#REVIEW: The Menu (2022)

Remember when I used to do reviews of stuff? I feel like it’s really been a while, but I do actually still have opinions about media once in a while, and last night my wife and I sat down and Watched a Movie Together, that being Searchlight Pictures’ The Menu. I miss movies; I used to reliably see at least thirty or forty a year, then I went into this long period where I only saw superhero movies, and now I don’t even give a damn about those, so it was a good feeling to be able to carve a couple of hours out of a Friday night to be able to watch this. Given that 90% of the television I watch involves cooking in some form or fashion, there really wasn’t any way I was going to be missing this.

And … man. I really didn’t know last night what I thought about it, and it took until taking a shower just now (yes, it’s the second-to-last day of break and 6:52 PM and I just took a shower) to figure out what I think. And the tl;dr is that if you watch the trailer and think Yeah, I might want to see that, then go ahead and follow up on that feeling, and if you feel like the trailer is for what seems to be a really schizophrenic movie that maybe can’t decide what it wants to be when it grows up, well, roll with that feeling too.

I can imagine people loving this film and I can imagine them hating it, although people who hate it are maybe a little easier to imagine? And one way or another, I think maybe they made the wrong movie. Want details? Massive spoiler territory from here on out, although it’s not like the trailer conceals a lot of secrets and one way or another the film tells you exactly where it’s going at about the halfway point and I think counts on you to not believe it in order to continue to maintain dramatic tension.

So! A short black line, and then spoilers ho!

The one thing that you might be thinking and be wrong about, having watched the trailer, is that there’s probably a scene where they discover that they’re eating people at some point during this movie. No! I am as surprised as you are that they resisted their urge, but no; I don’t know how much the food can be considered food, really, but there’s no cannibalism, intentional or not. What there is is basically a suicide cult among the head chef and his various kitchen and front-of-house staff, and they’ve decided that this is their last service and as such it’s the one where everybody dies.

You get no insight into how this decision was reached or how he (presumably) managed to talk everybody into this nonsense, and you will discover as you watch that the dinner guests are remarkably passive about their impending demise. At about the halfway point the head sous chef shoots himself in the head right in front of everybody, and Ralph Fiennes’ Chef Slowik literally says “You’re all going to die” to the guests at more than one point during the movie, so there’s no real argument to be made that they aren’t aware of what’s going on, especially when one of them actually does attempt to get up and leave and gets a finger chopped off for his trouble. It eventually turns out that everyone in the room has offended Chef Slowik in some manner or another (and some of them are really cheap; John Leguizamo’s character is a washed-up movie actor and apparently he was picked for death because he was in a movie Slowik didn’t like) except for Anya Taylor-Joy’s character, who is effectively a replacement +1 after her dinner date’s girlfriend dumped him.

There’s some effective creepiness here, and some fun satire of the way high cuisine works and (especially) the way major chefs are treated as gods and eventually expect to receive that treatment. Unfortunately basically every character in the film, especially the dinner guests, is some form of douchebag or another, really excepting only Taylor-Joy’s Margot and the hostess whose name escapes me. There are a lot of words that describe her, but “douchebag” isn’t one of them, I think. In some ways she’s the movie’s scariest character. And the thing is, a lot of what’s going on in the film either doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t make any sense, or some combination of both, and the notion that any of these people just sit around and wait to die is almost too ridiculous to bear. Also, Slowik’s operation apparently involves both a sophisticated hacker and an actual kidnapper, along with one hell of a surveillance and intel operation.

The movie should have been about one of the sous chefs.

The problem is that Slowik is such a guarded character, and the chefs by and large are entirely faceless, that you really can’t get any clue as to why any of them might go along with this insane plan to, eventually, and this is not a joke, dress up all of their guests as human s’mores and then burn everyone involved to death. And the fact that the guests don’t fight back just doesn’t make any damn sense. No; what you do here is you make the guests mostly faceless and terrified and you pull us into the cult of personality around this chef, and you hire a more charismatic actor than Ralph Fiennes, or at least cut him loose to be charismatic, because Julian Slowik, as he’s portrayed, couldn’t talk a kid into eating ice cream. I don’t know if I should blame Fiennes for that, or the director, or the script, or all three, or what, but this is not the guy. Nobody dies for this dude, or if they do, we’re gonna have to get a lot more background as to why, and you can keep all of the satire elements without them descending into utter ridiculousness like this one does.

