Light From Uncommon Stars: A Review

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiShizuka Satomi has spent years building up her reputation as the Queen of Hell. It’s a name fitting for someone with her reputation of building up violin prodigies–more fitting than most people realize.

Shizuka made a deal with the devil forty-nine years ago. Now, if she wants to keep her own soul–and her own prodigious success–she has to deliver seven souls. With six delivered and one soul left, Shizuka should feel secure. But she doesn’t. She wants her last soul to belong to someone special. Someone she’s been struggling to find for years already.

Katrina Nguyen is a transgender runaway with no one to turn to. She has her hormones, her laptop, and her violin and she knows no matter how bad things get she can survive if she has those things. When Shizuka offers to help life Katrina lift her up, it seems too good to be true. As Katrina comes closer to Shizuka’s secrets she realizes how true her initial doubts really are.

From a donut shop on a highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Lan Tran is slowly drawn into this Faustian drama. A retired starship captain with four children to support and protect, Lan has her own priorities. She wants to keep a low profile at Starrgate Donuts for herself and her family. Which is why her blossoming crush on Shizuka is so inconvenient–especially when Lan realizes it might be mutual.

As Shizuka, Katrina, and Lan are drawn into each others’ lives, the three women begin to realize that in order to overcome their separate challenges they might just need each other in Light From Uncommon Stars (2021) by Ryka Aoki.

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Light From Uncommon Stars is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements in a contemporary California setting. The close third person narration shifts between Shizuka, Katrina, Lan, and other pivotal characters.

Aoki expertly blends these seemingly disparate elements into a seamless story filled with heart and hope even as Katrina, particularly, deals with rejection, hate, and sexual assault. Katrina also spends part of the novel as a sex worker while she tries to survive on the streets–an element that is handled thoughtfully but is still, understandably, heavy.

This evocative novel is imbued with a strong love of music and filled with delicious food descriptions. Light From Uncommon Stars is a sprawling story of redemption and connection. Recommended for readers looking for a novel that defies both expectations and genre classifications.

Possible Pairings: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu, Gideon the Ninth by Tamysn Muir, Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

A Spindle Splintered: A Review

“Sleeping Beauty is pretty much the worst fairy tale, any way you slice it. It’s aimless and amoral and chauvinist as shit. It’s the fairy tale that feminist scholars cite when they want to talk about women’s passivity in historical narratives. Even among the other nerds who majored in folklore, Sleeping Beauty is nobody’s favorite. Romantic girls like Beauty and the Beast; vanilla girls like Cinderella; goth girls like Snow White. Only dying girls like Sleeping Beauty.”

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. HarrowZinnia Gray has always known Sleeping Beauty has its problems, even before she read about the medieval version Zelladine (don’t Google that one, you don’t want to know). She also knows that Sleeping Beauty is the one story where a girl like her manages to turn things around and get a happy ending. Of course Zinnia loves Sleeping Beauty.

After years of moving fast and trying to pretend her clock isn’t running out thanks to the rare Generalized Roseville Malady that causes protein to build up in all the places it shouldn’t be in her organs, Zinnia knows she’s almost out of time. She rushed through high school, a degree in folklore at the local college, and she tried to rush away from her parents’ stifling efforts to save her.

Now Zinnia is here at her twenty-first birthday. She knows no one else with GRM has lived to see twenty-two. She knows true love’s kiss isn’t going to save her because she never gave herself permission to fall in love. That doesn’t stop her best friend Charmaine “Charm” Baldwin from loving Zinnia fiercely and giving her the exact kind of Sleeping Beauty themed birthday party she’d want for her last one.

The party is about what you’d expect: Whimsical and ironic until it turns maudlin and sad. Until things go sideways when Zinnia pricks herself on a spindle (she has to try it, okay?) and finds herself in another version of Sleeping Beauty with another dying girl trying to dodge her supposed happy ending–one that Zinnia might actually be able to save–in A Spindle Splintered (2021) by Alix E. Harrow.

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A Spindle Splintered is a novella inspired by Harrow’s desire to “spiderverse” a fairytale and the start of a new series. The story includes silhouette illustrations by Arthur Rackham that, as the copyright page notes, “were unavoidably harmed, fractures, and splintered during the design process.” These illustrations add an eerie note to the physical book while hinting at the darker origins behind many fairy tales that have become sanitized over time.

