5 Steps to Design a Fantasy Religion

Religion is extremely important on a personal level to many people, and it affects everyone indirectly if not directly. Conflicts over differing opinions on the essential qualities of deity, creation, and human society as it relates to mystical importance abound in the real world.

Fantasy worlds can be equally convoluted. Even a fantasy world in which everyone is atheist or agnostic is still a world with a designed religion, but it can be elevated to a world with designed intent.

5. Know What Beliefs Real Religions Espouse

People can be led to believe in almost anything (just research QAnon), so it doesn’t really matter how mad you make the premise of your religion. What does matter, however, is how your religion makes adherents feel. How does it encourage your characters to act?

Successful religions have all encourages some form of morality and altruism tied into their beliefs. Do good things for the poor, don’t steal things, and respect your elders are common traits. At its core, a fantasy religion should include elements of good. Why?

Well, I’m glad you asked. See, remember that horrible set of books I read last month? Remember The Tombs of Atuan? In it, the gods only take, harm, and maim, and the king uses the reality of their existence to enhance his power. The gods in Tombs of Atuan don’t do anything good – so what was the use of worshipping them? Solely to prevent evil from happening? That lack of benefit – even lack of a theoretical benefit – to the gods in Tombs of Atuan made the entire religion a bit less believable.

People prefer to believe:

  1. The deity will bring peace and health in return for faith and worship
  2. The deity will support their people group, even at the cost of other people groups
  3. The deity will bring prosperity to the faithful
  4. The deity will enforce a social order, especially one beneficial to the adherents

Read up on how a religion uses these promises in order to attract followers. If you don’t know much about the Abrahamic religions, I encourage boning up on that because of their importance in English language literature. If you’re interested in polytheistic beliefs, study Hinduism, currently the polytheistic religion with the most followers. Strangely enough, I also strongly suggest watching Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath – if nothing else, it shows you how religions can successfully draw people in (though Scientology is a bit crazier than others) by using good acts as a sort of bait.

4. Define Your Society’s and Characters’ Goals

In that last section, we defined what a religion can give an individual. Individuals, though, don’t enforce religious rules and standards: communities do, and communities need reasons to keep the religion going. Society as a whole has goals, just like characters in a book. People often imagine countries as characters, and any group of people can be seen similarly. What does this group want?

Some societies struggle for survival. The Pentateuch (the Torah or first five books of the Old Testament) tell the story of a people fleeing persecution and establishing themselves with the safety God provides. Safety for yourself, even if it means the destruction of others, is a very interesting societal goal. I love that sort of thing because it can be easily twisted to develop a genuinely evil society while still giving the relief of moral goodness. Whether or not God physically did much to help them, the faith at least allowed the Jewish people to band together for their survival.

Remember, society tends to be out for itself. The word “genocide” wasn’t even invented until the 1940’s; even Winston Churchill called the Holocaust a “crime without a name” because nothing had been invented yet. That’s right – people didn’t care about wholesale slaughter of a people group enough to make a word for it until less than 80 years ago. Your society will want to survive and win.

3. Make a Creation Myth

There’s elements to every religion that go beyond creation myths, but almost unilaterally there needs to be a creation story in order for it to work. Part of what has empowered atheism in recent decades is the extremely plausible creation story* that didn’t exist prior to the increased pace of discovery in the Industrial Age. Atheism has always been around, but a “creation myth” was necessary to give it a boost and make it palatable to masses.

The order in which things are created is important in all myths. In Cherokee myths, there is the heavens and there is an expanse of water below. Animals came down from the heavens and dug up the mud from beneath the ocean, then tied the land to the heavens with cords so it wouldn’t sink.

Now, what does that say about the power of animals? How do you think a believer of that story would feel about animals vs. someone who believes animals a passive creation of a human-like god? They’d probably think the animals are much more important!

So what is important in your mythology? Start them early, give them a job, and give them power. Consider when “evil” is created, because that will determine much about the morality of your world.

Your myth can be as crazy as you want.

2. Create a Power Hierarchy

Your religion starts with one prophet, for whatever reason, but then the prophet leaves or dies. What next?

