Sorry that I went M.I.A. for a bit there. I was visiting family in Florida over President’s Day weekend, and I just had zero energy once I got back. But now I’m here, writing a post that I’ve been excited to write for a few weeks!
You know what I think about a lot? The time my old English teacher though my Spoon shirt was a Morrissey shirt 😭
Spoon is one of those bands that have been a consistent presence in my life. I heard their songs on car rides, and car rides turned to concerts, and concerts turned to albums. For me, they’re one of the few bands I know who are better live than listening remotely—they bring such an exuberance and energy onstage, and their talents as musicians is apparent with every song they play.
So I was so excited to hear that they’d be releasing a new album in 2022! Prior to this, I’d never listened to a full album of theirs (although Gimme Fiction has been on my list for quite some time), but listening to Lucifer on the Sofa was such a bright, energizing experience. It’s only February, but this is already on my list of favorite albums of the year. (Though it’ll have some competition when Everything Was Beautiful comes out…am I getting too hasty?)
Let’s begin this review, shall we?
LUCIFER ON THE SOFA – SPOON ALBUM REVIEW
TRACK 1: “Held” (Smog cover) – 8.5/10
Starting an album off with a cover is a bold move, but at this point, Spoon can do no wrong. And this is a fantastic cover—if I didn’t know that it was a cover, I 100% would’ve thought that this was fully their song. I might even like it better than the original! The steady drumbeat and the melody that feels like it rolls over you create an atmosphere that sets up the whole album for instant success. Needless to say, I have not been able to stop listening to this!
But following the leader gonna turn you off the religion…
Spoon, “The Hardest Cut”
This was the first single to come out of this album, and it reminded me of why I love Spoon. The guitars are what shine the most—”The Hardest Cut” doesn’t hesitate to dive into Spoon’s heavier side, and the guitars are the main driving force behind it. At the same time, it’s a relentlessly steady and catchy song, making this song proof of Spoon’s versatility.
TRACK 3: “The Devil and Mister Jones” – 8.5/10
For any album, there are some songs that you know will grab you way before you listen to them, just because of how hooking the title is. I don’t know what it is about the name “The Devil and Mister Jones” that caught my eye, but either way, it’s an undoubted highlight of this album. Catchy and bright-sounding, it has a timeless feel to it, like it could have just as easily come out of the 2010’s or even the 2000’s. LOVE it.
TRACK 4: “Wild” – 8.5/10
I was reminded every measure
Of riding trade winds, buried treasure…
This one was the second single that was released, and another absolute earworm! The instrumentation is phenomenal, Britt Daniel’s voice stands out in the best way possible, and the beat makes it impossible for you not to nod your head. Instant classic.
TRACK 5: “My Babe” – 7.5/10
“My Babe” was the final single to be released from Lucifer on the Sofa, and although it’s my least favorite of the three, it’s still a perfect head-nodding, shoulder-swaying kind of song. However, there’s something about the lyrics that feels off-kilter. Not so much the message, but the way they sound, if that makes sense? I’m not sure. Not as strong as the others, but that’s a high bar—”My Babe” is still a good one.
TRACK 6: “Feels Alright” – 8/10
Standing here by myself,
A photograph with no correction
From me or anybody else…
Spoon, “Feels Alright”
Here’s another one that feels distinctly timeless. There’s an a quality to it that makes it feel ageless. For all we know, it could be from today, from the 2010’s, the 2000’s…even the future, who knows what Spoon will be doing five or ten years from now? That aside, it’s such a strong song! I especially love the piano/keyboard work on this one.
TRACK 7: “On the Radio” – 8.5/10
(I just realized that the animation for the official audios just zooms in on the album cover’s face…IT’S SO CURSED)
(WHY IS IT LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT)
“On the Radio” distinctly feels like the last few singles pre-Lucifer—something about the key, the fast tempo, the overall tightness of the whole song that makes me remember hearing “No Bullets Spent” for the first time. The guitars feel so full and rich, and the effects layered over them only adds to the effect. Another winner!
TRACK 8: “Astral Jacket” – 8.5/10
“Astral Jacket” is where Lucifer slows down—just in tempo, certainly not in quality. This song, along with “Satellite,” remind me of how well Spoon can convey tenderness through music; there’s an atmosphere around it that feels like a tired hug on a warm night. Simply lovely.
TRACK 9: “Satellite” – 8.5/10
Continuing the soft, tender atmosphere that “Astral Jacket” started, “Satellite” creates a floating-in-space atmosphere that fills up my heart. It reminds me most of “The Delicate Place,” my favorite Spoon song; the melody goes up and down, but it’s consistent in its warmth.