Zinnia’s narration is sharp-witted and often bitter–fitting for a character who knows she’s almost out of time–while her unshakeable friendship with Charm provides a grounding force throughout the fast-paced story. On the other side of the portal (or whatever it is that transports her, Zinnia was never big on science) she meets another dying girl. Primrose is the epitome of a fairy tale princess. Except that after she’s saved from her own hundred year sleep, she has no desire to marry her rescuer, Prince Harold, or any other man for that matter.

Part portal fantasy, part retelling, A Spindle Splintered offers a new interpretation of Sleeping Beauty both for Zinnia and the girl she meets after that fateful spindle prick. Recommended for readers looking for a no-nonsense protagonists and a decidedly modern take on a classic fairy tale.

Possible Pairings: Sleepless by Cyn Balog, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Stain by A. G. Howard, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Ash by Malinda Lo, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, Into the Spider-Verse

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Once Upon a Broken Heart: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie GarberEvangeline Fox was raised to believe in wishes and fairy tales and things that seem impossible. So, when the boy she loves proposes to her step-sister instead, Evangeline is certain that a curse can be the only explanation.

There’s always a way to break a curse, but that doesn’t help when no one else believes that there is a curse.

Desperate to stop the wedding and running out of time, Evangeline turns to the Fates. Given her heartache, she’s certain that Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, will be sympathetic to her cause. After all, the Fates aren’t evil. The real danger is that the Fates have never known the difference between evil and good, making their help as dangerous as their ire. But Evangeline knows exactly what she wants and she is certain Jacks won’t be able to twist her straightforward wish.

Bargaining with a Fate is simple: Always promise less than you can give, for Fates always take more. Do not make bargains with more than one Fate. And, above all, never fall in love with a Fate. Easy enough until Jacks asks for three kisses in exchange for stopping the wedding. Evangeline knows she’s made a mistake almost as soon as the agreement is struck, but it will be weeks before she fully understands the ramifications of her reckless deal.

It’s always dangerous to attract the attention of a Fate. As Evangeline learns more about Jacks, she realizes that their bargain has higher stakes than three stolen kisses.

Evangeline has always known that every story has the potential for infinite endings. But when she finds herself in the Magnificent North surrounded by tantalizing truths about her past and secrets surrounding her present with Jacks, Evangeline will have to find a way to survive long enough to reach the end of her story if she wants to see which ending will be hers in Once Upon a Broken Heart (2021) by Stephanie Garber.

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Once Upon a Broken Heart is the start of a new series set in the same world as Garber’s Caraval trilogy. Once Upon a Broken Heart can be read on its own but does include minor spoilers for the Caraval trilogy. Evangeline’s story is written in close third person and begins in Valenda (the setting for much of the Caraval series) before moving to the Magnificent North. Evangeline and Jacks are white but there’s diversity among other characters.

Garber once again delivers a lush fantasy filled with magical details and glittering settings as Evangeline discovers the Magnificent North and explores it through a lens of wonder. This fantasy adventure seamlessly includes elements of mystery and suspense as Evangeline reluctantly works with Jacks to learn more about the circumstances that have brought her north. Even with his self-proclaimed (and, in the Caraval series, demonstrated) status as an anti-hero–if not a villain–Jacks is surprisingly compelling here despite past misdeeds.

Evangeline’s story starts with a bad decision and continues in that vein as our rose-gold-haired heroine’s naivete is put to the test again and again as she collides with Jacks and his mysterious plans for her and the Magnificent North–a territory every bit as magical as Valenda with even more mystery as its history and even its fairytales are carefully guarded and never make their way south intact. Despite a series of bad choices, Evangeline remains an endearing protagonist that readers can’t help but root for as she struggles to find her way free of past mistakes.

Once Upon a Broken Heart is a sparkling story filled with adventure, broken hearts, and magic as one girl learns she’s capable of more than she could have imagined. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, The Selection by Kiera Cass, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Havenfall by Sara Holland, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Across the Green Grass Fields: A Review

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuireRegan was seven years old when she learned that the most dangerous thing a girl can be is different. It’s the reason her former best friend, Heather, is a social pariah on the playground. It’s the reason Regan knows to stay on her other best friend Laurel’s good side even if it means keeping herself in a very specific box.

As Regan gets older it becomes more and more obvious that she won’t fit inside that box for much longer. Her love of horses is only barely acceptable to other girls as their interests start to shift to boys. While all of the other girls seem to be maturing, Regan wants everything to stay the same. When her parents tell Regan that she is intersex a lot of things start to make sense. Her friendship with Laurel is not one of those things as she rejects Regan in the cruelest way possible.

