This is an unbiased review of an ARC provided by the author.
tl;dr: Benedict Patrick delivers yet again, with a wonderfully weird and touching story, in the Yarnsworld universe.
The Yarnsworld series is challenging to describe in conventional genres. The stories are like fairy tales for adults, that are rich and complex, and not afraid of getting quite dark. The books also share a unique narrative structure. The main story's chapters alternate with myths and legends from the Yarnsworld universe. These semi-related accounts provide context and, add colour to the world-building.
That said, the tales are also wildly different in outlook, themes and story-lines. 'They Mostly Come Out at Night' is a grim retelling of the ugly duckling with the overarching theme of self-sacrifice. 'Where the Waters Turn Black' explores friendship and could easily have been the next Pixar movie (if they had not done Moana). 'Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords' is Seven Samurai-like. It is gritty and is about heroism, redemption and revenge.
'To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl' is the fifth book in the Yarnsworld series, and stars the same characters as 'Where the Waters Turn Black'. Kaimana and Rakau are dealing with the consequences of their actions in the previous book. The islanders have now started praying to Kaimana, aka 'Taniwha Girl', to intervene in cases relating to Taniwha. Incidentally, Rakau, her close companion, is a 'Taniwha,' a Kaiju-like monster. The existing Gods do not look kindly at her potential ascension to Godhood. Which, by the way, she is not interested in at all. At the same time, Kaimana discovers that an agent of the 'Old Spider', a baleful demon, is trying to attain the same Godhood. Her decisions and actions form the rest of the story.
'To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl' is a story that continues the friendship theme from 'Where the Waters Turn Black'. This theme becomes intertwined with that of redemption, as the story progresses. The author does a fantastic job of showcasing these themes by using the relationships between the three primary characters - Kaimana, Rakau and the Old Spider's Agent. While Kaimana and Rakau are familiar to us, the stand-out character is the Agent. She is despicable and does all kinds of horrid things, but we end up feeling sympathetic for her. The Agent's internal conflict - trying to understand what it is to love while being conditioned against it from childhood - is masterfully penned. This conflict forms the foundation on which the story rests.
Benedict Patrick's writing is, as always, magnificent. His stories have a way of sucking the reader in, and 'To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl' is no exception. His breezy writing style, combined with above-average pacing, makes for an engaging read. World-building is also a trademark of his writing. The new big item in this book, from a world-building perspective, concerns the 'Old Spider' and his tales, since 'Where the Waters Turn Black' has already done most the heavy lifting.
Readers familiar with the series will find 'To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl' not as dark as some of the other entries, except for one portion of the book. It will probably not be as weird or fantastical either, since it follows 'Where the Water Turns Black'. New readers can read this book as a stand-alone, though reading the earlier one would make the experience more enjoyable. This book could also be the perfect way to start this series since it also happens to be most main-stream like of all.
In conclusion, 'To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl' is perfect for readers looking for an engrossing story, set in an extraordinary universe.
(The review of the prior Yarnsworld novels are here)
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