Cracked turned out to be one of those rare YA novels that not only meets my expectations but actually surpasses them. It was a great read, fast-paced and interesting. This was a wonderful example of the kind of intelligent story and witty narrative that suits this genre so well. I’m very interested to see where Crewe will take this story in future installments, and you can be sure that I’ll be making a point of reading them.(less)
Where Philip’s Firebrand was historical fantasy, Bloodstone leaps forward a few hundred years to the modern era, turning it more into an urban fantasy despite the fact that a good half of the novel takes place in a realm that is not the mortal one. (Which is considerably less than Firebrand, so I figure it still counts as urban fantasy.) Philip creates a different kind of urban fantasy, one with deep and ancient roots that has, nevertheless, grown with the times, and it’s a treat to read. It’s fun, highly entertaining, and I don’t think I can really get enough of Seth’s narration.(less)
Fairy tales for the modern generation, the Millennials who go nuts with social networking, get embroiled in discussions of gender politics, and who un...moreFairy tales for the modern generation, the Millennials who go nuts with social networking, get embroiled in discussions of gender politics, and who understand that angst over whether someone really likes the thing they Like on Facebook is a thing. Welcome to Alice in Tumblr-Land.
The book features some modern retellings of fairy tales, and I’m not sure if it the fact that all the fairy tale characters (and the associated illustrations) were drawn from Disney’s adaptations of fairy tales was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek attempt at humour or an honest misunderstanding that, for example, the little mermaid wasn’t actually named Ariel in the original story, and that Mulan isn’t technically a fairy tale as we think of them.
The stories are told in short quick bursts, an appeal to the sound-bite generation, constantly jumping from story to story like someone changing TV channels. Break off one story, jump to another, rinse and repeat. This allowed for more of the humour to come through and kept everything quick and punchy, but it meant that the reader is holding over a dozen simultaneous plots in their mind all at once, and can’t just follow one particular story without having the others in the way.
This is a book to chuckle at, to read quickly and then put aside knowing that it enriched your life for the time you were reading it but that was all. Possibly another commentary on the Millennial generation; everything must be sleek and quick and gone almost as soon as it arrived. You roll your eyes at Peter Pan’s Internet addiction, you laugh at Pinocchio’s promises (the Pinocchio stories are usually a single sentence telling a classic lie, and that’s all there needs to be), you nod your head at Mulan’s gender transition and Robin Hood’s social activism, you root for Arthur’s crush on Lancelot, and you wince at the painfully accurate political commentary of the Three Little Pigs. For those who don’t know any world but this one, for those who live in this moment and no other, these are the fairy tales for the new generation, the messages the same as they ever were even in the stories’ new forms. The audience appeal may be pretty limited and the entertainment may be transient, but it’s a quick read and worth the chuckles it gives.(less)
**spoiler alert** In a safe world where cities are the only refuge from harsh death at the hands of nature, where the government assigns your spouse a...more**spoiler alert** In a safe world where cities are the only refuge from harsh death at the hands of nature, where the government assigns your spouse and job and provides all you need, one dissatisfied young woman flees for her life and joins the rebel alliance in order to bring down the oppressive regime of the life she grew up in.
Sound familiar? Sound like a dozen and one YA dystopian novels on the shelves already? Welcome to Ruth Silver’s Aberrant.
The book follows the story of Olivia, recently turned 18 and newly assigned to her best friend Joshua as a spouse, and quite happily so. Until she’s arrested one night, freed, and then flees into the wasteland surrounding her city of Genesis, running across problems and secrets as she goes. For a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, this one’s fairly standard. Nothing surprising ever really happens, and the characters are bland enough that the reader can put any face they choose upon them. Nobody really stands out, and the main character herself would be fairly forgettable if she wasn’t the main character and everybody’s paying attention to her because of her assumed specialness.
I’m not saying that to be harsh. Really, everybody does assume she’s special. Females in the book are infertile, a side-effect of a vaccine that saved the human race from a great plague. Government intervention is needed for a woman to fall pregnant. Except that Olivia was conceived naturally, and so as her mother is now past child-bearing age, everyone’s turning to Olivia as the great savior of humanity, a figurehead to give people hope that they can rise above the government and no longer need their help simply to keep humanity going.
Enter plot problem 1. The assumption is that because Olivia was conceived naturally, she herself must be able to conceive naturally too. No tests are done to confirm this before everyone decides that she has to bear kids and be a figurehead. No mention of how her mother conceived naturally in the first place, and so maybe anybody can. Just that she did, and so they assume Olivia can too.
Plot problem 2: nobody in Genesis seems to understand about, well, how babies are made. The logic behind this is presented as if getting pregnant involves some mysterious governmental intervention, then nobody would sleep with anyone because there’s just no point. This ignores that vast majority of human sexuality and assumes that humans are, by default, asexual, and unless reproduction is a factor then nobody even feels any urges. At least in Lois Lowry’s The Giver, these urges were eliminated by medication. They weren’t just handwaved.