TRACK 10: “Lucifer on the Sofa” – 8/10
And I’m chasing every thought
And I’m walking over water,
Thinking about what I lost…
Spoon, “Lucifer on the Sofa”
For Spoon, my focus is usually the music over the lyrics, but for “Lucifer on the Sofa,” it’s both. I love all the descriptions in this one, from ash on lips to winter skies. There’s a consistency to the music as well—the saxophones are a strange addition, but it works perfectly for the smoky feel of this song. Not my favorite of this album, but a great little closer.
I averaged out the scores for each track, and it came out to a solid 8.3! Feels just right for the album; I haven’t listened to enough full Spoon albums to say where it ranks on the list, but it’s a success regardless. I remember periods of my life in terms of albums, and Lucifer on the Sofa will surely be among the ranks of albums I remember this year by. Can’t wait to see them again this May!
Since this is an album review post, consider the entire album today’s song.
That’s it for this album review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
Happy Sunday, bibliophiles! I hope this week has treated you well.
This week has generally been quiet; reading poetry in my English classes, studying for far too many quizzes and tests for my liking, and enjoying four relatively sunny days before we got snowed on again. Just low-key, and I like it that way.
I broke out of my brief reading slump, and I really liked most of what I read! I’ve been continuing to focus on books by Black authors this month for Black history month, and I’ve been finding lots of sequels to books that I’ve been eager to read (Redemptor, Adulthood Rites, etc.). I also got to stop by the comics shop, so I got some single-issues to read as well.
In the writing department, I’ve gotten more serious about the editing process; I’ve gotten into the weeds of re-reading and doing a more comprehensive edit, and I’ve been working on resurrecting a few brief scenes. I’m getting better at snipping out some of these continuity errors, but I got [ahem] sidetracked by deciding my one human character’s birthday, so 🥴
Other than that, I’ve just been studying, listening to Portishead, Mitski, and the new Spoon album, and watching Raised by Wolves. We’re also getting a new puppy soon, and we got to visit the litter yesterday!! THEY WERE SO CUTE 😭 We’ll be taking one home in a few weeks, and I will most definitely post a picture when we get him!
Use the tag “Chapters & Melodies Tag” in your post
Let’s begin, shall we?
🎵CHAPTERS & MELODIES TAG🎵
A SONG AND A BOOK THAT SHARE A TITLE
This prompt took a WHILE of digging through my read books on Goodreads, but I’ve found one: Supernova (Marissa Meyer) and “Supernova” by Liz Phair!
A SONG THAT REMINDS YOU OF A BOOK
At the time that I read The Final Six, I was somewhat familiar with Radiohead, but seeing the reference to “Paranoid Android” is what made me dive deeper into their music—OK Computer in particular. OK Computer is one of my favorite albums now, and Radiohead is one of my favorite bands. So, uh…thanks, Alexandra Monir!
A BOOK THAT FEATURES MUSIC IN IT
Ziggy, Stardust and Megets its name from David Bowie, and his music features prominently in the novel, which I loved! (Bowie’s my favorite) There are also a few Pink Floyd references, from what I remember—I think specifically about “Time.”
A SONG THAT REMINDS YOU OF YOUR OTP
Auri and Kal from Aurora Risingare 100% my OTP! They’re the sweetest, most tender pair together, and over the years, both of them—especially Auri—have become such important characters to me. I associate “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” with them for a few reasons—the lyrics (in this version, at least), fit, and the sweeping, space-y atmosphere fits the feel of the book itself. But if there’s one thing, ONE THING that I would give anything to see in the TV adaptation, it’s this song playing in the scene with Auri and Kal in the pollen fields. THAT’S ALL I ASK.
FAVORITE SONG FROM A MOVIE THAT WAS ADAPTED FROM A BOOK
Technically, this song is a) a cover, and b) was only in the trailer, but for me, it’s a fantastic cover! Gives me chills every time, and it has ever since I first saw the Dune trailer last year. Great book, great movie.
October is usually one of my favorite times of year, but this year was one of a lot of self-reflection. Last October was—and still is—a painful stretch of terrain to look back on, but I’m glad to say that I’m in a much better place now. Plus, fall!
Since last year, I’ve had lots of time to heal, and even though the particular anniversary of the most unpleasant part was rocky, I’ve had a nice month overall. October is one of my favorite times of year, what with the confluence of Halloween and all the good feelings I associate with fall, and I got to enjoy that part to the fullest. There’s been hardly any snow at all (and what little snow we had didn’t accumulate), and the leaves have been extra bright and crunchy.