All groups, from companies to unions to religions, must have a hierarchy dedicated to protecting itself. Just like any society, as mentioned in number 4 above, church hierarchy will organize itself to carry out its goals of 1) spread religion and 2) get power for the religion. The Catholic church has a very complex and well-defined heirarchy, and honestly you really can’t get a better example when it comes to religious hierarchy and how it works. They have everything planned out, and it just gets deeper the further you look into it. Though the church hierarchy has done a lot to spread goodness and charity, it has also been used to cover up heinous abuses as well as entrench heinous beliefs. Whether or not the deity of your fantasy religion is good, the believers of the religion are still people, still flawed.

I grew up Baptist, and I didn’t realize there was a church hierarchy beyond just your deacons and a pastor until I got into high school and took history classes. Believe it or not, Baptists have no creed, no real external leadership structure beyond each individual congregation (there are “conventions”, but honestly churches leave those and get kicked out or join all the time, and no one really cares). There’s probably a looser-structured religious group out there, but believe it or not, Baptists have very little structure to their church despite the outsized political power they enjoy.

1. Entrench Your Hierarchy

After you’ve created an organization (or a lack of one, in the case of Baptists and the like), it’s time to look at the part that will really make your religion pop: how does it interact with politics?

There are two main ways you can entrench your hierarchy politically: an outright state with a theocracy (think Iran), or a sort of shadow state that influences government leaders and enforces itself through the power of a deity. A religious hierarchy with sufficient elaboration and order will be able to organize itself effectively and perform both its moral duties and lobby governments of any kind to do its will. Hold souls hostage, get what you want.

If you don’t have a great hierarchy, you’ll probably need to have extremely charismatic individuals that carry a lot of power. As a Baptist, I immediately think Billy Graham. He was crazy influential in politics, and it was probably him who made Baptists so much more powerful. He was able to move masses with a word and cause voting blocs to shift. Following his death, there is no single voice to fill the void, and that is also a risk for a less-organized religion: lack of continuity and lack of singular goal. It’s way harder to entrench loose confederacies for long periods of time.

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Do you include a fantasy religion in your works? I’d love to hear about your deities and myths! Let me know more in the comments!

*These creation stories can be entirely right and still don’t disprove most mythos. However, they can be taken alone, which makes them both interesting and powerful.

Book Review: Tehanu

I’ve hated the entirety of this series so far, but apparently I’m a glutton for punishment (or am stuck due to a sunk cost fallacy).

The Book

Tehanu read 2021

Tehanu
Author: Ursula LeGuin
1990
Amazon Link

Whatever, if you want to see me whine about the earlier books in the series, you can see A Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore here if you want. But you shouldn’t, because literally no one agrees with me that these books aren’t good.

Non-Spoiler Review

Short version: I hated it.

Long version: This book did have the advantage over the others that it wasn’t so plot-ambitious that it glanced over too much information. Zooming in on Goha/Tenar/Arha’s (yes, the one from Tombs of Atuan) feelings was a good way to go. This book didn’t feel as nonsense-mythological or like a story out of the Bible. The narrator focus was also the main character, a change from earlier.

But, like in Tombs of Atuan, nothing that main character did really mattered. The entire book is about how Goha keeps running around trying to not get raped or beaten, trying to keep this 6-year-old child from being raped, beaten, and burned AGAIN, how all of the female characters are raped and beaten for being female, and how male characters like King Arren and Ged/Sparrowhawk are the only ones who effect change.

I was so enraged by the repeated rape threats and constant fear that these characters experienced that I made the mistake of reading the afterword. This thing was considered feminist – how? It’s about ladies being useless and getting raped. There isn’t hope, not really, not when all the problems are solved either by men or non-human women who can turn into dragons. Women who are given the opportunity for different (a.k.a. male) power always turn it down. The characters ask themselves, pretty directly, what women’s power is: the answer is basically “We don’t know, but we assume it’s something.” There’s nothing shown, nothing had, nothing proven that women have other than suffering and death. The only reason I’d call this feminist is it mentions menstruation, which I usually only see in feminist literature.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

1 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Like I said above, the main character never really does anything, but things are done to her. In the very beginning, the wizard Ogion dies, and she’s able to stay in his house because people haven’t quite decided who’s going to inherit it (though Ged is supposedly that person). Goha is considered a good placeholder, even when she takes in a 6 year old that has been beaten, raped, and thrown in a fire. Everyone thinks the child is a monster, and three people (the relatives who originally raped the little girl) constantly chase Goha and want to kill and rape the two to death as punishment. Goha never saves herself, just runs around while men like King Arren save her.

