Book Bingo Mini-Reviews: Row 2

Hello again! Returning today with mini reviews of the second row of my r/fantasy book bingo card. For those just joining in, you can read my mini-reviews of the first row here.

Novel Featuring Vampires

Fat Vampire by Johnny B Truant

Fat Vampire (Fat Vampire, #1)

Hard Mode: Yes. The main character is a vampire. A fat one, even.

I’m not saying I picked this one up entirely because of the title, but yes, okay, I picked this one up entirely because of the title. Fat Vampire starts out with an interesting premise: what happens if the stereotype of the super-fast, super-strong, super-sexy vampire does NOT mean that vampirism gives you those traits, but that people with those traits are typically the ones turned into vampires? Furthermore, what happens if someone terribly out of shape gets turned into a vampire by accident? Reginald Baskin just wants to get through another day at his soulless office job. But when he befriends his fellow outcast employee, he soon gets dragged into a blood sucking underworld full of vampires — and in order to save his life, is transformed into one. There’s only one problem. Most humans who become vampires do so willingly, and train for years beforehand to become the best vampires they can be. Reginald is thrust into it all at once, and his opportunities for training are behind him.

Due to his vampiric healing powers, his body will always reset to the way it was before he turned into a vampire, meaning he’s stuck as an out-of-shape guy for the rest of eternity. Now we all know I’m totally obsessed with stories where the out of shape guy has to do a training montage. But what happens if you CAN’T have a training montage? Well, then, you just have to be creative and work with what you’ve got.

I found Fat Vampire to be a quick, entertaining popcorn read. There wasn’t a whole lot of depth to it, but it was pretty fun for being what it is. Unfortunately, however, it was not without its problems.

Most glaringly, there’s a great deal of male gaze going on. Every woman Reginald meets is apparently the hottest pair of boobs who ever graced the Earth. When Reginald learns he has mind control powers, the first thing he thinks is that he can use it to convince hot women to have sex with him. Um, YIKES. Unfortunately that one sentence, which was totally unnecessary and had nothing to do with the plot, sort of soured the rest of it for me.

I think the premise of this book is really interesting, and the series shows potential overall. But this first book falls a little flat on the execution.

3/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares

  • self-published
  • local author (Austin, TX)

Graphic Novel

The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

The Witch Boy (The Witch Boy, #1)

Hard Mode: the series was new to me! Might be new to you too!

I really enjoy stories about witches, and about defying gender expectations, so when I read that there was a graphic novel that had both, of course I immediately had to read it. Aster is a boy from an extended family of magic users. In their family, boys learn to become shapeshifters, and girls learn to become witches. But while Aster struggles to make his first transformation, he finds himself drawn to the feminine magic of witchcraft. Unfortunately, his family is vehemently against this. When a mysterious power ensnares the other men in his family, however, Aster must come to the rescue in the only way he knows how.

I really enjoyed this book all the way through. While obviously intended for children, it never at any point felt simplistic or juvenile. Aster was a compelling and well-realized character who I immediately identified with and wanted to succeed. I felt the alienation he felt, due to being the wrong gender for his chosen brand of magic, from the bottom of my heart. I definitely felt that the heavily gendered magic was meant to serve as an allegory for any number of gender or sexual identities. The writing accurately and sometimes painfully depicted the trauma, often spanning generations, of what happens when you feel like you have to hide an identity that is not considered acceptable.

5/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares

  • middle-grade
  • local author (up-state New York)

SFF Novel by Local-To-Me Author (Seattle, WA)

Poor Man’s Fight by Elliott Kay

Poor Man's Fight (Poor Man's Fight, #1)

Hard Mode: Sure? He lives in my city. Narrowing down the writer who lives closest to me is creepy behavior and probably going to land me on some government registry.

I met Elliott Kay at a book event several years ago and thought his book sounded intriguing and bought a copy — only to have it languish, unread, on my shelf for several years. Oh dear. I am lucky, living in Seattle, to have a plethora of local authors to choose from. But being so spoiled for choice, I avoided filling this last square until the last minute.

While trying to decide what to read, I remembered poor lonely Poor Man’s Fight on my shelf and decided to give it a try, and oh my goodness! I’m so glad that I did. Poor Man’s Fight takes place in a dystopian future during which everyone graduates high school with significant student debt unless they can perform well on a single exam. Tanner, the hero of the story, does well in school but flunks the exam, leaving him with monstrous debt and limited options. At the urging of one of his friends, he decides to enlist in the military.