I had a lot of fun this month too! I dyed my hair, I got pumpkins, I got to watch two amazing movies (Dune and The French Dispatch) in theaters, and I just got back from LA! We went to see Danny Elfman perform the soundtrack of The Nightmare Before Christmas on Friday night, which was MAGICAL. We stopped by the La Brea Tar Pits museum and Amoeba Records too, which were both amazing. Plus, even though I only got to wear it for a few minutes after getting back to the airport, my Kaz Brekker costume was a lot of fun.
As far as writing goes, I’ve been writing my other WIP on and off. I hit 100 pages recently, but I feel like it’ll be too short…plus, and I’m fighting the urge to edit my main WIP. Maybe NaNoWriMo will sort things out.
READING AND BLOGGING:
I read 18 books this month! As far as the quantity goes, it’s been my worst reading month of the year, but it doesn’t really matter. I can mostly chalk it up to a) school, b) more long books than usual, and c) at least two reading slumps, but I still read a whole lot of stuff that I’d been looking forward to. Plus, there were some single-issue comics in there too. And I’m still on track to complete my Goodreads goal, anyway.
For no particular reason, I’ve ended up reading a lot more sequels than usual this month. I picked this one up because of how much I loved A Darker Shade of Magic; I couldn’t find it at my local library, so I ended up checking it out from my school library because I just NEEDED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT. However, though A Gathering of Shadows was still a decent novel, it fell into the tragic curse of the disappointing filler sequel.
Kell Maresh and Delilah Bard have long parted ways. But unexpected circumstance will reunite them, and the results may mean the end of Red London as they know it.
After the fall of the Danes in White London and the disappearance of the stone, Kell is back in the palace with Rhy. It is the eve of the Element Games, where magicians from all over compete in an extravagant spectacle. But the competition brings old friends and new ashore—namely Alucard, a clever pirate captain who is not as he seems, and Lila, who has joined him as a part of his crew. But on the margins of all the festivity, a new threat is rising—one that could topple every London in existence.
I’m glad that I read this soon after reading book 1, but still, this one was a disappointment…[Obi-Wan Kenobi voice] “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!”
It saddens me to admit it, but A Gathering of Shadows fell straight into the fatal trap of the Disappointing Sequel: if anything, it’s almost nothing but filler. My main complaint about book 1 (besides Lila) was that the plot was a little weak, but this book was even more so. Most of the book was just festivities surrounding a celebratory event that had almost no connection to the main plot. All that tied it back to the central plot was sprinklings of a villain that we thought was dead (resurrection trope! Whee!) and not much else. Coming off of the immersive, heartstopping gem that was A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows was a little bit pathetic in comparison.
However, that’s not to say that it wasn’t at least decent. I did like A Gathering of Shadows, at least to some degree. It was disappointing, sure, but I didn’t hate it. V.E. Schwab’s writing still kept me rapt, and the worldbuilding and expansions to it were interesting to see. Even if the Element Games plot bored me a little, I did like seeing all of the intricacies that went into it, as well as the other cultures and countries outside of Red London. There’s no denying that the world that V.E. Schwab has built is a fantastic one, and in the case of this novel, it was largely its saving grace.
And there’s always the matter of the characters! Kell and Rhy were just as lovable as always, and although they didn’t develop an awful lot during this novel (not like the plot gave them much room to do so, oof), reuniting with them was like reuniting with old friends. I loved Alucard as well; he was such a fun character, but…hold up, what is it with the second book in a YA fantasy trilogy ALWAYS introducing the sarcastic, seductive privateer? First Nikolai Lantsov, now Alucard…HAHA
A Gathering of Shadows almost made me like Lila, but all my hopes for her collapsed about halfway through the book. Not only was she as “not-like-other-girls” as ever, her motivations made even LESS sense than they did in book 1. Given that she’s spent her life on the streets fighting for her life, you would think that she wouldn’t do something so risky as…well, disguise herself as a dead magician that she looks nothing like and enter a competition in his name, right? Wrong, apparently. With all that Lila’s been through, I would personally think that she would be the kind of character to weigh risks and benefits, but I guess that all went out the window. I get it, she’s a teenager, but even for a teenager, that’s kind of ridiculous. Plus, after how A Darker Shade of Magic ended, I was excited to see that she might have some kind of ulterior motive or the beginnings of a corruption arc…but no, I guess that wasn’t the case either. Sigh.
