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Synopsis:
ENTER THE FUNGALVERSE. BEAT THE WINTER BLUES.
Blade Runner, True Detective and District 9 meld with the weird worlds of Jeff VanderMeer, Philip K. Dick and China Miéville in Adrian M. Gibson’s dark, hallucinatory, fungalpunk noir debut.
Two years after a devastating defeat in the decade-long Spore War, the island nation of Hōppon and its capital city of Neo Kinoko are occupied by invading Coprinian forces. Its fungal citizens are in dire straits, wracked by food shortages, poverty and an influx of war refugees. Even worse, the corrupt occupiers exploit their power, hounding the native population.
As a winter storm looms over the metropolis, NKPD homicide detective Henrietta Hofmann begrudgingly partners up with mushroom-headed patrol officer Koji Nameko to investigate the mysterious murders of fungal and half-breed children. Their investigation drags them deep into the seedy underbelly of a war-torn city, one brimming with colonizers, criminal gangs, racial division and moral decay.
In order to solve the case and unravel the truth, Hofmann must challenge her past and embrace fungal ways. What she and Nameko uncover in the midst of this frigid wasteland will chill them to the core, but will they make it through the storm alive?

Review:

8.5/10

Hello again dear reader or listener, today I have something a little different for you.
If you’ve been around Book Twitter in the last couple months, you’ll have seen this blue beauty all around the place and with good reason. Adrian pulled all the stops with this one! Before We Go had the pleasure of sharing the first chapter teaser (find it here) and then, not only an interview with the author himself with yours truly (also here), but also a guest post from Adrian recommending all things fungal in a few other books (you guessed it, here)!

Now then, as part of said promo I read the first few chapters back in February, however life stuff and wanting to continue reading on the physical copy meant I had to wait a bit to continue this story. Luck would have it that I pestered a dear friend and fellow book nerd to read this as well, and so we buddy read it, see: raced each other to see who would finish first. He did… hmpf. (Yes, I did <smug emoji>)

So! I figured I’d let him in on the reviewing as well! Say hi to Toby. This will be part review, part book discussion, we’ll see how it goes! There won’t be any spoilers so fear not.

Hello there, Toby here, very excited to take part in my first review! Please go easy on me, I don’t have nearly as much practice at this as our noble lead reviewer here. (See that? Lead reviewer. Bow to me peasant, ahem). I was turned onto this eminently weird book by my dear friend* Eleni and found myself very intrigued, as a long-time fan of the noir genre. It was at her suggestion that we undertake a buddy read and, now, a buddy review.
*At time of suggesting the read. By the time we’re done co-writing the review she might have disowned me. I would never =D

So! Mushroom Blues is basically what you get if you watch a Ghibli movie (what, Grave of the Fireflies? Any one works to be fair but sure, I suppose the war theme is closer with the postwar Japan inspirations in this book), especially some of the trippier bits of it, and think, man, this needs more fungi, murder, and blues. And boy did Gibson deliver, with a fast-paced narrative that brought this new, psychedelic, and gritty world to life.

I don’t know about you T. but I haven’t read noir or urban fantasy in forever, even though I am a big fan of both. Perhaps because I enjoy them more in other media like TV-series or anime. Same, I’m afraid. It’s been too long since I last dove into either genre despite a great appreciation for both. Having always been a fan of the noir genre, though perhaps ironically never having consumed much noir media, the concept of Mushroom Blues was something that attracted my attention from the outset.
Right? It has such a unique vibe to it while still making you feel like it’ll add to long traditions you may have enjoyed in the past like Blade Runner. Also, partly through a very galaxy-brain move from myself, and in part inspired by happy coincidence, I watched both The Expanse and The Last of Us series soon before the book came out and, if you’re wondering whether that is the perfect imagery cocktail one needs to picture the aesthetics and vibes of Mushroom Blues then you’d be correct! Gibson’s writing does such an amazing job at evoking the unforgiving cold or the suffocatingly damp and spore laden atmosphere the characters need to navigate, however, that even if you don’t have such imagery fresh in your own mind, he’ll pull it forth for you.
The attention to world building is definitely intricate throughout, if perhaps open to the criticism that a lot of things were fungal-fied (I’m making that a word) by prepending “myco-”, from bricks to plastic. Hm I can see that but at the same time we are experiencing everything from Henrietta’s perspective and she is in a conquered country/world so it makes sense that almost everything might be pretty alien in that regard and in that way to her. I also feel like the myco-ification (I’m also inventing words today) helped center the “othering” of this culture and peoples on their attributes as sentient fungi, rather than on the Asian influences overall. Get what I mean? Oh absolutely, it may well be that these compounds have proper names in Hopponese society but the occupiers never bothered to learn them, which also furthers along the “othering” that’s present throughout the story.
I also enjoyed the communal fungalnet and the abilities it allowed, while some of the other abilities available to fungal kind were…unsettling at the very least, if not terrifying. Yeah, even I can say that, jaded as I am to body horror stuff. Gibson certainly knows how to give you at the very least a full body shiver at some of the sequences.