Distraught and desperate to get away, Regan runs to the woods and keeps running until she passes through a magical door into the Hooflands. In a world populated by centaurs and other horse-like creatures, every human is unique and no one thinks Regan is too different. Instead, for the first time, Regan feels at home.

But a human in the Hooflands only means one thing. The land needs a hero. Whether Regan is ready to be one or not in Across the Green Grass Fields (2021) by Seanan McGuire.

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Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas which begins with Every Heart a Doorway.

While Regan’s story is similar in tone and style to the other novellas in this series, her story is largely divorced from the rest of the series and functions entirely as a standalone. Regan and the Hooflands are odes to Horse Girls everywhere. Although Regan’s first encounters in the Hooflands are with the centaurs who accept her as part of their herd and the unicorns they tend, the Hooflands have many more horse-adjacent creatures including kelpies, perytons, and kirins like the current Hooflands queen Kagami.

Despite her awe and immediate love for the Hooflands, Regan knows she isn’t truly safe or home. Her centaur friends are quick to warn her that humans only come to the Hooflands when there is a great need bringing about changes that, while mythic in nature, are poorly documented beyond the fact that most humans are never seen again after embaring on their life-changing quest.

Regan’s story walks a fine line between menace and enchantment as readers come to love the Hooflands and her friends as much as Regan does. Even while waiting for the foreshadowed dangers to arrive.  Across the Green Grass Fields is a razor sharp commentary on the dangers of embracing the status quo and a perfect entry point for this long running series which promises more adventures to come.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Scwhab, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

The Bone Maker: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Maybe there were no perfect choices for anyone to make, hero or villain. Maybe there was only doing the best you could with the time you had. That was an unsatisfying thought, but just because it was uncomfortable didn’t mean it wasn’t true.”

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth DurstTwenty-five years ago, the Heroes of Vos saved the world when they ended the Bone War by stopping Eklor and his monstrous bone constructs. Ballads are still sung about their now-mythic deeds. But the cost of victory was steep for the five heroes.

Stran, the team’s strong man is keen to leave his memories of the Bone War behind. He’s a farmer now with a young family–two things that need to be tended and leave little time to dwell on the horrors of battle.

Marso was the most proficient bone reader in all of Vos, able to read the bones and anticipate the enemy’s next move. But something changed after the Bone War. The bones still want to tell Marso something. But the truth the bones hold is so unthinkable, Marso would rather shatter his own fragile psyche than face it.

Zera barely survived the final battle. Jentt gave his own life to save her–a cost the bone wizard knows she can never repay. Instead she now focuses on honing her craft and building an empire selling her bone talismans to the elite from her tower in the city of Cerre.

Kreya, the leader and a bone maker like Eklor himself, dealt the killing blow–a victory that feels meaningless when her husband Jentt is lost to her. Unwilling to accept his death, unable to share her grieve, Kreya hides herself away searching through Eklor’s texts. The Bone War started because of Eklor’s quest to bring back the dead–forbidden magic requiring human bones and a terrible cost. But Kreya is willing to pay any cost if it will bring Jentt back.

When Kreya’s efforts to resurrect Jentt reveal that Eklor may not be as defeated as the world thought, the Heroes of Vos will have to reunite once more to fight impossible odds and face an unimaginable enemy in The Bone Maker (2021) by Sarah Beth Durst.

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The Bone Maker is a standalone adult fantasy. The novel is written in close third person following various characters (primarily Kreya) throughout the story.

Durst once again creates a carefully rendered world with a complex, if often macabre, magic system. Kreya and her five friends walk a fine line saddled with the legacy of their past deeds while acknowledging that their stories–and their work–is far from over when Eklor resurfaces. Heroes past their prime, who have already completed their great mission, are rarely seen in fantasy making The Bone Maker unique. This focus gives the story space to unpack the burdens of heroism and moving on after completing your supposedly greatest act.

Although much of the story focuses on Kreya and Jentt’s marriage–and the lengths Kreya is willing to go to bring Jentt back–friendships are the real heart of The Bone Maker as the Heroes of Vos find their way back to each other after years apart. The bond between Kreya and Zera is a particularly strong anchor in this character-driven adventure.

The Bone Maker is a story of fierce friendship, duty, and what it means when your story doesn’t end when you get to “the end.”

Possible Pairings: A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan, The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Come Tumbling Down: A Review

“The Moors turned us both into monsters. But it did a better job with me.”

