I don't have much reading time these days, thanks to two careers and two young kids. The fact that I neglected the work side of things in order to finI don't have much reading time these days, thanks to two careers and two young kids. The fact that I neglected the work side of things in order to finish this book in two days is a tribute to John Scalzi's writing ability.
This is a wonderful novel about ten girls growing up in an alternate China. They are from different stations in life, from lowly orphan to Imperial heThis is a wonderful novel about ten girls growing up in an alternate China. They are from different stations in life, from lowly orphan to Imperial heir, but each one is connected through the bond of Jin-Shei, an oath of sisterhood more binding than anything. Even an order from the emperor can be refused, but a request made in the name of Jin-Shei can not. Over the course of their lives, these ten girls and their Jin-Shei bonds will reshape the empire.
At its heart, The Secrets of Jin-Shei is about the relationships between these Jin-Shei sisters. The conflicts and fears, the betrayals and redemptions. While the plot is engaging, it's not an action-oriented novel. The beginning chapters felt almost leisurely as we were introduced to Tai and her companions. The magical element doesn't appear until about halfway through the book. If you're looking for explosions by page three, this may not be the book for you.
For myself, I was hooked. There's an epic feel to the story, which spans an entire generation. (Or more, if you include the final chapter.) I cared about the characters, who were all too human. While some of the women choose darker paths, Alexander keeps them believable. Even as you grieve for the inevitable consequences, you understand why they made their choices. The resolution isn't entirely happy, but it feels true, which is far more important.
While The Secrets of Jin-Shei may not appeal to everyone, it's a magical, masterful novel, one of the few I'll probably come back and re-read....more
This book has the distinction of being the first in a long time to work its way into my dreams. Given the subject matter, they weren't fun dreams. ThaThis book has the distinction of being the first in a long time to work its way into my dreams. Given the subject matter, they weren't fun dreams. Thanks a lot, Knight!
Way of the Wolf is subtitled "Book One of The Vampire Earth", and comes with a nice little tag phrase. "Welcome to the year 2065. Earth is under new management."
"Vampire Earth" is a little misleading. Earth has been conquered by the alien Kurians, who feed on our life essences. In order to feed, they created the Reapers: nightmare creatures who tear open our throats and insert long, serpentine tongues directly into our hearts to feed on our blood while transmitting our vital essence back to their Kurian masters. In other words, if you're expecting traditional vampires and wooden stakes and garlic and quipping blonde teenagers, you're reading the wrong book.
In the humans' corner, we have the Lifeweavers, kin to the Kurians. The Lifeweavers don't fight directly, but they use their powers to change human warriors, to make them better, stronger, faster. These changed humans fall into three categories: Cats (scouts and loners), Bears (bad-ass warriors) and Wolves (the guerilla fighters). This first book introduces us to the world of 2065 through the eyes of the young wolf David Valentine.
The first half of the book is completely episodic. Each chapter is a chapter of Valentine's life, showing us his past, his training, and his missions as a Wolf. There's plenty of tension and a lot of action, but little in the way of overall plot tying it all together. That changes in the second half, when Valentine and one of his men take refuge on a human farm. Here we see more of the day-to-day life of normal humans under Kurian rule. Valentine falls in love, and then has to save his protectors from both Reapers and Quislings (human traitors who have chosen to serve the Kurians).
The early chapters accomplish what they set out to do. Each one adds to the reader's understanding of this world, and the self-contained stories of Valentine's life certainly keep you turning the pages. But I started to wonder where this was going, and whether there was an actual destination for the book, or if this was intended simply to show us this conquered world. The second half helped, but this is still a book where the worldbuilding comes first. Book two, Choice of the Cat, looks like it brings more balance, giving Valentine a clearer mission. (One which picks up on hints from the first book which are never fully explored.)
Knight has created a dark world, and he doesn't flinch from some of the nastiness that comes with it. I did enjoy the book, despite the dreams of that first night. But I couldn't help feeling like I was missing the larger story, that Valentine's POV limited me to the trees when I wanted to see more forest. I suspect I'll be picking up book two to see where the story goes from here....more
I haven't been keeping up with the Star Wars novels lately, but I had been curious about this one. It wasn't what I expected. A page-turner to be sureI haven't been keeping up with the Star Wars novels lately, but I had been curious about this one. It wasn't what I expected. A page-turner to be sure, with lots of fighting and action and light-sabery goodness, but there's something much deeper going on here.
Shatterpoint is set after Attack of the Clones. Mace Windu receives a troubling message from his former Padawan Depa Billaba. Now Mace must travel to the jungle world of Haruun Kal to find Depa and either save her or destroy her.
The thing that both impresses and disturbs me about the book is how it addresses one of the flaws of the Star Wars universe. In the movies, we see a galaxy at war. Over a million worlds. And yet the war is clean. Sterile. Ships pop out of existence in flashy explosions. Anonymous stormtroopers fall with bloodless blaster wounds. Even lightsabers leave cauterized, clean wounds. An entire world blows up, and Obi Wan Kenobi gets a headache. The horrors are there, but you never see them.
