I know this is quite a departure from my usual reads, but for this book I clearly had to make an exception. Even though I hardly get the chance to read nonfiction anymore these days, when it comes to anything even remotely Star Wars related, I can’t help it, I just have to check it out.
Interestingly, and perhaps appropriate to my situation, Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind seeks to examine the phenomenon that is Star Wars and explore what it is about this beloved franchise that appeals to millions of rabidly obsessed fans everywhere—by looking at it from a psychological perspective. We’ve all heard how George Lucas was influenced heavily by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and his concept of the monomyth, or “The Hero’s Journey”, which shaped early drafts of the first Star Wars movie. Using frequent references to classical motifs and archetypes drawn from Jungian analytical psychology, this collection of essays offers insights into why and how the Star Wars saga has managed to touch us all on a deeper level.
Written by a team of doctors, experts, and mega fans, Star Wars Psychology dissects the themes and topics of the movies while relating them back to scientific and social concepts. Many of the articles also use Star Wars to illustrate examples of psychological and sociological theory. This book is sure to appeal to people who love Star Wars and/or psychology buffs. While some of the theses proposed by some of these essays are those I’ve heard before or are obvious, others might make you see Star Wars in a whole new light.
From the dichotomy of good versus evil (the light side/Jedi Code versus the dark side/Sith Code) to discussions on what makes good people do bad things (Lando Calrissian and his fateful decision to betray Han Solo and the gang), Star Wars Psychology explores how elements in Star Wars relate to mental health, as well as how human beings think and feel. There is even an enthralling piece on the phenomenon of phantom limbs and speculation what multiple amputations at the end of Episode III would have done to Darth Vader’s brain.
Personally though, I was most fascinated by the chapters dealing with the “social side” of Star Wars, such as gender psychology or exploring the characters as role models. And even though this is nonfiction, some of the essay topics also relate back to speculative fiction, acknowledging that we create and enjoy fantasy worlds and stories as a way to ask probing questions about our own existence. Take the matter of droids, for example. Do C-3PO and R2-D2 have feelings? If so, to what extent? The matter is complicated by the fact we still don’t know enough about cognitive processes and human emotions to answer these questions once and for all. Think of all the sci-fi books you’ve read dealing with AIs and personhood, and how much psychology ends up being discussed in those stories.
I’m also impressed that we don’t look at just the movies. Many of the contributors reach into other media to make their points, citing Star Wars games, TV shows, books of the old Expanded Universe, and even in one case the soundtrack score featuring the inspiring music of John Williams. There are lots of other informational tidbits shown in textboxes, embedded in the chapters all throughout this book; here you might find little known details (my favorite was the little factoid about the Mark of Altruism from the now defunct Star Wars Galaxies MMO – how I miss that game) or more specific explanations into the theories and concepts within the field of Psychology.
Most would probably look at this book and categorize it as “pop psych”, a well-researched and professionally written book of essays intended to be devoured by the legions of Star Wars geeks everywhere, especially as the world prepares for the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this December. Nonetheless, it is an absorbing read, examining the ideas and core values of why we love Star Wars, encouraging us think about the movies and characters in new and unpredictable ways. There’s something for everyone in this fun and fascinating volume, a good addition to any Star Wars fan’s bookshelf....more
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is definitely an audiobook you should avoid listening to in public, lest you want the people around you to think you’ve completely lost your mind. Folks generally don’t react well to someone bursting into spontaneous maniacal laugher, I find.
And to think, I almost let this gem pass me by! A book like this doesn’t technically fall under the Sci-fi and Fantasy purview, which is what I mostly read and review, but I could not resist checking this one out after learning about the MMORPG angle. From Ready Player One to Reamde, video games and gaming have been the inspiration for many works of speculative fiction, but of course not all gaming-related books are SFF. That doesn't mean I can't still geek out about them, though.
And geek out I did. If Nancy Drew were a millennial and grew up to become a gigantic mega super geek, you would probably get Dahlia Moss, the titular main character of this delightfully witty book. Thing is though, I can also see Dahlia being popular with more than just the geeky crowd; fans of underdog stories and readers who love rooting for the long-shot protagonist will be sure to love this book as well. Unemployed, flat out broke, and living off the largesse of her kooky roommate, Dahlia could not believe it when she was suddenly offered a job by some rich kid hiring her to track down a stolen object. Her only qualifications for the job appear to be 1) the one time she temped at a PI agency and 2) the fact that she has played Zoth, the massively multiplayer online game in which the theft itself actually took place.
That’s because the stolen object in question isn’t even a real object, but a bunch of pixels—more specifically, an ultra-rare spear that’s one of its kind in-game. It should be an easy enough job, Dahlia figures. All she has to do is to find out which of her employer’s guildies made off with the highly coveted weapon and call it a day. But then, that’s when things start to get weird. Jonah, the client who hired her, ends up dead the next day, skewered through by a very real, very sharp full-scale replica of the pixelated spear that was stolen from his Zoth account, right down to the very last gem stone.
Dahlia’s hunt for a thief soon becomes one for a murderer in this quirky little whodunit. Sure, our protagonist is not exactly the most savvy of detectives, but that’s all part of her charm, along with her propensity to leap into situations without thinking them through (this book isn’t titled The Competent and Well-thought Out Decisions of Dahlia Moss for good reason). She also has this bad habit of digressing a lot, but those runaway trains of thought often lead to hilarious asides about geeky pop culture and gaming references, so I let a lot of that slide seeing how Dahlia is a woman after my own heart. I also pardoned the character of her roommate, who is bizarre for the sake of being bizarre, as well as the many times this story grew too silly to the point of absurdity. Still, I couldn’t believe how often I literally laughed out loud at Dahlia’s exploits. With me, that happens to go a long way.
Also, books about MMORPGs really get to me. Especially books about friendships in MMORPGs. Even if you don’t consider yourself this book’s audience, I think you’ll be touched by some of these relationships. I’ve known some of the people I play MMOs with for years and there’s definitely a unique culture among online gamers; tight guilds often have their own code and customs, which is even more pronounced on RP servers. Though you’ll likely never meet most of your online gaming friends face-to-face, you definitely connect with them on a whole other level (no pun intended). I love how this book taps into all that, and I totally found myself relating to a lot of the characters.
A final shout-out has to go to Lauren Fortgang, the narrator. I’ve listened to her work in the past (most recently in the audio production of Six of Crows) and it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. She has so much more energy as the voice of Dahlia Moss. Audiobooks are always so much more enjoyable to listen to when you can tell the narrator is really getting into the performance (this is why I loved The Martian audiobook so much) and this is most certainly the case with this book and Ms. Fortgang. All her sardonic inflections and snarky deliveries were spot on. Just a brilliant, brilliant performance.
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss was just an all-around fun book. You can bet I’ll be telling all my gamer friends about it, though I am also highly recommending this book to both geeks and non-geeks. Simply put, it’s awesome!...more
Oh, Adele and Gareth. I just want to wrap them both up in a nice warm hug. How apropos it is that my favorite fictional power couple of steampunk is back this fall in a new adventure written by my favorite real-life literary power couple of fantasy fiction. Three years after the end of the original trilogy, Clay Griffith and Susan Griffith return to the world of Vampire Empire with The Geomancer, the first book of a new spinoff series.
This book is the beginning of a new chapter in every way. The vampire clans in the north have been decimated, their hold on Britain shattered. Empress Adele of Equatoria and her consort the vampire prince Gareth are looking to the future, trying to work together to bring back order. Humans are starting to feel safe on the streets of London again. The war here with the vampires is over.
Or is it? Barely half a year has passed since Adele brought death and destruction to the enemy by using her powers of geomancy, but already there are rumors spreading that vampires are making their return. An investigation into a string of bloody murders in London confirm their worst fears—somehow vampires have found a way to resist the killing powers of geomancy. At the same time, news comes of a mysterious human known as the Witchfinder who has thrown in with the new vampire regime, with plans to help them kill humans on a massive scale. There’s no doubt that the two events are connected, and the path to stopping this new threat will lead our characters on an epic quest across the globe, from the warm heart of Equatoria in Alexandria to the cold, icy mountains of Tibet.
The Geomancer is exciting, action-packed, emotional, and I’m delighted to report that there’s plenty to love here for fans new and old. Readers who began the journey from the beginning with the original series will be happy to be reunited with these wonderful characters, while first-timers will be able to jump right in. The narrative is taking the next step towards resolving the conflict between humans and vampires, and we’re swept along for the ride. There are new dangers to face, new foes to fight, new challenges to overcome, and in this novel Adele and Gareth are perhaps facing the toughest question yet: Can their two species ever learn to co-exist?
For all the good Gareth has done for humans in the guise of the hero Greyfriar, his secret identity remains closely guarded. The world is not ready for the truth, nor is it ready to accept Adele and Gareth’s romantic relationship. One day that time will come, and until then the two of them will just have to do what they can to change people’s minds, one tiny step at a time. But before that can happen, both of them are going to have to deal with his or her own personal demons.
For Gareth, who spends a lot of time struggling with his pride and dealing with a lot of self-doubt in this book, this can be quite a harrowing and emotional journey. Adele herself fears that the awesome power of geomancy might be doing more harm than good, especially since it is a force no one truly understands. But through it all, you can be sure the two of them are going to be there for each other, because if there’s one thing the Griffiths have always done right in this series, it’s the romance. The authors have done an outstanding job with these characters, further developing their relationship. Things are still interesting even after four books, and I just love how Gareth and Adele are closer now than ever before.
It’s also great to be back in this world, which I’ve always admired for its uniqueness. The setting is a great mix of alternate history, paranormal, and steampunk, and the vampires here are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Kudos to the Griffiths for putting a fresh twist on an old trope. I also enjoyed how this book brought us to new places, like the hidden monastery in Tibet where I found a couple of new favorite characters among its intriguing residents. The vampire queen Caterina’s chapters also gave us a closer look at the treacherous power-plays as well as a burgeoning vampire rebellion in the overgrown ruins of Paris.
So if you’re curious about this series, this is a fantastic point to jump on board. I believe fans of the original trilogy will also be very happy with this new beginning, especially since familiarity with the people and places will make the experience all the more rewarding. Either way, prepare for love, action, adventure, and an explosive ending that promises even more to come....more
And to think, I almost gave this one a pass when I was compiling a list of books I wanted to read from the new Star Wars canon. What a mistake that would have been. Yes, this is categorized as Young Adult, but to be sure, this is not the kind of Star Wars YA from the old EU when the stories tended to lean more towards middle-grade audiences and few children’s series stood out strongly enough to make an impression. Lost Stars, in a word, was awesome. I have been reading Star Was novels for years and have read many of them during that time, but this has got to be one of the best I’ve ever read.
The book tells the tale of two childhood friends who became lovers before ending up on opposite sides of the galactic war. Ciena and Thane grew up on the same planet just after annexation by the Imperials, but one was born in the more rural valley while the other came from an affluent second-waver family. However, the two met and bonded over a shared love for piloting and a dream to one day fly for the Empire. They entered the Imperial academy together, excited to be with each other as they made that dream come true. But as the war waged on, their fates diverged as one grew disillusioned with the Empire and joined the Rebel Alliance, while the other remained in Imperial service and rose through its ranks to become a high-ranking officer.
The beauty of this book is in its simplicity. At the heart of it is a love story, so you might not enjoy it as much if YA Romance isn’t your cup of tea. At the same time though, it is surprisingly free of the tropes that usually clog up this genre, and I didn’t feel as if the plot was made more complicated by any needless drama. Instead, all the good stuff comes through, themes like: honor versus duty, love and grief, opportunities lost and things left unsaid. Ciena and Thane are the loves of each other’s lives, but they were raised in very different homes, with very different values. Because of that, there will always be a part in each of them that can and never will be reconciled.
And you know what else is great? How deeply and intimately Lost Stars is tied to the original trilogy. You get to relive the major events of each movie from a whole different perspective. No doubt about it, while reading this book I felt like I was 100% in the Star Wars universe. And yet, the story also retains its own uniqueness. You ever think to yourself, surely, the Empire can’t be one homogenous body working in unison towards the same goal? Of course there had to be different factions, as well as good people in the Imperial forces who couldn’t stand by and do nothing while their side committed all sorts of atrocities. This book does a really good job showing this, and in a way it humanizes the Empire by portraying the protagonists as average everyday people.