Even Ged, whose magical powers had been taken in The Farthest Shore, was able to fight off the rapists when Goha just locked herself in a closet. Goha did think about how vulnerable Therru was after locking herself in the closet, but luckily Ged was around to stab them with a pitchfork. Justice was only sought because Ged made it happen, because male constructs got things accomplished.

Worst of all: a mage in Re Albi’s castle put Goha under a mind control spell. She ran from Re Albi while the spell was weak, since rapists were coming after her and Therru, but she was lured back. Upon coming back, she became senseless and unable to understand language while the mage tied her up like a dog and kicked her “in the breasts.” It was nonsense suffering.

One could argue that Goha did have an effect by keeping care of Therru. This made Therru like her, or perhaps Goha helped the burned child live long enough to show that she was really a dragon. It was completely, 100% bullshit. I saw it coming from a million miles away, and despite being a dragon, Therru was still mostly helpless throughout the book because she is female.

In the end, Ged is all that really matters as he moves into Ogion’s house.

Next week:

I’m starting a new set of books. You can read my reviews of Tales of Earthsea and The Other Wind on Goodreads, because apparently I can’t put things down once I start them.

Book Review: The Farthest Shore

I should have given up after book two, The Tombs of Atuan, but I must be some sort of masochist to believe in the sunk cost fallacy enough to read book three in this series.

The Book

Earthsea The Farthest Shore read 2021

The Farthest Shore
Author: Ursula LeGuin
1972
Amazon Link

Whatever, if you want to see me whine about the earlier books in the series, you can see A Wizard of Earthsea and Tombs of Atuan here if you want. But you shouldn’t, because literally no one agrees with me that these books aren’t good.

Non-Spoiler Review

It might be because I pushed and suffered through the first two books, but I just can’t come up with an excuse for this one.

The narrator, Arren, was never actually the main character. Arren was briefly described as the son of the king, and he was constantly told he was important, but I never figured out why he was important. This book was like reading The Great Gatsby in terms of how the narrator differs from the main character, except it feels like there’s no reason to do so. Arren wasn’t built up hardly at all, and Ged had not changed from the end of A Wizard of Earthsea. You didn’t watch a fall or even a massive character change in either of these people. It wasn’t a good Bildungsroman, nor was it a good epic destiny story. There was allegory (not telling about it because spoilers), but even then it fell flat for me.

Like in the two previous books, Ged/Sparrowhawk is so overpowered that I never feared for anything. There was no tension whatsoever for me. I never cared.

1/5 Discoball Snowcones

1 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The plot was the same useless plot as the first book where they had to travel all over the world to meet some dark force, learn its name, and tell it its name so as to defeat it.

The only real difference between this book and the first one is that there’s a clear Christ-figure allegory in Ged. Like I mentioned above, I do think I figured out the allegory in this story and why LeGuin chose any of the plot elements she does. In The Farthest Shore, Ged pretty much dies, comes back, has Arren pretty much tell about their successes, then flies off on a dragon (symbol of ascension, I’d say). It also makes sense, because in A Wizard, Ged “suffers death” in the form of splitting his soul in two, then in Tombs of Atuan “was buried” because it literally took place in a tomb, then in The Farthest Shore “rose again on the third day in accordance with scripture.” The dragon, as well, was there at something called the making, so I assume this nigh god-like creature may have been a symbol of a flaming chariot or something like that. I also am not convinced this was planned in A Wizard of Earthsea, because that allegorical link feels weak sauce.

Ged’s supposed to be this all-knowing, super-wise wizard brosef, but he feels insufferable to me. I can’t stand his whining about how magic upsets the balance of things, about how wizards should do things by hand anyway, and then endangers children in order to defeat immortal wizards.

I didn’t read the afterword. I’m now of the opinion that authors should never try to explain things, because these afterwords just kind of piss me off.

Next week:

It doesn’t matter anymore. Why am I doing this to myself.

