This is definitely a 3.5 star book rounded down, and after reading an interview with the author that came out literally today I think I understand why (and am more comfortable with the rounding down).
I also want to call out a total party foul–there’s no indication that this book is meant to be the first in a series, and if you’re like me and averse to spoilers there’s no way to search around for if there is a second book without potentially running into spoilers. Short of recruiting friends to do the dirty work for you–as I did with A Memory Called Empire, I want to be certain that book #2 is the final–to not have it clear that you’re writing a series is just plain mean.
As she notes in an author interview with the blog Talk of Tales:
I honestly don’t know how certain things are going to be resolved or if they’re going to be resolved.
Blake (penname of Alexene Farol Follmuth) is what my friend told me is called a “pants-er” writer, aka she’s writing by the seat of her pants and seeing where the story goes. The alternate, of course, is a plotter. It’s very, very clear through reading this tale that Blake spent a great deal of time on the premise and then has traded on that upfront work to carry her through the middle-y bits. Sort of a:
1. Awesome set up
4. Awesome resolution(?)
It’s also interesting to hear her talk about usual stereotypes of women in SF/magic and how she wanted to push back against that. As a matter of fact, I also saw her review of The Name of the Wind and feel very much like I would be book friends with her:
My personal impression, despite liking the book and finding much to admire, is that I doubt it would have so many flattering reviews if Kvothe were female. He reads like what male SFF fans would call a Mary Sue (not that I find that a valid thing to throw around, but it was in the back of my mind while reading) and the narrative overall was a bit unwieldy and slow, so I question if it would be so beloved if it were written about a woman. Still, Rothfuss shows definite skill, and the world is easy to get lost in.
I bring this up because Parisa, at first, made me ROLL EYES so hard. She’s a preternaturally beautiful femme fatale who uses sex as a means to further her telepathic powers? All she needed was a scene where she boobily drank coffee and we’d have a full bingo card. But to my surprise Blake handled her characterisation in a way that felt earned and less skeevy.
That being said, for all that this book was engaging and twisty, it definitely felt like the action meandered/needed a pacing editor en route to the denouement. I’m reminded a bit of The Magicians, which more-or-less successfully navigates through a few ‘arcs’ in that first book–Grossman clearly wanted to get away from the magic school and out into the real world, even though we as readers have demonstrated our willingness to spend multiple years in any sort of magic school–Blake spends all this time, ostensibly, in school but we only ever hear about it via hearsay (e.g. “Nico and Libby were making little worm holes in the library, while Callum lounged expensively nearby”). I understand that from an arc perspective ending it where she did makes sense, but I still felt a bit unresolved in a way unrelated to the unfinished ending.