This is How You Lose the Time War is not really about a time war. There is a time war contained in it, and if I’m being generous, I can say that there is a plot that involves time travel and a war, but this book is not about a time war. It’s unapologetically a romance told in letters between two women who start out as strangers and then almost immediately become pen-pal lovers in what was to me an unbelievably short correspondence period (I hesitate to use the phrase “period of time” given the context).
It’s incredible how much M.L. Wang manages to fit into The Sword of Kaigen. It’s a book of contrast and conflict: Two protagonists in a coming-of-age story, Misaki the mother, and Mamoru the son. Misaki’s own life is of contrasts; she received a modern, foreign education and then returned to a remote, traditional life. She and her husband do not have the harmony or communication in their marriage that she desires; he wants to ensure that they never fight, so he leaves her alone. The novel starts with a new boy coming to Mamoru’s school from the city, and again his modern experiences conflict with the mountain village’s traditional culture. And the central plot revolves around conflict, as Ranganese invaders are coming to the Kusanagi Peninsula, and the jijakalu are all that stand in their way.
My first reaction to The House in the Cerulean Sea was that it was an overly-sweet story that was objectively pretty good but just not for me. I would have rated it 4/5 or so with a personal enjoyment of maybe 2/5. But then I read this review on Goodreads about how according to the author it’s directly inspired by Canada’s Sixties Scoop, and both my overall and personal ratings changed to 1/5, in agreement with that rating.
In an alternate-history Rome, where the Senate took control away from the Emperor hundreds of years ago and started a new tradition of deciding the empire’s ruler, Caius Serica finds out that his entire life has been a setup both to judge and to prepare him for the Trials to become today’s new Emperor. He’s whisked away to a secret mountain location by Marcus, his advocate, where he will compete against thirty other candidates to vie for the position. While there, he forges alliances, makes enemies, and has to confront not only his opponents but also himself - does he even want this?
The Poppy War trilogy will always have a special place in my heart because it’s the trilogy that got me back into reading fantasy. Someone copied an entire page or two from the first novel into a thread of the worst opening lines in fantasy and I suddenly wanted to read more, and four days later I’d finished the trilogy.