Book Review: Tombs of Atuan

Honestly, I’m not really sure why I can’t let go of the sunk cost of buying these books. I wasn’t a fan of the first entry in the series, and I find it rare that series improve after that. However, I’m hopeful that this one won’t be as mythological in feel and might show more than tell.

The Book

Tombs of Atuan 2021 read

Tombs of Atuan
Author: Ursula LeGuin
1972
Amazon Link

The first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, wasn’t my jam. I don’t know what to say here because I explained it all in the intro.

Non-Spoiler Review

I found this entry to the Earthsea series a lot better than the previous one. Rather than telling a lot of little tales building up to a single, momentous occasion, LeGuin tells a more compelling story about a single person’s experiences. The character of Ahara is much fuller than that of Ged, the dialogue is better, and there’s much more of a developed feel as to how the book works. The beginning of the book was pretty good, building up the Tombs of Atuan and how the evil, Nameless Ones demanded a nameless priestess.

The back end, however?

No. Straight up no.

*Minor spoilers?* When the main character ceases to be the motivating presence behind the plot, and when she becomes pretty much useless, the story fell apart for me. LeGuin spent so much time creating a wonderful story with tension and depth, but then it completely fell apart at about halfway through. The ending for the main character didn’t feel terrible, but it’s neither happy nor is it fulfilling. The deaths that occurred felt useless and bland, especially as they all happened off screen.

Though I liked it better than the first in the series, it was only by the smallest margin.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

2 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

I hinted above that the back end was awful, and it was.

Ged, the hero from the first book, showed up about halfway through this book and stole the show.

Not only is he still the overpowered Mary Sue from the last book, he’s supposed to be basically infinitely wise and trustworthy. Ahara learns her name from him, and I found that disgusting – the whole premise was that the Nameless Ones had eaten her name, and by allowing her to have one that Ged just pops up with, her power is stolen. Ever after Ged tells her her name, Tenar, Ahara is pretty much useless. Even when she helps Ged out of the tombs where he is trapped, she cries and becomes a lump except when he tells her what to do. He fends off the gods that Ahara had worshipped and served her whole life.

So they escape, but Ahara is useless because she only knows the tombs. Ged figures out that Ahara has a great treasure sought by the whole world to bring peace, and he pretty much forces her to go to an island and present it to their king.

THEN HE ABANDONS HER even though she begs him to teach her sorcery. What he doesn’t tell her, and what is established in the first book, is that women are worthless so he can’t teach her sorcery. Ged just destroyed what had been a compelling story by coming in and “solving” the problems in the worst possible way.

Also, don’t read LeGuin’s explanations or afterword. Just don’t.

Next week:

I judge The Farthest Shore, or Book 3 of the Earthsea Cycle. Why the heck did I obligate myself for this torture? I pray the next one’s better.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

Years ago, I had some friends who said many of the ideas in Harry Potter could be found in the much older Earthsea Cycle books by Ursula LeGuin. Though I can’t find the purchase I made back then, rest assured that buying all 6 at the time cost something like 1.5x the first book, A Wizard of Earthsea. 

And I never read any of those sequels.

Since I have a hard time not reading things I buy, I decided to re-read A Wizard of Earthsea so I could continue the series without being lost.

The Book

A Wizard of Earthsea, 2021 read

A Wizard of Earthsea
Author: Toni Morrison
1968
Amazon Link

I’ll go ahead and be honest that when I read this book the first time, I wasn’t a fan. Not in the least. There was a reason I didn’t read the other books in the series despite them being short. I’m here now to see if that original feeling holds up.

Non-Spoiler Review

Compared to my first read-through a couple years ago, I’d say this book wasn’t as bad as I’d originally thought it. It’s still filled with telling rather than showing, and I just don’t like LeGuin’s style in this book. It feels like classic YA, something written between a fairy tale and an adult fiction. Because of this “telling” problem, the book contains a lot of completely disconnected explanations of the different islands on Earthsea. It was enough that I have completely forgotten them and would need them re-explained in the next book.

The dialogue was terrible, though I think it achieved its goal of feeling mythical or biblical. However, if I want to read something as boring as The Bible, I’m probably going to want to read The Bible since it is way more impactful on life, culture, politics, and (for me and a group of other people) salvation.

