
I could go on, but let me just hit a few more things that set Skullsworn apart from your average epic fantasy. One is religion—main characters these days are usually atheists, but Pyrre is passionately faithful to her religion, even if it feels quite alien to us, and never really questions it, even as it demands the impossible of her. It’s hard to make a religious character sympathetic to modern readers, but Staveley manages it handily. Another is turning the trope of revolution on its head: most epic fantasies involve revolution that boils down to political conflict over magic (see Lightbringer series, Stormlight Archive, Wheel of Time, etc.). Skullsworn involves a revolution sparked by a character in a quest to find love, and one fueled at its base not by magic but religion. It’s a new take on an old trope, and works wonderfully. Finally, the side characters: there are no throw-away, average-Joe healer-monk warrior-dwarf kind of spear carriers here. Pyrre’s companions, her enemies, her would-be lover, even the marks she casually kills along the way, every one of them pops from the page, unique and memorable and crackling with the terse, witty dialogue Staveley is known for.
Normally around this time I mention the parts of the book I didn’t like, or that didn’t work well, or could have been better. Next paragraph.
This is the best of epic fantasy condensed into a single non-chihuahua-killing novel. It doesn’t require the buy-in of a longer series, but still delivers everything we epic lovers look for. So whether you’re a deep fan of the genre or are curious without wanting to commit, I recommend Skullsworn without reservation.
Gender Empowered, Powerless, and Powerful
What if women had power? Not political power, or cultural capital, but the real, raw physical power that arguably put men ahead in most societies at the dawn of civilization and has kept them there since? It would be a global revolution—an idea Naomi Alderman explores with grace, humor, and grit in The Power. Packed with lovable characters, surprising action, and an unnervingly believable depiction of how our social structures could fall apart with one simple change, this is one of the best books I’ve read in years.
Framed with letters written in a future where women have all the power (in an apologetic, self-debasing tone I found instantly familiar—and totally foreign coming from a man), and structured as a countdown year by year, The Power is told through four points of view (including one token male) at four centers of power: government, religion, underworld, and media. Alderman deftly imagines how women low in each system would rise as females worldwide found the ability to physically intimidate men, and does it so believably that horror and giddy revolutionary zeal took turns gripping me as I read. Its title is apt: the stories are entirely about struggles for power, about ego and traditional gender power structures clashing with the new reality of this physical power women develop.
One of the things I love about the book is that it is not an escapist take back the power! kind of story, but a nuanced look at how this new power could (and likely would) be abused, in what ways women could take over the oppressive roles men once filled (including some awful scenes of sexual violence), and ends up a sort of cautionary tale (to say the least—avoiding spoilers) for how power will corrupt anyone, pushing us to think deeper about how it should be distributed and used in our own society.
If the book has one fault, it’s that it meanders at times. Four points of view can be a lot to manage, plus secondary characters, and the frame of going year by year toward some unknown end (that we begin to dread well before it becomes clear what it is) lends itself to individual story lines that at times meander more than they should. The strength of Alderman’s characters more than carries us through this.
So an enthusiastic 9.5 rating for The Power. Normally at the end of reviews we qualify them by saying ‘if you’re looking for this’ or ‘if you’re interested in that,’ but no need with this book. If you live in a world were genders are unequal, you will find this interesting. Unless you are ideologically lodged in your current gender role and don’t want to question it--in which case you probably should read this book. The Power is thought-provoking entertainment at its finest.
Familiar Story in Android Skin
[Wait, something about androids and spaceships on a fantasy blog? Occasionally we need to nod to space opera—fantasy’s lovechild with scifi—and Defy the Stars is the YA version. Skip if you’re luddite-only.]
Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars opens with a bang: Noemi Vidal, war orphan on a rebel planet, watches helpless as her half-sister and only friend dies in the middle of an epic battle. And just as she’s about to kill one of androids Earth used to do it, the thing mentions there might be a way to save her planet from ever fighting Earth again.
Cut to the android’s perspective: special project of the genius whose androids changed the worlds, he has been locked in a disabled spaceship for thirty years, and out of sheer loneliness (the first of many emotions he learns to feel) takes an enemy soldier to be his new master.
From there the two embark on a dangerous and fast-paced mission through all four of Earth’s colony worlds to try to collect the pieces needed for the android’s plan. Along the way, they learn a lot about themselves, and each other, and end up forging a relationship despite differences in politics and prejudice.
