The Ethereal Squadron by Shami Stovall. 2/5
I enjoyed a lot of this novel, but it’s overall world-building is very problematic. The plot focuses on Geist, a member of the Ethereal Squadron, a secret group of WWI soldiers with paranormal talents who use those talents to fight for Britain. Geist has several secrets: she’s a woman, and her father and brother–who also have paranormal capabilities–are fighting on the opposite side of the war. Geist and her team discover horrifying information during a raid, and Geist must lead them to stop a German attack sure to decimate Paris and to stop actions that will lead to the death of civilian and military sorcerers alike. The action is fast and the novel moves quickly, including the slow burn romance between Geist and a magic-using German defector who knows her true gender and identity. What bothered me, though, was the author’s construction of how magic works in her world: it only occurs in certain families, and those families deliberately practice eugenic breeding amongst one another, seeking to create more versatile sorcerers through the generations. Few if any of the characters in the books find this as disturbing as I think many readers will. The author could have cast this deliberate breeding in a poor light–as historians have done in recounting the close relative-marriages of European aristocracy–by making it one of the reasons Geist and her father are not on civil terms, but it’s treated as a good thing by everyone. And that’s troubling. Perhaps later installments–if there are any–of the series/setting will show the protagonists moving away from the idea of breeding an uber-race, or perhaps the heroes of this novel will become the villains of one set in WWII.
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman. 3/5
This is a beautifully written novel in which Jewish children survive WWII in France via extraordinary and supernatural means. Ettie, a brilliant young woman, agrees to create a golem to watch over Lea, a child sent by her mother to relatives . Over the course of the novel, Ettie and Lea grow up, forge lifelong relationships with others, and, along with their various love interests and vengeful desires, work towards the end of the war. Ava, the golem, watches over Lea, falls in love with a crane, speaks languages no human knows, and eventually faces Azrael, the Angel of Death, in a lovely but predictable encounter. While the characters never felt very deep to me, the book is mostly a pleasure to read, and Hoffman writes descriptively and fluently.
I do wish, however, that her reference to homeopathic treatment was not a positive one. She suggests that eating homey can save a person from thousands of bee stings. Not only is this not really a homeopathic treatment, but in this time when people are shunning vaccines and dismissing medical science, it’s dangerous to suggest that remedies like this are efficacious.