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March 2022 in Review

Rebekah is an avid reader of fantasy for all ages, and enjoys world and non-Eurocentric fantasy the most (except when dragons are involved).

march-in-review

THE PALACE OF ILLUSIONS (2008) by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Genre(s): mythological fantasy, myth retelling
Format: audiobook (narrated by Sneha Mathan)
Length: 12h 20m

The Palace of Illusions is a retelling of the Mahabharata through the eyes of Draupadi, also known as Panchaali, the princess of the Panchala Kingdom. Born from a yajna, a fire sacrifice, she brought with her a divine prophecy. Due to a misunderstanding, she married five brothers rather than one, and became the 'first of all women.' The Palace of Illusions is her tale from birth to death, of her marriage and deeds and children, and firmly takes its place among the modern retellings and women-led stories of ancient literature.

What I liked:

I have a newfound love of mythological retellings, especially with the relatively recent movement of retelling classic tales through the eyes of women. This book was no exception. I loved Panchaali, our heroine, and her journey. I found her a delightful personality to read and a wonderful narrator. I greatly enjoyed, too, the mysticism involved in the tale telling. The prose was beautifully written and the narrator was wonderful to listen to. There were many scenes that were memorable, such as the princess' insolence to her brother's tutor, the building of the Palace, and the time when she and her husbands disguised themselves to infiltrate a rival's palace.

What I didn't like:

The narrative was difficult to follow, and while I enjoyed it, I would frequently get lost or miss things that happened. It was a very fast-paced reading, despite not being a fast-paced plot. I often had to rewind so I could catch something I missed, and any time I picked up the next day or later in the day, I had to rewind to a spot that I remembered. The book was very dense and I had difficulty separating most of the characters, except for Panchaali.

Final verdict:

3/5 stars. Would recommend to readers of other mythology and cultural retellings, but might recommend, specifically, a text version, which might be easier to follow. It did pique my interest in more Hindustani/Indian history and literature, however, leading me to read my next book, Daughters of the Sun.

march-in-review

DAUGHTERS OF THE SUN (2018) by Ira Mukhoty

Genre(s): nonfiction, history
Format: audiobook (narrated by Shernaz Patel)
Length: 13h 8m

In Daughters of the Sun, we learn about the women behind the power of the Mughal Empire, that they were not always the helpless women of the British-described harem, but rather a rich culture unto themselves. These women were not acted upon as many women in history were, but rather took action themselves. Their history is a beautiful one, if not always so perfect, but nevertheless it is a fascinating insight to a period of Islamic history, particularly of women's history, that is worth delving into.


What I liked:

As a historian of ancient and medieval history, I very much enjoyed learning something new about a place and time I had never spent much time studying. I had only the vaguest understanding of the Mughals as they related to other pieces of history that I did study, and I found the concept of the zenana fascinating. She also managed to tug at my emotions very well, particularly towards the end when discussing the fall of the Mughals to the British, something that made me hurt and rage because of how lavish a portrait she painted compared to how they turned out because of British interference and influence.


What I didn't like:

The book read and felt very similar to Palace of Illusions, which meant it was difficult to follow due to all the different names and how quickly it jumped from one event to the next. Mukhoty tried to condense two hundreds years of history into a relatively short book; which was a detriment. I found myself glossing over a lot of the less interesting bits, and losing my place frequently.


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Final verdict:

3/5 stars. As someone who studies history, the dryness of the text did not bother me so much. I would not recommend this to readers of popular or literary nonfiction.

march-in-review

A THOUSAND SHIPS (2019) by Natalie Haynes

Genre(s): mythological fiction, fantasy, myth retelling
Format: audiobook (narrated by Natalie Haynes)
Length: 8h 34m
TW: sexual assault, death

A retelling of the aftermath of the Trojan war through the eyes of the women affected by the chaos and carnage of the Greeks. An absolutely tragic tale, A Thousand Ships is told from multiple points of view, beginning with the muse of epic, Calliope, and interwoven with the accounts of Penelope, Hecabe, Clytemnestra, Polyxena, and many others. Granted a new voice and released from their silence, these women take control of the telling.


What I liked:

I enjoyed the point of view from the women; as I'm only just exploring this genre of retellings, particularly through a feminist lens, I thought this was a good place to start. It was more cohesive and straightforward than The Palace of Illusions, and as such easier to follow. I also liked the variety of storytelling; there were letters, there was narrative, and there was first person. It was very well done.

What I didn't like:

The story itself was not consistently interesting. I almost did not finish the book, deciding to DNF it entirely until I was urged by a few fellow readers to finish it. It felt as if the writing style tried to be more than it was. Unlike similar other genres, it did not take many liberties with the original stories either, which normally might be a good thing, but in this case made it feel like much less empowering. I appreciate what the author was attempting to do, but I don't think it hit quite right. I was looking for something more along the lines of Circe.

