Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: I’ve been simultaneously intrigued and concerned by Carry On ever since its publication was announced. How on earth was this going to work? Was Rowell going to write as Gemma T. Leslie? Would it just be a weak Harry Potter readalike? As it turns out, it worked for me! For one thing, it’s Simon’s final year, ie the story we don’t get any glimpse of in Fangirl. It’s also doing some interesting things with the Chosen One trope, and with Simon’s relationships and friendships–I particularly liked that we get pov sections from Agatha and Penelope, and that they’re allowed to be their own characters with their own arc. Is the plot predictable? Maybe; I certainly saw some aspects coming from several miles away. But at the same time, I felt that we were meant to see them coming, that this is a book very aware of the traditions and tropes it’s engaging with. To the extent that I have reservations, it’s that I’m not quite sure what the subtext is saying, or trying to say, with the conflict between the established families and the Mage. Nonetheless, I found this both enjoyable and effective.
Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson: Alternate history, where the British still rule the American colonies in 1888. The main character is Verity Newton, a young governess who finds a job working for one of the families of Magisters who control magic and its use. But the family and Verity herself have secrets. This is one of those books that I found slightly frustrating, because I liked it, but I wanted to love it. It’s a fairly quick and light read, which is really my issue: I felt like it was teetering on the verge of saying something really thoughtful and interesting about colonialism and rebellion and identity, but never quite managed any of those. On the other hand, it’s perhaps not fair to want a book to be something that it’s simply not; certainly if you’re looking for a coherent and fun steampunk adventure, this is a good one!
The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough: This is a very good book for a different reader than I am. If you love books that engage with big ideas and have a sense of sweeping, epic scope, this is probably for you. If you like a heightened style of prose, this is a very well-done example. For me, a reader who is very invested in characters and prefers a quieter prose style, it was very difficult to feel connected with the story. Henry and Flora never quite convinced me that they were real people, as opposed to Love and Death’s pawns, and even their ostensible interests (music and flying) felt somewhat tacked on as opposed to organic. It was nice to see an interracial couple in historical fantasy, and the world was generally at least somewhat diverse. But I felt that the ending was too tidy, and I have questions about the arc of one of the characters. Still, as I said, this was fundamentally a book I appreciated while recognizing that it was also one I was probably never going to personally love.