Like anyone, both Ciena and Thane have close family and friends. They each have their own personal hopes and dreams. They experience desire and longing. My heart ached for the two of them and I wanted so badly for things to work out for them in the end. Move over Anakin and Padme and Episode II, because this is romance done right. Heck, this is “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” done right.
“Look through my eyes…look through my eyes.” *Happy sigh*...more
Sunset Mantle is my first venture into Tor.com’s impressive line-up of novellas from their brand spanking new publishing arm. It wasn’t originally on my to-read list, but after hearing it described as a pocket-sized epic fantasy, I decided I had to take a look after all. The idea of a story like that, packed into just over 190 print copy pages really intrigued me.
The book’s protagonist is Cete, a former hero now in exile. Dismissed from his command both in honor and disgrace, he wanders the Reaches in search for a new place to call home. His travels lead him to Reach Antach, a settlement doomed to fall in the coming storm of infighting among several factions. But before Cete can turn on his heels and leave, a chance meeting with a blind woman in her shop changes everything.
Hanging there on display is the sunset mantle, beauty and light embroidered in cloth. The fine craftsmanship touches Cete in a way he cannot understand; all he knows is that he must have it, and if he can’t, he would want to commission a garment for himself from the shopkeeper and weaver, Marelle. To afford the commission and to stay in Reach Antach, Cete would have to find employment, and to find employment, Cete was going to have to go back to doing what he knows best. Once a fighting man, always a fighting man. However, being in the army also means being embroiled in the politics and schemes of the various clans trying to destroy Reach Antach, and even as his relationship with Marelle deepens, Cete’s fight eventually becomes more than just the mantle and even more than love.
This story left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am beyond impressed with author Alter S. Reiss’s marvelous success at laying out Cete’s journey from outcast to legendary warrior, all within this very slim volume. Sunset Mantle is not a “true” epic fantasy per se, with no magical element, and nor does it span a gazillion kingdoms or have enough points-of-view to populate a small village. There is, however, enough political intrigue to fill two fantasy worlds. This degree of complexity is not something I would have expected from a novella, and it also makes the scope of the story feel much, much bigger than the thin slice of what we get to see. Reiss gets a lot more accomplished in under two hundred pages than it takes some other authors to do the same thing in novels three to four times as thick. It does have a way of making you stop and wonder just how much gratuitous or unnecessary flourish goes into some of these doorstoppers.
I also really liked Cete as a protagonist as well as the nature of his relationship with Marelle, which goes much deeper than a romantic union. The trust and honesty between them is a rare thing to find indeed, even between two lovers. Cete sees Marelle as his equal, taking her guidance and respecting her need to do what she believes is right, even if it means letting her put herself in harm’s way. Cete also treats his own soldiers with that same practical respect. He is a man of honor and duty, as evidenced by the loyalty he shows Reach Antach, even though he came to them as a stranger and outcast. Other highlights include the battle scenes, which are quick but powerful, making the most out of the restrictive page count.
That said, the book wastes no words in establishing the situation surrounding Reach Antach and the city clans. Blink, and you could potentially miss something important. Ironically, it made Sunset Mantle a slower read, and it doesn’t give you much time to chew on the plot or characters. In fact, most of my questions came later, after I had finished the book and had some time to mull over what I just read. It made me realize a lack of background information made the story a little harder to understand, and sometimes that uncertainty or need to re-read a passage or two distracted from my enjoyment and prevented me from being fully engaged. Simply put, the overall style of the narrative begs to be savored, but the format is not that well suited for it.
Still, there’s something to be said about something as special as Sunset Mantle. It’s true I would have preferred a bit more breathing room, but that is not an uncommon complaint from me when it comes to novellas and short fiction. I’m usually very picky about this format, which is probably why I don’t read as much of it as I should. All things considered, I was actually quite pleased with this novella, which for me is saying a lot....more
The Witch Hunter is probably one of this summer’s more buzzworthy Young Adult titles, if the amount of coverage I’ve seen for it is any indication. Most of my friends who have read it also enjoyed it, while others were not so keen. If nothing else though, the book did succeed in getting my attention, and I was grateful to receive the audiobook for review, which is actually my preferred format when it comes to reading YA.
The story starts off by introducing us to its protagonist, Elizabeth Grey. She’s sixteen years old and already an accomplished witch hunter, part of the king’s elite group of agents trained to track down and capture sorcerers. But when a nighttime rendezvous goes awry, Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself and is taken to the dungeons to await burning at the stake.
On the eve of her execution, a strange man pays a visit to her cell. Believing her to be a witch, he helps break her out of prison. As it turns out, her mysterious rescuer is none other than Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful sorcerer in the kingdom as well as leader of a group of young rebel witches and wizards who are unhappy with being persecuted by the king’s laws. By helping her escape though, Nicholas has also turned Elizabeth into public enemy number one, forcing her to accept his terms or be left on her own to deal with the authorities. Reluctantly, Elizabeth agrees to help Nicholas break a deadly curse that has been laid upon him, and the group also takes her in as one of their own.
But of course, Elizabeth knows that it’s all a lie. Not only is she not a witch, she is one of the hunters whom they hate and fear, and there is no telling what Nicholas and his group might do when they find out the truth about her.
Now that I’ve finished the book, I feel I can better understand the different reactions I saw across the board. My own feeling lie somewhere in between. The Witch Hunter is a story peppered with tropes and familiar clichés, making it a very typical middle-of-the-road YA fantasy. As a protagonist, Elizabeth was not exceptional, nor did she really strike me as particularly sharp. Are you really telling me, that in all the years of witnessing countless examples of her mentor using magic as a tool in their witch hunter training sessions, Elizabeth never once suspected he was a magician? The logic is not strong with this one. It was also one of the bigger plot holes I tripped upon. The story itself is rather simplistic too, with the obvious message of “magic itself not being inherently evil, it just depends on how you use it” being presented as the crux of the conflict. Not exactly profound.
For all its flaws though, The Witch Hunter also has plenty of redeeming factors. The novel’s strength is in its light and adventurous tone, which had me chuckling at a couple places in response to some clever lines of dialogue. I especially loved the conversations between Elizabeth and Fifer, the only other female in their group. When Fifer’s character was introduced, I despaired thinking she would be yet another typical “girl rival” whose only purpose in the story is to make the heroine look good. Suffice to say, I was glad to be wrong. I also enjoyed the lack of a full-blown love triangle, and I felt the romance arc was stronger for it.
Most of the time I also prefer to listen to YA novels in audiobook format. I’m less likely to get hung up on world-building (or the lack of it) when I’m experiencing a book in this format, and characters feel richer to me when a narrator gives them a voice. This isn’t the first time I’ve listened to an audiobook narrated by Nicola Barber; in fact it was just a few weeks ago that I listened to her on another title so her performance was still fresh on my mind. I find myself very impressed with her versatility. For The Witch Hunter, Barber sounded younger, giving the protagonist the bubbly, energetic personality which her character called for, and her deftly delivered curses of “Damnation!” made me think, yep, that’s Elizabeth right there.
Simply put, this book was a lot of fun. I may have called the story simple, but that in itself is not necessarily a weakness. In fact, if you enjoy tightly woven plots and are tired of the ostentation and gimmicky shticks cropping up all over the genre these days, this one might very well work for you. It’s mainstream and not looking to break new ground, but it definitely knows what it has to offer....more
Today, legions of Whovians are welcoming the Doctor back for another new season of BBC’s science fiction television program Doctor Who. And then there’s yours truly, probably one of the last three people on this earth who hasn’t watched the show yet. I won’t even be able to speak on the matter of how well the books capture the spirit of the series, because I just don’t know. As such, you might be wondering why I’m reading them. To that, I point you to my love of science fiction and fondness for media tie-ins of all kinds.
This is a category of fiction that has come a long way. Media tie-ins and novelizations of movies or television shows have long gotten a bad rap for hardly ever being able to live up to the original source material, but in the last few years I have noticed a definite rise in the quality of stories and writing in this area. Tie-ins aren’t strictly for hardcore fans anymore; many of the books now can stand on their own with lots to offer in terms of plot and characters, providing general audiences with a good reading experience or the perfect jumping-on point for those curious about a media property – folks just like me. I’m definitely interested in the Doctor Who series; a lot of my friends adore this show and I want to find out more. And of course I would never say no to checking out a book.
After much internal deliberation and conflict, I decided to start with Doctor Who: Royal Blood, a story about a falling kingdom, invading armies, and let’s face it, any mention of a “Grail Quest” and you can pretty much guarantee I’m on board. This book begins with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara arriving on an unnamed planet, where they are quickly ushered into the city-state of Varuz to meet its Duke Aurelian and his wife, Lady Guena. All is not well in their kingdom. Their palace is crumbling, the nobles have wondrous electric gadgets but they barely have the power or knowledge (“What, shoot death rays? I shouldn’t think so!”) to work them, and a rival Duke on the other side of the mountains is even now preparing to launch an attack.
Taking him for a holy man, Aurelian asks The Doctor for his blessing in the coming war and refuses to surrender. Meanwhile, everyone else wants to avoid conflict, seizing upon an opportunity to negotiate with the mysterious stranger who shows up at the castle, presumably the ambassador of Conrad, the rival Duke. Aurelian does not take this well when he finds out, throwing poor Clara and the ambassador out of his city which leaves the Doctor behind to hold the fort, so to speak, along with Guena and Bernhardt, Varuz’s most trusted knight. But even that may not be enough though, when a company of thirty warriors shows up, led by a captain claiming to be the great Sir Lancelot. He also claims that he is from Ravenna, and on behalf of his King Arthur, they are on a mission to seek out the most holy of treasures.
For such a slim volume – presumably to appeal to all Doctor Who fans, young and old – I was actually very impressed with the richness of the writing and story. A quick look at Una McCormack’s author page shows that she’s written many other Doctor Who books as well as a few Star Trek titles. She’s clearly no stranger to writing a good tie-in and it shows in her smart pacing of the plot. The story’s construction is solid, has great flow, and is easy to read. I had a moment of confusion early on when I encountered a point-of-view change, where the narrative inexplicably switched from being first-person to third-person (told in Bernhardt and then Clara’s POV, respectively) and it continues on in this fashion for the rest of the novel. It’s a very bizarre decision, one that I wasn’t sure about initially, but it ended up working surprisingly well. It’s worth noting too that even though the Doctor is the series and book’s titular character, his role in this feels more like a supporting character rather than the main protagonist. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it’s also quite intriguing.
On that note, while we are speaking of bucking expectations I most certainly also found Royal Blood to go against the trend of tie-in books being poorly cobbled together or coming across very “bare-bones.” This book reads like a sci-fi adventure for young adults, with an ambitious plot written into a small package, but is no less enjoyable because of it. I had my doubts before picking it up but I actually ended up liking it a lot. If it was fun for me, I imagine it would be even better for fans of the show, though going in blind likely benefited in some ways as well, since I had no preconceived notions of how a Doctor Who novel should “feel” like. Still, based on the things I’ve heard, I imagine the tone of style of it to be similar to an episode of the show – fast-paced and adventurous, with a good dose of humor.
In the end, it was probably a good thing that I started with Royal Blood. Released on the same day along with Deep Time by Trevor Baxendale and Big Bang Generation by Gary Russel, it seems Royal Blood is the introductory volume of the three books that make up a series called The Glamour Chronicles, following the Doctor on his adventures across time and space in search for The Glamour, “the most desirable—and dangerous—artifact in the universe.” Whovian or not, the trilogy could be worth a look if that sounds interesting to you. This was my first Doctor Who novel but it most likely won’t be my last, especially if the other two books in the series prove just as easy–and fun–to get into.
Over the last two months, I’ve been working my way through all the available Witcher Saga novels in audiobook format. The series is surprisingly addictive, so much so that it feels like I was just listening to the first book Blood of Elves yesterday. And now that I’ve come to the end of book three, I find myself a bit lost and drifting. After all, the print version of the next book (The Swallow’s Tower) hasn’t even been translated in English yet, with the release date planned for 2016. So yep, unless I learn Polish in the next year (highly unlikely!), it’s going to be a looooong wait.