Final verdict:

2/5 stars. Would recommend to most fans of Circe but ultimately it was a book I almost did not finish.

march-in-review

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE (2017) by Gail Honeyman

Genre(s): fiction, psychological, relationships
Format: audiobook (narrated by Cathleen McCarron)
Length: 11h 2m
TW: abuse, attempted suicide

We are introduced to Eleanor, a young professional working in an office where she often finds herself ostracized. Though this ostracization is more by choice on her part, it still fosters a perpetual bitterness and resentment in her life. Eleanor is quirky and weird, thinks more highly of herself than she should. Slowly, through her actions and thoughts, we get to know the real Eleanor Oliphant, and she is very far from being just fine.


What I liked:

At first, I loved the character of Eleanor because she reminded me of Hyacinth from the 1990's BritCom Keeping Up Appearances. She was a classic, perfect example of a well-written unlikeable character. She was funny and annoying all at the same time. Her delusions (particularly her crush on the singer) were delightful. Then, as we read more and we learn why the way she is, that eye-rolling laughable irritation turned to heartfelt empathy. At no point did I ever pity Eleanor, I just felt really hard for her. I loved how her friendship with Raymond developed very naturally and sweetly.

What I didn't like:

Truthfully there was not much about this book I did not like. It was a bit slow to get into in the beginning, partly because after the initial humor of Eleanor's personality wore off and before we started learning more about why she was the way she was, it was slightly frustrating. If you can get over that relatively short hurdle, the book is rewarding.

Final verdict:
5/5 stars. This book was hands down one of my favorite books I've read so far this year. I would tentatively recommend this to readers who enjoyed The Promise of Stardust, Still Alice, Kismet, or Room, though I am not a prolific reader of this genre, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was a book completely unlike anything I've really read before.

march-in-review

THE WITCH'S HEART (2021) by Genevieve Gornachec

Genre(s): mythological fantasy, myth retelling, romance, historical fantasy
Format: audiobook (narrated by Jane Entwistle)
Length: 12h 4m
TW: grief, death

A mythological fantasy told from the point of view of Angrboda, Loki's giantess wife and the mother of the goddess of death, Hel, the serpent Jörmungand, and the wolf Fenrir. It retells the story of the birth of these three figures, their life with their mother and subsequent sentencing to their fate. The book follows Angrboda's life, from the point where she was killed by Odin three times, her heart stolen and then returned by Loki, all the way to Ragnarök and its aftermath.

What I liked:

The writing was fantastic and the story never lost my interest. It was exactly the type of book I was looking for when I tried to read Palace of Illusions and A Thousand Ships. A mythological retelling that was easy to follow and from one single point of view. Bonus points, it was written in third person (I have an irrational dislike for first person narrative in spec fiction). I loved the story of Angerboda and Loki, and the idea that this story was not from point of view of the Asgardians, but rather the figures which always seem to be portrayed as evil.

What I didn't like:

Once again there was very little to complain about. Some moments went by very quickly and I found myself backtracking a page or two.

Final verdict:
5/5 stars. I really, really loved this one.

march-in-review

Genre(s): nonfiction, feminism, literature, philosophy
Format: audiobook (narrated by Julie McKay)
Length: 12h 9m

An answer and challenge to Joseph Campbell's classic work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Maria Tatar's book takes on the absence of the female hero in literature. Tatar analyzes dozens of authors and the growing trend in women's literature, bringing new life to the woman's role in classic and modern literature. From Anne of Green Gables and Little Women to Circe and A Thousand Ships, Tatar not only retells a single story, but many.


What I liked:

I enjoyed the cultural history and the analysis of the growing trend of retellings in women's literature, particularly after having read Circe, A Thousand Ships, and The Witch's Heart among others. I also liked that Tatar did not solely analyze ancient and classical literature, but also modern books. She drew from a wide range of children's literature such as Charlotte's Web, and books for adults. No genre or medium went unnoticed, as she also made commentary on the "Run Like a Girl" movement and references to it made in the beginning of Disney's resurgence period in the 2010s.


What I didn't like:

It was a relatively boring read. Part of what makes Tatar's work here admirable is the sheer volume of works she references in her research. Unfortunately, that is also part of the downfall. It feels as if she tries to stuff too much into a relatively short book, and the organization is somewhat scattered. In parts, she writes about books or topics together that seemingly do not have anything in common (other than the overarching theme) and this makes the reading disjointed. In regards to Disney, I was disappointed that the author disregarded Tangled in her discussion, jumping instead to Brave and Frozen to illustrate the new feminist movement, films that were two and three years later, respectively.


Final verdict:
3/5 stars. Recommend to those who want a good analysis of the growing feminist trend in literature, but not to casual readers of any particular genre.

© 2022 Rebekah M

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