I don’t think many – if any – of us pick up a book with the prediction that we’re not going to like it. Unless we’re trying a new genre we’re not sure of or we’re in the early stages of our reading lives and we’re still learning what it is we like, I think the majority of us pick up a book with the hope that we’re going to like it.
While there are still genres I’m learning about, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at guessing whether or not a book in one of my favourite genres – historical or fantasy fiction – is going to be for me. I love being surprised, though! I love picking up a book and loving it far more than I expected to, which is exactly what happened to me with two of my favourite novels, Signal to Noise and The Goblin Emperor.
Sometimes, though, our predictions work against us, and a book that looks like the perfect book on paper ends up being a flop.
Today I’m here to share five such books with you! These are books that I expected not only to like, but to love, and all five of them ended up being huge disappointments.
Among Others by Jo Walton
Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she and her twin sister played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins, but her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. When her mother tries to bend the spirits to dark ends with deadly results, Mori is sent away and must try to come to terms with what has happened without falling prey to the darkness.
This book. I feel so betrayed by this book. That blurb still sounds amazing to me – that’s the story I want to read, and that’s not the story I got. This novel sounds like my perfect book. It has a Welsh setting, an English boarding school, sisters, witchcraft, faeries and a fraught mother/daughter relationship. In fact I was so sure this book was going to be an all-time favourite that I owned my copy for around two years before I finally read it because I was ‘saving’ it, and I ended up hating it.
Mori is brimming with girl hate – despite the novel featuring witchcraft and all-girls’ boarding school, Mori’s most prominent relationship is with her boyfriends who tells her she’s not like other girls – and the book as a whole ended up being nothing like I expected, and not in a good way. I’m still bitter about this reading experience.
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood
Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true – provided you know how to wish properly first. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A teenager’s growing pains are sometimes even bigger than him. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, Cornish folklore slips into everyday life. Hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wrecker’s lamps, standing stones and baying hounds, and relationships wax and wane in the glow of a moonlit sea. This luminous, startling and utterly spellbinding debut collection introduces in Lucy Wood a spectacular new voice in contemporary British fiction.
I love Cornwall and I love folklore, so a short story collection inspired by Cornish folklore should have been like candy to me. Unfortunately Diving Belles didn’t work for me at all. What surprised me most was how little I felt like I was reading stories set in Cornwall, which is especially strange considering Wood herself is Cornish; I expected to feel the setting of this collection in my bones, but it could have been set in any place that happens to be near the coast, and I didn’t particularly enjoy any of the stories. Again, I’m still bummed that I didn’t like this one.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.
To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.
Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive.
I must admit this was the novel on this list I was the most unsure of before I picked it up, simply because I’m always suspicious of books written by American authors which are set in Paris. Apologies to all American authors because I know that’s such a generalisation to make, and there will be wonderful novels out there that are set in Paris and written by Americans, but I feel like it’s a setting that often ends up being romanticised beyond believability.
That aside, I still expected to really enjoy this novel. I was promised a historical heist novel and that was exactly what I wanted when I picked it up, but instead I got a messy fantasy novel that tried to take place in 19th century Paris but felt a lot more futuristic than historic to me. I didn’t get along with Chokshi’s writing style and I found it really difficult to picture her magic system throughout the novel, which ultimately made for an incredibly frustrating reading experience.
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.
But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.
Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…
Tell me a book features a nunnery and I immediately have a mighty need for it. I’m fascinated by nuns and convents, particularly in historical and fantasy fiction, so a fantasy novel about assassin nuns sounded perfect for me, especially because I’d already read and loved Grave Mercy.
Alas, this is in another case in which the author’s writing style meant this book and I didn’t get along. I attempted to read it around three or four times before I finally got through it, and I wouldn’t have got through it at all if I hadn’t had the audiobook narrated by Helen Duff. That said I did enjoy the second book, Grey Sister, much more, but the finale, Holy Sister, was another disappointment for me, so I have absolutely no idea what to think of this series as a whole.
Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier
The forests of Sevenwaters have cast their spell over Sorcha’s daughter Liadan, who, like her mother, has inherited the talent to heal and to see into the spirit world. The forest spirits warn Liadan that she must remain for ever at Sevenwaters if the sacred isles are to be won back from the Britons who took them by force. For the Lord and Lady of the forest spirits have seen in Liadan’s future a doomed romance, death; a child; and a terrible choice to be made.
Liadan is taken captive by the Painted Man, who is revealed to be a man quite unlike his legend. Liadan is drawn to him, despite the ancient prophesy of doom, but can she reclaim her life and defy the spirits, or will a curse fall upon Sevenwaters because of her forbidden love? Will the fight for the sacred isles end in tragedy? History and fantasy, myth and magic, legend and love come together in this magical story.
Hoo boy. I loved Daughter of the Forest, so I whole-heartedly expected to love its sequel, but Son of the Shadows is my least favourite book of 2019 so far (and something would have to be spectacularly bad to take that honour away from it). I loathed this novel and all the choices Marillier made. Liadan and the Painted Man deserve each other – they’re both garbage people – and I won’t be continuing with the Sevenwaters series. I’m quite happy just to love the first one as much as I did.