The fact that Baptism of Fire was perhaps my favorite book in the series so far isn’t helping my patience either. At first, I wasn’t sure that I liked where the story was going. This installment feels different from the others, shifting to a more traditional quest narrative while downplaying the political intrigue. We start the book off with an introduction to a new character, an expert archer and hunter named Milva. She meets Geralt in the forest, finding him badly injured from the events of the Thanedd coup. However, the Witcher only has his mind on recovering so that he can continue on to Nilfgaard to find Ciri, the young princess-turned-sorceress whom unbeknownst to everyone has settled into a life with a gang of rebels.
Despite his misgivings, Geralt gives in to Milva’s request to tag along. They are accompanied by Dandelion, the poet. And on their way, they also meet a dwarf named Zoltan. Further along their journey, they join up with a Nilggaardian named Cahir. Eventually, the party even gets a vampire named Regis. Far from the monster the group expected him to be, Regis actually proves quite invaluable thanks to his medical knowledge and skills.
I know what you’re thinking. Geralt and his fellow adventurers sound like they stepped straight out of a role-playing game. You even have your different races and classes. Not that I don’t enjoy this particular classic trope, but for a series that has thus far been all about the complexity and plot depth, I was surprised because this seemed like a step back. And indeed, I felt that the story in Baptism of Fire was much simpler when compared to the other books, and not a lot happened at the beginning while Sapkowski worked to introduce all the new faces and names. I also noticed a lot less of characters like Ciri, Yennefer, and Triss Merigold, given that most of the attention was on Geralt and his group. Don’t get me wrong; I always want more Geralt, but I can’t deny I was expecting more Ciri, especially in light of her prominent role in The Time of Contempt.
Around the halfway through the book though, something happened. Maybe the story finds its stride at this point, or maybe I finally got to appreciate the personalities of all the different characters, but I started really enjoying myself. Our adventurers make their way east, eventually running afoul of trouble caused by the ongoing war. Battling enemies and working together towards a singular goal – that’s my favorite part of these kinds of stories, after all. The dynamics between everyone in the group started to get a lot more interesting too, with Regis emerging as one of my favorites. Dandelion was a riot as always, and I got such a kick out of his conversations with the old vampire. Near the end, there was also a very good example of how far the characters have come as a group, when everyone got together to discuss what to do about a situation that would affect one of their members. A ragtag bunch of strangers become a family of sorts, which is what I love to see.
Something else to keep in mind: the original Baptism of Fire was published in 1996. And for a story that’s almost twenty years old, I think it has aged exceedingly well. Classic quest narrative or not, it still feels fresh, probably a testament to Sapkowski’s storytelling as well as the skills of the translator.
And don’t dismiss the audiobook and what it brings to the table. I maintain this is the best format to experience The Witcher Saga. Peter Kenny once again proves what a versatile narrator he is, delivering a superb performance as always. In fact, I feel this is probably his best work on this series so far. Kenny really knocked it out of the park, bringing the whole gang to life in this one, giving each group member a unique voice. He was absolutely fantastic.
So now I settle in for the wait. Heck, it may be even longer for the audio version. But it doesn’t matter; something tells me it will be worth it....more
I have to say, so far I’ve been very impressed with the variety of Tor.com novellas. Just as I’ve gotten myself settled in with a couple stories that are rather sober, more serious-like endeavors, along comes Envy of Angels barging into this black tie dinner party like your favorite uncle, the one who gets loud when he’s had too many but is always ready to entertain the crowd with a funny yarn.
I had such a great time with this book. Imagine Hell’s Kitchen meets Dresden Files, marinated in a flavorful blend of action and thrills, seasoned generously with humor. When I first glimpsed the conspicuously short publisher description for this novella, I had my suspicions about what this meant and now they have been confirmed: The less you know about this story going in, the better.
Fortunately, I can give the general gist of it without spoiling anything. Envy of Angels is about Lena and Darren, two ordinary down-on-their-luck New York chefs who suddenly find themselves landing the gig of lifetime at Sin du Jour, an exclusive catering company owned by one of the city’s hottest celebrity chefs. However, it soon becomes clear that Sin du Jour is no ordinary catering company. For one thing, their clients are demons.
When asked to serve a morally questionable item on the menu at their next event (and we’re not talking about veal), Sin du Jour owner and executive chef Byron “Bronko” Luck gathers his staff and puts it to a vote. Should they do what they’re told and go through with the whole thing? Or should they take the dangerous, near-impossible option and attempt to pull the wool over their devilish clientele’s eyes by preparing a substitute main course and praying they won’t notice? By the way, these types of hellish customers, when they don’t get what they order, aren’t just going to be sending it back. But guess what our characters decide to go ahead and do anyway.
The result is an extraordinary amount of story packed into this novella. Envy of Angels features plenty of action both in the kitchen and out in the field, and even includes a thrilling heist sequence starring Ritter, Cindy, Hara and Moon, the unforgettable foursome who make up Sin du Jour’s Stocking and Receiving Department.
The plot is also very addictive, especially when it gets more and more bizarre. Between getting completely sucked into the story and the sheer morbid curiosity to see what other crazy things might be happening next, I kept turning the pages and finished this book in no time at all. It was fantastically good fun. I really don’t want to give much more away, though in truth, there are moments so absurdly hilarious, so out-of-this-world-insane that I would be hard-pressed to describe them, anyway. Seriously. There are moments in here that you simply must experience for yourself.
One thing is certain though. I’ll never look at a Chicken McNugget the same way again....more
When Tor.com first announced their line-up of novellas for 2015, Binti was probably one of the top three I was most excited about. Now I have to wonder if I went overboard and hyped myself up too much, because it turned out that I did not fall in love with this book like I had hoped I would. Now don’t get me wrong, because I enjoyed Binti. It’s a sweet little novella that captivated me and left me wanting more. Still, why it left me wanting more is the key matter I want to discuss in my review.
At its heart, Binti is a very human story about self-discovery and self-acceptance. It follows the eponymous protagonist, a young woman who is leaving home for the very first time. Her people the Himba are a very private society with a deep respect for tradition and culture, preferring to keep to themselves. Binti, however, has bigger plans. She applies for Oomza University and is accepted, becoming the first ever Himba to be offered a place at the school. Binti’s family and friends laughed at her, ridiculed her, cried and begged her not to go, but Binti would not be dissuaded. She secretly books passage for a space flight that would take her to the university, where she would embark on a journey to higher learning.
On the way, however, her ship is attacked by members of an alien race called the Meduse. The Meduse hate humans, and they also hate the University for committing a grave crime against their chief. Binti is forced to watch in horror as all the new friends she made are ruthlessly slaughtered. Somehow, Binti herself manages to escape the massacre. She doesn’t know why she was spared, though she suspects the answer to that question and her only chance to survive might be found within her. She must stay alive until help can be reached, and to do that, she will have to open herself to an unlikely ally.
As a protagonist, Binti is delightfully complex, being a heroine who straddles two worlds. Unlike the other members of her family, Binti has the desire to travel beyond the stars, and the moment she found out about Oomza University, it became her dream to one day study there. That said, she also has deep ties to the Himba, adhering to their many customs, like using the clay of her land on her skin and hair as part of a cleansing ritual, or following in her father’s footsteps to study and develop technology. Leaving home is never easy, and I admired Binti’s courage to face down the new and the unknown, even when she is met with ignorance from other travelers who have never encountered a Himba before and treat her differently—at best, like an oddity; at worst, like a savage.
What’s interesting is that Binti’s own experience with the Meduse teaches her something about the way people view the world, revealing how one can become prejudiced when faced with prejudice against themselves. The theme of the story is about acceptance, of embracing your own identity and being proud of who you are, but also learning to respect others and sympathize with different points of view.
If that sounds like a very straightforward message, that’s because it is. It’s a beautiful message, one I really liked, but at times I felt it was presented a bit too cleanly. And while I have nothing but good things to say about the world building and the establishment of the premise, when it came to the narrative itself, I felt the plot lacked substance. It’s fine, perhaps, if you view this as Binti’s personal journey. But as much as I enjoy a story with a message, I also prefer it when the latter is balanced with the former to make the experience more meaningful and convincing. I was fully engaged for most of this book, but felt the resolution was too rushed and roughly sketched, like the story just couldn’t wait to make its point.
Like I said, I wanted more—mainly more meat on the bones of this story, and to a lesser extent, more emphasis given to Binti’s own skills and intelligence, because I also felt the ending was weak due to the heavy reliance on factors outside the protagonist’s sphere of control. Still, all in all I am glad I read this novella. It was a thought-provoking tale, and I’m blown away by Nnedi Okorafor’s talent for world building. I think it’s high time I picked up one of her novels because I think a fuller story would work better for me....more
So the other day I was having this conversation with another blogger about what makes us give a book 5 stars. Admittedly, my own reasons can be pretty nebulous and oftentimes the finer details can differ from a lot of others’ “criteria”, but ultimately I think it always comes down to the question: Did the book blow my mind? Maybe the author impressed with some crazy unique ideas, or made me see something in a whole different light. Or maybe the book touched my emotions in some way, destroyed my feels and left me blubbering like an idiot.
Or maybe sometimes, like in the case of The Fifth House of the Heart, the reasons don’t have to be either cerebral or emotional. Maybe I just want to give a book 5 stars because it was just so damn fucking fun. DEAL WITH IT!
Seriously, though. Horror, humor, and a heist all in one? I couldn’t have asked for more. Say what you want about vampires being a tired old trope, but they can still be pretty terrifying, especially when you have an author who knows how to portray them like the monsters that they are—the way they’re meant to be. Next, throw in a motley group of mercenaries led by a septuagenarian antiquities dealer, our rather zany protagonist who is as motivated by his desire to rid the world of vampires as he is by the opportunity to get his hands on some of their priceless loot.
For you see, vampires are as bad as dragons when it comes to hoarding; they have an obsession for the past as well as an eye for expensive, beautiful, and exquisitely crafted things. Unfortunately, they are also fiercely attached to their possessions and will guard them with as much fervor. This is precisely how Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang draws the attention of a vampire at an antiques auction, after barely winning a bidding war for an ormolu clock. But Sax is no stranger to vampires, having profited greatly from a couple of run-ins with them in the past. So when the clock is later stolen from his warehouse, leaving the watchman on duty brutally murdered, Sax knows only one thing can be responsible. Determined to settle the score, he travels to the Vatican to assemble a crack team of vampire hunters to counter this new threat—and hopefully to make another fortune while he’s at it.
Everyone in this book is a character, in the sense that they all possess interesting and notable traits or personalities. First there’s Fra Paolo, the guileless monk admiringly described by the openly gay Sax as a dark, handsome young “piece of Italian beefcake.” Next is Min, a small innocuous-looking Korean woman who just happens to be one of the deadliest, most frighteningly accomplished vampire killers in the world–and the sanest one the Vatican could come up with on short notice. Rock is the team’s muscle, an ex-US Army Special Forces guy who is as rugged and strong as his name suggests. Gheorghe plays the role of the rogue, a Romanian burglar who moonlights as a street acrobat in between bank heists. Then there are the unwitting additions to the crew, those who just happened to fall into this deadly caper by happy circumstance: Nilu, the Bollywood actress who became a vampire victim; Emily, Sax’s concerned niece who trails her uncle to Europe; and finally, Abingdon the British blacksmith/professional jouster whose impeccable physique and devastatingly good looks make him popular with the ladies at Ren Faires all across the continent.
Hard to imagine a more dubious or random group of people getting together to slay monsters, but there you are. But of course, the most interesting and entertaining one of all is Sax, the leader of this jolly band and the one who holds everyone together. Sax is one of the best protagonists I’ve read in years, a man of contrasts if I’ve ever seen one. I can’t decide whether he’s closer in type to the gentle elderly man who gives smiles to children in the park, or to the crotchety one who brandishes his cane at them from his porch yelling “Get off my lawn!” In truth, he’s probably both in equal parts.