As with many dystopian stories that have a focus on population control, the math doesn’t add up. Families are chosen by the government by a lottery in order to get that intervention and produce a child. A single sentence indicates this happens once a month, to one woman. Assuming every pregnancy is carried to term, this means 12 children born each year. Any children past the first child are taken and given to other cities, for reasons that are never really explained. But that’s still pretty much a maximum of 12 children per year to any given city. But Olivia notes that there are 16 males and 16 females, 18 years old, being matched for spouses that year. Unless every spare child from every other city is given to Genesis, that math doesn’t really work.
Also the inherent problems with a “1 child per family” policy essentially halving the count of the next generation, which is only feasible if you’re already dealing with major overpopulation. Which they aren’t.
Aberrant tries to take the best parts of many other popular dystopias and combine them into one, and while that may be appealing to fans of the genre who are looking for more of the same, I find that it made for more of an unfocused story. Olivia gets arrested for being different, flees the city and falls into the hands of people who want to use her in a different ways, flees again and finds herself in a situation where she has to pass tests in order to gain a place in the society. Nothing is settled, nothing is sure, and very few characters get enough time or development for me to really want to care about any of them. Even Olivia and Joshua are fairly bland and uninteresting, with little to define them beyond, “These people are the main characters and are in love.”
As I said, for those who are looking for just another dystopian novel, you could do worse, and if genre standards are your thing then you may find yourself liking Aberrant. If you’re looking for a book that adds something to the genre, however, or really stands out, then you’d do best to look elsewhere.(less)
Written by Cassandra Rose Clarke, I expected an interesting YA novel when I first started reading this book. What I was presented with, however, was a...moreWritten by Cassandra Rose Clarke, I expected an interesting YA novel when I first started reading this book. What I was presented with, however, was a life-spanning romance set in the near-future, a book with one of the most realistic and thus most inspiring characters I have ever read, and as much as I normally don’t care much for romance novels (because that’s exactly what this is, although it’s presented in a way that definitely separates it from other contenders), I ate this up. And wanted more. When I find an author that can write something I normally wouldn’t enjoy and yet I want more, I know I’ve found an author I need to follow.
The story follows Cat from the tender age of 6 and her first meeting with Finn, whom Cat believes to be a ghost but who is actually a very human-like android. Skipping ahead a few years to Cat as a teenager, we see her experience growing pressure from her mother to be more ‘normal’, and Cat’s simultaneous attempts to rebel (by refusing to give up her growing crush on Finn) and attempts to comply by dating a boy she doesn’t much care about, going to parties, and trying to live a typical teenage life.
It’s this that makes Cat so wonderfully believable for me, and makes me want to heap the author with praise. In adulthood, Cat ends up working a dead-end job to pay the bills while she pursues her art career. She marries a man she doesn’t much love because she’s attempting to do the normal and ‘right’ thing. Unlike many novels, especially ones that are marketed as YA (which this one is in spite of Cat spending the bulk of the novel being in her 20s and 30s), she doesn’t meet the love of her life and stick with him against impossible odds. She makes mistakes. Her life isn’t great. She’s not startlingly normal. Things don’t end with a happily-ever-after when she’s 18, but instead mostly start to come together when she’s in her early 30s, and even then she suffers from very normal and relatable grief and problems. The near-future world she grows up in is not post-apocalyptic, is not dystopian, is not full of the colonization of distant planets. It’s relatable, it’s believable, and I could empathize with Cat more than I think I’ve been able to empathize with a character in a very long time.
This book essentially being a romance novel, you know there’s going to be a happy ending. Or rather, you know that in the end, Finn and Cat will be together. That much stays in your mind, no matter what trials the two go through and no matter what separates them, because that’s just what romance novels do. But that knowledge feels very much like the hope that Cat herself clings to throughout the book, a wish and a dream that somehow it’ll work out all right even when she doesn’t know how, even when she’s struggling with death and illness and loneliness. Cat is the kind of romance heroine that most of us could be. Not perfect. Not happy. Not living the dream. Knowing that following your dream usually means sacrifices. Making the best of a bad situation. And getting through life.
If this book has any flaw, it’s in the way that the writing feels largely distanced from what events it’s telling about. There’s a disconnect in there. On one hand, it’s somewhat forgivable, because the story is long and spans decades and Cat herself has a tendency to shut down, emotionally, when things get hard. On the other hand, that doesn’t diminish the fact that you read the novel feeling like you’re just watching it all happen from a safe distance, not that you’re trust into the centre of the events themselves. Intentional, I’m sure, but there are times I wish there had been more of a connection between the writing and the story, so to speak.
