ARC Review: Velvet was the Night

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s books have been a bit hit and miss for me in the past but I can safely say that this one was totally awesome. I’ve never read a noir before so I was going in cold, but found the story so gripping! It’s set in 1970s Mexico, naturally a period of history I know nothing about (like most periods of history to be honest), so I learned a lot. Loved the blunt writing style, loved the characters and loved the mystery.

Star rating: 5 stars

Velvet was the Night follows two characters who appear to be a little bit lost in life. Elvis is a goon in a squad called the Hawks. He’s not really happy being a criminal – he hates violence and loves music, but there doesn’t seem to be another place for him in the world. Maite is a legal secretary who lives for romance comics. She lives alone, feels plain and uninteresting and is constantly reminded that she is 30 and unmarried. But her somewhat uneventful life takes a turn for the chaotic when she agrees to feed her neighbour Leonora’s cat. When Leonora disappears, Maite and Elvis’ stories become intertwined as they both look for the lost art student.

So, let’s start with Maite’s character. I LOVED her a lot. She’s a seemingly average person working at a job she doesn’t really like, with dreams of breaking the monotony that she never has the energy to achieve. When Leonora disappears, Maite doesn’t really have to get herself involved but ends up drawn into this world of goons, government agencies and Russian spies, filled with danger and suspense. For someone introverted and quiet, she handles it all surprisingly well, and I view her as a character with quiet steel in her. I also found myself relating to Elvis, doing this job that doesn’t fit him because he lacks choices. Both characters are romantic and have a soft-spot for music, which draws Elvis to Maite even before she knows who he is. I found having these two perspectives so interesting – the characters felt very real to me which is no mean feat in a 300 page novel with as much plot as this one has.

OK, so not going to lie, the big mystery is set around these photos that Leonora supposedly has, and I did guess what it was about. But this didn’t take away my enjoyment from the story, there were plenty of other strange twists to keep me intrigued. There is a whole cast of side characters and it is difficult to work out who Maite can trust. I was shocked on reading some of the history after I finished the book – some of the conspiracy style events actually happened. Such a dark period of time for Mexico.

Overall, this was a thrilling read where relatable characters are thrown into extraordinary circumstances. I loved the blunt writing style, the pace, the tension – all of it was excellently crafted. Never expected I’d like a book about spies and goons but here we are. Silvia does such a great job with the imagery of the whole thing, I think it would make for such an exciting TV show.

ARC Review: The Burning God

Consider me destroyed. R.F. Kuang has done it again. The Burning God is the final instalment in The Poppy War Trilogy, a series richly inspired by modern Chinese history – a subject which I wasn’t really familiar with before reading this series. The trilogy centres on Fang Runin, known throughout the books as Rin. The series takes her from adopted girl mistreated by her family, to student at the prestigious Sinegard Military Academy, to soldier, to shaman, to all-powerful General.

Star rating: 5 stars (all of the stars, this is a new favourite for me)

Publication date: 17th November 2020

The Burning God begins with Rin returning south to Rooster Province. In book one she saved her nation from foreign invaders, in book two she battled Empress Su Daji, Trifecta survivor and known as the Vipress. She is betrayed by her allies in the Dragon Province, which sends her home to Tikany, the small village where her story began.

This is a stunning finale with vivid military descriptions mixed with a fantasy world that is only expanded upon. Rin is faced with the challenge of her school nemesis – turned ally – turned betrayer Nezha, who has allied with a foreign colonising nation, Hesperia. Hesperia wishes to eliminate shamanism as it goes against all of their religious beliefs, but Rin knows her Gods are real and she is not afraid to prove it.

Amongst the detail and gripping plot lies a cast of characters with so much depth it’s astonishing. This is not a book of good versus evil – every character has multiple sides to them which only facilitates the twists in the plot. Rin is as ambitious and angry as usual, but really grows into her new power (not always in the best way). Kitay, now bound to her, balances her out, and becomes an even better strategist. Nezha, having been forced by Rin to acknowledge his shamanism, is now an even greater threat than ever before. Venka is as mysterious as always, and I couldn’t help but like her.

This book really explores what war can do to a country and its people, whether it is civil or through invasion. The ending made me cry, but the story definitely has a small number of humorous moments along the way. I cared so much for Rin, despite her flaws and horrific decisions. Even though it was always clear that she would not have a happy ending, I still hoped otherwise.

Thank you, R.F. Kuang for a better ending to this trilogy than I could have hoped for. Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins UK for the eARC, it made my week.

My friend Linaria from North America also wrote an awesome review – you should check it out in Linaria’s Library