One thing is certain though: this novel owes a lot of its greatness to Sax. Certainly, his wry and wicked sense of humor is a huge part of it; I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. Throughout the book, Sax will say all sorts of scandalous or outrageously inappropriate things but you’ll still find yourself busting a gut without feeling too guilty about it because he reminds you of your 100-year-old eccentric grandpa. Plus, the guy has already survived two vampire attacks, and yet even now he’s preparing to charge headlong into another. RESPECT. I could only hope to be so spritely when I’m pushing eighty.
You might have noticed by now that I haven’t talked much about the plot – and I’m not going to. Because as with most heist stories, the less you know about the novel before you read it the better. The less you know about the vampires in this book the better too, but I just want to say how much I loved Tripp’s return to the ruthless, bestial portrayal of these creatures while still giving it a refreshingly unique twist. The Fifth House of the Heart will remind you that vampires are monsters. They don’t love you. They want to kill you.
So if you want some terrifyingly good entertainment, read this book. What an uproarious mix of thrills and chills! Needless to say, I enjoyed it thoroughly, from the first page to the last!...more
I’m glad I took a couple days to sit on my thoughts before writing this review, because not gonna lie, my initial impressions upon finishing Soundless were really negative. But now that I’ve had some time to really think about it with a clear head, I realize with a bit of grudging respect that I probably enjoyed it more than I thought. Sure, the book had its issues, but in spite of it all, it was a fun, sweet, and cute story. Sometimes you just can’t ask for much more than that. However, it just didn’t feel like a lot of thought was put into it, which left me extremely disappointed. It was like Richelle Mead started off with this amazingly great idea, but instead of working out from that, she opted instead to fill in the gaps with predictable plot elements and other timeworn trends.
First, the obligatory rundown of the book’s story sans spoilers in order to provide a frame of reference for some of my comments below. Soundless is set in a fantasy world “steeped in Chinese folklore”, featuring the tale of a girl named Fei who lives in a village where everyone has been deaf for generations. Long ago, their community on top of a mountain was cut off by a rockslide, leaving the people no way to farm for food. Instead, they mine the precious metals in the caves, which they then use to trade for goods with another kingdom in the lowlands via a zipline.
Mining therefore is a very important job in Fei’s village. Fei herself came from a family of miners until she and her sister Zhang Jing were able to rise above their station and become artists, tasked to write and illustrate each day’s events since this is the only way everyone in this soundless village can receive news. However, recently more and more villagers have started going blind. As less people are able to mine, they are unable to trade as much for food, and the entire village faces the threat of starvation. Then something horrible happens. Zhang Jing beings to lose her sight, spurring Fei to desperately search for a solution. The answer may come in the form of Li Wei, her friend who has decided to solve the village’s problems by taking matters into his own hands.
I was only thirty pages into this book and things were already starting to feel like déjà vu. A poor dystopic community where the only industry is mining. A girl forced to take drastic measures to save her sister. A place where people are pigeonholed into one of only a handful of vocational categories. In this case, Fei’s village is divided into two classes of people: Miners and Artists. What is up with the Young Adult genre and some of their strange dichotomies? Who do people go to when they get sick in this village? What do they do when a building needs fixing? Apparently you’d be out of luck, because there are only miners and artists, and possibly a serving class, but if you’re in need of a skilled trade, sorry, no help for you.
Also, it’s an interesting world, I have to give it that. But I still have a hard time buying into some of its circumstances. Even with the risk of avalanches, desperate people are going to be desperate people whether they can hear or not; the idea of a starving population impotently staying put where they are for generations while relying on a mysterious faraway kingdom as their only means of survival is just a little too convenient for my tastes. Also, why the hell would the people whose work required the most energy be getting the least amount of sustenance, while artists get to sit around in their pavilions painting all day and yet still get to eat better than the miners? Plus, you already have eight-year-olds working in the mine. Clearly, if the situation is so dire that children have to be subjected to those conditions, then seriously, every able-bodied person should be in that mine, digging their asses off. Have some artistic talent, do you? Too bad, everyone’s starving! Nobody will be giving a crap about the quality of art in their daily news.
Another thing, just because you throw in a couple Chinese sounding names and make a few mentions of chrysanthemums does not a story “steeped in Chinese folklore” make. Though, I did like how the author included the pixiu and incorporated their myth into the plot. However, “steeped” is probably still too generous a word. In reality, the amount of Chinese folklore and culture in this is actually quite insubstantial.
To be fair, I’m not completely panning this book because I did say there were a few redeeming factors. For once, I actually enjoyed the romance. It’s super sweet, mostly because you know Fei and Li Wei are meant to be together. I’m not really into shipping and getting hung up on stuff like which girl is going to end up with which guy (mostly because this usually involves infuriating love triangles) so a simple and straightforward love story suited me just fine.
And like I said, in spite of some of the problems I mentioned above, this book was still fun to read. It’s a cute little story, relatively short since I was able to blow through it in about one evening. It’s not complicated. I like the idea of a soundless village, and the people all communicating using sign language. The author cleverly conveys what a world might be like through the eyes of character who was born without the ability to hear, surrounded by others who are the same. It’s a brilliant premise, actually. Just a shame that it’s paired with such a humdrum plot.
This is the first book I’ve read by Richelle Mead, and in retrospect I probably should have started out with one of her established series. I just couldn’t help but to be drawn to Soundless though, by that gorgeous cover and intriguing description. Regretfully, the book felt rushed and didn’t reach its potential, but it had a couple high points and at least it was a very quick read....more
It recently occurred to me that over the years I’ve consumed a fair number of movies, games, comics, television shows etc. featuring retellings or re-imaginings of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – but never a novel. Huh. Suffice to say I was pretty shocked by this realization; after all, there are quite a few high-profile titles out there.
Christina Henry’s Alice therefore had the distinction of being my first “Alice retelling novel”, and I’m actually quite happy about that. Of the many different versions of Lewis Carroll’s classic that I have experienced, my favorite ones were typically those considered “dark” or “twisted” – and to be honest, those are the types I’m mostly interested in. There’s just something about the original tale that lends itself to the creepy or macabre treatment.
In any case, dark was what I wanted and dark was what I got. Henry’s retelling is definitely not for the faint of heart, and readers should also beware that themes of sexual violence and abuse feature heavily in this novel. This is Alice’s Adventures told through a horror lens, as vicious and sharp as a butcher’s knife wielded unflinchingly in your face, and all the whimsy and magical light-heartedness is warped here into a horrible nightmare of savagery and pain. If you enjoy close adaptations or would prefer to see the fanciful nature of the original story preserved, this book is not for you. But if, on the other hand, you know what you’ll be getting into and would like to see a refreshing new take on creative retellings, then this one could very well be right up your alley.
Alice begins with an introduction to our eponymous protagonist, a young woman who has spent the last ten years in a hospital ward for the insane along with the city’s other undesirables. She can’t remember the events that precipitated her imprisonment, and only knows what she’s been told – that as a girl she went missing, and then was later found again beaten and broken, one cheek slashed open and blood running down between her legs, gibbering nonsensically about “the Rabbit”. Now Alice finds herself mostly forgotten by the world, and her only friend is another prisoner called Hatcher, a multiple murderer who talks to her through a mouse hole in the wall connecting their cells.
One night, a fire breaks out in the hospital allowing Alice and Hatcher to escape, but the two of them are far from free. A shadowy monster known as the Jabberwocky is on the hunt, and it has their scent. The only way to be rid of the beast is to slay him with a magical blade, forcing Alice and Hatcher to seek it out in the heart of Old City where they will face monsters of a different sort – for this is where the magician crime lords rule, feeding off the fear and misery of the populace. Within their ranks are the men known as Cheshire, Caterpillar, the Walrus…and to Alice’s dismay, her old enemy the Rabbit.
As I was saying, if you like your Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland retellings dark and twisted, you’ve come to the right place. Christina Henry doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to filling her world with brutal violence and death. Her protagonists are troubled and broken people, haunted by traumatic pasts and memories. It’s not a happy book. And yet, beneath all the horror and disturbing themes, I’m impressed by the author’s sheer imagination and creativity. I like how she’s taken the familiar elements from the original story and reworked them into her version, making Alice one of the most unique retellings I’ve ever read.
Still, as much as I enjoyed this novel, I couldn’t help but feel like it was missing something vital. In spite of its relatively short length, Alice took me an inordinate amount of time to finish due to the numerous occasions where I got distracted or drifted off while reading. I liked the book a lot, but it just didn’t grip me the way it ought to have, even though the characters had purpose and the plot maintained a steady momentum. I wanted to stay connected but at times it was a struggle, almost like the darkness in the story was a massive black hole that sucked all life from its surroundings. To be clear though, it wasn’t the brutal nature of the story that affected me, but rather the hollowing effect it had on the characters. Both Alice and Hatcher felt distant to me, and whether or not this is by design, it had an impact on my experience.
Nevertheless, I’m still a fan. Alice is unconventional and rather fascinating in its uniqueness. This book is certainly not for everyone, but I can see it scoring a hit with readers who enjoy strange and dark retellings. Themes like sexual abuse and psychological trauma makes this one a disturbing read, but I feel they are handled with a complexity that’s not just there for shock value and cheap thrills. While Alice features a self-contained story, the end does leaves things somewhat open for a future installment. If that’s the case, I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more!...more
Bat out of Hell was pretty scary, though not in the way I expected. Going in, I don’t know what exactly I was hoping for. An apocalyptic-type thriller novel, perhaps? Or a science fiction with a horror spin?
The story ended up being neither of those. I attribute my first impressions to the somewhat misleading book description, which I think overplays the urgency of the premise. I expected a nightmare scenario in which humanity was dying by the millions to a new Black Death. In truth, the book isn’t so much about the plague than the social and political games that surround it. It’s also not really a sci-fi or techno-thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton or Douglas Preston. Even though the tagline says “Eco-Thriller”, I wouldn’t say suspense and excitement are the book’s main elements.
Oh but there are plenty of cool things about it, all right. Like I said, the premise is pretty frightening. All around the world, outbreaks of infectious diseases are happening all at once, and not just in third world countries or rural areas either. London gets hit. Then a built up neighborhood in New Jersey. The UN quickly puts together a first-response team and dispatches them all around the world to find out what’s going on. The diseases have to be spreading through a vector, and scientists narrow it down to bats. (Or birds. A stunning amount of time is actually spent by characters in the book hotly debating whether or not it’s one or the other.) The point is though, infectious diseases are scary as hell, and they make great topics for Horror/Thriller novels. That’s the reason I was originally drawn to Bat Out of Hell and why I wanted to read it.
Of course, there were also parts of the story that just didn’t work for me. But that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. Truth be told, I find books like this very hard to review, because its style and structure (and genre, arguably) don’t mesh too well with my own reading preferences. That’s not the book’s fault, obviously. For this reason, I’m going to leave my rating off for the blog.
Essentially, I enjoyed the overall premise of the story. It’s smart, it’s entertaining, and the subject matter is fascinating. However, there are several things I felt could have been changed in order to make it a better and more exciting read. First of all, I wish there had been a lot more focus on the diseases themselves. The story didn’t cover too many outbreaks to begin with, and every time we saw one, only a few pages were devoted to the entire cycle of infection, immediate deaths (inevitably the scenarios all involved children), and eventual fallout. And then without skipping a beat, we are right back to the politicians and the special interest groups shamelessly spinning the situation.
Hence, my second observation: from politicians to leading scientists, animal rights activists to celebrities – everyone seems to get their chance to weigh in on the worldwide health crisis. Everyone except the ones who are the most affected. Where are the victims’ voices? The family and friends of the dead? Seems like a gross oversight to exclude their perspectives and influence on the global discourse.