Ultimately, A Wizard of Earthsea is a Bildungsroman about a main character I don’t like. He’s truly a Mary Sue type character, one with powers far beyond those of any other character or creature in the book. (Other clear Mary Sues in a popular book include Paul from Dune, Ender from Ender’s Game, and General Jedao from Machineries of Empire.) I’ve never been a fan of Mary Sue characters, and this part of Wizard kept me from becoming invested.

The other characters were bland, and the female characters so sterotypically vapid that I didn’t even want to think about them.

The only redeeming qualities of this book, in my humble opinion, are the influences on fantasy and YA as arts. I can see its obvious importance in the formation of books like Harry Potter, and I can see how it connects from the seminal Lord of the Rings series (which I also need to re-read).

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

2 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

The plot of the book wasn’t terribly focused. The big enemy was a shadow that Ged/Sparrowhawk created in an attempt to summon a spirit from the dead. In order to defeat the spirit, he must find its name.

One of the things I remember from my first read is the name is freaking easy to guess. Since the shadow chases him forever before he turns around to chase it, and because it looks just like him, it should be well-known that the shadow’s name is Ged. The endless traveling around these islands and having conversations with the locals felt so pointless when the end result was obvious.

I don’t really want to read the sequels, but stupid me, I’m going to keep on with it because I spent money, dammit.

Next week:

All right, I’m going to keep on with The Tombs of Atuan. Blegh.

Reading List – August 2021

You know what people mistakenly believe in their heads? The sunk cost fallacy.

And here I am, giving in to it. Once upon a time, way back in 2016, I had some friends suggest A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in Ursula LeGuin’s highly influential YA fantasy series. I saw on Amazon that you could get all six of the Earthsea Cycle books for the price of like 2.5 books or something like that, and I was like, “Well, if my friends suggested it, that probably means they’re worthwhile. I might as well take this deal!”

And so I read A Wizard of Earthsea.

And I hated it.

And I talked to my friends, who said “Oh, yeah, it’s not that we liked it – it was just highly influential, so you should read it to understand the state of fantasy.” And yes, it was influential. And yes, its main character was brown, which was almost unheard of in English literature at that time period.

I died a little, but I put the books away… until now, because I spent money on this! AND I WILL NOT OWN UNREAD BOOKS!

Ursula LeGuin’s The Earthsea Cycle

LeGuin originally wrote A Wizard of Earthsea in 1968. Given the time period, you already know it’s going to be a little screwed up, but I’m pretty good at forgiving people who write within their own historical time frames. I’m also really hoping that I’ll be more interested in them now, and that they’ll not seem so unreadable.

Also, I’m only presenting four of these books – A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu here on the blog. Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind will only be available on my Goodreads page.

See my old reviews here

Book Review: Liars and Thieves

I have reviewed three D. Wallace Peach books in the past (See reviews for The Melding of Aeris, Soul Swallowers, and Legacy of Souls). She’s written reliably good works, and I am excited to start a new series.

The Book

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Liars and Theives
Author: D. Wallace Peach
2020
Amazon Link

I was interested in this book because one of the main characters is a goblin. That’s not an ordinary trope or common thing, and unusual characters or ideas always attract me. A bit about the blurb: it seems like the book will mostly be about the Lord of Chaos, but at least this installation in the Unraveling the Veil series is about three mortals and not so much of the Lord of Chaos.

Non-Spoiler Review

Liars and Thieves was, as a whole, an enjoyable book. The world was complex and entertained a full suite of political situations, alliances, and treaties. The three major races – elves, goblins, and changelings – all work around a treaty that keeps them at peace… for the moment. Each race had political jurisdiction in a different environment, as well; it’s so often you get fantasy or sci-fi worlds that are homogenous and either feel like “everything is England” or “everything is Norway” or “everything is the Sahara”. The wide variety of weather, climate, and vegetation added a richness to the setting.

The inciting incidence – a mine collapses, and everyone inside mysteriously disappears – causes the elves to suspect the goblins of foul play. Similar events over large portions of the world shared by these races occur, and racist opinions on the cause abound. The palpable tension over something to which blame couldn’t easily be attributed was great. The political fragility of the whole situation made me feel like it was a 3-way Cold War, rife with spies, weapons of mass destruction, and utter terror of the populace.

