Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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Princess Mara is the third daughter of the king of a small realm caught in between two larger kingdoms. She is sent to a convent, mostly to be out of the way, but when her sister is married off to an evil prince, she gathers a band of misfits around her to free her sister from a dangerous marriage.

Listened to the audiobook with Amara Jasper. I think she does a really good job.

I haven’t read all Hugo award winners, and I know the Hugo is no guarantee for a book I’ll like. I would often prefer one of the other nominees over the eventual winner. But of the ones I did read, it feels like I’d have to go back to Larry Niven’s Ringworld in 1971 to get to a winner that surprised me this much. Not just because there are better books on the shortlist, but mostly because I just don’t get the appeal.

If I’d be a braver man, I might argue that Nettle & Bone feels like poor Naomi Novik-clone without any of the feeling, but I’m afraid I’ll offend someone who actually likes this book.

Yes, Nettle & Bone has some of the ‘in a kingdom far away there lived a princess’-fairy-tale-esque energy, but I keep feeling like if that is what you are looking for, you should go read Spinning Silver or Uprooted (wait, we haven’t reviewed that?) instead.

Yes, Nettle & Bone has some of that low-conflict cosy fantasy energy, but if that is what you are looking for, I would emphatically recommend the also-nominated-for-the-same-Hugo Legends & Lattes over Nettle & Bone (and if you don’t mind sci-fi, Floating Hotel or even The Long Way Round to a Small Angry Planet does it a lot better).

So what is the problem?

Nettle & Bone has a main character that is potentially interesting, a third daughter of the king of a small kingdom caught between two larger empires, who is sent to a convent, both for safe keeping and to make sure she doesn’t play a role in politics. That seems like a pretty good premise, but unfortunately, the main character never realises that potential. She is kind of mellow. Her main trait appears to be perseverance (I think?), but that just doesn’t play a role in the story (which is also because… well, there is never a challenge).

There is a cast of quirky side characters that are occasionally cute or funny. But they seem just a little too quirky. They’re often in the the eyeroll territory, occasionally bordering on cringey. It doesn’t help that there is a complete absence of conflict in this book. It’s not that I don’t buy their relationships, but the relationships are just immediately cosy. This also means that there is very little development, either of characters or of relationships. The result is a lot of bloodless, frictionless ‘and then this happened and then this happened’-style storytelling.

This seemingly forced simplicity also results in an almost compulsive absence of worldbuilding. That’s maybe a rough bit of criticism, and I get it probably says more about my expectations and tastes than it does about Nettle & Bone. But combined with the underdeveloped main character and the cute-but-flat side characters, the lack of worldbuilding meant that I felt Nettle & Bone was just a bit boring.

Aggressively inoffensive, Nettle & Bone just never managed to excite me. Everything in this book is simple and mellow. There are occasionally good scenes, but overall, I’d much rather read something with actual tension.

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