All in all, a lackluster but entertaining addition to the Shades of Magic world that offered up a dry plot, but kept the series afloat with new characters and consistently dazzling worldbuilding. 3.5 stars.
A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, preceded by A Darker Shade of Magic and followed by A Conjuring of Light. V.E. Schwab is also the author of the Villains series (Vicious and Vengeful) and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
I figured that I should scour my TBR for books for disability pride month (and to read beyond that, of course), and I found this one that I had shelved back in 2019. The cover immediately caught my eye (AAH THE COLOR SCHEME), but I still have mixed feelings about the book itself – not ragingly bad, or anything, but not amazing either.
Jenna has lived her whole life believing that she was born with cerebral palsy, and she’s never let it stop her from doing what she wants to do. But after discovering that her parents hid the fact that her CP was caused by an injury at birth, she’s infuriated with them – and the fact that she hasn’t been able to make her own decisions regarding the surgeries she gets. With the help of her lawyer uncle, she decides to push for medical emancipation.
All the while, Jenna’s childhood crush, Julian, has moved back into town. She reconnects with him over text with an anonymous persona, but will she have the courage to reveal her true self to him?
WARNING: this review may contain some minor spoilers, so tread lightly!
This is…complicated. I picked this book up for disability pride month, and while I can’t speak to the representation itself (as I don’t have cerebral palsy), there were good and bad parts of this book, in terms of how disability was represented and the plot itself.
Let’s start off with the good stuff. Jenna as a character was definitely a great protagonist – she’s not perfect, but she’s incredibly determined and a very independent thinker. She’s a little messy at worst, but I really didn’t mind. She had a great personality, for the most part, and her struggle with getting medical emancipation was incredibly eye-opening.
Again, I can’t speak to how accurate the CP rep was, but for the most part, it seemed well researched. The author mentions in a note at the back of the book that she worked with kids with CP, which seems to have informed part of Jenna’s story. A good portion of it seemed to work – there was clearly a lot of research put into the different kinds of mobility aids that Jenna uses and the kinds of surgeries she went through. It also deftly defied the dreaded “cure narrative” – Jenna’s attitude towards her disability was more one of reaching for freedom than seeking to “overcome” it in anyway. It’s not often that we get this kind of story from abled authors, so I appreciated that.
However, I’m still a little miffed by how they represented Jenna’s disabled identity. At a point in the book, she reaches out to someone who went through a surgery that her parents want her to have (part of why she seeks to be medically emancipated). This person responds to Jenna later in the book via email, and explains that she leads a “differently-abled” club at her school; she explains how she prefers that term, even though most of the disabled community doesn’t. (For those of you who don’t know: it’s generally accepted that the majority of the disabled community prefers not to use the term “differently abled,” as the terminology is seen as sugarcoating or patronizing them and their experiences. Some disabled people may use the term, but when referring to the community, it’s good to just stick with “disabled.”)
Now, if this had come from a disabled author, I might have passed it by; as I said, not everybody in the disabled community dislikes the term “differently abled,” but disabled is usually the more accepted term. But since this is coming from an abled author, I’m really not sure how to feel about it; it’s generally abled people that have used started using the term (which is where the discourse comes from), so putting that on disabled people in a book – especially someone who Jenna looks to for advice – doesn’t sit right with me. Additionally, Jenna never explicitly says that she’s disabled; maybe I’m reading into it too much, but it just seems a little strange, coming from an abled writer writing a disabled character. (And on the subject of the club…did everybody in said club actually agree to call it the “differently abled club?” I find that hard to believe…)
Other than that, there were a lot of hospitalization scenes that felt a little too much like plot devices, and the scene with the rival hockey team (this is where the ableist slurs TW comes in) didn’t need to happen; all it did was give a bit of “I love my girlfriend!” points for Julian (he punches the guy who yells ableist slurs at Jenna), which created some conflict that I felt was completely unnecessary. It’s My Life certainly had a rom-com feel to some of it, so why not just keep it that way? CAN I GET SOME MORE DISABLED BOOKS THAT DON’T CENTER AROUND THE PROTAGONIST GETTING SLURS YELLED AT THEM, PLEASE?
My only other complaints were that some of the high school scenes weren’t super authentic, and I didn’t care a whole lot about the romance, but that’s the most minor of my issues. But overall, mixed feelings on this one – the themes of medical emancipation and Jenna’s character were great, but the disability representation, while I can’t speak to the CP accuracy, had some good intentions and research, but uncomfortable messages surrounding the identity itself. 3 stars.