Out of the three main characters – Alue the elf, Talin the changeling, and Naj the goblin (well, half-goblin half-elf, but it seems there’s some one drop rules in this world regarding goblins) – Talin was my favorite. Then again, I’m a big fan of people hiding secrets about their true identities. I loved Talin’s parts as a spy, and I liked his shifting loyalties and thoughts. Naj reminded me a lot of Spock from Star Trek. The goblins were overwhelmingly logic-oriented, and Naj as a half-goblin had to struggle with greater emotional imbalance.

(Spoiler for like the first 3 chapters or something coming up). Alue? I liked her less than the other two. She is an officer in the elfin army and was initially sent to look over and protect a mining operation near the borderlands. After the mysterious earthquake, she decides to blame Naj and chase him. As soon as I read about this decision, I thought, “That’s dumb. She should have sent someone else.” And, sure enough, it was a dumb move. Foreseeing that made me feel smart, but Alue continues making poor decisions, which led me to wonder why she was in the army at all. She often relies on others to rescue her and fails to move forward. While I’m interested in her relationships with Naj and Talin, I wasn’t really able to get into Alue for her own sake.

Lastly, the book did feel like an intro to the rest of the books. There were solutions to the main problem of distrust between the main characters and how to bind them together, but it seemed the main point of the book was to get the three together and introduce the main problem of the series. As such, it didn’t have as powerful plots as Soul Swallowers or The Melding of Aeris, also by Peach. I still think it was fantastic, especially for an indie book, but so far I like the other two better.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

This book is still very new, so I’m not going to spoil much. However, I will spoil just a bit concerning what I want to keep an eye out in the coming book and why:

Talin was sent as a changeling spy in the elfin empire. He latched onto Alue because of her family, political, and military connections. Disguising himself as a weasel familiar, he lived closely with her and was very involved in her life. Then, once he must reveal his identity, their relationship must change immediately. She knows he’s humanoid, but he’s seen her naked etc. while pretending to be an animal. She’s got a steady relationship, and Talin is still smitten with his queen. I kind of want to know where that is all going!

Next week:

Last year I read Peter Martuneac’s Her Name was Abby. This time I’m actually reading the first book in the series, His Name Was Zach. Let’s see if I like it as much!

Reading List – July 2021

It’s the summer indie book month, and boy do we have some hot reads this July! You’ll want to stick around for these.

1NG4 – Berthold Gambrel

I recently met Berthold Gambrel through his website, and I then also followed his twitter. Peter Martenuac (of His Name Was Zach fame) retweeted that 1NG4 was on a free weekend, so I had to check it out!

Not only that, this is a pretty short book. That’s why, on THIS WEDNESDAY, I’m going to be posting one more review than usual on my blog!

Amazon Link

Liars and Thieves – Diane Wallace Peach

I have reviewed three D. Wallace Peach books in the past (See reviews for The Melding of Aeris, Soul Swallowers, and Legacy of Souls). Peach is a reliably good author, and I’m excited to see what this new series entails. One of Peach’s sneak previews that she posted on her blog indicated that at least one of the main characters was going to be a goblin, and any sort of non-human character excites me. I don’t believe I’ve read anything published with a goblin main character, so it’s time to see how Peach pulls that off!

Amazon Link

His Name Was Zach – Peter Martuneac

Last year, Peter Martuneac submitted his book Her Name Was Abby through my review request form. Though it was the second book in the series (Zach, here, was the first), I was blown away. I assume Martuneac experienced some artist growth between the two books, but I was very into Abby and looked forward to reading this installation. The third book is out, too, so I have to catch up!

Amazon Link

We All Die In the End – Elizabeth Merry

Elizabeth Merry and I follow each others’ blogs, and I know she’s got great style. Her characters are vivid, and her prose beautiful. This collection of shorts (“scenes”) look to be connected by setting, and I think the book as a whole may benefit from this connection. Definitely looking forward to what each tale may hold for me.

Amazon Link

More Reviews

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here

Book Review: A Choice for Essence

Once upon a time, I made the (potentially) dangerous decision of saying on Twitter that I had money to burn on a couple indie books and that I wanted to read something new. This is one of the books that came of that adventure.