Thirdly, I thought the narrative greatly oversimplified certain elements of the story. For example, birds are lovely and cute. So the idea of killing them en masse to prevent them from transmitting deadly diseases to humans would be met with outrage and resistance, to the joyful glee of the activists behind Citizens for Humane Animal Treatment. Bats, on the other hand, are icky. So if it turns out they’re the culprits, no one cares. There’s also the disturbing implication that most people will blindly follow the random claims of pop stars and Hollywood actors over the word of scientific experts who actually know what they’re talking about. Maybe a some people, but I think most folks tend to trust the epidemiologist with the PHD over some aging metalhead, no matter how famous they are — especially when it comes to matters of health. Speaking of which, where’s the internet and social media? Something like this should have had millions talking about it, but once again we’re only getting the perspectives of the elite, the world leaders and the CEOs and the celebrities who treat the population like lemmings — point in the direction you want them to go and they will follow – but reality just isn’t like that.
In the end, I think what I wanted was a more intense and more personal story. Still, I thought the book was interesting and devoured it quickly because I really wanted to find out what happens. Something tells me Bat Out of Hell might be somewhat of an esoteric novel, and certainly if you have an interest in stories about outbreaks and infectious diseases, it’d definitley be worth giving this book a shot....more
Disappointingly, A Borrowed Man turned out to be less than I expected. I was initially drawn to the book because of the vague hints at a futuristic dystopian setting, but it was undoubtedly the description of the protagonist that sealed the deal. E.A. Smithe is a clone, created for the sole purpose of being an educational resource and made available on loan to all patrons of the public library where he sits displayed from a third-tier shelf. It’s an interesting premise, and paired with a mystery plot, this book should have scored a hit with me. However, having great ideas for a story is one thing, but I suppose carrying them out is another.
First though, a bit more about Smithe. As a library “reclone”, our protagonist is seen as more of a tool than a human being, just a piece of property with no legal rights. When you think about libraries today, they are vast storehouses of knowledge where literary works are preserved for eternity, and anyone with a library card can borrow the great works of authors long since dead. However, in Smithe’s world, they’ve gone even further than that. Actual authors and artists from the recent past have been cloned, their brains filled with information from the last saved scans of the original individuals before their deaths. So now not only can you borrow books and other media from the library, you can even choose to borrow their creators, whether you want to take them off the shelf for a consultation or lead them to the checkout counter to bring them home.
The real E.A. Smithe, the man who the main character was cloned from, was a pretty well-known mystery writer in his day. At the beginning of this story, a wealthy woman named Colette Coldbrook borrows his reclone, hoping to find out more about a book he wrote called “Murder on Mars”, a physical copy of which was in the possession Collette’s late father. Collette is convinced that the book contains important secrets and may be the key to the mystery of her murdered brother.
I have to say, despite my issues with A Borrowed Man, the ideas in it are fascinating. Smithe lives in an outwardly perfect world where civilization has been replaced by another system entirely, and most of humanity’s problems have been eradicated with the population down to a sustainable billion or so. However, dig deeper and you’ll discover that those problems aren’t really gone—just carefully hidden or swept aside like they don’t exist. Then there’s the situation with reclones. As library property, we’ve already established that Smithe isn’t considered a real person, but it gets even darker and more disturbing than that. Like other library resources that get too old or outdated, reclones are disposed of when they demand for them dwindles or when they aren’t borrowed anymore. Those who outlive their usefulness are drugged and then thrown unceremoniously into an incinerator.
But ideas only got this story so far. The plot started well enough before going downhill very early on; the narrative had me but then it lost me, which is perhaps the most frustrating feeling of all when a great mystery doesn’t meet its potential. I didn’t feel that the story was well developed, with frequent derailments by trivial matters that added nothing to the mystery. These overcomplicated devices only made things feel more tedious, along with a protagonist who was uninspiring, irritating, and repetitive. I wasn’t entirely ambivalent about the ending and how things would play out, but neither did I feel all that invested in solving the mystery.
Audiobook comments: I’ve enjoyed many audiobook narrated by Kevin T. Collins in the past, and I think he’s great. However, I felt he was the completely wrong choice to read this book. Collins is amazing in high-energy roles, which is the exact opposite of how I would describe the protagonist E.A. Smithe, who came across as fussy and somewhat prim and old-fashioned compared to those around him (which actually makes sense since his memories and mannerisms belonged to a man from an earlier time). I also pictured Smithe to be older man. Collins’ voice sounds much younger, marking him well suited for the Young Adult audiobooks I’ve listened to that were performed by him, but for A Borrowed Man, perhaps not so much.
Overall, I didn’t feel this novel lived up to its potential. As a noir mystery, the story fell short, but I did find a lot of the sci-fi aspects interesting and wished they had been better developed....more
A month and a half has gone by since I read and reviewed The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata, and I have to admit I’m still reeling from the ending. Everything in that story from its climax onwards was nothing short of an insanely red hot face-melting explosion of whiplash-inducing action and frenzy. That’s the kind of experience that stays with you for a long time, but nonetheless I felt more than ready to take on its sequel.
Our protagonist Lieutenant James Shelley is back in the battle for justice, but first he and his soldiers must answer for their own actions taken in the unauthorized mission known as First Light. As the country struggles to rebuild its infrastructure and communications systems in the wake of an all-out nuclear terrorist attack, everyone in the team known as the Apocalypse Squad find themselves facing court-martials.
Meanwhile, out in the cloud still lurks the rogue AI program known as “The Red”. Given time, it can get anywhere and access anything linked to the network, including the neural implants in soldiers’ brains – soldiers like Shelley, who has long questioned the motives of the Red. It has already hacked into his head and lead him here; what more does it have planned for him and his team?
When I first learned of the title for this book, I thought it would be referring to the story and the characters’ experiences in a more symbolic sense. Turns out, it was quite literal as well. There are a couple courtroom trials in the spotlight here, and we begin with Apocalypse Squad’s. The public is torn on the actions Shelley and his team took at the end of the first book, and there’s a period of suspense where we are left wondering whether they’ll find the support they need from the government or be thrown under the bus. If you enjoy tense courtroom dramas, you will also enjoy this intro.
Because this is a spoiler-free review, I won’t be revealing what happens. Still, if you’ve read the first book or even my review of First Light, you’ve probably already guessed that the men and women of Apocalypse Squad remain fiercely loyal to Shelley and to each other. This is a series where there’s never a shortage when it comes to the examples of camaraderie between soldiers and kinds of lives they lead. In both this novel and its predecessor, I find there are lots of powerful themes imbedded in the story. Like, what it might mean for a soldier who sees the army as his or her family, support system, and their whole life. What might happen if they suddenly lose contact with that world. It also briefly explores the subject of PTSD, how soldiers with it deal with what they’ve seen while serving in the line of duty, and why some find it difficult to adjust to life after the military.
Compared to the first book though, the plot of this one felt a little more scattered and choppy. I know I said that I felt prepared to tackle the sequel, but now I have to wonder: Was I? The ending of the First Light really blew me away. It was hard to fathom anything else that could surpass it or even match it. I was right, in a way; the ending of The Trials was pretty intense, but it didn’t quite beat the first installment when it came to shock factor and emotional impact.
Another thing that I didn’t notice in First Light but bothered me here was the main character. It’s no secret that Shelley is impulsive and likes to be in charge (it’s emphasized multiple times in this book, mentioned by other characters and even admitted by the protagonist) but in portraying him in this light, I think the author may have done her job a little too well. So many times, I found myself fed up with Shelley and his attitude. He was insufferable when he was getting in Jaynie Vasquez’s face, while she was his commanding officer, even as he acknowledged that he was not in the best position to lead. I also didn’t like the fact he became romantically involved with Delphi so quickly, despite what she meant to him. I realize Shelley’s skullnet can dampen painful emotions and stabilize them to an extent – but I still hadn’t gotten over what happened at the end of the first book, and seeing Shelley blithely moving on made me like him a bit less. This is something that goes beyond simple urges and impulses.
Audiobook comments: The feelings I had about the audiobook version of First Light applies here too. Kevin T. Collins is a good narrator, very enthusiastic and full of energy which is important for a fast-paced, highly charged series like The Red. There were a couple slips where he uses the wrong voice for a character who is speaking, but overall his performance was very satisfactory.
Final thoughts: The Trials was a great sequel, but doesn’t supplant First Light as my favorite book of the series so far – certainly not for the lack of trying though! I’m looking forward to the third book, Going Dark, which will be out later this fall. I’ll most likely listen to the audiobook too, because I’ve been really enjoying these books in this format. Sure gets the blood pumping....more
For the first time ever, the English translations of the novels in Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher Saga series are being made into audiobooks, and I have been enjoying them immensely. Thus far, four Witcher books have been published in this format, including the short story collection The Last Wish. Today I’ll be reviewing The Time of Contempt, the second full-length novel in the sequence.
The story beings where Blood of Elves left off, following Yennefer and Ciri’s journey to Gors Velen where the sorceress hopes to continue her young apprentice’s education by enrolling her into a school for magic. Unhappy with these plans, Ciri devises a plan to escape and seek out Geralt, whom she has been told is not far from the city. However, on the way she is intercepted by the Wild Hunt and given an unexpected choice.
Meanwhile, more political intrigue and back-alley negotiations are happening in the shadows. A power struggle is developing, and the players must choose sides. How is a Witcher, sworn to neutrality, supposed to deal with this? Especially if that Witcher, a staunch and principled man, stumbles upon a coup that could lead to a bloody war that would tear apart the land? Gerald faces one of his hardest challenges yet in this novel, putting all his wits and fighting skills to the test.
If you’re even mildly interested in The Witcher video games, I would highly recommend picking up this series. Even if you’re not, you can still enjoy these novels for the excellent sword and sorcery fantasy books they are. Bottom line: these books are great, featuring plenty of spectacular action scenes along with magic and sword-wielding heroes; you really can’t ask for more than that. Geralt the Witcher is in especially rare form in this one, our favorite “white-haired fiend” demonstrating just how good he is at what he does – killing lots and lots of bad guys and monsters.
But of course, these books aren’t just about Geralt, even though he is often used as the face for The Witcher franchise. It’s easy to forget sometimes that the other characters are just as involved as he is, and once in a while, as in the case of this novel, they can even play a bigger role. In my eyes, The Time of Contempt is where Ciri truly gets her chance to shine. She may be destined for great and terrible things, but readers are reminded that despite all the grand prophecies about her, little Ciri is still a child. While still struggling to control the magic in her blood, she learns there is even more to her potential. It’s a lot to place on the shoulders of a young girl, not to mention all the people who want to kill her or use her in their political machinations. The development of her character in this novel shows that she is a strong-willed and spirited youth despite being burdened with a world full of troubles, and that in the face of danger she can still show plenty of good humor. For that reason, she was my favorite character in this book.
Also noteworthy is how much the story has matured over the course of this novel, raising the stakes in this world of shifting alliances and backroom deals. The plot comes alive, becoming more twisty and complex as the result of the lofty ambitions and power-hungry maneuverings of mages, rebels and kings. This book also sees a greater role for the Scoia’tael, the group of guerilla fighters mostly made up of elves, dwarves and other non-humans. Portending a time of war and misfortune, the spectral riders of The Wild Hunt also make their appearance in the sky, a promise that everything we see here is merely the beginning.
Narrator Peter Kenny continues to deliver a superb performance for this series, making the experience of listening to the audiobook memorable. He has a great voice for expressive storytelling, and is especially adept at doing accents and voices without drawing excessive attention. As a fan of the games, I had initial concerns that I would have trouble reconciling myself to anyone other than actor Doug Cockle as the voice of Geralt, but Kenny quickly dispelled them. He truly is a talented voice artist.
In sum, The Witcher series and its characters are a one-of-a-kind creation, and The Time of Contempt is another excellent novel in the sequence, not to mention a great experience in audio format. I’m enjoying them a lot, as you can probably guess; otherwise, I wouldn’t keep listening. Obviously this is a series I want to keep reading, and I’m already excited for the next one....more
As someone who was totally new to Cathy Clamp’s work, I was very excited about the opportunity to read Forbidden, book one in a new series set in the Sazi universe. A “reboot” of sorts, the novel takes place ten years after the events at the end of The Tales of the Sazi, featuring a new story and new characters – a fresh start, essentially, and a perfect jumping-on point for a newcomer like me.