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuireIdentical twins Jack and Jill found dangers and horrors when they stepped through their magical door into the Moors. They also found themselves for the first time. But in a world where everyone is a villain of some sort, hard choices have to be made–choices that have consequences for both sisters.

Jack left Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children carrying her sister’s body. Jack had to kill Jill before she could murder anyone else in her mad quest to get back to the Moors and her dark master. But death isn’t always permanent in the Moors. Even when it should be.

When Jack herself is carried back to the school in a storm of lightning and chaos, she’ll need to turn to old friends and some new enemies for help to clean up Jill’s latest mess.

In a world where science comes close to magic and monsters can sometimes be heroes, balance must be maintained. And there’s always a cost in Come Tumbling Down (2020) by Seanan McGuire.

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Come Tumbling Down is the fifth installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series. While most of the novellas in this series function as standalones, Come Tumbling Down is a direct continuation of the plot that begins in Every Heart a Doorway and continues in Down Among the Sticks and Bones and Beneath the Sugar Sky so be sure to read those first.

McGuire introduces readers to a wide variety of alternate worlds in this series. The Moors is, arguably, the worst–a high logic world with clear nods to Dracula and Frankenstein where monsters lurk in every shadow and even the heroes sometimes have to be villains. That might make the world sound like a thin pastiche but McGuire applies her considerable talents to build a world that is nuanced and filled with moral ambiguity.

The interplay between hero and villain–and what it means to be a monster–plays out in Come Tumbling Down as readers begin to understand the choices that led Jack and Jill down their divergent paths. Familiar characters from Eleanor West’s school also play significant roles as they all do their best to try and help Jack and the Moors.

Come Tumbling Down is a grim page turner where actions have consequences and love can heal as easily as it can sour. This installment showcases all of the things McGuire does best in this series as she digs into the world of the Moors with a sharp focus on main character Jack and antagonist Jill. A must-read for fans of the series.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Scwhab, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

A Season of Sinister Dreams: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Season of Sinister Dreams by Tracy BanghartStill grieving the death of his son and heir during the Sickness years earlier, the elderly king of Tyne forces all magic workers to the capital where they can prolong his life and protect the castle while the rest of the kingdom suffers.

Annalise has spent years in the castle secretly using her unwieldy magic to weave a web of influence around the king, his grandson (and her cousin) Prince Kendrik, and the king’s advisors. Annalise hopes to exact revenge against the king for her mother’s death–a plan that is close to fruition when Annalise accidentally uses her magic on Kendrik leaving him hidden and monstrously transformed while Annalise becomes the new heir.

Meanwhile, Evra’s quiet country life is ruined when her magic manifests years later than expected making her the first girl ever to become a Clearsee. As magical prophets Clearsees (usually men) use their magic to interpret visions meant to guide and protect the kingdom. While Annalise prepares for her coronation, Evra reluctantly arrives at the capital where she sees cryptic visions hinting at danger. But is the danger a threat to Tyne’s rulers or is it the rulers themselves? in A Season of Sinister Dreams (2021) by Tracy Banghart.

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This plot-driven standalone fantasy alternates chapters between Annalise and Evra’s first person narrations. All characters are presumed white.

With Annalise used to hiding the scope of her powers and Evra newly invested with magic, both narrations are claustrophobic leaving readers and characters floundering. Themes of agency as both heroines try to defy expectations are undermined by extremely limited world building and backstories that never fully explain character motivations or actions–particularly Annalise’s.

Fans of Banghart’s Grace and Fury will appreciate this book’s strong female leads, fast-paced action, and the focus on Evra and Tam’s friendship despite other shortcomings.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

Broken Web: A Review

Broken Web by Lori M. LeeThe Soulless is awake and recovering in the Dead Wood. The long peace between the nations of Thiy might be crumbling. And Sirscha and her best friend Saengo still have no idea how to fix any of it.

The world believes that Sirscha is a rare soulguide but she and Saengo know that Sirscha is actually a soulrender–just like The Soulless. Despite the dangers, Sirscha is determined to stop The Soulless and, if she can, save Saengo from the rot he infected her with that is slowly killing her.

With powerful allies and even more powerful enemies circling, Sirscha will have to risk everything to find–and fight–the most immediate danger in Broken Web (2021) by Lori M. Lee.

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Broken Web is the second book in Lee’s Shamanborn trilogy which begins with Forest of Souls.

