Sometimes we’re hit by a reading slump and, sadly, sometimes those reading slumps can be enhanced by picking up books that it turns out aren’t for us at all, even though they sound perfect for us on paper. Sadly November has seen me DNF two fantasy books I’m very grateful to have received eARCs of through NetGalley and, because I DNF’d them, I don’t have as much to talk about as I usually do.
I still want to share my thoughts, though. I have already posted these little reviews on Goodreads but, for anyone who doesn’t follow me there, you can find my thoughts below…
The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.
In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.
The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?
DNF @ 21%
I really tried, but this novel simply isn’t for me, which is a real shame when I’ve seen so much praise for Polk’s other work which I’m still interested in trying one day. This had so many themes I should have liked, and I usually enjoy Regency-inspired fantasy and romantasy, but there’s no nuance in this story; whenever Polk wanted to make a perfectly valid point about equal rights, I felt like I was being beaten round the head with it.
This is a story I’ve seen before and, to be honest, I’m a little bored of bookish heroines who aren’t like other girls™ and don’t want to get married. I was very intrigued by the idea of Beatrice having to choose between what she’s always wanted and a marriage to a man she could genuinely have a happy and comfortable life with, but I’m afraid I didn’t care enough to see this story through to the end.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
DNF @ 36%
Siiiiigh. I so wanted to love this book, and I probably could have pushed myself through it, but frankly 2020 has been a rubbish year and life’s too short to read books we’re not enjoying.
This novel has so much potential and I thought I would love it. I love a 1920s setting and I was very excited to read about 1920s Shanghai instead of the typical setting of 1920s New York, and yet I don’t know if I would have guessed this novel was set in the 1920s unless it had been mentioned in the blurb. I also loved the concept of a Romeo and Juliet retelling involving rival gangs; this is a very loose retelling, of course, but I didn’t mind that at all. It’s pretty clear from the blurb that this is a story inspired by Romeo and Juliet rather than a direct retelling.
Unfortunately I didn’t find either Juliette or Roma particularly interesting to follow – in fact none of the characters ever felt like real people I might bump into in the street – and while I really appreciate that Gong made Juliette the more savage of the two (which makes perfect sense considering it’s Juliet in the original play whose monologues are full of violence, while Romeo speaks of love), making their relationship a lovers to enemies to lovers relationship, instead of simply star-crossed lovers, left me feeling cold. I found it hard to imagine these two loving each other at all.
The major reason this story didn’t work for me, though, is because this novel does not need to be a fantasy novel. If Gong had written a historical fiction novel about two rival gangs in 1920s Shanghai and a pair of lovers caught in the middle of it all, These Violent Delights would have been a far stronger book. Instead, time that could have been spent creating a sumptuous setting and really involving us in the history of 20th century Shanghai was instead spent on a monster and a weird insect-induced virus that didn’t quite fit into this story for me. This is Gong’s debut and I think she’s an author who’s going to get better and better, but I think she tried to include too much in this novel which ultimately meant that none of it quite worked for me.