SPFBO 8 Finalist review: Mysterious Ways by Abbie Evans

SPFBO 8: Mysterious Ways by Abbie Evans

Welcome to the SPFBO 8 Finals! Team Queen’s Book Asylum reviews Mysterious Ways by Abbie Evans, picked by the Fantasy Inn.

A quick reminder about how we are proceeding in the Finals: our judges had the freedom to opt out of reading any of the books due to personal interest, time restrictions, unforeseen life events, etc. Our aim is to have at least 3 reviews/scores for each finalist, which shouldn’t be too hard between the 5 of us. For Mysterious Ways we have 3 reviews for your reading pleasures, so, let’s get down to it!

About the Book
Series: standaloneGenre: Fantasy, Romance
Date of Publishing: August 3, 2021Publisher: self-published
Book Blurb
Mysterious Ways by Abbie Evans

The Goddess works in mysterious ways, and Isabella Varselak intends to find out exactly what those ways are.

As the commander of the 7th Unit of the Solistopian City Watch, Isabella Varselak has dealt with many a mystery. Murderers, burglars, con artists, and troublesome demons have given her a multitude of crimes to solve over the years.

But injustice in the way the world works is all around her. Innocent people suffer, guilty people triumph. When this is questioned, the only answer she receives is that the Goddess works in mysterious ways.

Determined to get to the bottom of what these ways are and solve the ultimate mystery, she sets off on a journey to find answers — but she’ll have to go through hell to get them.

Mysterious Ways is a fantasy novel set in a matriarchal world. Women are in power, they worship a Goddess, and same sex relationships are common and socially acceptable.

Review

Arina

Mysterious Ways blends fun fantasy and queernormative worldbuilding into a lighthearted read, one I think would strike a chord for anyone diving into the current wave of cozy and more simplistic fantasy.

For me, the book walked too light on its feet, losing balance. There is lots of worldbuilding being done by characters naming things (which, as a first contact to the reader, just end up sounding random) or stating facts. I was always more the type of reader who enjoys my worldbuilding less factual and more experiential. I like to experience it alongside the characters, more see with their eyes and less hear it from their mouths.

Worldbuilding through mostly dialogue is a narrative choice, and a storytelling method that I think should feature in a story, but overdoing it will wane my attention, which happened quite often while reading the book.

There are great elements at work in this book, the characters stray from commonality, the relationships establish theoretically exciting dynamics, there are strong female characters all around, and the elements of religious mythology construct an interesting world.

I just didn’t feel like the execution allowed them to connect with me enough to really immerse myself in the story.

However, greenies who are looking to get into the genre or veterans who are seeking to cozy up with more simplistic storytelling should definitely give this a try.

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Nick

Mysterious Ways is a witty, sarcastic, and somewhat fun light fantasy read that unfortunately didn’t work for me in enough ways to consider it one of my top reads in this contest. Yes there were a number of interesting elements that I enjoyed, including the main characters’ relationship and how they ultimately end up meeting each other (that was quite the interesting encounter). However, the main societal structure of men being an absolutely subservient lower class and the world being fundamentally matriarchal in nature felt very reminiscent of other fantasy books that I’ve read in the past. I’m thinking specifically of Sheri S Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country, which is one of my all-time favorite standalone fantasy novels and is filled to the brim with some deeply impactful and thought-provoking social commentary. Admittedly, this probably took away from my enjoyment of Mysterious Ways because I just couldn’t ever shake Tepper’s book from my mind while reading this story. But that’s a me thing and is in no way the fault of the author.

Much of the dialogue in this book is overly biting and humorous and as a person who prefers my fantasy more on the serious side, that missed the mark for me unfortunately. I did find the scenes from the underworld to be the most intriguing and I highly enjoyed Isabella’s quest for answers while being embattled in a personal crisis of faith. These were quite powerful and very well done. It was during these times that I was most engaged as a reader.

In the end Mysterious Ways was a fairly entertaining read that I feel like many readers out there will take to and connect with. But for me, it just never drew me in enough to be 100% hooked. As a result of this I couldn’t rate it as high as I would had I been more invested in the characters and plot. But by all means give this one a try if you love fantasy books with strong female protagonists, witty dialogue, and some heavy discussions about the role of religion and faith in one’s life.

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Paul

Mysterious Ways left me somewhat conflicted as while, on the one hand, I found it entertaining, on the other, it felt disjointed and inconsistent throughout.

The blurb doesn’t paint a very clear picture of what you’re actually getting into. While the synopsis makes it sound more like a grand and serious adventure, it’s actually a patchwork of different styles, themes, and sub-genres, not all of which complement one another. This smorgasbord of narrative angles will undoubtedly appeal to a great many readers, but for me, it felt a little jarring switching from comedy, to romance, to weighty philosophical introspection, back to comedy, and so on…

Tonally the story was much the same, with darker and lighter moments clashing together without anything more blended between them.

What I will say about Mysterious Ways is that it is big in ideas. Authority is challenged, religious dogma is questioned, and social structures/norms come under scrutiny. The world of Mysterious Ways itself is radically and refreshingly different to ours, being matriarchal, queer-normative, and possessing a far more sexually-liberated and hedonistic religion.

For the right reader, Mysterious Ways will absolutely pop, and while that reader isn’t me, I’d still recommend you give it a go if you’re on the lookout for something a little daring and different.

Our Judgement
Arina
Bjørn
Nick
Paul
Timy
5
X
5
6
X

Our score for Mysterious Ways by Abbie Evans

Score 5.5/10

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