It’s My Life is a standalone, but Stacie Ramey is also the author of The Sister Pact, The Homecoming, The Secrets We Bury, and Switching Fates.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
Happy Sunday, bibliophiles! I hope this week has treated you well.
I’ve had another quiet week this week, for the most part. Just some summer homework, reading, all that. It’s been getting super hot over here, but I’ve been reading inside and outside.
Reading-wise, I’d say I had a pretty good week. I’ve only had one read that I didn’t like, and I finished the book that my English class assigned for summer homework (Native Son). I also got to go to the comic shop, so I got through a few single issues too! I have a really big one waiting as well…
As far as writing goes, I finally figured out the deal with the word count for my NaNoWriMo goal, so I fixed that up to a manageable level. I’ve been making a whole lot of progress with my sci-fi WIP though! It’s getting close to 200 pages now…
Other than that, I’ve just been drawing, screaming with my friend about Fargo, finishing Loki (AAAH THAT FINALE), and volunteering at the library. I’m going to see Black Widow this afternoon too! I’m proud of myself for avoiding spoilers up until now…guess I’ve learned my lesson from Infinity War…
Happy Wednesday, bibliophiles! I hope this last Wednesday of June has treated you well.
It’s finally summer, and now we’re halfway through 2021! Crazy to think about, but honestly? Good riddance. Online school was horrendous. But now that’s all done for, and I still have a bit more free time before I go back to school.
Summer has freed up a lot more time to blog, which I’ve enjoyed! Even though I took a break with my vacation, I had time to make a lot of posts that were loads of fun to write.
And my vacation! Being in an airport for the first time since mid-2019 was…weird, to say the least, but Glacier National Park was beautiful! Being back in nature for a solid week definitely mended up some of the pieces that learning from a screen broke down.
Somehow, June has been one of my lowest reading months, though. I think it’s partly because while I was reading on vacation, I spread the three books I bought out a little bit more, but hey, I’m officially halfway to my goal of 250 books for the year! (I’m at 132 right now.) I also read a lot of great queer stuff for pride month, and I found some amazing books as a result. (But hey! Read queer all year long!) I hope you all had a lovely pride month. As always, here’s a reminder: you are loved, you are valid, you are beautiful, and nobody has a say in your identity except for YOU. ❤️🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️
I’ve made some good progress with my sci-fi WIP as well! I had a nasty case of creative block for a few days after getting back from Montana, but with a little help from sci-fi Pinterest and my sketchbook, I’m back on track. I just passed 100 pages yesterday!!
Other than that, I’ve just been drawing little aliens, getting back to volunteering at the library, watching Loki and Invincible, and enjoying the warmer weather.
Also, I changed my profile picture to Rabbi Milligan from Fargo on a whim…hey, why not?
READING AND BLOGGING:
I managed to read 20 books this month! Not as many as I would’ve liked to, but at least I got to make some trips to my favorite bookstore. Didn’t have any 5-stars that weren’t re-reads, but I have a few 4.5-star reads that I adored!
So first off, I owe a huge thank you to Phoenix @ Books With Wings for introducing me to this book (and sharing that great interview with Maggie Tokuda Hall!), because otherwise, I’m not sure if I would’ve heard of it! And man, I am SO glad that I picked this book up last week – such a beautiful queer story full of characters with heart and tender romance.
After being plucked off the streets by a ruthless pirate captain, Flora disguises herself as a boy, Florian, to pass amongst the crew of the pirate ship Dove. Life aboard the Dove has hardened her, but when the captain strikes a deal to transport a group of Imperials to the floating islands, she meets Evelyn, who is set to be married to a man she doesn’t even know. The two bond in secret, and they soon fall in love, but when the crew captures a mermaid, the Dove invokes the wrath of the Pirate Supreme and the Sea itself. Flora and Evelyn must escape the ship – or face the curse of the unforgiving Sea.
Pirate fantasy is one of my favorite types of fantasy, but in the YA department, most of the ones I’ve found have been bitter disappointments. But The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was exactly the opposite – a fantasy tale that was all at once brutal and beautiful that filled my heart up with tender joy.