Indeed, there’s not much you need to know before starting this series, and any required knowledge is helpfully provided by the author. For example, I found it interesting that the two protagonists of Forbidden actually first appeared in the original series as relatively minor characters. According to Clamp’s afterword, the heroine Clarissa Evans (who goes by Claire Sanchez here) was in Moon’s Fury as one of the young victims of a child abductor. All grown up now and an agent of the Wolven, Claire is being sent to investigate a string of missing children cases in the remote town of Luna Lake.
For obvious reasons, the mission hits a bit close to home, and Claire finds herself struggling to deal with unpleasant memories on top of trying to figure out the complex hierarchy of her new pack. The community at Luna Lake is unlike anything she’s had to deal with before, on account of it being a former refugee camp for displaced Sazi and lost orphans. Shapeshifters of all sorts live together here, including owls, falcons, bears, cougars, and of course wolves like Claire herself. On her first day, she meets another wolf named Alek, a Sazi orphan who grew up in Luna Lake after being adopted into a family of owls. Sparks fly between them immediately – both the good and bad sort – but whatever attraction or differences they have between them, solving the mystery must come first…before it’s too late for the missing kids.
Right away, I was captivated by the magic of this world. There are all sorts of Sazi, like those who can turn into wolves, big cats, birds of prey, snakes, etc. There were also the little things that charmed me, like the fact they can talk in their animals forms, or use food smells (most often desserts, I find. Or maybe I just notice them more because of my sweet tooth) to identify the emotional states of other Sazi.
I was also amazed by the social dynamics of Luna Lake. You don’t have to be familiar with the Sazi series to understand that it’s a very special community. The bird shifters aren’t big fans of the cats, the cats don’t much like the wolves, and the wolves can’t stand the smell of the birds, but at Luna Lake all the groups manage to live in relative harmony because that’s the only way to ensure survival. For Alek and other Sazi like him who were adopted by the Williams, the town is literally one big family. Even though he is a wolf, Alek is a big brother to owls, eagles, bobcats, other wolves and more, and there’s this sense of solidarity and togetherness about Luna Lake that gave me all the warm and fuzzy feels. Yet, there’s also a cost to that peace. Over the years the pack has developed a way to identify their “omegas”, and these low ranked individuals are treated poorly and forced to do all the dirty jobs in town. It made me feel really unsettled and angry towards Luna Lake’s leaders and those townsfolk who turn a blind eye to this blatantly unfair and broken system.
Be aware too that while Forbidden is described as an Urban Fantasy mystery, in some ways it actually reads more like a paranormal romance. Claire and Alek’s relationship is often the focus of the story, and the mystery elements of the plot are in truth not that substantial. To really get into the story, you would need to buy into the chemistry between Claire and Alek, and that was perhaps my problem; I didn’t feel like I got a chance to know either of them very well before they were thrust together, and right on the heels of them falling in lust came the obligatory plot contrivances to introduce conflict between them. I also found Alek too self-absorbed for my tastes and Claire too much of a “special snowflake”, which all made it harder for me to care about their developing relationship. That said, I’m not a big reader of PNR so there may be a lot genre norms and nuances that I’m not accustomed to, so feel free to take my opinion on the romance with a grain of salt!
The world of the Sazi does have the benefit of being fully fleshed out and realized though, from all the groundwork that has been established by the original series. Just this little taste of it has gotten me hooked, and I find myself wanting more. Certainly if you have a love for stories about shapeshifters, you need to check this one out for the many different kinds of creatures alone. Recommended for urban fantasy/paranormal romance readers and fans of strange and beautiful magic....more
It’s really interesting to me how the Daniel Blackland trilogy has evolved over the three books, and reading Dragon Coast made me want to cheer because we were going back to the series’ heist story beginnings. I am a total sucker for caper stories, so not surprisingly I loved the first book California Bones. On the other hand, the second book Pacific Fire took a different direction, and was more like a coming-of-age tale that explored the characters’ histories and relationships. To me, what’s great is that this third book felt like a combination of both, tying up loose ends to bring it all home. Throw in a fire-breathing dragon, and I really can’t ask for more than that.
Right away, Dragon Coast resolves a few questions left open at the end of the last book, so if you haven’t read Pacific Fire yet, you probably should first. This review won’t be revealing spoilers beyond what’s available in the publisher description, but they might be unavoidable anyway because each book builds on the previous one, and I would not recommend reading either of the sequels as stand alones. The focus returns to Daniel in this book, though Sam still plays a big role. A golem made from the magical essence of the late Hierarch, Sam was taken in by Daniel as an adopted son. Together they’ve been on the run for a long time, until things came to a head with a Pacific firedrake, a magical creature constructed by Daniel’s half-brother Paul.
Everyone thought Sam was lost when he was consumed by the firedrake, but it turns out the boy’s consciousness is still alive and aware inside the dragon, albeit in magical form. This leaves Daniel and his friends with a bit of a dilemma. They cannot kill the firedrake without losing Sam, even while the huge creature rampages across Southern California turning huge swathes of it into fiery ruin. Daniel comes up with a plan: he will find a way to subdue the dragon, then use a magical substance called the axis mundi to draw out Sam’s essence, before replacing it in a new constructed golem body. Great plan, except for one problem – axis mundi is one of the rarest substances on earth. To get it, Daniel will have to pose as Paul—whom he killed—to sneak into the kingdom of Northern California, win a promotion to become the Lord High Osteomancer, then steal a piece of axis mundi on the ceremonial jeweled scepter of the Northern Hierarch herself as she uses it to confirm his position.
It’s like stealing the crown jewels…meets Face/Off. I love it.
I’ll also say this about Daniel: the man never does anything by halves, even when it comes to planning the riskiest, most impossible of heists. However, this time he’s going into the enemy’s lair without the usual caper crew, with only Moth by his side as his bodyguard. He sends his Cassandra, his go-to safe-cracker, with Gabriel the water mage and Max the hound to track down the firedrake. Meanwhile, Sam is stuck in the belly of the beast, so to speak. We as readers are treated to a somewhat abstract concept of the boy’s consciousness trapped within the half-organic, half-mechanical insides of the dragon. The team is split into those three main threads that make up the story.
For obvious reasons, the most compelling of these was Daniel’s sections. It’s intense and exciting watching him pose as Paul, working against the clock to achieve his goals while also struggling to familiarize himself with all the intricate customs of the Northern Kingdom in order to pass as his dead half-brother. Of all the supporting characters, Moth also shines in Dragon Coast as the muscle and the brains of this operation, taking over some of Daniel’s duties as mastermind to gather intelligence. Next up was Cassandra, Gabriel, and Max’s sections, which featured a bit of sleuthing and espionage, adding intrigue to the equation. Finally, even though Sam is my favorite character, unfortunately his sections were the weakest in my eyes. This has a lot to do with my own preferences; I just don’t do well with abstract conceptualizations and I also felt those bizarre glimpses inside the dragon were less relevant to the story and seemed more like dream-like interludes.
This isn’t a very long book, which means there’s a lot happening in a relatively small number of pages. It’s great because there is absolutely no slowing down, and Greg Van Eekhout’s writing has a very cinematic quality that helps the story drive you ever forward between these three separate plot threads, so one thing you can count on is snappy pacing and a quick read.
On the flip side though, this also means there’s little opportunity to delve deeper into anything else. Our time with Daniel in Northern California feels far too brief and there’s not much to his challenge to become Lord High Osteomancer. Remember in Face/Off, when John Travolta’s character with Nic Cage’s face finds himself in his nemesis’ hideout, meets his lover and his child, and realizes then that even the bad guys have their lives, their loves, and their families? I sense this book going for the same kind of deep, heartfelt revelation but it never quite manages, simply because there was so little time to know everyone in Daniel’s — or rather, Paul’s — life. Dragon Coast should have been a more emotional story, exploring the painful side of one’s self and past, but realistically, the novel was just too short to be effective with that.
Still, this series has long established itself to be more fun and adventurous than weighty and profound, though it has a deep and very complex magic system and some pretty dark themes, what with osteomancers cannibalizing each other for their powers and all that. The world-building remains one of my favorite aspects, and I love how each book has given us more osteomancy as well as the author’s strange and dystopian version of a flooded and divided California. If you’ve enjoyed the previous books, Dragon Coast is not to be missed. It wraps up the series with a bang, and gives satisfying answers to a lot of character conflicts and plot questions besides. And if you’ve always been curious about these books, now is the best time to check out the whole completed trilogy. It’s one I highly recommend....more
Cyberpunk and I don’t always make the best bedfellows, but when I read the description to Crashing Heaven I just knew I had to check it out. Published in the UK, I’d initially decided to either get it shipped from overseas or wait patiently to see if it’ll eventually get a release date this side of the Atlantic. To my happy surprise though, I later discovered on the publisher website that it was actually available in the US in audio format. I very excitedly requested a review copy.
What I got was exactly what the description promised, a novel that hits relentlessly hard, fast and without mercy. I could sense the influence of William Gibson and classic cyberpunk in its bleak narrative about a future of an abandoned Earth, AI wars, and people living in augmented reality. After spending years in prison, protagonist Jack Forster is a soldier who returns home with two things: a reputation as a traitor for surrendering to the Totality, and a virtual puppet named Hugo Fist tethered to his mind. Designed as a weapon to fight the enemy, Fist is a combat-AI which would eventually expire and take Jack’s personality and effectively his life with it.
All Jack wants to do is to clear his name, but upon his return to Station, he discovers that while he was away, two of his old friends have met with suspicious deaths. One of them is a former lover, spurring Jack to get to the bottom of this mystery and find those responsible before his time runs out.
The story can be a bit confusing, though to be fair, I have a history of being frustrated with cyberpunk. While Crashing Heaven may be a much easier read than a lot of other books in the genre, I still found many of its ideas abstract and hard to follow, such as trying to imagine Fist as a puppet that mostly exists inside Jack’s head but which can also be “pulled” out to manifest in a form similar to that of a ventriloquist dummy. The writing is also rough in places and not always sufficient when it comes to giving descriptions, which added to my difficulty.
However, I was also impressed by a lot of ideas in this book. Using Fist as an example again, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that such an innocuous-looking puppet can also be such a deadly weapon, with one hell of a potty-mouth on him to boot. The world is a rich tableau of both wonder and bleakness, where myth mixes with virtual reality. Mysterious entities worshipped as gods walk among the populace and grant favor to the faithful. The dead can return in “Fetches”, bodies housing the memories of the departed so that the living can spend more time with those who have passed on. Almost every aspect of the world-building is multi-faceted and gave me a lot to think about.
Still, probably my favorite part about the book is the relationship between Jack and Fist, the complex dynamic between them and the way it evolves as the story progresses. Forever linked together, the nature of their interactions range from the humorous to the grotesque. You can never predict what Fist might say or do next, which might be exasperating for Jack but it works great for a reader watching these exchanges play out. They inject a fait bit of lightness to this otherwise gritty and despairing story.
Narrator Thomas Judd can also be credited for making the Jack-and-Fist alliance the highlight of this audiobook. His performance was overall decent but nothing too remarkable – except for one thing: his Fist voice. It was perfect. It also helped a lot, considering how much of the book is made up of Jack and Fist going back and forth in conversation.
Apart from a few flaws, Crashing Heaven was a good book. The writing may be awkward at times and the plot is convoluted in places, but the entertainment value in the story makes up for that. Furthermore, dedicated fans of cyberpunk will probably like this even more than I did, so if you love the genre, definitely consider checking out Al Robertson’s unique debut....more
From Star Wars: X-Wing to Star Wars: The Old Republic, high-profile Star Wars video games have been inspiring their own novel tie-ins for many years. In the spring of 2015, gamers and readers everywhere were delighted to learn that the highly anticipated Star Wars Battlefront will be getting the same treatment.
This book, titled Battlefront: Twilight Company, tells the story of the eponymous Rebel Alliance army unit also known as the Sixty-First Mobile Infantry. Recruited from all over the galaxy, the men and women of this ragtag outfit have very little in common, save for one thing – a fervent desire to fight the Empire. In the wake of the Alliance’s first major victory at the Battle of Yavin, the rebels are pressing their advantage, making the push into Imperial territory. However, the enemy has increased its presence on the Mid Rim worlds, ready to stamp out even the tiniest spark of resistance before it can spread, and Twilight Company has little choice but to fall back.