The Book

A Choice for Essence reading 2020A Choice for Essence
Author: Katelyn Uhrich
2019
Amazon Link

When I read From Ashes to Magic, there was a story by Nita Pan from the perspective of two gods. When I read the description of A Choice for Essence, it was reminiscent because the main character was a god(ling) who puts everything at risk for the “spirits” (which I didn’t know what that meant at the time). I realized this was YA, but I have been pleasantly surprised by YA before and am willing to try it out now.

Non-Spoiler Review

I’m not usually a fan of YA, so I really do believe a younger audience or people who enjoy YA would dig this book more than me. As it is, though, A Choice for Essence was enjoyable. The story did constantly build on itself, the characters were clear, and the writing was well-done.

The main character, Essence, goes through a bildungsroman type story wherein she matures by learning about her environment more so than by developing internal strength. I thought this unique, as most YA stories rely on the main character to change their minds in order to complete a quest. But Essence’s ideas of right and wrong, her goals, and her love doesn’t change. It’s really cool to watch.

The thing that kept me going for more was the idea of generational gods. Essence’s parents were fire and life, and her powers were a combination of both. Pirro (another character) was the son of Love and War (how cool is that!?). I’ve never seen something quite like this before, and I enjoyed how Uhrich split and recombined the gods’ powers.

For personal reasons, the ending wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I do commend Uhrich for making a first book in a series with an enclosed storyline. However, there was a very nice teaser at the very end hinting at what could come next – and I’m sure it truly is in the pipeline.

Some of the pacing felt a bit off, especially the amount of time that passed during timeskips. At one point, 99 years pass by but Essence is the same person, with the same maturity, following that skip as she was before. The skip felt way, way too long given the character change and the change of motivations of other characters. Other time skips didn’t quite feel right, either. The ages of the godlings in comparison to the spirits made love trysts a little weird to me, too. Didn’t stop the Greeks though, did it? 😉

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

4 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

This book is pretty new, so my spoilers are going to be pretty short. However, the very, very end was probably the main reason I gave it 4 discoball snowcones rather than 5. I’ll dance around it the best I can, but the following may ruin the book if you’re ok at guessing plots.

Something I find interesting in stories is what I call the “Pinocchio Effect”. If a character is non-human but interacts with humans, they often end up wanting to be human or desiring to be something other than themselves. Essence, born a god, ends up wanting to become human by the end of the book. This denial of her nature felt so strange to me, since she very much loved being able to transform or use her fire powers.

Next week:

Sit back and relax while you wait for my review of Ritu Bhatal’s Marriage Unarranged!

Reading List – April 2021

We’re on to 2021’s second indie book month – and it’s going to be exciting as we delve through some books with female leads!

What to do with Baby Ashes – Marnie Heenan

I’ve followed Heenan online for quite a while. She used to be active in the WordPress scene, but now I keep up with her on Twitter and gaze every so often at her website. You all know I’m not a mom and don’t plan to be, but I’ve kept up with Heenan enough to know that she’s really, really good at poetry, and this book is her first chapbook. I think my heart’s ready to get ripped out. Stick around for the emotion bath.

Amazon Link

A Choice for Essence – Katelyn Uhrich

This summer, I read an anthology called From Ashes to Magic, and that contained one poem about the gods Life and Death that just blew me away. I chose to read Essence because it is told from the perspective of gods reminiscent of those in Greek myth, and I thought it could be as beautiful or interesting as the short I’d read this summer. However, I did note that it’s YA, so I’m not sure how that’s going to play out for me (just ok with YA).

Amazon Link

Marriage Unarranged – Ritu Bhatal

Marriage Unarranged read 2021

Everyone loves Bhatal online. It’s honestly hard to find a sweeter person. And, what’s more, I completely decided to buy this book when she self-described it as “Chickpea Lit”. How cute is that? I’m a sucker for puns, and I’m always looking for books about non-English, non-American cultural norms, and this book seems to be it. What’s more, I trust Bhatal’s experience, interpretation, and craft enough that I’m sure it’ll fulfill my international needs.

Amazon Link

More Reviews

Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!

See my old reviews here