Space opera was my genre of choice when I was younger, and as such I ended up reading a lot of military sci-fi. In a lot of ways this book felt very “nostalgic” from those days. The character joins the space navy, goes through basic training, makes friends and enemies, and eventually must save the galaxy. However, all of this happens on the backdrop of a deeply broken society of Capitalism Gone Wrong. This was, honestly, the sort of book I needed when I was seventeen, something that would have made me question the over-the-top unquestioned jingoism present in a lot of classic military sci-fi. It makes a lot of really intelligent social commentary about student loans, capitalism, and how low-income students are pressured into joining the military, and thereby risking their lives and PTSD, just for the hope of paying for college.

5/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares

  • self-published

SFF Featuring an Ocean Setting

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker

The Bone Ships (The Tide Child, #1)

Hard Mode: yes (well over 50% takes place on the ocean)

This book. THIS BOOK! This was probably one of my favorite reads of 2019. Where even to start? The back cover blurb will tell you all about the world building, about the ships made from dragon bones, and the first dragon sighting in centuries potentially turning the tide of the war. But for me, that’s not what the book is about. It is a compelling set-up, no denying it, but ultimately just the backdrop to the real story, which is about the crew of the Tide Child. The Tide Child is, to put it nicely, a ship full of monumental screw-ups. A reject ship full of criminals and exiles, the Tide Child crew are considered already dead, and are sent to the black ship as a last ditch chance to serve some use to society. Most of the time, however, they spend their days brawling amongst themselves and drinking themselves into oblivion. That is, until Lucky Meas shows up and declares herself shipwife (captain). Competent and charismatic, Meas doesn’t seem like the type to belong on a ship full of rejects. But Meas is there for a reason. Meas has a plan.

The book is not told from Meas’s point of view, but from that of Joron, the previous shipwife. A fuckup among fuckups, Joron resents losing his position at first. But as he grows to grudgingly follow, and then admire, the new shipwife, he discovers something in himself that he thought long lost — hope, and a sense of purpose.

I cannot gush about this book enough. I love, love, love books about incompetent crews of screw-ups who come together and become like family. Every moment of Bone Ships was an absolute joy to read.

Most reviews will focus on the worldbuilding, which I found to be original and compelling. However, if I were to have any criticisms about this book, it would be that there’s a little bit too much being different for the sake of being different. Shipwife instead of Captain, sure. Eee instead of Aye, whatever. But Sither instead of Sister? At a certain point it falls into the realm of calling a rabbit a smeerp. Still, I hope that will not deter you from reading this truly excellent work.

5/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares

  • Published in 2019
  • Local Author (Yorkshire, UK)

Cyberpunk

Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron

Minimum Wage Magic (DFZ #1)

Hard Mode: yes (is this book titled Neuromancer or Snow Crash? I think not)

I really thought I was going to struggle with this square. Overall I’m not particularly interested in reading about the SUPER EDGY GRIMDARK DYSTOPIAN FUTURE when current day sometimes feels grimdark and edgy enough. But then someone pointed out to me that Minimum Wage Magic, set in the same world as Aaron’s Heartstrikers series, totally qualifies as cyberpunk. Advanced cybernetic technology? Check! Dubious artificial intelligence? Check! A shiny neon metropolis overrun with Capitalism Gone Wrong? Check, and Check.

Minimum Wage Magic is the story of Opal Yong-E, a young woman struggling to make it by in the Detroit Free Zone.  Remember that TV show Storage Wars, where the guys bid on abandoned storage units and then sell the contents, hoping to make a profit? Opal’s job is kind of like that, except it’s not just abandoned storage units, but abandoned houses, abandoned apartments, and abandoned pretty much anything. Opal used to be pretty good at it, but lately she’s hit a run of bad luck. And when she finds the dead body of someone hiding a big magical secret, her luck is about to get much worse.

This book was fun and enjoyable, much like the Heartstrikers before it. Opal is a much more pragmatic protagonist than the wide-eyed innocent Julius, but she is still sympathetic and likable. I also thought it had interesting things to say about society and poverty, like how if you’re poor with a family safety net, are you REALLY poor, but what happens when that safety net is more like a prison?

My only vague complaint about it was that it had the feeling of one of those shows in the 90s like Cowboy Bebop, where the characters are always looking for the next big break, but somehow you know they’re never going to make it. There’s always going to be something that goes wrong, or they spend the whole book fighting for a treasure that turns out to be worthless. This turns out to be for a good reason, but it still made for a bit of frustrating reading. Still, I look forward to reading Opal’s further adventures.

4/5 stars

Other Bingo Squares

  • AI character
  • Self-published
  • Local Author (Georgia, USA)