Set two weeks after the explosive conclusion of book one, Sirscha and Saengo are still trying to understand Sirscha’s new powers and Saengo’s role in nurturing them as a familiar. Treachery is a constant threat hanging over the girls and their allies as they try to learn more about the Soulless and how to stop him once and for all.

Lee has created a nuanced and compelling world in this series although this book focuses more on action to move the series toward what promises to be a shocking conclusion.

Broken Web is a fast-paced, exciting installment in a singular fantasy series. A must read for fans of book one; a recommended series for readers seeking a new friendship focused fantasy adventure.

Possible Pairings: Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhatena, The Reader by Traci Chee, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer, Fireborne by Rosaria Munda, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Mayhem: A Review

Mayhem by Estelle LaureCalifornia, 1987: Mayhem Brayburn and her mother have never been like everyone else. May can see it in her mother Roxy’s constant pain, her pull to the water, the gaping hole of her father’s absence in the wake of his suicide years ago.

When her step-father goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem make their way back to the beach town–and the family history–that Roxy left behind when May was a baby. Santa Maria is everything May always hoped it would be. She meets her aunt’s foster kids, finds the family she always wanted and, amazingly, discovers her own connection to the Brayburn family’s long line of magic.

But not everything is magical in Santa Maria. Girls are going missing. Soon, Mayhem’s own efforts to find the culprit draw her into a strange world of vigilante justice and revenge as she learns more about the town–and her family’s–darker secrets in Mayhem (2020) by Estelle Laure.

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If this standalone fantasy sounds a lot like the 1987 film The Lost Boys, that’s because it is. While Laure imbues Mayhem with its own magic and world building, the story stays close to the original plot of the classic vampire film complete with brief appearances by the iconic Frog brothers. Laure also brings more diversity to the cast in her update–the Brayburns are white but May’s farther was Brazilian and Jason and Kidd are biracial (Black and white).

Questions of why this story had to be set in 1987 instead of modernized are also inevitable and not well answered by any authorial choices.

How you feel about this book might depend on your familiarity with the film and your feelings about it. Mayhem includes a lot of nods to the original film but shifts in surprising ways to make space for the Brayburn’s family history as seen in a mysterious diary Mayhem finds upon exploring her new home. Unfortunately these two storylines don’t always mesh well feeling more like two separate stories than one, cohesive plot.

Mayhem is ideal for readers who like their witches fierce and their vampire references vintage.

Possible Pairings: The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Lost Boys

Piranesi: A Review

Piranesi by Susanna ClarkeThe rooms in the House are infinite. Connected by endless corridors and Vestibules with walls lined with thousands of Statues–each unique in both appearance and in name. Water moves through these Halls, waves flooding and draining according to the changing of the Tides.

Piranesi understands the House and its ways intimately. He can navigate the Halls and track the Tides. He visits his favorite Statues and, most importantly, he tends to the House as he explores its vast spaces.

There is one other living person in The House: The Other, a man searching for A Great and Secret Knowledge that Piranesi suspects he may never find.

The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite. It provides everything that Piranesi needs. But even with his intimate knowledge of the House and its workings, Piranesi doesn’t know what it means when evidence of another Person emerges.

Will they be friend as Piranesi hopes? Foe as The Other warns? As Piranesi comes closer to answering these questions he will also unravel an awful truth as vast and immeasurable as the House itself in Piranesi (2020) by Susanna Clarke.

Find it on Bookshop.

Piranesi is Clarke’s deceptively slim followup to her blockbuster novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. There is simultaneously a lot to talk about here and very little that can be said without revealing spoilers (which I have avoided here).

Clarke is an excellent writer. Despite the quirks of Piranesi’s first-person narration and the idiosyncrasies of the book’s structure, readers are immediately drawn into this strange and layered story.

The intricate unfolding of the plot contrasts sharply with mounting urgency as The Other tries to find the mysterious new person and kill them while Piranesi tries to save them. Even the meandering, stream of consciousness style of much of the book can’t diminish the tension as the novel builds inexorably to its climax.

Unfortunately, the actual ending is not as compelling as the buildup; no one is settled or even okay by the end, nothing is resolved. For a story that starts so big, with so many vast possibilities, the final outcome feels like the least compelling direction Piranesi could have taken.

Piranesi is a fascinating exercise in craft as Clarke expertly manages both the narrative and plot with well-timed reveals and twists. These notable elements underscore how little actually happens throughout the novel, especially in terms of characterization or growth.

Possible Pairings: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Slade House by David Mitchell, The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, Or What You Will by Jo Walton