A- #AudioBookReview: The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

A- #AudioBookReview: The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee MohamedThe Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed
Narrator: Eva Tavares
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction
Pages: 158
Length: 4 hours and 49 minutes
Published by ECW Press on September 28, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

In post-climate disaster Alberta, a woman infected with a mysterious parasite must choose whether to pursue a rare opportunity far from home or stay and help rebuild her community.
The world is nothing like it once was: climate disasters have wracked the continent, causing food shortages, ending industry, and leaving little behind. Then came Cad, mysterious mind-altering fungi that invade the bodies of the now scattered citizenry. Reid, a young woman who carries this parasite, has been given a chance to get away - to move to one of the last remnants of pre-disaster society - but she can't bring herself to abandon her mother and the community that relies on her.
When she's offered a coveted place on a dangerous and profitable mission, she jumps at the opportunity to set her family up for life, but how can Reid ask people to put their trust in her when she can't even trust her own mind?

My Review:

There’s a deep, dark chasm between “the end of the world as they know it” and “the end of the world”. It’s a badly carved gorge where the steps going down are slippery, steep and riddled with stretches that have been completely washed out and strewn with sharp rocks and trail-obstructing boulders. The steps going up the other side are much too far away to see – and might not even exist at all.

In movies – one of the many, many things from the “Before Times” that no longer exist in Reid’s broken world – and books – of which there are some but not nearly enough – the end of the world is a catastrophic EVENT, a thing that happens or more likely that the brave heroes of the fictional narrative manage to stave off by luck, by ingenuity, by miracle, or all of the above.

But that’s not what happened in the world that Reid lives in. There was no singular event, no one, overwhelming catastrophe, no nuclear or meteor strike. Just a long, slow slide down the side of that chasm, as birth rates fell and climate change got more extreme and power sources dried up or died out or became too remote to access as the world fell back into its constituent parts.

Reid lives in a world of scarcity, in a ‘city’ that barely hangs on from year to year and from disaster to disaster, as a parasitic ‘disease’ ravages her body and her mind and increases its hold on the dwindling population year by year.

But there’s a light at the end of Reid’s dark tunnel – a light that’s just for her. A few places, former enclaves of the rich from back in the day when money still mattered – closed the gates of their domes, their pockets of science and tech and ‘civilization’ from the ‘Before Times” and kept the barbarians and the diseases and the wildlife OUT of their pristine sanctuaries.

One of those enclaves is Howse University. Every year, Howse sends out invitations to a privileged few graduating students in the remote cities to come to Howse and enter the next class. To enter a world where electricity still functions, where books are still printed and not merely preserved, where science still happens and knowledge is passed from teacher to students in the lap of safe, well-fed, climate controlled luxury.

A place where Reid might be able to find a cure for the disease that is taking over both her mother’s body and mind – and her own.

All Reid has to do is reach the assigned meeting place in the limited time available. All she has to do is get her mother to forgive her for leaving, for possibly turning her back on everything and everyone Reid has known and loved, on the people and the place and the community that has sheltered her for her entire life.

Traveling all alone through an unknown wilderness is going to be much, much easier than getting her mother – and the parasite that lives within her – to accept that their daughter is leaving them behind.

Escape Rating A-: I picked up this book because I read the sequel to this, We Speak Through the Mountain first and it felt like half a story. A very good half, but still a half and reading the second half without the first I felt like I was missing something. Which, as it turned out, I was. Not enough to prevent me from liking the other book, but enough to keep me from getting as invested in Reid’s journey as I did this time around – although I do feel that investment in the second book now in retrospect.

In other words, don’t do what I did. If the premise of this book or We Speak Through the Mountain speaks to you, read The Annual Migration of Clouds first. They’re both novellas, so even together they are not a big read, but they are a deep one, and deeper when read together in the proper order.

I listened to most of this book, but had to finish in the ebook because as the story got closer and closer to its ending I felt compelled to discover how Reid managed to get to where we first met her in We Speak Through the Mountain – particular the disaster that her brain kept shying away from during that story.

However, the narrator for The Annual Migration of Clouds was excellent and did a terrific job of portraying Reid’s oh-so-real combination of angst and anger as she works her way through her present situation, the history she’s forced to inherit, the unfairness of the world to which she was born, her love for her mother and her community and her NEED to discover as much as she can of what’s been denied her. Even as her internal voice rants and rails at the parasite that influences her thoughts and controls her behavior to a degree that she only becomes conscious of when she fights it. Because it punishes her when she does.

The Annual Migration of Clouds is a coming-of-age story AND it’s a story about the survivors of the end of the world, making their way down that slippery slope of retreating technology and regressive knowledge, just trying to get through another day and another year in the hopes that someday it will all be better for someone – even though they all know that better day will not come for them.

If this part of the story, this description and setup of a world in decline in a way that is in no way the fault of anyone or anything mired in it grabs your imagination, if the way that Reid’s community has managed to survive, along with the many ways in which they demonstrate, as best they can, that survival is insufficient, reads as fascinating and entirely too plausible – as it did to this reader – there are other stories that take this same concept and follow it in different directions – or are nearer to or farther down the road from that initial slide – such as Lark Ascending by Silas House, The Starless Crown by James Rollins, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel may also appeal – and vice versa as well.