(A prime example: the guests pay their bills and are given gift bags, all while wearing marshmallow serapes and chocolate hats, before they are set on fire and killed. Slowik tosses off a line about how their gift bags each contain a finger from a guy who is drowned as one of the “courses” earlier in the film. I have no idea whether the line was supposed to be funny or creepy or what. It’s ridiculous.)

The movie should have started off with a hot young chef getting hired by this dude– go ahead and let Anya Taylor-George play that character instead– and go through a couple of normal dinner services and some moments with Chef where it becomes clear why people might be willing to kill/die for him before getting into the murder shit, and have her be the one chef who decides she can’t be part of it. Or, hell, leave her conflicted! You can still have your horror satire if you want. Or, hell, have her be the hostess, so she’s outside the dynamic of the kitchen and maybe not part of The Plan but still enough on the inside of everything that we can see why this guy might have made the decisions he did, and why people might have followed him, and why people might have decided to go ahead and be burned to death instead of fighting back, which … no, sorry, I can’t buy it.

The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2022

Here we go here we go here we go, the post I spend most of the year looking forward to writing: my top 10 new books of 2022, where “new” in this case means “I never read it before,” and as it turns out most of them are pretty new but the oldest book on the list came out in 1977. We have, for the first time in three years, returned to the original 10-book list, mostly because I read fewer books this year than I did in the last several years and I don’t want the list to get much past 10% of my reading. Fifteen out of 101 just doesn’t feel special enough, especially when you consider that I always throw an Honorable Mention at the end. Pick five of those if you like.

Also worth pointing out: this is the tenth of these lists, and part of me feels like I should do a top 10 of the top 10. That’s not coming before the end of 2022, though; it’s going to require a lot of thought and possibly some rereading. Previous years:

And, with no further ado, here we go:

10. Rust in the Root, by Justina Ireland. This was the most recent of my reads to be added to the list, as I just finished it a few days ago. I generally like to have a few days to see if the shine wears off a book (or, as will happen later, if a book improves in my estimation or not) but I don’t see this one falling out of favor anytime soon. I don’t recall off the top of my head if Justina Ireland has shown up on this list before, but this is a great example of her style: historical fiction with a supernatural twist, told from the perspective of a person of color.

In this case, it’s 1937, and the United States is still recovering from the Great Rust, a cataclysmic event where anything created with the aid of the magical art known as Mechomancy has suddenly fallen apart. This includes pretty much anything that has been constructed, so the effects are immense and wide-ranging, although some areas have been harder hit than others. There are other schools of magic beyond Mechomancy, and the main character has some strength in several of them, including Floromancy, the ability to transform plants and seeds into other things. Branches of magic beyond Mechomancy are frowned upon and sometimes flat-out illegal, and the fact that most of their practitioners seem to be people of color doesn’t help. Laura moves to New York City at the beginning of the book and takes a job with the Colored Auxiliary of the Bureau of the Arcane’s Conservation Corps– sound familiar, by any chance?– and gets sent off to deal with a Blight, an area where the effects of the Great Rust are worse than usual. Much worse, as it turns out.

This is the first book of a series, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of it, especially as I want to know a lot more about this magic system and Ireland makes a point of only giving you as much information as you absolutely need to comprehend the story. I am, for example, dying to know why walnuts and okra seeds, specifically, are so important to Floromancy. She literally wears a bandolier full of seeds. Tell me mooooooooore.

9. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, by Alexis Hall. Sherlock Holmes is, in and of himself, a great argument for why awesome things can happen when copyright is allowed to expire. Affair is a not-very-thinly-veiled Holmes pastiche, crossed with H.P. Lovecraft, and if you know me you should already be smiling at the thought of me crawling over people and knocking over furniture in my rush to get my hands on this book. The main character, a military veteran named John Wyndham, takes up lodging at 221b Martyr’s Walk with a “consulting sorceress” named Shaharazad Haas. Wyndham’s war, by the way, was in another dimension, as opposed to, say, Afghanistan, and Ms. Haas has every bit of Holmes’ investigative acumen and invincible arrogance, combined with magical powers well beyond Holmes’ imagination. There are vampires and pirates. Wyndham gets to punch a shark at one point. It’s delicious.

The story begins with adapting A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes novel, but continues to branch off into its own mystery as it continues. I don’t know if this is intended to be part of series or not, but I would love to see more. This combination is just too irresistible for me; I loved this book.

8. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter. I have to imagine that it’s rather difficult to write autobiographies of academics. I have some evidence to this effect, as I’ve read a handful of biographies of professors and authors that basically boiled down to “he got this degree, then he wrote this, and then he wrote that, and that made some people mad, so he wrote that after that in response to this,” and a life that was lived by someone who was objectively interesting just becomes a long list of publication credits. Tolkien himself basically was a hobbit, and his homebody tendencies add to the problem, but somehow Humphrey Carpenter makes his biography every bit as interesting as the man it’s about. Tolkien’s friendship with C.S. Lewis is covered fairly extensively as is a lot of the detail and etymology that went into the writing of The Lord of the Rings, along with Tolkien’s obsession with internal consistency and detail, which once led him to correct some details in a reissue of The Hobbit and literally blame them, in the text, on Bilbo Baggins himself.

I was light on nonfiction this year, and there will be a handful of other books showing up in the Honorable Mention, but this one was definitely the standout. It’s not like I needed an excuse, as Tolkien has been a huge influence on my life and this book came out when I was a year old, so it’s actually kind of surprising that I never read it before now, but I read this in preparation to watch The Rings of Power and then never watched The Rings of Power. Oops.

7. Seed, by Ania Ahlborn. I called this book “deliciously fucked up” when I wrote my initial review of it in October, and I absolutely stand by that, as Seed wins this year’s award for Book Most In Need of Multiple Trigger Warnings for this year. In particular, if violence against and occasionally by children is going to be something that gets to you– if you are a parent, or really if you have ever even seriously considered becoming a parent, this book is gonna fuck with you. Whether that experience is something you’re interested in or not is your call; I spent the first night of the two it took to read this book with my skin crawling, and I figured out what the ending was going to be early on in night two and spent most of the rest of the read in slowly-mounting dread that I might have been right and desperately hoping that I was wrong.

I was not wrong. This book is somewhat predictable, generally considered a weakness, but that only increases its ability to screw with you. It’s about a generational curse, and family trauma, and there’s pet murder and car crashes and projectile vomiting and and all sorts of godawful shit and it’s beautifully written and it’s scary as all hell. You may wish you hadn’t picked it up when you’re done with it and you should read it anyway. I wish I could write this scary, and that’s the highest compliment I think I can pay the book. Just be glad it’s short.

6. The First Binding, by R. R. Virdi. What was that about short books? The First Binding is 832 Goddamned pages long. It’s a doorstop. You could kill small animals with it. You could probably kill medium-sized animals with it, although reading it would probably be a better use of it. It’s the first of a series, and I have not the slightest idea how many books are planned for it but this is gonna look great on the shelf assuming the author doesn’t develop a case of Rothfuss syndrome and never finishes it.

We’ll get back to the Rothfuss stuff in a minute, but it’s worth pointing out that this book initially wasn’t on my shortlist for 2022. I added it in this week after realizing that I was still spending a fair amount of time thinking about it, so it’s a book that I gave a five-star review to initially that has managed to grow on me since I first read it.

To be wildly unfair about it, The First Binding is The Name of the Wind, only with a vague feeling of Southeast Asia about it. Or, alternatively, it’s Christopher Ruocchio’s Sun Eater Chronicles but not in outer space. It is, in other words, a first-person autobiography-style story told by an old and vastly powerful being, with occasional jumps around in time and lots of references to stuff that’s going to happen later on in the series. And, honestly, Name of the Wind crossed with Asian cultural influences really will give you a damn good idea of whether you want to read this or not; I feel pretty comfortable saying that if you (at least initially, before 10 years of Rothfuss’ nonsense) liked NotW, you’ll like this, and you should give it a look. Just, uh, maybe think about it in ebook format unless you have strong forearms.

5. The Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao. I literally just now pre-ordered the sequel to this book, which unfortunately isn’t due out until August of 2023, but this is the first book on the list where drooling enthusiasm could legitimately be part of my talking about it, something that will be a theme for the rest of the list. (I never said this: in general, don’t pay too terribly close attention to the order of the books, except maybe for the top two, but I do feel like there’s a bit of a division between the top five and the bottom five. If I had waited until tomorrow to write this list they might have been in different order.) It also has, hands down and far away, the best cover of any of this year’s books, to the point that I had the wraparound without the text on it as my desktop background for a while after reading it.

Also, if you Google Xiran Jay Zhao, the author, they are wearing a cow onesie in the first pictures that will pop up, which is a reason to buy the book all by itself.