The central character of this novel is Sergeant Hazram Namir. While other units have perished, Twilight Company has always survived by rallying around their charismatic commander Captain Micha “Howl” Evon, whom Namir dislikes but grudgingly respects. However, after the capture of Imperial governor Everi Chalis, Namir seriously begins to doubt Howl’s decision to offer the prisoner protection in return for what she knows about the Empire’s tactics. Namir does not trust the former governor, and worse yet, her capture seems to have drawn some unwanted attention from some of the Emperor’s closest agents, including quite possibly Darth Vader himself.
In many ways, Battlefront: Twilight Company is in keeping with the tone and style of several other recent book releases in the new Star Wars canon. We’re moving away from the big players and main events of the universe to delve deeper into both sides of the Galactic Civil War. This book can be considered a “boots on the ground” look at life as a soldier in the Rebel Alliance, with Twilight Company illustrating the examples of the types of men and women who join the rebellion. It also shows the Alliance in stark contrast to the rigidly hierarchical and highly ordered Empire. Still, there is a method to the madness; many scenes show how the rebel army solves its problems in irregular albeit very effective ways.
In Sergeant Namir, we have the familiar stereotype of the jaded, hardened soldier. Unlike a lot of stories featuring this kind of character though, Namir never really changes his views or experiences any big epiphany, not even by the end of the book. But even if he fails to endear himself to the reader, it’s still a refreshing change to see a rebel fighter in a Star Wars novel who isn’t a hundred percent dedicated to the cause. For Namir, every war is the same. All he wants to do is survive and protect Twilight Company, which is why unlike a lot of his comrades, Namir does not blindly accept orders from Howl or his other superior officers if he feels they are threat to his people. There’s something to admire about that.
That said, there are other aspects of the book which I felt were weaker. Many of the battle scenes felt overly drawn out or contrived, probably a hat tip to the Star Wars Battlefront game more than anything. On the one hand, exceptionally detailed descriptions of the fighting gave a very good sense of what was going on. But often, these action scenes also lacked a certain spirit or cogency. As a result, I constantly found myself thinking, “This is something I’d much rather be playing than reading.”
Then, there’s the structure of the narrative. We jump around in time quite a bit, with frequent flashbacks to Namir’s earlier life. There are also the handful of chapters scattered throughout the book following the perspectives of characters other than Namir or the soldiers of Twilight Company. These characters, including the story’s main villain, don’t really get the chance to become fully developed. I hate to say it, but in many respects, they feel very much like video game characters, NPCs who are conveniently slotted in for a cutscene or two.
Issues aside, however, this was still a pretty solid debut for first-time novelist but longtime comics, games, and short stories writer Alexander Freed. I’ve read dozens of Star Wars titles including all the adult novels in the new canon so far, and Battlefront: Twilight Company is well above average. It’s not for everyone, but I would definitely recommend it for diehard fans of Star Wars and Star Wars Battlefront enthusiasts. If nothing else, reading this book has gotten me even more excited for the release of the game, so that’s one major goal achieved!...more
And now time for something totally different. Long Black Curl isn’t a book I would have normally picked up on my own, and not least because it’s actually the third book of the Tufa sequence. I don’t usually like to jump onboard mid-series, but two factors made me decide to make an exception. First, I was told this book can be read as a stand-alone, and second, I’ve been hearing all these great things about it, which got me curious.
Now I’m so glad that I decided to give it a shot. I suppose Long Black Curl is technically an urban fantasy, but it’s certainly unlike anything else in the genre that I’ve ever read. When I think about the typical setting for a UF, I picture big cities or built-up metropolitan areas. The setting of the Tufa, on the other hand, is a remote valley nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We’re talking the rural south, a land of gorgeous peaks and ridges upon ridges of pristine forests. But it’s also a land of no indoor plumbing, dirt roads, and where bigotry is still very much alive.
It’s an interesting world. There’s beauty, but also a whole lot of ugliness. It’s also where the Tufa make their home. No one knows exactly where they came from before they settled here, but for generations they have lived in the quiet hills and valleys of Cloud County, passing on the their stories and traditions in the form of song. Music is a huge part of their lives, and an innate part of their identity. To be cast out of their community and stripped of their ability to make music is one of the worst fates imaginable, but this is exactly what happened to Bo-Kate Wisby and her lover Jefferson Powell, the only two Tufa to have ever been exiled.
Now Bo-Kate is back, and she is angry, bitter, and determined to take over both tribes of the Tufa, which means taking out the two leaders Rockhouse Hicks and Mandalay Harris. Her secret weapon is Byron Harley, a famous musician from the 50s who went down in a plane crash but did not die, trapped instead in a faerie time bubble for the last sixty years. Bo-Kate hopes that Byron will help her by taking advantage of his desire for revenge, and for a while she seems unstoppable, until the rest of the Tufa decide to seek out a secret weapon of their own: Jefferson Powell, Bo-Kates old boyfriend.
Anyway, that’s the brief description of the book. What’s way more difficult is putting into words the feelings I got while reading it. The first thing that struck me about the story was how atmospheric it was, seemingly evocative of so much more than meets the eye. Reading about the Tufa was like walking through a veil into another realm. And it’s not just the nature of the setting either; reading about some of the things that go on in this small community (especially those perpetrated by one of the Tufa leaders Rockhouse) are just so hideous and beyond the pale that convincing myself that this is some faraway fantasy world becomes easier and less traumatic to accept. Furthermore, because the Tufa are such a closely knit group, everything that goes on within their ranks – like internal politics or scandals, for example – feel so much more personal, making the emotions cut even deeper.
What I loved the most though, was the music. Creating it is an art form I find both mysterious and beautiful. And to a non-musician like me, it even almost seems like magic. Alex Bledsoe pretty much takes this idea and runs with it, so that music to the Tufa is in fact the source or their magical power. Songs become more than just a way to communicate ideas; they become a means for them to affect the world around them. Music is also a part of the Tufa shared heritage, something that links the community together and gives the individual a sense of identity and belonging. Of course, I’ve seen music used as a magical device in fantasy novels before, but Bledsoe’s handling of it is one of the more unique examples I’ve seen so far, despite—or perhaps because of—the abstractness in its execution.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the book a lot, and something tells me I would have liked it even more if I’d read the previous two before I tackling this one. Long Black Curl worked absolutely fine as a stand-alone, but I think the extra background information would further enhance the story by adding more context to the Tufa characters and all their complex relationships. I’ve gone ahead and added the first book The Hum and the Shiver to my to-read list, because this is a very special series and I would love to go back and read more. Highly recommended....more
At first, I was hesitant about listening to an anthology in audio format, but it actually turned out working really well! I really enjoyed how multiplAt first, I was hesitant about listening to an anthology in audio format, but it actually turned out working really well! I really enjoyed how multiple narrators were involved in this project, and for the most part the actors and actresses were all well-matched to the stories they read. All the narrators delivered impressive performances, considering how not every story here was written in a conventional style, or at least in one that would easily translate to audio.
The stories themselves, though, were another matter. Press Start to Play was a good anthology, but I admit I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I’ve always been picky with short stories, but I really thought my interest in the topic of video games would help me with this one, but in the end this was just a very average collection, with most stories falling in the mediocre to good range. More disappointing is the presence of a few stories that only had a tenuous link to the subject, and even a couple that I felt had no place in an anthology that should be a celebration of video games. That said, there were a handful of exceptional ones that I felt really stood out. For a more in-depth analysis and my feelings for each story, see below:
“God Mode” by Daniel H. Wilson – 2.5 of 5 stars The protagonist of this story is an American studying abroad in Australia. He starts dating a fellow American student named Sarah, who one day suddenly fall and hits her head, and all of a sudden the stars in the sky start disappearing. I think the ending was meant to be more heartfelt and profound, but the delivery really fell flat. Quite frankly, I was disappointed by such a mediocre opener for this anthology, and even now I can barely remember that many details from this first story.
“NPC” by Charles Yu – 2 of 5 stars The title of this story gives us all the clues we need as to what it’s about. What happens when an NPC experiences an epiphany and isn’t sure if he wants to be something more? This was an interesting premise, but sadly neither the story nor the character was fleshed out nearly enough to be interesting.
“Respawn” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka – 3 of 5 stars A regular guy discovers when he is killed that his consciousness has “jumped” into the body of his killer. This story reminded me a little bit of Claire North’s Touch. It was a cool concept, and I would have liked to see it carried further, but whether it really belongs in a video game themed anthology is debatable.
“Desert Walk” by S. R. Mastrantone – 4 of 5 stars This was a nifty little ghost story, which started out one way and ended in a way I totally did not see coming. When I started this anthology, I expected to get a lot of different kinds of stories, but I admit I didn’t expect anything with a horror element. This one was pretty awesome and creepy.
“Rat Catcher’s Yellows” by Charlie Jane Anders – 3 of 5 stars One of the best things about this anthology was getting a chance to read work from authors I’ve been curious about for a long time. I enjoyed this story, at least in the beginning. It’s a quirky and interesting take on a social game and a subset of its players with a unique disease that causes dementia. I was a little disappointed by the ending, though. I’d thought there would be more and was surprised when the next story started up.
“1UP” by Holly Black – 3.5 of 5 stars This was another story by an author I’ve wanted to check out for a while! Three teens go to the funeral one of their online gaming friends, and find a text-based game that he wrote on his computer. It turns out to be a clue to solve his apparent murder. Again, I loved the premise but this definitely would have worked better as a full-length novel. What a great YA mystery it would have made!
“Survival Horror” by Seanan McGuire – 2 of 5 stars I suspected and later confirmed that this story is based on the world of McGuire’s InCryptid series, which I confess I know absolutely nothing about. No wonder I felt so confused. To be honest, I hate finding these types of stories in anthologies like this, because as hard as the author tries to catch you up with the world and who’s who in it, it just doesn’t feel the same. If you are familiar with InCryptic you might find yourself enjoying this one, but personally I felt no connection to any of these characters and couldn’t make myself care what happened to them.
“Real” by Django Wexler – 3.5 of 5 stars I’m a big fan of the author, so I was pretty excited to read this. Our mysterious protagonist tries to track down the creator of a game that lets its players feel involved by using social media to discover demons and hidden runes. The idea gave me ARG vibes. A very cool story with an interesting twist ending.
“Outliers” by Nicole Feldringer – 2.5 of 5 stars I think I would have liked this one more if I had understood it. Unfortunately, I found it a bit too technical. The main character is a woman who is obsessed with a game that tracks weather patterns for the government, and was even willing to skip her brother’s wedding to play it, which really didn’t help me sympathize with her.
“End Game” by Chris Avellone – 3.5 of 5 stars I thought this was fun! A very interesting execution using the idea behind text-based games, but unfortunately, all the suspense eventually built up to…a fizzle. This is one of the biggest issues I find with the stories in this anthology; so few of them have real or satisfying endings.
“Save Me PLZ” by David Barr Kirtley – 4 of 5 stars A sweet little story that starts with a young woman named Meg getting in to her car to find her ex-boyfriend, Devon. The real world and the virtual world collide as she is tasked to embark on a quest to rescue him. This was one of my favorite stories in the anthology.
“The Relive Box” by T.C.Boyle – 3.5 of 5 stars A bittersweet story about a character obsessed with using a device called a Relive Box to keep experiencing the joys and heartbreaks of his past, meanwhile ignoring his daughter and his work in his very real present and future. I like its sad message about why we might want to relive old memories instead of going out to seize the day, creating new ones. It ended rather abruptly, which was my only criticism.
“Roguelike” by Marc Laidlaw – 4 of 5 stars Repetitive and simple, but oh so hilarious! Again, it makes use of the text-based game format to tell a little tale about a very persistent resistance and the fates of all their doomed agents. The story reads like an elaborate joke, but I loved the punchline. I found it very enjoyable in spite of myself.
“All of the People in Your Party Have Died” by Robin Wasserman – 3.5 of 5 stars A darkly comedic tale about The Oregon Trail as a game of life lessons to prepare you for the death of all the people you know and love to tragic accidents, and just bad shit in general. The character in this story discovers the game and becomes obsessed with it after the game starts doing strange things. I really liked where it was going, but then everything started unraveled towards the end. Definitely didn’t like the second half as much as I did the first.