Sound familiar? It is--Defy the Stars is a great YA space-opera romantic thriller, hitting all the right notes at exactly the right time. The fact that those notes form a familiar melody can be something of a detriment (can you think of another YA about an oppressed girl fighting for the freedom of her people in a hierarchical society who gets caught between love and war?), but only if you’re going into it looking for novelty. If you’re looking for the next fix in your Hunger Games-Divergent-Red Queen reading list, this book will do nicely.
That’s not to say there’s nothing original about it: Noemi’s home world is religious, and Gray actually has her character take religion and matters of faith seriously. Their intersection with politics and prejudice around the humanity of androids makes an illuminating backdrop for the more interesting of the two character journeys, the android’s coming to realize he can experience emotions, disagree with his masters, and ultimately that he has as much right to be called human as anyone else. While Trekkies will decry ‘Data! Data!’ for the first half of the book (especially if you listen to the audio, in which the male narrator goes a little too hard on the robot accent), Gray’s android goes further than that, and while the eventual romantic tone feels familiar, there’s a reason we return to the same themes. Sometimes you just want a beloved story in new skin.
Defy the Stars isn’t a perfect rendition, though—the last third of the story starts to feel a little forced, with characters meeting a little too coincidentally, taking risks they don’t seem totally motivated to, on a quest that feels forced for the sake of the romantic subplot. If you’re a plausibility hound, or need your characters to always do the smartest thing, you might get annoyed a few times toward the end. And for epic fantasy lovers, the worldbuilding might feel a little shallow, but in a book this short, with this quick a pacing (YA, in other words), you can’t ask for much more.
And for all the rest of you, who might enjoy a familiar romantic and rebellious story dressed up in shiny android skin, Defy the Stars is well-worth a plane ride read.
A World of Severus Snapes
There is a line these days in fantasy, between unabashedly European settings (often with outdated racial and sexual politics) and those that try to get farther afield (for example, Django Wexler or Ken Liu). Ever since Robert Jordan codified the European setting Tolkien popularized, it’s been hard to write a Europeanesque setting without falling back on tired tropes—but Jeff Wheeler pulls it off in The Queen’s Poisoner. Historically based on the War of Roses (also Martin’s worldbuilding muse for Game of Thrones), the book boasts a deeper political history than you often see (especially with young protagonists), a unique (if nebulous) magic system, and a narrative focused enough on the internal life of the protagonist that the externally-familiar setting doesn’t steal too much from the story’s appeal.
So what's the story about, if not a gallant knight/farmboy/hobbit going to defeat a dragon/Forsaken/undead warlock? It’s about a rebel nobleman’s son getting sent as hostage to an upstart king, and learning to survive (and eventually, to vindicate his politically-imperiled family) in a hostile castle. The protagonist is young, and though he gets a lot of help from the book’s namesake poisoner, as well as a plucky female friend reminiscent of Scarlett from Steamboy, much of the delight in this story is his gradual coming to age and confidence in his difficult setting.
Wheeler has a delicate feel for character, and there are good-on-the-inside Snapes of various sizes in The Queen's Poisoner, from outwardly-evil to minorly-sinister to just-annoying, all of whom end up being trustworthy in one way or another. Of course, there are a couple actually-evil characters too—and the hero’s journey here is learning to decipher who is who, beneath the mask, an internal journey his friend the poisoner helps him with (and seems to be tied to his burgeoning magical skills). It’s a fairly unique character arc for a fantasy novel, and the drama that comes with him reacting to, then burrowing beneath, the skin of variously antagonistic characters to find their true colors makes for a fun read.
That said, TQP still falls flat in a few places. While Owen’s hijinks and coming of age around the castle is fun, the plot feels fairly episodic until the last quarter, which sort of forces a climax and resolution on an unwilling protagonist. That is the other weak link in the book—though young protagonists (see early Harry Potter) can’t be expected to get everything done under their own power, Owen spends the book quite withdrawn, shy, and reactive, relying almost entirely on friends to help him out of trouble, and to drive him to action. Coming-of-age stories often start this way, but to our tastes TQP stayed that way a little too long.
So, Queen’s Poisoner, worth a read? Yes—the pacing is quick, the characters fun, the worldbuilding deepish, and the story unusual among fantasy novels. Check it out especially if you are a fan of younger protagonists or coming of age stories; if heroic/active characters and tight plotting are more your wheelhouse, though, you might want to read the kindle sample first.
: Not to mention those that change the field so thoroughly it’s hard to place them as anywhere (see Brandon Sanderson or NK Jemisin)
: Or a fan of audiobooks--this one's 1.99!