Stover shows us a world devastated by war. Depa Billaba was sent to help drive the separatists from Haruun Kal, and she's done so, but at what cost? The planet's people are divided, slaughtering one another in the jungles even after the galactic conflict has moved on.
Stover hammers the theme home. War is not a heroic band fighting their way past faceless enemies to blow up the Death Star and save the galaxy. It's watching your friends die of parasites and diseases, because you have no way of getting the basic medical treatment that could have saved them. It's a child stabbing a wounded soldier again and again, because that child has never known anything but war and hate. It's mutilating your enemies' bodies because you no longer see them as human. For Mace Windu, it's struggling to find the right path, the Jedi path, when all of your choices lead to darkness and death.
It's a powerful book. A little heavy-handed at times, perhaps. But I have a lot of respect for Stover for going beyond the flash-bang special effects and the relatively clean imagery of the movies and reminding readers that it ain't so....more
Dr. Mackenzie Winifred Elizabeth Wright Conner (Mac), salmon researcher extraordinaire, has returned to the Norcoast research facility after barely suDr. Mackenzie Winifred Elizabeth Wright Conner (Mac), salmon researcher extraordinaire, has returned to the Norcoast research facility after barely surviving her discovery of the "true" nature of the Dhryn. Her friend, Dr. Emily Mamani, is still working with the mysterious Ro, who may be the key to stopping the Dhryn's murderous attacks. And Mac is struggling with a bit of post-traumatic stress as she tries to adapt to her former life.
In the first book, Mac wanted nothing more than to study her salmon, but the universe simply refused to leave her alone. The same holds true in book two. An earthquake devastates Norcoast, and Mac finds herself drawn back into Interstellar Union issues once again. This time, she is brought to an I.U. gathering to help research how to contact the Ro and stop the Dhryn. But are the Dhryn truly evil, or simply responding to the demands of biology? And are the Ro really the saviors some believe them to be?
There is a lot to love about this book. Czerneda's aliens are delightful as always, particularly the acerbic & lovable Myg, Fourteen. The author's own background in biology serves her well as she designs one species after another, from the terrifying metamorphoses of the Dhryn to the unique offensive capabilities of the Trisulians. Her talent for writing fully-developed, fascinating species makes the book worth reading all by itself.
In terms of plot, Migration suffers a bit from second-book syndrome. At the end of book one, the Dhryn have been loosed upon the galaxy. Planets have been scourged of life. Mac lost her hand to a Dhryn and barely escaped with her life. Yet in the beginning of book two, we see very little about these events. As a result, the pacing feels slow. It takes a while to get Mac out of Norcoast and back into the midst of things. In book one, when we didn't know what was happening, the author had more leeway to develop the characters and build suspense. This time, I was a bit impatient. Likewise, with the Species Imperative books being a single ambitious story, things are left unfinished at the end.
And yet I found the ending of Migration more satisfying than the ending of Survival. The threat to humanity and the I.U. is revealed to be even worse than before, but another, more personal plot point is brought to resolution.
Migration is a good book by itself. Having also read the third book in the series, I can say that the trilogy is a both a highly satisfying story and a very impressive feat by the author....more
The premise of the book will be familiar to more experienced fantasy readers. History professor Max Ravenhill discovers he's not who he thinks he is.The premise of the book will be familiar to more experienced fantasy readers. History professor Max Ravenhill discovers he's not who he thinks he is. He's not even human. He's an exile from the lands of the Fae, guardian of the Talismans that can select the next High Prince and end the cycle of death and corruption. Now, as Max's exile comes to an end, the Basilisk Prince is determined to capture him and use the Talismans to make himself High Prince.
It took me a few chapters to get into the book. Malan jumps right into the action with a fairly brutal (off-screen) massacre, and it also took me a while to grasp the fantasy side of her worldbuilding. It wasn't until a few chapters into the book, when Max and his protector Cassandra left our world and returned home, that I started to wrap my brain around everything.
With that said, I enjoyed the book a great deal by the end. Max and Cassandra were fun, and it was interesting to see the relationship between the guardian (who knows what's going on) and Max (whose memories have been altered, so he doesn't even know Cassandra at first). Malan even gives us glimpses of "humanity" from the Basilisk Prince, and I always like conflicted characters.
While some elements of the story felt familiar, others were intriguingly original. I enjoyed Malan's take on enchanted weapons and armor, and the creative ways they can be used. Her revelation about the Hounds (hunting beasts, from the original Hunt) was fascinating enough I wanted her to spend more time on it.
Actually, that was my biggest frustration. Some of Malan's most fascinating ideas seemed to get skimmed over. I wanted to learn more about the Naturals and the Solitaries, the other "races" of Max's realm. I wanted to understand guidebeasts better. And if the biggest complaint about a book is, "I wanted more," then I think that's a pretty positive thing....more