Mushroom Blues excelled at hitting many of the iconic beats of noir, while also turning many on their head. You have the world weary, hard drinking detective (except she’s off the sauce!), tragic history that mired the protagonist in their current predicament (instead of the dame, a lost child!), a case that strikes a personal chord with the detective and spurs them into action above and beyond the call of duty, and finally a reluctant partner who finds themselves an outcast both from their own people and the power structure they’ve joined. Absolutely, and I always have a solid respect for authors who are not afraid to make their protagonists unlikeable and coarse. Which also goes double for Henrietta in this instance because as we all sadly know, all those attributes you mentioned and which are part of the course with male protags in noir, are never quite accepted the same with female characters aren’t they? This is the kind of modernity Gibson brings to a long-established genre, that I appreciated the most. Not to mention the fact that she is middle aged or that her character arc throughout the book was most satisfying to observe!
Our intrepid (but mostly tired. She is Tired and achey AF 99% of the time and what a mood honestly) protagonist goes through a respectable arc over the course of the story, both in her own introspective redemption and her attitude towards the people she polices, and their culture. I also found it very touching that the words she needed to hear had been uttered that same tragic night all those years before, but she’d never let herself accept them. Agreed, mental health and self-acceptance/ forgiveness are such an important theme throughout. Also, I have to admit while I initially found some of Henrietta’s inner monologuing occasionally melodramatic, recognizing that I also wax like than when I’m in a self-deprecating or overall shitty place, gave me an amusing course correction in how I perceived her thoughts. We’ve all been there and that’s what helps us connect most with her. Her reluctant partnership with Koji blossoming into respect and friendship moreover was the source of all my feels eventually.
Koji, my dear Koji. So disrespected and put down, but he never stops moving forward despite all the terrible and tragic stuff he is put through. My poor guy. We must protect him at all costs, enough said.

Overall, this debut impresses with how layered it is and, while primarily a character driven story, the plot doesn’t lag too far behind by not only keeping you intrigued but also by opening up avenues for many discussions. For instance, the undercurrents of colonialism and imperialism are present throughout the story, from the subtle to the overt, and are very well portrayed. From turns of phrase that imply the ‘proper’ order of the world, derisive words over diet, to systemic issues weighing down society. While Hoppon is alien to us, we can surely feel sympathy for the residents being ground down under the heel of Coprinian rule. Exactly, cause you end up being both frustrated by those who want to continue the war, while still in a way understanding the resentment that their actions are borne from. It’s a difficult one for sure but Gibson nailed the nuance in my opinion. He really did, and without falling into various pitfalls that could have easily trapped him, like turning Koji into a Noble Savage or Henrietta into the Foreign Savior.

Unfortunately, we can’t keep you any more dear reader, even though trust us, we have been going off the deep end discussing this throughout the buddy read! We hope you enjoyed this buddy review and that you’ll want to see more of this kind of post in the future!

If you’re looking for a gritty and unforgiving world, protagonists whose knees have seen better days and yet can still continue to grow intellectually and emotionally, then Mushroom Blues is the book for you! Also, if you have any mold remediation to do around your house, maybe tackle that first before you crack open the book.

Grab a copy here and believe us when we say every edition is absolutely gorgeous, with badass inner design and art as well! Also keep an eye out because The Broken Binding will be having a 100 copy, signed and numbered hardcover sale soon and a special edition coming later this year!

Until next time,
Eleni A.E. & Toby

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