I must say neither of these books were my cup of tea, exactly. The first I received via NetGalley because I was intrigued by it’s inspiration from Croatian mythology and history, but it felt like it threw in too many things and lacked the adult book feeling, leaving me thinking this was written for a younger audience. The second was kindly dropped into my inbox via my Mini Review option, but I was intrigued to see what it was all about. I’m not one for science and religion, but I’m always intrigued when they’re thrown together. I also felt like a lot was thrown into this book, so it felt like it lacked focus, though the direction was pretty clear. I guess you could say the theme of these two books was everything and the kitchen sink were thrown into them.
The City Beneath the Hidden Stars by Sonya Kudei
Title: The City Beneath the Hidden Stars | Author: Sonya Kudei | Publisher: BHC Press | Publication date: September 27, 2022 | Genre: Fantasy
Drawing on an eclectic mix of influences and based on the myths and history of Zagreb, Croatia, The City Beneath the Hidden Stars is a fantastical story that unveils the wondrous concealed in the mundane and is an adventure not to be missed.
Long ago, the Black Queen once ruled Zagreb in a looming fortress over the city. Her legend lives on in children’s games and bedtime stories. Is it truly only folklore? And what harm is death to a queen who supposedly stole secrets from the stars?
When rumors surface that the Black Queen might still be alive and living in a haunted chasm beneath Zagreb’s Bear Mountain, it prompts the Star Council to dispatch star daimon Leo Solar to Earth to investigate.
After witnessing a bizarre event at a local music gig, former philosophy student Dario Taubek begins to notice a strange-looking man in a star suit. Curious, he follows him and what he discovers catapults him into a world he never knew existed. A world of magical trams, myths and monsters, celestial beings, and the legendary Black Queen.
One Sentence Summary: When monsters begin to emerge into Zagreb, Croatia, the Star Council is alerted to a possible return of the Black Queen, so they send Leo to deal with it, and an ordinary man and an ordinary student are pulled in.
As much as I wanted to like this story (a Black Queen trying to emerge from her prison in Zagreb, Croatia and a star daimon and ordinary man needing to do something about it), The City Beneath the Hidden Stars lacked focus for such a simplistic story. Elements were thrown together and seemed to be told to make something of it all, so it felt more like a mish mash than intriguing story full of magic, as I had hoped it would be. However, there was a generous amount of humor that helped, but even that became a little tiresome and even seemed to make fun of everything from the setting to the story (definitely not something I appreciated).
Right off the bat, The City Beneath the Hidden Stars has fantasy elements. There’s the Black Queen who received powers she shouldn’t have, a star daimon coming from the cosmos to save Zagreb from her, and dark creatures emerging from nowhere. There are also scenes set out in space as the Star Council works to protect the universe from weird alien creatures. There’s also a bit of fiction woven in as we also follow Dario, a completely ordinary man in a humdrum job and with a nutty landlady, though he’s quickly sucked into Leo’s world when he follows the star daimon to his hidden temporary home. And then we meet a group of elementary school friends, including Stella, and their horrible school and teachers. Those parts read very much like MG. With both child and adult characters, it felt like the author was confused about whether to go in a younger or older route, so it all came off as more YA than I would have liked. And I can’t forget the horror elements that popped up at the end. I mean, I can understand the whole Black Queen with scary creatures, but it really didn’t need the horror.
That said, I did like the main characters most of the time. I liked Leo as he tended to be two faced, belittling and almost mean at times and then considerate at others. It was impossible to really pin him down, but he was such a fascinating character. He was also insanely, amusingly, chatty. I also adored Stella. She’s such a precocious child and felt so much more grown up, though that didn’t stop her from having problems with her teachers, who were, of course, absolutely atrocious excuses for human beings. Finally, Dario kind of fell in the middle. He was interesting because of the circumstances of his life, but, really, he was a little too nosy and a little too gullible. His story line fell flat for me most of the time as I really couldn’t figure out what use he was.
The setting was probably my favorite part. I’ve never been to Croatia, but Zagreb felt interesting and lively, albeit very old. There were some landmarks that were continually noted and visited and I felt like I gleaned a little more about them each time. It was great how fantastical elements were woven into them, as well as how some of them were just so ordinary. I liked the trams the best, though. There’s a lot about them woven in, from lore to what felt like actual tram schedules. Surprisingly, they played a big role in the story, and I had quite a bit of fun reading about them.
The story, now, was just too simplistic and sometimes felt like it was wandering off. There were, especially in the beginning, truly pedestrian scenes that either didn’t add anything or took far too long to get to the part the reader was supposed to care about. Even then, it wasn’t subtle, like a little clue to be picked up and put into a bigger picture. It made the story feel a little too long, and I really didn’t need all that detail, especially since much of the story was actually light on the details and focused more on the characters doing things. But what really annoyed me was that there was no real sense of danger. Everyone was always saved in the nick of time, so the tension just bled out of this book. I was also disappointed we didn’t get to see the Black Queen much, because she really seemed quite interesting and I would have loved to see her sow more chaos.
All in all, I think this could have been an interesting novel, but it felt like it lacked focus and threw in far too much. There were, of course, things I liked and appreciated. Leo was particularly amusing and it was fantastic to get a glimpse into a place I’ve never been. But the things I didn’t like far outweighed all that, because the story lacked a cohesive cast since they mostly operated independently and too many elements spoiled the story, making it feel like it lacked focus.