Right, the story: imagine Pacific Rim crossed with The Handmaid’s Tale: giant mechs beating the shit out of each other piloted by tiny, soft humans, only one of them has to be male and one has to be female and very frequently piloting the mech will lead to the death of the female pilot. Now make the main character one of those female pilots and make her hate men to a degree that is almost attractive. Wu Zetian is an amazing, fascinating character and even if she didn’t have the fascinating worldbuilding around her (and y’all know what a sucker for good worldbuilding I am) I’d want to read the book to know more about her. I read this back in January– I think it was one of the first books added to the shortlist– and I still think about it all the time. Absolutely madhouse brilliant. Go buy it.

4. Between Two Fires, by Christopher Buehlman. In a world where I had never read Seed, I’d start this off by talking about how amazingly fucked up Between Two Fires is and how I don’t read enough good horror novels, but I already wrote the bit about Seed, which is both scarier and more fucked up than Between Two Fires but somehow isn’t quite as good of a book. I think the difference is that Between Two Fires is a more complex story; it’s going to scare the hell out of you and gross you out and push some buttons that generally have DO NOT PUSH on them in blinking lights, but there’s more going on with this one than with Seed.

Anyway, it says “An Epic Tale of Medieval Horror” right there on the cover, and, well, yeah, that’s what this is, only the Middle Ages were kinda a horror story all on their own, and this particular book is set at the height of the Black Death, so it’s historical fiction about what very well may have been one of the worst times and places to be alive and human in history.

The main character is Thomas, a former knight who leaves a life of wandering the countryside stealing and looting and trying to avoid sudden, horrible death when he rescues a young girl from a band of men who are more or less just like him, and if you’re getting a hint that violence against children is part of this book, yeah, maybe roll with that? Only thing is, this kid might be a prophet of God, as she’s convinced that the plague is part of Lucifer rising up against Heaven, and hey, relative stranger, would you mind escorting me to Avignon so that we can do something about the impending literal end of the world? Pretty please?

So, yeah, maybe that’s what’s going on. Or maybe she’s just sick and delirious. Either way I’m sure it’ll be fine.

3. The Chosen and the Beautiful, by Nghi Vo. I was talking earlier about how certain things falling out of copyright protection led to (or at least could lead to) cool reinterpretations of the source material, and that leads to me wondering if The Great Gatsby is in the public domain yet. I can only assume that it is, as Nghi Vo’s The Chosen and the Beautiful makes no attempt whatsoever to hide the source material, right down to keeping all of the character names and locations the same. The mysterious Jay Gatsby is still the central driver of the book, his mansion is still across the bay in West Egg, and a certain green light and optometrist’s billboard are still there to be obsessed over by generations of English teachers.

The big difference? Vo’s Jordan Baker is a Vietnamese adoptee, and queer to boot, and she has a relationship going with not only her Gatsby lover Nick Carraway but also Daisy Buchanan herself. The book is thick with magic, too, although it’s fascinatingly expressed; where I’m usually a sucker for “magic systems” and worldbuilding and such this book has absolutely no interest in explaining things, and you’re just going to have to take that little vial of demon’s blood at face value, damn it, or (in one of my favorite scenes) the speakeasy that can only be accessed by crossing the same bridge three times in a row, or the paper doll that Daisy animates and sends to a social event that she doesn’t want to attend.

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m a big fan of Gatsby, which I haven’t reread in a while and need to get to, and the story of this book fascinated me from start to finish, but that’s not why it’s on the list. This book, more than anything else I read this year, is on this list because of the quality of the writing. I’ve read a couple of Vo’s books in the past and I didn’t quite realize she had this in her; the writing is beautiful, with sentences I wanted to lift off the paper and roll around in on nearly every page. It’s stunningly well-written, and even if you aren’t generally into speculative fiction or you haven’t read Gatsby you should allow yourself the pleasure of a night or two with this beautiful little book.

2. The Shadow of the Gods, by John Gwynne. I considered making it official that you were to consider both this and its sequel The Hunger of the Gods as both being in second place, since I read both books this year, but whatever, you get it. As you’ve no doubt figured out I read a lot of series fiction this year, more than I usually do even though that’s always been a big part of my reading diet, and this book is an amazing example of the grittier, slightly-more-reality-based side of fantasy literature. Slightly, mind you, as the cover of this one features an absolutely enormous dragon and the sequel has a wolf half the size of God on it, but it still feels like low fantasy for all that.

Shadow is Norse-themed, possibly post-Ragnarök-Norse themed, as there’s gods but they’re all dead, and the main characters are all phenomenal badasses and they all cart around lots of axes and seaxes (which is a dagger) and everybody’s cold all the damn time and there are letters like ð scattered through a lot of the words so you need to know to pronounce it like a -th. There are three main POV characters that the book cycles through, and by the end of the book none of them have even met yet although their stories have overlapped in certain ways; this was very clearly written as the deliberate first part of a trilogy and not a book that got successful so they greenlighted sequels.