Aside from providing me with an interesting story and a couple I could seriously cheer for, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter made me want to get back into the fibre arts I’ve long neglected since starting to do book reviews. It isn’t often that I come across a book that so greatly inspires me like this. Though at first blush it looks like the kind of book I wouldn’t bother with, I can safely say that I’ve had my expectations blow out of the water, and I’m very glad that I took the time to enjoy this book. Highly recommended for fans of realistic romances and coming-of-age stories.(less)
I’ve talked before about how books of short stories rarely get rated very highly with me, because they often vary in quality and interest, and switchi...moreI’ve talked before about how books of short stories rarely get rated very highly with me, because they often vary in quality and interest, and switching stories often throws me out of my reading groove. I had previously only listed Elizabeth Bear’s Shoggoths in Bloom as a 5-star short story collection. Well, Kabu Kabu has joined those exclusive ranks.
Nnedi Okorafor’s storytelling is constantly engaging, beautiful and evocative, and she’s one of those rare writers who can make you feel like you’re right there in the story without bogging you down in too much detail. Though each of the stories is distinct and a standalone, many relate to other works of hers, and I think nearly all of them have some connection, however small, to each other. She tells stories of magic and death and hope and oil and the past and future all rolled into one wondrous collection.
Kabu Kabu gives you insight into a culture and place that’s frequently overlooked in most fiction in general, let alone genre fiction. It’s far from a primer on Nigeria and the people who live there and have their roots there, but the viewpoint provides gives glimpses into things I can’t deny I am woefully ignorant of. And because of this book (and in part because of Who Fears Death, but mostly Kabu Kabu and the variety of stories it tells), I want to get rid of some of that ignorance. I wanted to learn more, my curiosity piqued, and I started that first step to understanding more of my current world so that I can better understand the speculative fiction that Okorafor writes so well.
And if nothing else, I really want to try egusi soup. I can only read about the stuff so many times without wanting to eat some for myself.
If you’re a fan of anything else Okorafor has written, then you will like Kabu Kabu. If you’re a fan of speculative short stories, you will like Kabu Kabu. If you’re a fan of expanding your mind and seeing non-white characters in non-Western settings, you will like Kabu Kabu. This is a book that should not be missed, not by anyone who’s reading this review, not by anyone who loves SFF stories. Jump into the worlds that Okorafor creates, and witness the stories woven and told by a master.(less)
The Seven Forges mountain range is a brutal and cold place, thought to be uninhabited. That it, until Merros Dulver and his team start to explore and...moreThe Seven Forges mountain range is a brutal and cold place, thought to be uninhabited. That it, until Merros Dulver and his team start to explore and are approached by a band of Sa’ba Taalor, led by a man, Drask, who claims that his gods sent him to find Merros. Thus begins the meeting of two kingdoms, two cultures, and the complex political affair that arises from it.
Seven Forges is a novel that has been making the rounds lately, with many people calling it a YA novel when it in fact is meant for adults. I can see why it’s mistaken as such, though. The writing style is similar to that of many YA novels, clear and somewhat simplistic, and what sex is mentioned is mentioned in a sentence or two with little detail to embellish it. It comes across very much like a YA traditional fantasy when it’s not meant to be, and I’m still of two minds as to whether to makes it good (increased likelihood that younger readers may enjoy it) or bad (could turn away adult readers looking for a more sophisticated style of storytelling).
The story itself isn’t bad. It’s mostly two intertwining stories: the first of Drask’s encounter with the Sa’ba Taalor and the subsequent bringing them to the Emperor, and the second the story of Andover, a man who loses his hands and has them replaced by the gods of the newly-arrived Sa’ba Taalor and joins them as an Imperial emissary. There’s some interesting world-building going on, and culture-clash stories done well get to highlight the inherent differences and similarities between cultures, and Seven Forges isn’t an exception in that regard.
The biggest problem is that the story is slow, seeming to be little but a story of the meeting of 2 cultures until the book is almost over. It comes together in the last 10-20 pages, and in a big way, suddenly tying together half a dozen plot points and adding a load of intrigue. However, it’s a lot to ask people to sit through a somewhat meandering story just to get to the last few pages of action, especially when so many of the characters felt distant and unconcerned with everything going on around them. A good example of this is the Emperor’s nephew getting challenge to a blood duel for offending the Sa’ba Taalor. Entire chapters are devoted to the set-up of the battle, discussions about why it should or shouldn’t happens, ways around it… and I couldn’t feel a drop of urgency or concern from anyone involved. The Sa’ba Taalor are supposed to be stoic and straightforward, and I felt more emotion from them than I did from the guy who’s about to watch his nephew get beaten into the dust.
If I didn’t know better, I’d have said this was a YA author’s first foray into adult writing, or a debut author. There was potential there, absolutely, but the writing felt largely unpolished and mostly unemotional, making even scenes in which a thousand people are slaughtered feel more like a dispassionate news report than an event we’re watching through a character’s eyes.
The ending, though, made me want to continue with the series and see what the author is planning next. Like I said, this isn’t a bad book. It just had a few long-running problems that made reading it less pleasant than I feel it could have been. It’s a solid 3 stars in my mind, and I’m hoping that as the author gets more comfortable with the world and people he’s created, those problems dissipate in the second book. Worth reading, perhaps, but I’ll reserve my opinions on whether it would be worth buying until I see how the series progresses.(less)