My rating: 3 cups of tea
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
The Prophet Paradox by Danny Tuttle
Title: The Prophet Paradox | Author: Danny Tuttle | Publisher: Self-published | Publication date: July 26, 2021 | Genre: Fiction
Biblical scholar Anne Hart is lost. Again. In a rural Egyptian village, she tries to save a woman from a public lashing ordered by a local sharia tribunal of elders. The police chief orders Anne to be abandoned in the Qattara Depression, the worst hell hole in the Sahara Desert. With no food or water and weeks of desert in every direction, Anne makes a discovery that can change the world. But will she survive?
Physicist Max Moore detects a burst of elementary particles and makes a startling prediction. Now he can’t escape his fate.
Is anyone free? Or do we see only what we want to see? And than how can love be stronger than destiny?
Ancient secret manuscripts. Supernovas. Lost monasteries. Terrorists. Shark attacks. Proton decay experiments. Media moguls who manipulate the masses. Magical people who can save the world and don’t care. Action. Adventure. Contemporary Fantasy. Science fiction. Romance.
Sound predictable? Then you won’t like the ending.
One Sentence Summary: Biblical scholar Anne discovers a new line to Revelation and physicist Max predicts a supernova thanks to a fancy underground experiment, causing the world to believe Anne is evil for adding to the Bible and Max is the Prophet of the People.
The Prophet Paradox seems simple enough: Anne discovers a new line to the Bible that appears to foretell Max, who predicts a supernova, and they must then deal with the ramifications of being thrust into the limelight. It also felt like this was all about how people go nuts when it comes to religion. There was a great deal of complexity and number of characters who were introduced, but it ultimately made the story feel overly burdened with too much thrown in, which made it difficult for me to figure out the focus of this book.
I liked the first part, which was devoted to Anne discovering some old papyrus and how she managed to get away from a hidden monastery. It drew me in, though I was not a fan of how Anne used her feminine wiles as it made her feel like there wasn’t much more to her than the fact that she’s female. After that, though, I felt like I was being constantly bombarded by elements from several other genres. There were also so many new characters that I had a hard time keeping them straight, much less figuring out how they related to Anne and then to Max. Max, though, I really liked. He just wants to do science, but does so with questionable funding. He’s an ordinary man the world made extraordinary, so I liked how he just really stayed true to himself. It also didn’t hurt that much of the second half, when things really got going and stories finally started converging, was devoted to his story whereas the first half of the book was devoted to Anne.
The Prophet Paradox mixes science, religion, magic, survival, romance, obsession, man hunts, action, adventure, and even some elements of a legal thriller. Ultimately, it felt like a bit too much to me. All of it, fortunately, was tied to religion and the discoveries made by Anne and Max, but there was just so much and so many characters that the story felt burdened and I’m not even sure if all the story lines and character arcs were wrapped up, though it’s completely possible I just missed them.
For me, The Prophet Paradox was about Anne and Max, as Anne was the focus for the first half and Max was given the second half, though both are present throughout the novel. Anne’s story was interesting as she’s suddenly on the run because adding to the Bible is a huge thing and not everyone can handle it, but then it seems to wrap up quickly and she’s left following various other characters for the rest of the book, making her feel like she didn’t actually have a ton of agency. Coupled with how she’s treated by some of the male characters, she made me want to like her, but there was just no real complexity to her, contributing to my intense dislike of how some of the female characters were treated. Max’s story was much more interesting, but even he felt jerked around quite a bit. It was fascinating to see how people were so willing to see him as a prophet, and to know it was all thanks to science and a need to make his discovery known that started it all. I just wish his story had kicked off a little earlier and he and Anne were given a more equal amount of time in both halves. Then there’s a third major character. Adam came off as a complete religious nut who was obsessed with Anne and would do anything to either believe in or take down Max. His craziness was interesting, but I hated how he was always quoting the Bible and the way he thought of Anne.
The fun part of this book, though, was getting to travel the world. From Egypt to India to even the Dominican Republic, this book spanned much of the world. I couldn’t speak to any accuracy, but it was fun to glimpse all these exotic locales. It was even interesting when a group of characters were lost at sea, though I also felt that part took a little too long and only seemed to add more fuel to the belief that Max was, indeed, a prophet. The one thing, though, that bothered me was how the various accents were written in. They were difficult to follow and figure out what the characters were talking about, but they were such key characters talking about such key things that it was impossible to skip over them. Overall, they were just difficult to read and puzzle out, and the authenticity just fell flat for me.
Overall, The Prophet Paradox had some good pieces, but there were a lot of things that just didn’t work for me. There was too much in this book, from things going on to the number of characters. Everything that was thrown into the story just muddled things for me and made me wonder where the focus was. It was interesting to see the impact religion has on people, but, personally, as an atheist, this kind of story playing out in the world would just be eye roll inducing to me, so I definitely don’t think I’m the right audience for this. I also took issue with how some of the female characters were treated, as they tended to feel more objectified than given complexity. But this also felt like an interesting commentary on religion and likely has a lot of good things and food for thought for the right audience.
My rating: 3 cups of tea
Thank you to Danny Tuttle for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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