This is not the most complicated nor the most literary book on the list. It is, however, an extraordinarily well-crafted example of a genre that I have loved since I was a kid, and discovering John Gwynne’s work was an amazing treat. I have another book by him that has been sitting on my shelf for a while because it’s the first book of a (completed) tetralogy and I strongly suspect I’ll be reading them close to back-to-back, so I’ve been waiting for the year to end, because I already have two books by this guy on my list and I can’t have two entire series. I loved it, and you should read it.

  1. Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, by R. F. Kuang.

This is the part where I inevitably get pissed at WordPress, which cannot be convinced that just because I have started a line of text with a 1 does not automatically mean that I am about to create an indented list. It can not be talked out of this. It cannot be edited. It barely makes any visual impact at all, and it nonetheless drives me insane.

Anyway. Babel represents the best minor thing that happened to me all year, which is that I got a pre-publication ARC and got to read it a couple of months before it actually got released. R.F. Kuang’s name is not going to be unfamiliar to anyone who has been around here for a while; her Poppy War trilogy is one of the greatest achievements in fantasy literature of the last ten years, and she is somehow only 26 or 27 years old. I believe all three of her previous books have made my top 10 list; the second one might not have but the first and third definitely did. Babel, in all its academic colonic title glory, has absolutely nothing to do with the Poppy War trilogy, and instead represents yet another alternate history, something I’m only just now realizing was absolutely the genre of the year for 2022.

Babel is set in the 1830s at the Institute of Translation at Oxford University, a giant tower that occupies most of the center of campus and very much does not exist in the real world. The main character, called Robin Swift because none of the white people in the book can be bothered to learn his real name, is a Chinese orphan basically kidnapped by an Institute professor and brought to England to serve as a translator for the Chinese language. This world’s entire magic system (there’s that phrase again) is based on translation, and the Institute has a death grip on the technology that this magic makes possible, so Robin, along with his three friends– an Indian Muslim and two women, one of whom is Black– are put in the position of wanting to be scholars and translators but having to literally participate in stripping cultural resources from their homelands in order to do it.

It’s magnificent. It’s angry and dark and complicated and fascinating and eventually it almost turns into an espionage novel– don’t miss the bit about the Translators’ Revolution in the title– and I thought the Poppy War books were wonderful but they feel like a warmup in comparison to how confident and assured the story Kuang is telling with Babel is. Dark Academia has become an interesting subgenre in the last few years, so if you’re into that, or historical fiction, or really just into good books at all, it is the best book I read this year, and you should have read it already, so get on that.

Honorable Mention, in No Particular Order, Except for One Book: The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World, by Riley Black; Kings of the Wyld and Bloody Rose, by Nicholas Eames, which you should understand as the unofficial #11 on this list; The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Serial Killer, by Dean Jobb; Leviathan Falls, by James S.A. Corey; Under the Whispering Door, by T.J. Klune; Six Crimson Cranes, by Elizabeth Lim; Bluebird, by Ciel Pierlot; The Architect’s Apprentice, by Elif Shafak; The Doors of Eden, by Adrian Tchaikovsky; The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter; and Scythe, by Neal Shusterman.

#REVIEW: Seed, by Ania Ahlborn

I am trying really hard not to make this review a single sentence: This book is deliciously fucked-up, and you should read it.

Because, really, that’s the money graf, right? Nothing else I write is going to matter much more than that single sentence, other than maybe the content warnings, because man, this book needs itself a content warning. Because if you are a parent of young kids there is a real good chance this book is going to fuck you up hard, and my son is roughly the age of the older daughter in this book. This book will grab you by your daddy-brain or your mommy-brain and shake you until you’re concussed, and I would understand if you don’t want that to be your reading experience.

Seed is a slim volume, totaling only about 220 pages, and I read it in two big gulps over two nights. The first night it scared the shit out of me and the second night, going in prepared, I was able to resist freaking the fuck out until I started to get a horrible inkling of how the ending was going to go, and this is one of those books where it’s going to hit you how it’s going to end and then you are going to spend the rest of the read with your skin crawling and hoping that you’re wrong and then you’re going to be right and it’s going to be awful anyway. It’s one of the most effective horror books I’ve ever read. Your mileage may vary, especially if you aren’t or haven’t ever been a parent,

(Jesus, why did I phrase it like that?)