For me, the characters were the part that shone the most in this novel. Flora and Evelyn were both incredible protagonists – multi-layered, and with distinct personalities that riffed adorably well off each other. I loved their romance, and their bonding over books and the captured mermaid was so sweet. Besides them, Rake had to be my favorite character – I adored his POVs! It’s clear that he’d been through so much before and during the novel, but all he wanted was to make sure that Flora and Evelyn broke free of the cruel life aboard the Dove. He got his moment in the spotlight too, and I loved seeing him come into his own near the end of the novel. (He reminded me a bit of Rabbi Milligan from Fargo, too… [aggressively goes through a box of tissues])
Beyond the protagonists, I loved how complex the relationships between all of the characters; Maggie Tokuda-Hall didn’t shy away from making them more than black and white, and I felt like it was a very realistic situation for Flora, in particular, having to eke out a living on the Dove. Much of the crew (minus Rake and Alfie) were deplorable people, but for Alfie in particular, he’s their brother; even though Alfie’s a deeply flawed person, Flora still had a sense of responsibility for him.
The queer rep in The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea also made me so happy! Over the course of the book, Flora realizes that they’re genderfluid, and while I can’t speak to how accurate or inaccurate the rep is (as a cis person), it was certainly a beautiful journey of identity and a supremely well written piece of character development. It’s also implied that Evelyn is bi/pan/queer (though her label is never specified), and she loves Flora no matter how they presented. The infamous and all-powerful Pirate Supreme, though we didn’t get to see as much of them, also used they/them pronouns, which was pretty cool! I love a good casually queer fantasy story, and this novel 100% delivered.
And speaking of queerness in fantasy, I loved all of the different fairytales woven into the Witch’s part of the story; they were all fascinating in their own right, but it was amazing to see casual queer rep in all of the tales that the Witch told to Flora. The Witch as a character (Xenobia) was more of a vehicle for Flora’s development than anything, but that part of the story was still critical for Flora.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea also served as a good commentary on imperialism; although this all occurs in a fantasy world, it’s focused primarily on Japanese imperialism, which is a perspective I don’t often see in literature, period. The plotline of the Pirate Supreme and the Sea was the most well-developed of the commentaries; there’s a clear and important message of not encroaching on places that were never yours in the first place, both in the respects of neighboring countries and on nature itself. However, I do wish the world were a little more developed; the worldbuilding was good on the surface, but I wish we’d gotten a little more of the history behind the imperialism and some of the other countries.
However, I’ve seen this in a few reviews and thought it was worth noting – it didn’t quite sit right with me that Flora, who was a Black-coded character, works on a slave ship; given…well, much of world history, really, that doesn’t seem terribly thoughtful. The reviews I’ve seen mention this were from non-Black readers, and I haven’t been able to find any Black reviewer’s thoughts (on Goodreads, at least). They don’t really elaborate the concept that the Dove is a slaver ship beyond the prologue (which I just chalked up to iffy worldbuilding), to a degree where I pretty much forgot that it was a slaver ship in the first place, but it’s still something to keep in mind.
I swallowed this novel almost all at once – it was a little bit slow to start, but once it got going, man, it really got going! After about the 25% mark (I read this on my Kindle), the plot kept me hooked until the very last page. I especially loved the final showdown of the Dove, the Pirate Supreme, and the Sea – the action scenes were incredible, and though parts were hard to read (RAKE 😭😭😭), it was lovely to see the characters get their justice.
But GAAAH, for the most part, THIS BOOK MADE ME SO HAPPY. Finally, I’ve gotten my hands on a pirate fantasy that actually delivers – in anti-imperialism commentary, in queer rep and romance, and in lovable characters and action. 4.5 stars!
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is the first in a series; however, no information has been released other than the fact that there will eventually be a sequel. (GIMMEEEEE) Maggie Tokuda-Hall is also the author of the forthcoming YA novel Squad (2021), as well as several picture books.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
I’ve been trying to think of more original posts to do, and I figured that this one would be something really fun to explore. I’ve seen a lot of posts talking about tropes, but genre-specific ones are always interesting to think about/discuss, and in much of the YA book fandom, I feel like sci-fi doesn’t get as much love. So I decided to look at six tropes that are specific to sci-fi (for the most part). Sci-fi is my favorite genre, so I got super excited thinking about all of these different tropes, and some (mostly) YA books that use them in different ways.
So let’s begin, shall we?
WARNING: This post may contain some book spoilers (Aurora Cycle & Dare Mighty Things series), so read at your own risk!
CRYOSLEEP, BUT FOR WAY TOO LONG
Ellen Ripley – and Aliens in particular – probably set the blueprint for this one, but as the trope gets more popular, authors have started to push the limits on this one, which I think is a really cool move.
It’s most often the protagonist that this happens to – our hero, on the eve of something great, is put into cryosleep for an interplanetary mission, only for something to go terribly awry and stay in cryosleep for longer than they were supposed to. Ripley got an accidental 50 years, Auri from Aurora Risinggot 200 years, and Andra from Goddess in the Machinegot a whopping 1,000 years.
