I’m back to reading and here’s a summary of everything I finished in October and November! You can catch these posts on my Instagram @taylorrama.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
My life is finally feeling more balanced after going through hell and now I’m back to reading! I would’ve finished this book a lot sooner had my stuff not happened, but I’m so glad I finished it!
Camelia is a Belle, one of just a few in the entire kingdom with the power to make others beautiful. All her life she’s been hoping and training to be chosen as the Favorite and do beauty work in the palace. But when she gets what she wants, she gets pulled under the schemes of a conniving, manipulative princess (WHO NEEDS TO DIE OMG) and she can’t save the kingdom if she doesn’t first learn who to trust and who to betray.
I really enjoyed this book! While this isn’t the first time I’ve read a book where beauty and image are a central concept, the magic is both really interesting and really easy to understand. Certain plot twists near the end I didn’t see coming at all and just from reading the summary of the next book, I’m excited to see the themes and concepts explored from different angles.
I didn’t like that there was a sexual assault scene or that this book included the bury your gays trope. I hope the next book introduced some important queer characters who don’t die. In fact, I head cannon at least some of the Belles as queer tbh but nothing clearly confirmed in the text yet. This isn’t enough for me to NOT read the next book bc I really like Camille and the other main characters. Even Princess Sophia is a good villain yet I get really emotional about how much I want her to die lol.
I def recommend this book if you like fantasies with more modern-inspired settings (I’d roughly place this in like the 1900s if I had to draw a parallel but it’s not 1:1) and you’re looking to read books with Black characters by Black authors!
The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton
In the sequel to The Belles, Camille, Edel, and Remy are now fugitives and tyrannical Sophia rushes the preparations for her coronation and ascension to take the throne. After experiencing so much betrayal already, it’s hard to trust anyone for help, but there are many who would also gladly see Sophia gone. Among them are the Iron Ladies, an underground resistance group of Gris who refuse beauty treatment. Forming alliances and evading capture are near insurmountable tasks, but all the sacrifices are worth taking Sophia out of power.
This is a great follow-up and probably conclusion to this series, but there’s definitely room for a third book. I loved the teacup dragons, all the revelations about Belle lore and powers, and the nuance of some of the different characters/viewpoints. For example, the Iron Ladies aren’t really that rebel group that thinks they could do a better job leading and not everyone who betrayed or lied to Camille is necessarily on Sophia’s side. The pacing is great and the ending especially was very exciting. Glad I read this and I definitely recommend! #bookstagram #thebelles #fantasy
Has the Gay Movement Failed? By Martin Duberman
If you think that major organized queer movements have lost collective steam since the marriage equality ruling in 2015, you’d be very very correct according to Martin Duberman. And tbh you’d be hard-pressed to find queer folks who don’t think the same. In this book, Duberman aims to trace the history of queer liberation since the 1960s and where it’s lost its way.
“Aims” being the key word here because after the first section, which is an interesting history of the GLF, this book starts to feel like a mixture of “old man yells at cloud” and Tumblr posts from the early 2010s. There are numerous rabbit holes, some interesting and some weird, and we don’t even get Duberman’s clear answer to the title question until the last two pages.
I also have grievances with radical secular queers’ unilateral hatred and dismissal of religion without seriously engaging with its ideas or realizing that queer people of faith exist. But since Duberman only peppered in a few quips to make his point in this book, I’m not gonna spend time expressing my annoyance with that entire vibe I often get from non-religious queer folks.
I did appreciate the detailed look at the early history of the queer liberation movement and I do agree that the singular focus on marriage equality makes it seem to the rest of the left like that’s the only thing that matters to queer folks. But this book is all over the place and reads more like the author’s Goodreads reviews of books he liked or didn’t like. Its saving grace is that it’s a short read, so I could tolerate the writing and organizational structure.
The Well of Ascencion by Brandon Sanderson
Elend Venture is now king. Vin finds herself one of the most important people in the city, and the rest of the crew now hold power they didn’t imagine they could have. But with two armies waiting for a siege, Elend has to learn what being a strong leader means. Meanwhile, the Well of Ascension calls to Vinn as she continues to hone her Mistborn powers, but her old demons of paranoia tempt her into selfishness. When the battle comes and the mists grow more dangerous, how will anyone protect their people?
This book didn’t start to really pick up for me until the halfway point when all the setup started to trigger the action. This was true of book 1 and I know is generally true of Sanderson’s writing so I’m okay with waiting for the payoff. And the payoff is really good. Several of Sazed’s passages near the end are downright poetic and I’m REALLY curious to see the ramifications of the several revelations that happen in the final chapters.
I’ll keep reading the series, but I’m gonna read a few other books in between. It’s good, and I’ll probably read Sanderson’s other books but it’s also very straight and white and male and I need a break from that in my fiction for a bit lol.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Rosanne A. Brown
Malik and his sisters seek safety in the city of Ziran, but his people are society’s most hated. Getting into the city is hard enough but when an old god kidnaps his little sister, Malik makes a risky deal: kill Princess Karina and his sister goes free.
Princess Karina is plagued by migraines masking the trauma of losing her father and sister. She has no interest in courtly education or this grand festival of Solstasia that’s packing the streets of Ziran. But ancient magic lies behind this festival and its connection to her family. Karina finds herself at the center of this once in a generation event with the promise of a ritual that can bring back the dead. As Solstasia progresses, Karina and Malik get closer both to their goals and each other beneath a blanket of lies mixed with truths.
This book is AMAZING. The dual POV works fantastically and the story is perfectly paced. Beautiful imagery, sympathetic and complex characters, and a familiar yet very fresh plot. I can’t wait for the sequel.
Some commentary I’ve seen has said this book is filled with overdone YA tropes. That’s why I said several aspects of this book are familiar. This isn’t the first tournament or love triangle or main character-will-do-anything-to-protect-younger-sibling story you’ve seen. It’s not the first court betrayal or deal-with-spirits story you’ve seen. But the execution is very well done and just because white people have exhausted certain tropes doesn’t mean they’re dead. This story is unique enough in its own right to not feel like a beat for beat rehashing.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?