Reid’s experiences at Howse University, as related in We Speak Through the Mountain, ask a different set of questions, questions about what the haves owe to the have nots, and what happens when an outsider, repeatedly and often, challenges the smug elitism of their safe, secure, patronizing privilege. Now that I know how Reid came to those experiences, I may go back and experience them again for myself to see how much that story has changed now that I have more of this one.

#BookReview: The Butcher of the Forest by Premee Mohamed

#BookReview: The Butcher of the Forest by Premee MohamedThe Butcher of the Forest by Premee Mohamed
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, fantasy, horror
Pages: 160
Published by Tordotcom on February 27, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books

A world-weary woman races against the clock to rescue the children of a wrathful tyrant from a dangerous, otherworldly forest.
At the northern edge of a land ruled by a monstrous, foreign tyrant lies the wild forest known as the Elmever. The villagers know better than to let their children go near—once someone goes in, they never come back out.
No one knows the strange and terrifying traps of the Elmever better than Veris Thorn, the only person to ever rescue a child from the forest many years ago. When the Tyrant’s two young children go missing, Veris is commanded to enter the forest once more and bring them home safe. If Veris fails, the Tyrant will kill her; if she remains in the forest for longer than a day, she will be trapped forevermore.
So Veris will travel deep into the Elmever to face traps, riddles, and monsters at the behest of another monster. One misstep will cost everything.

My Review:

There’s no actual butcher in this forest, but it doesn’t need one. The forest is enough of a butcher all on its own. And the thing it’s already butchered, more than anything or anyone else, is Veris Thorn’s heart.

But that’s not where we start this story. We start the story in a place that seems all too typical of epic fantasy of the myth telling and retelling school. Because there’s a forest surrounding Veris’ village. A forest that none of the locals ever enter, day or night, because people who go into the forest do not come out again. Ever.

Except for Veris. Once upon a time, she went in after a child. And brought both herself and the child out again. Not safely, not easily, and ultimately not anything remotely like a happy ending. But still, once upon that time, Veris went in and came back out again.

The Tyrant who seems to have swallowed so much of Veris’ world, has Veris’ dragged out of her bed at dawn and brought before him still in her nightclothes. She doesn’t know why, she doesn’t know what she could have possibly done. All she knows is that she has no choice.

Because the Tyrant will kill her remaining family and burn the village they live in to the ground if she does not obey whatever he will demand of her. It’s who he is, it’s what he does, and it’s how he’s conquered the world.

But the Tyrant is also a father. A father whose children have gone missing into that terrible forest, because they are just at that age when children think they are more grownup than they are and want adventures more than they want to obey. Even to obey a terrifying Tyrant like their father.

It’s up to Veris, a middle-aged woman with one singular experience of surviving the forest, a few tools and bits of old and cobbled-together legends, and a desperate desire to save her family and her village from being burnt to a crisp to enter the forest one more time. And to come back out again with two children, safe and sound. Before a nightfall that she won’t even be able to see from inside the dense woods.

It’s an impossible quest, but it’s the only hope she has for her people. But to the Forest she’s the one that got away – and it will only let her back in this time so it can keep her – or something else she holds dear.

Escape Rating B: At first, the forest sounded a LOT like the forests in Middle Earth where some of the trees’ hearts have turned dark. The way that Veris describes the forest near her village is very like Merry’s descriptions of The Old Forest around the Shire.

So I was prepared for that kind of quest – which wasn’t at all what I got. Which is generally a good thing.

I was also confused because there is no ‘Butcher’ IN the forest, and it’s dubious whether any of the characters, at least so far, are the ‘Butcher’ OF the forest. Not that the Tyrant doesn’t butcher everything in his rapacious path, and won’t make an attempt at butchering the entire forest if it doesn’t give him back his children. Or at least his heir.

After all, situations like this one are just what the ‘spare’ is born for.

But the story isn’t quite any of the things I was expecting. In spite of – or perhaps because of the Tyrant’s oppression at the beginning and it’s promise overshadowing the whole journey every time Veris stumbles.

As much as all the admonitions about not eating or drinking in the Forest and not bargaining with the fey creatures who dwell there, this story is about a journey and not a destination. It’s a journey into, not the dark heart of the forest or even the dark heart of the Tyrant although both certainly exist. It’s about Veris’ journey to her own dark heart, with the two children as both goad and conscience, reminding her of her own deepest losses while forcing her to recognize that they are not responsible for the sins of their own father against hers, and are much too young to have yet committed sins of their own.

A lesson that is every bit as hard for Veris to bear as all the other lessons that the Forest intends to teach her – whether she wants to learn those lessons or not.

What kept niggling at me through my read of The Butcher of the Forest was that it reminded me, strongly and often, of something else that was not Middle Earth. And that, as it turns out, is the Sooz duology in Peter S. Beagle’s The Way Home, set in the world of The Last Unicorn.

But Veris is not Sooz. Veris is Molly Grue in the first book in Sooz’ story. Molly Grue is the mentor character who rescues Sooz on Sooz’ first quest and trains her to take her second quest alone. A quest very much like the one that young Eleanor is barely on the threshold of when The Butcher of the Forest shudders to a heartbreaking halt.

Because once upon a time, the Forest kept Veris’ only child – and Veris went into the Forest to get her back. Now, the Forest has held onto Eleanor’s only brother, and she is determined to repeat Veris’ journey. Whether she will also repeat Veris’ mistakes along the way is a tale that is hopefully yet to be told.