The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (A Review Upon Rereading)

The Silmarillion paperback


Goodreads: The Silmarillion
Series: pre-Lord of the Rings
Age Category: Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: 1977

Official Summary

The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor.


I read The Silmarillion once several years ago, but I decided that now was the perfect time for a reread, since Amazon’s The Rings of Power is being released. Amazon, of course, does not actually have the rights to anything in The Silmarillion, so none of the plot of the show is related to The Silmarillion (and most of the The Silmarillion is about the First Age, not the Second Age anyway). However, there have been references to events in The Silmarillion in the show, like references to the War of Wrath, Elrond’s family, the Valar, etc., so rereading it does help one appreciate the show at least a little. But enough about The Rings of Power. (You can read Krysta’s guide to the Second Age here.)

Reviewing The Silmarillion seems a daunting task to me. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? How can I adequately convey how amazing it is? It’s a fantasy classic, even if not as popularly read as The Lord of the Rings, so saying it’s “good” or “bad” seems a bit silly when people will read it no matter what I say. (For the record, I think it’s good.)

Even though it covers an extremely long time period for the First Age, it’s am immersive experience, and I loved seeing the beginning of Arda and then the trials of the Elves. The Elves, for the record, are much more chaotic here. While in The Lord of the Rings, Elves are nearly always associated with goodness, so much that evil things will not pass through areas where Elves once lived, they’re a mixed bag in The Silmarillion. They kill each other, they lust after the titular Silmarils, they betray one another, they ignore the plights of those who need help. They’re still delightfully Other, but they’re not a monolith of wisdom and virtue, and it is fascinating.

It’s also a bit darker than The Lord of the Rings in many ways. While I think the theme of hope still permeates the story, there are things one wouldn’t necessarily except to see in LotR, like Elves killing Elves and some (accidental) incest. It’s a different time in Middle-earth, and Tolkien (and editor Christopher Tolkien!) does an excellent job of making it feel so.

I know many readers find The Silmarillion confusing, but I don’t think it is. Some of the characters have annoyingly similar names, but I didn’t have an issue with that. I actually think I was most confused by the geography; next time I read, I might pull out my Atlas of Middle-earth. Or if anyone has any good guides about the geography, I’d love to know about them! (You can get a free guide to The Silmarillion in general from Tea with Tolkien.)

This is a five star read for me, and I recommend it to any Tolkien fan! I can’t wait to read it again sometime!

5 stars

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Atlas Six book cover


Goodreads: The Atlas Six
Series: The Atlas #1
Age Category: Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: March 1, 2022 (Tor release)

Official Summary

The Alexandrian Society is a secret society of magical academicians, the best in the world. Their members are caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity. And those who earn a place among their number will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Each decade, the world’s six most uniquely talented magicians are selected for initiation – and here are the chosen few…

– Libby Rhodes and Nicolás Ferrer de Varona: inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds.
– Reina Mori: a naturalist who can speak the language of life itself.
– Parisa Kamali: a mind reader whose powers of seduction are unmatched.
– Tristan Caine: the son of a crime kingpin who can see the secrets of the universe.
– Callum Nova: an insanely rich pretty boy who could bring about the end of the world. He need only ask.

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they must spend one year together to qualify for initiation. During this time, they will be permitted access to the Society’s archives and judged on their contributions to arcane areas of knowledge. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. If they can prove themselves to be the best, they will survive. Most of them. 

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The Atlas Six started as a self-published novel that became so popular, largely thanks to platforms like BookTok and BookTwitter, that Tor acquired it in order to give it a traditional release. Game to see whether the book lives up to the hype, I ordered a copy of the shiny new and improved (well, I assume improved since Tor probably encouraged a revision!) version. My conclusion: The book is enjoyable, definitely a solid adult fantasy with a range of interesting characters, but I don’t fully get the Internet’s *obsession*. It’s also one of those books that reads better the less deeply you think about it.

Because the story features chapters from the POVs of six different characters, the top magical workers in the world with unparalleled powers that are not yet even fully explored, and all these characters have secrets and ambitions, the book definitely offers readers a wild ride. It’s easy to get sucked into the wild, sometimes disturbing minds of the characters and to try to figure out what games they’re playing and who is going to win.

The setting/premise is also pretty immersive; these six characters are selected for an exclusive, secretive academic opportunity where they can research anything (well, anything the magic library grants them access to) and push the boundaries of the world. And the Society that invited them to do so might not be exactly what it seems. It’s engrossing, and readers will be trying to unlock the mysteries just as the characters are.

However, I found that the book is best when one reads fast, when one just lets themselves get pulled along for the ride, exploring the magic and the characters and accepting things as they come. Read like this, the book is exciting and occasionally thought-provoking; the characters like to pontificate on scientific and magical subjects and frequently also the nature of humanity and how people work, so it can be fun to feel as if one is also a bit of an accomplished academic by reading all these apparently intellectual musings.

Once one starts thinking in detail about the book, however . . . things fall apart slightly. The magic system doesn’t feel completely developed; the characters’ abilities seem to be whatever is exciting and will further the plot. The plot being . . . well, that’s not clear either, at least until close to the end of the book. It’s easy to read a few hundred pages of the book before one realizes it’s not really clear where any of it is going, why the characters are doing anything that they’re doing. It’s interesting, but what exactly is the point and the structure of the whole thing? Most of the book is, actually, a character study.

So, I had fun reading this, and I can see why other people like it, as well. There’s enough of a big reveal/cliffhanger at the end to make me want to read more and believe there will be a more directed plot in the sequel. I just don’t think it stands up to other adult fantasy in terms of pacing/plot and world building. There are flaws, but they’re possible to overlook if you try and take the story just as it is.

3 Stars

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education book cover


Goodreads: A Deadly Education
Series: The Scholomance #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2020

Official Summary

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. 

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Dark academia isn’t necessarily my genre, but I loved Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Spinning Silver, so I had to pick up A Deadly Education. And while the school in the book is full of monsters, and characters need to spend their days on guard lest they die in the middle of their studies, the effect is lightened by the wit of protagonist El and by her fellow student Orion Lake, who is full of good humor and unusual luck.

As I began reading A Deadly Education, I had to admit to myself that it felt like an extended info dump. El has to explain everything to the readers: her backstory, what she did the previous years in school, how the school works, how the world in general works, how the monsters work. Everything. I found it interesting, so I read on, but I can imagine it being a deal breaker for readers who aren’t huge fantasy fans and don’t want to deal with extensive world building.

El herself is a bit of a challenge, but that’s her beauty. She doesn’t have a lot of friends at the school, and the reader can see why, but as she’s in her junior year she begins to recognize how big of a problem this is for her: she needs to make an alliance if she’s going to survive graduation next year, but she hasn’t put in the work to make anyone want to be her ally. Her big plan is to do something impressive, rather than to be approachable, and convince people she has strong magic they’ll want on their side, but she ends up being more approachable as the book goes on anyway, which will at least win readers over.

The book, once one gets over the info dumps, is fairly fast-paced, and there always seems to be something happening. After all, the school seems intent on killing El, so she has challenges she has to deal with frequently. El is wary and clever and powerful, and there’s so much of her magic that remains to be explored that I hope to see tackled in the next book. It’s also fun to see the other characters’ strengths and how they can use them to work together to beat the monsters, if only they stop being so suspicious of each other.

This is a wildly original and imaginative story, and I’m definitely excited to read book 2. However, readers who thought Novik’s other books were “too slow” probably won’t be better pleased by A Deadly Education.

4 stars