This trope presents two main advantages for writing: a vehicle for exploring the novel’s world through fresh eyes, and internal conflict within the character. If your cryosleep character is completely unfamiliar with the world, seeing it through their eyes gives the reader a more in-depth look at the world than they’d get with a character that’s already familiar with it. They’ll inevitably notice more things and fixate on different things than another character might, which gives the reader more insight about what’s unique about the world that the author has crafted.
As for the internal conflict piece, this part’s always touched on, but in most of the novels I’ve read with it, it’s a lot more shallow than you’d think. There’s the existential crisis that inevitably occurs when the character realizes that everything they know and love is all but gone, but beyond the first few chapters from their POV, they get over it…relatively quickly? It seems like the kind of trauma that would leave lasting psychological scars, and probably physical health repercussions as well. I’ve yet to read any book that explores all that in depth, but it seems like the perfect setup for a sci-fi novel.
So this one’s a trope that can make for a lot of creative choices, but often has a lot of untapped potential.
GOTTEN INTO A SITUATION YOU CAN’T GET OUT OF? TIME TRAVEL!
Apparently this one is a lot more common than I thought, but I’ve only started to see it in YA more recently. (Well, there’s Avengers: Endgame, but it took me a while to realize how common of a trope it is…)
This trope has the possibility of ENDLESS freaky hijinks whilst traversing through time. Sometimes it’s just pushing the events of the past so that everything lines up a little bit nicer, and sometimes it’s rocketing back to another time period entirely. It usually happens only with the last book in a trilogy or duology, just so everyone can fix the mess they got into in the first books.
I have mixed feelings on this one; one the one hand, there’s never a dull moment – time travel jokes, fitting VERY badly into a different time period, and very high stakes, most of all. If the first books have followed a similar formula, it might be good to try for something else to end the series with a bang.
On the other, though, something about it almost feels…lazy to me. Often, this trope arises from The Gang™️ getting a situation so bad that there may not be a feasible way out of it, but…maybe they could? If done wrong, it can feel like lazy writing – an easy way out, and one that provides instant comic relief. And often, the means of said time travel are vague, and often reduced to technobabble from The Smart Character™️, which, hey, I don’t know much about the science of it either, but maybe at least put a little time into it?
So this one’s a double-edged sword: instant plot, or lazy writing? The choice is yours!
*this one doesn’t come out until November [screams] but we know that time travel will play a big part in this one, so…
ALIENS THAT BASICALLY JUST LOOK LIKE HUMANS (BUT WITH A FEW MINOR DIFFERENCES)
Most of the other tropes I’m going to be discussing in this post are ones that I like on some level, but…this one gets on my nerves. For the most part.
Far too many times, I’ve fallen into the trap of picking up a sci-fi book that promises aliens, only to discover that the aliens just look like humans, but with either a) unusual eye colors, b) some sort of powers, or c) a combination of both. And of course, they have to be ✨ridiculously attractive✨ as well. 🙄
Now, I completely get making your aliens humanoid (hey, I’m doing it with some of my aliens for my sci-fi WIP), but there’s a certain point where it feels a bit lazy. Unless there’s some way you can back it up, it seems weird to me that in this entire universe, the only other intelligent beings, by some cosmic chance, are similar to us in almost every way.
But I’ve seen some authors use it to their advantage – in particular, One Giant Leap(the sequel to Dare Mighty Things) does this especially well. The main alien civilization there look exactly like humans, but it’s because of genetic modifications performed so that they could survive on Earth. See? That’s actually a really good way of turning the trope on its head, and doing so in a practical way!
For the most part, this trope never ceases to bug me, but there’s a few ways to turn it on its head.
For me, at least, this trope is the most fun – and it presents some of the scariest and most formidable antagonists in sci-fi.
Villainous AI are some of the most fascinating characters to explore – they have unmatched power, in some cases, and whether they’re a pre-installed ship AI or an android, it’s always interesting to hear their perspective on all of us puny mortals.
Given that humans trust AI a bit *too* much in most sci-fi novels, they often have a fearsome amount of power at their disposal. AI installed inside of a ship? Access to all the security footage, navigation, communications, and controls of the ship. They know their crew up and down, and have the possibility to play everybody’s weaknesses against each other. They have the power to sabotage anything and everything, and more often than not, they do. WITHOUT HESITATION. A corrupt AI often harbors a hatred or jealousy of human beings, and if it’s not that motivating them, it’s some sort of technologically-stemmed god complex, which is always terrifying to watch play out. (Lookin’ right at you, David…) It’s even more of an interesting development if their moral compass shifts over the course of the series – if there’s one thing I’ve learned from sci-fi, it’s that benevolent robot overlords never stay benevolent for very long.