… especially if you aren’t a parent, but if you are? Christ, I can’t let my wife near this book. Seed features generational curses, abusive parents, demonic possession, amnesia, grinding poverty, pet and animal death, murder, disintegrating marriages, poltergeists, car accidents, projectile vomit, ghosts, disapproving stepmothers and what may Goddamn well be the devil himself and it has crawled under my skin and it’s going to live there for a while. Ania Ahlborn has written a bunch of other books and I absolutely will be reading more of them. This is a great book to read in October if you don’t mind losing sleep and possibly a couple of sanity points to it. Go pick it up.

Get thee behind me, Satan

My brother inflicted this monstrosity on me, and now it’s your problem.

#REVIEW: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, by Alexis Hall

I first encountered this book through Twitter, and I’ve completely lost track of how; I’m not even sure if it was specifically recommended to me or whether I just happened across someone being enthusiastic about it. At any rate, I’m mad at everyone else who has read it. Why? Because all of you should have recommended this book to me– yes, to me specifically, whether you know who the hell I am or not– because I’m pretty sure this book was written for me and me alone.

This is another “tell you the premise, and then I’m done” sort of book. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, starring a bisexual, amoral sorceress named Shaharazad Haas in the Holmes role and a transexual gay man(*) named John Wyndham in the role of Watson. The book starts off as a clear homage to A Study in Scarlet, as Wyndham arrives in the city of Khelathra-Ven as a wounded veteran of a war in another dimension, in need of a job and housing, and ends up answering an ad for a place at 221B Martyrs Lane, where he meets Haas.

Who immediately attempts to shoot him.

You may have noticed the word sorceress. Wyndham is very Victorian British in his comportment and his morals, and Alexis Hall’s ability to mimic the writing style of the Holmes stories is flat-out uncanny, but the rest of the book is pure eldritch horror, where I want to compare it to Lovecraft but the simple fact is that I think Alexis Hall out-Lovecrafts Lovecraft. He does forbidden knowledge Man is not meant to taste very, very well, and Haas might be the single most memorable practitioner of magic I’ve ever encountered. They end up in Carcosa for a while. There are byakhees. And vampires. And Wyndham fights a shark. Their landlady is an intelligent swarm of bees inhabiting a corpse. Well, two, actually, as one rots away enough to become useless over the course of the book and she needs to acquire another.

It’s absolutely delicious.

So, yeah, while it goes without saying that this book gets one of my highest recommendations; I will admit I have some slight criticisms of the overall structure of the story. Affair starts off with five suspects for a blackmail and then has basically five sub-quests where people are progressively ruled out; it sounds weird to both say that I loved a book and that it could have been a bit shorter, but any time you build in that structure where there are Five Things to Be Accomplished, you end up with a book that sort of has the feel of a video game and by the end of it the reader kind of wants to get to the point. I combatted this by reading the book somewhat more slowly than I might have expected from something I was enjoying as much as I was; I actually dragged this one out a bit rather than devouring it at a sitting, which is my normal move.

But … God, you need to read this. I think right now it’s planned as a one-shot, which is a damned shame if it’s true, because (much like Watson) Wyndham is writing this story from the perspective of twenty years in the future, when Haas is actually dead, and there are tons of references to other mysteries and other adventures. I want to read these stories; I have got to have more of Shaharazad Haas in my life, because she is utterly fascinating as a character. Another thing I haven’t mentioned is the humor; there’s more than a little of Douglas Adams’ DNA in this book. In fact, I took this picture and sent it to a friend of mine who I was pitching the book for, and I might as well include it here as a quote:

Wyndham’s unwillingness to swear or repeat profanity in the text of the story, and his squeamishness around women, and his frequent asides to his editor are all fantastically dry humor, and I laughed out loud several times while reading the book, once loud enough that my son emerged from another room to ask me what was so funny. The boy notices nothing, so this is quite an achievement.

Anyway, yeah, you want this one. Go pick it up.

(*) I actually need to have a conversation with someone about the trans angle, because, I admit, I completely missed it on my first read, and upon seeing some references to it on Goodreads went back and reread the first chapter, where a single sentence refers to Wyndham “becoming himself for the first time,” or something very similar. I don’t think I missed a ton of references, and that sentence strikes me as something that’s going to have immediate salience for a trans reader that it might not for a cisgendered one. Then again, I read Gideon the Ninth twice and Harrowhark the Ninth once before realizing that Harrowhark was Harrowhark and not Harrowhawk, so occasionally I am absolutely a blinkered idiot.