Corrupt AI as antagonists are often more compelling than human or alien ones (for me, at least) partly because so much is left up to the imagination about the inner workings of their minds. We’ve never developed any kind of artificial intelligence that’s become intelligent enough to have devious tendencies like many sci-fi villains, so a lot of it is the author’s personal choice. There are endless possibilities – but more often than not, they’re all terrifying.
And even if they aren’t main antagonists, the addition of a slight unstable AI as a character is always amusing; for all of its flaws, I loved Gregorovich’s existential musings in To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, and his character added some much-needed flavor to the rest of the cast.
TL;DR: There’s nothing more terrifying than a villain that knows everything about everything, and uses that power for its own gain at whatever the cost.
HIGH-STAKES COMPETITIONS TO GO TO SPACE…WITH SOME SERIOUS ULTERIOR MOTIVES
Scared to send your experienced, highly intelligent scientists to space? Send some teenagers instead!
This one tends to crop up the most in YA, as it’s primed for a book that has a primarily teenage cast. The ones I’ve read do tend to follow a formula, but for the most part, it’s one that’s actually a lot of fun!
The worldbuilding/motives behind it are always a little bit messy (again: sending teenagers into space! What could possibly go wrong?), but often times, you just have to hang in there; it’s a given that whatever program is funding the competition is doing something astronomically shady. (No pun intended.) Part of the fun with this trope is the mystery of it; slowly but surely, the competition starts dropping like flies, and things go very wrong very quickly.
More on the mystery aspect – the mystery that often occurs in these types of novels is very slow-burn, building on itself before the heartstopping reveal at the end (often a cliffhanger). From program superiors lying to scheming androids to deaths under mysterious circumstances, there are endless possibilities for many, many things to go wrong. Add in the not-so-friendly rivalries between the competitors (also scheming, along with everybody else), and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a nail-biting sci-fi mystery.
And once/if they get to space? Everything gets way worse. There’s bound to be aliens, but whether they’re intelligent or just parasitic, things are bound to go way, way south. But there’s never a dull moment – there’s no shortage of suspense, and our protagonist is often at a loss as to how to escape their situation.
Plus, for reasons I’ve yet to figure out, these ones always tend to have the most clever pop culture references. (See: all of the Radiohead songs in the Final Six duology)
EXPLORING OTHER PLANETS GOES VERY, VERY WRONG (Or, “Don’t do intergalactic colonialism, kids”)
Here’s another common – but by no means overdone – trope that’s always open to endless possibilities!
Because our planet was never enough, apparently (or if we destroyed it…probably), there’s a whole host of sci-fi stories that are set on entirely new planets, with the sole goal of making them a new home for humankind. But just like with our planet, it’s always unpredictable, whether you’re dealing with a foreign contagion, carnivorous wildlife, or superiors who aren’t what they seem.
I’m always a nerd for creature design in sci-fi, and life on other worlds presents all sort of possibilities for creatures lurking in the bushes. Whether it’s flora or fauna, exploring these sci-fi worlds along with the characters is an adventure, especially if the author is particularly creative. Of course, most of the wildlife ends up being carnivorous, or malicious on some level, so there’s all sorts of danger lurking.
But beyond that, this trope is often a great commentary on colonialism. Human history is rife with frightening periods of raping and pillaging land that wasn’t ours to begin with at the cost of those who originally lived there; telling the same story on alien planets serves as a particularly potent comment on the malicious tendency of our species to overstep and overstay our welcome. Books like A Conspiracy of Starsand The Pioneer explore what happens when humanity comes in contact with intelligent life and unlawfully sets foot on their land; both of them do an amazing job of exploring the intricacies of the political implications, as well as the tense conflict that results. I think sci-fi as a genre is one of the best mediums for raising commentary on this kind of thing. Exploring new frontiers in space is bound to happen once we get the technology, but we must always ask ourselves if it’s the right thing to do. Just because we can doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. (Let’s be real: I would be SO excited if we found evidence of life elsewhere in the universe, but…let’s not have a repeat of all of human history, okay?)
TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! What are your favorite/least favorite tropes in sci-fi? Have you read any of the books I listed, and what were your thoughts? This’ll probably be one of several posts on the subject, so I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
That’s it for this post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!