“Recoil” By Micky Neilson – 4 of 5 stars This was one of the more complete and coherent stories in this collection, and the author created a very suspenseful atmosphere to boot. Jimmy is our protagonist, staying late at the office to test a new game, and suddenly finds himself in a hostage situation. This story also had a twist ending, but this one I actually liked. Another of my favorites in this anthology.
“Anda’s Game” by Cory Doctorow – 3 of 5 stars Anda joins a band of elite girl gamers and kicks ass in the virtual world, but in real life she is an average and unassuming schoolgirl. Her online teammates are everything to her, but then something happens that might jeopardize all her newfound happiness. An interesting story about taking a stand for what you believe in, but not one that really stood out for me.
“Coma Kings” by Jessica Barber – 3 of 5 stars A touching but depressing story about two sisters who bond in game, but one is in a coma so she has to play via an implant in her brain. For the protagonist, this is the only way she can have any interaction with her sister. I enjoyed the premise and thought this story showed great promise, but I wish the ending had been stronger and more meaningful.
“Stats” by Marguerite K. Bennett – 3 of 5 stars Don’t you just hate it when your stats get nerfed? The character Joey in this story is not a very nice person, so I didn’t feel too bad for him when his body started changing. I love the attitude behind this story, and it was okay in its execution.
“Please Continue” by Chris Kluwe – 1 of 5 stars My least favorite story yet, and frankly it annoyed the hell out of me. Essentially it was a warning not to let gaming take over your life, but it came across really preachy and pretentious. The message is good, but why go about it in such a clichéd and uninteresting way? And oh, yet another unfunny application of the old “arrow to the knee” joke. How awkward. By the end, this didn’t even read like a story, more like a lecture from some nagging parent. It didn’t feel like a good fit for this anthology.
“Creation Screen” by Rhianna Pratchett – 3 of 5 stars Speaking of stories that have messages about becoming too obsessed with gaming, here’s another one. However, it was much more creative and elegant than “Please Continue”, and the beginning actually amused me a great deal. I happen to be one of those finicky MMO players who take an inordinate amount of time trying to get my character “just right.”
“The Fresh Prince of Gamma World” by Austin Grossman – 3 of 5 stars A gamer gets transported to an alternate world which has experienced a nuclear apocalypse. It’s a pretty interesting story, though once again, it didn’t fully engage me or stand out. I enjoyed the premise and setting, and perhaps I felt a greater affinity for it since Gamma World takes place in a post-apocalyptic Boston and I happen to be neck-deep in Fallout 4 right now.
“Gamer’s End” by Yoon Ha Lee – 3 of 5 stars The title of this story should tell you something about what it is about, i.e. the use of war games for training. Nothing much I can say about this one, other than it was okay but didn’t blow me away either, and nothing about it really stood out.
“The Clockwork Solider” by Ken Liu – 4 of 5 stars Alex is a female bounty hunter who captures a runaway named Ryder to bring back to his family. This is the first time in this anthology where I actually felt something more than ambivalence for the characters in a story. It’s another one that uses text-based gaming for its premise, but I found it philosophically deeper and a lot more thought-provoking than all the other stories in here.
“Killswitch” by Catherynne M. Valente – 3 of 5 stars In this story, Killswitch is a game that starts off like any other first-person adventure game. But it doesn’t end that way. I liked what this story had to say about games versus real life, about having one shot, one chance to experience a moment before it becomes a memory. I appreciated its poignant message, but for some reason I had a very hard time staying focused throughout. Maybe it’s just the style in which this story was written, but I found it really hard to connect to the prose.
“Twarrior” by Andy Weir – 3 of 5 stars This is a real short one, and feels more like snippet or an introduction to a bigger story, but hey, it got a few laughs out of me and that counts for a lot in my books. Andy Weir is one funny guy.
“Select Character” by Hugh Howey – 4 of 5 stars Play as thou wilt—a message I strongly support. Maybe that’s why I liked this one so much. It’s a very enjoyable story showing how different people approach games, and reminds me a lot of the conversations I’ve had with others about different gameplay styles. Only one thing matters: that you play the way you want and have fun doing it. Also, be open to other gaming styles. Sometimes when you play only one way, you might even miss things that you’d never have known until you talk to someone else who has a whole other perspective. What a great story to end the anthology....more
First let me say I had no idea before I got an ARC of this novel that it would be written in the epistolary style as a collection of mostly diary entries, though it also includes interview transcripts, descriptions of video footage, emails and newspaper articles, etc. Not to mention the huge visual component! I picked up The Dead House because I love horror and I’m also always on the lookout for good creepy YA, but seriously nothing could have prepared me for the surprise I got when I opened up the book.
In a word, it’s gorgeous. It’s made to look like a compiled report, drawing evidence from multiple sources detailing a disturbing and mysterious “incident”. The book also makes liberal use of images, different fonts, and other visual embellishments to add even great realism to the story. But before I could fall too deeply in love with the eye candy, my cynical side immediately leaped into the picture with a reality check. After all, pretty pages are certainly all well and good, but the real test of course is how well the story stands up in spite of that.
We open with a newspaper article dated February 4, 2005 describing an inferno that ravaged a prestigious boarding school, killing three teenagers and injuring twenty. Next comes an introduction to the report, revealing that two decades have passed since the fire (now referred to as the “Johnson Incident”) but new information has come to light prompting a reinvestigation of the events that led up to the tragedy.
One student, an orphan named Carly Johnson, went missing during the incident but her body was not found among those recovered from the burned ruins. To this day, her whereabouts remain a mystery. No one could deny though, that Carly was a very disturbed girl, as evidenced from her writings in a scorched diary discovered at the school. By all accounts, she struggled with Dissociative Identity Disorder, writing in her diary not as Carly but as her alter “Kaitlyn”, who only emerges after sunset. But who exactly was Kaitlyn Johnson? Was she really just a mental construct of Carly’s mind, or was she something more?
All I have to say is, DAMN this is one creepy book. If you don’t like the epistolary style however, I can’t imagine this book would do anything for you, but I loved it and I thought it made this book an incredibly immersive experience. I found The Dead House really hard to put down, and ended up finishing it in a little more than a day, and it only took me that long because I made myself take a break a couple of times so I could savor it. The format made it a very quick read, but the story was also very addictive and fun; in spite of myself, I found myself totally sucked in.
What makes this one fascinating is also its main character, a one hell of an unreliable narrator. The book is an intimate look into the labyrinthine mind of Kaitlyn Johnson, though the difficulty of separating her words into fact versus fiction is further compounded when faced with the question of whether or not she actually exists. Kaitlyn believes she is real, and that’s what matters in the end. Her diary entries reveal a desperate soul wanting nothing more to be believed that she is not just a symptom or a made-up part of Carly’s mind. In her state of mind, she makes decisions that sometimes won’t make sense or may seem very extreme.
All throughout the book though is a sense of ambiguity – which isn’t necessarily a negative, especially when we’re talking about paranormal horror or psychological thrillers. It’s eerie and unsettling precisely because you won’t get all the answers tied up neatly with a bow and served on a platter. By design, we are constantly kept guessing: Are we looking at the results of an actual paranormal situation or the ravings of a mentally unstable teenager? The report is presented with all the pieces of evidence ordered by date, the whole story being gradually revealed to the reader as each page moves us closer towards the day of the incident. This a book best experienced firsthand, so I hesitate to give much more information about the plot.
Did I have my misgivings though? Well, yes. I thought the ending wrapped up way too quickly, but this is in part due to the limitations of the format. But there’s no denying that all the major reveals came hard and fast, all in the last 30 pages or so. There was also one “twist” that was painfully predictable, the number of red herrings thrown at us notwithstanding. Part of the problem was a romance that felt out of place, among other relationships between Kaitlyn/Carly and other characters that just didn’t add up. I am also a little tired of YA books that portray doctors and especially mental healthcare professionals as incompetent, insensitive or overbearing. In this case, poor Dr. Lansing was all three, which I felt was a rather inelegant way to paint her as a villain early on and drum up sympathy for Kaitlyn.
These flaws were very minor though, certainly not enough to take much away from the experience. All told, I had a really good time with The Dead House. I confess I had my doubts when I first started this novel and even resolved to keep a level head while reading so that I wouldn’t be dazzled by the unique structure of the novel and the flashy visuals. All the same, I ended up devouring this book. It’s undeniably entertaining and addictive, which sets it apart from being just another gimmick or run-of-the-mill YA horror....more
For a long time I’ve wanted to read something by Karen Lord, so I was excited when I was given the opportunity to review the audiobook of The Galaxy Game. This latest novel by Lord sounded very promising, featuring a compelling blurb that teases a fascinating premise and hints at some action. Thus I admit I went into it with high expectations, but regretfully came out of the experience feeling rather underwhelmed.
I also feel that I should state that The Galaxy Game is a sequel, which I did not realize until I was about half way through the book. It probably would have eased some of the initial confusion, but I still don’t believe it’s entirely necessary to have read the first book The Best of all Possible Worlds before reading this because I was able to piece together a bit of what happened and follow the main story without too many problems. Plus, while it’s true I might have gotten more out of the story if I’d read book one, doing so still probably wouldn’t have negated some of my issues with this novel’s structure or stylistic choices.
In the book we’re introduced to Rafi Delarua, a teenager who is all but imprisoned in a place called the Lyceum which is a school for young people with psi powers. In a society that deeply mistrusts psionically gifted individuals, Rafi has to endure the education and various treatments designed to control those like him. It doesn’t help either that his father’s unethical use of his powers has left Rafi and his family a legacy of disgrace.
Rafi knows it would have been different if he had lived on the planet of Punartam, where psi abilities would be seen as the norm. So the first chance he gets, he escapes the Lyceum and makes his way there. Punartam also happens to be the home of wallrunning – his favorite sport. With the help of his friend, Rafi manages to find a way to not only play but also to train with the best players. Coming here didn’t mean the end of all his problems, however. There are new deals taking place, changes happening in the dynamics between civilizations in the galaxy. Learning how to integrate into a new society is challenging enough, but now Rafi finds out he will also have a role to play in the coming political storm.
It actually sounds more dramatic than it is. While I wouldn’t call this book dull, it did feel like a considerable amount of time was given to explanations of societal themes and classifications. Like I said, if I had read The Best of All Possible Worlds I might not have felt so lost, but regardless, I don’t typically mind putting in time to familiarize myself with a story’s setting. I didn’t even have a problem with the instances where I had to listen to a few sections of the audiobook over again to ensure I understood the significance of certain details. Lord has actually created a very unique and robust world here, which I really enjoyed. No, my struggles with this book had less to do with the deluge of information at the beginning (though it did make for a rough start) and more to do with the bizarre switches in narrative voice and points-of-view, as well as jumps in the plot.
In some ways, listening to the audiobook alleviated this problem. Narrator Robin Miles’ voice work is really impressive here, especially when it comes to her talent with accents. The result is that it didn’t matter how many times we switched POVs, Miles’ use of different voices made it immediately clear to me which character we were supposed to be following, saving me the time to figure it out. The convoluted plot, however, was another matter. This isn’t a light tale to begin with, and the exposition further weighs things down. The story also takes its time to get going, so some soldiering on is required to get to get to the part where it begins to find its stride, which is quite a bit to ask of readers (or listeners, in this case).
One final thing: I wish there had been more wallrunning. What we get in here does not make the sport sound as exciting as it should, also perhaps because it is so difficult to visualize what the players are doing. Rather than getting me pumped up, the action scenes instead made me feel bewildered and out of my depth.
All told, The Galaxy Game was not what I expected. In spite of a fascinating world, I wish there had been more substance to the characters and plot. Narrator Robin Miles did an excellent job, but even her fabulous performance could not resolve the flaws I found that were inherent to the story. However, I think I would have struggled even more with this book if I had read it in its print form. If I had known ahead of time that this was a sequel, I probably would have started with The Best of All Possible Worlds as my first Karen Lord book, and not least because it is book number one – it also appears that the consensus from those who have read both books is that The Galaxy Game was not as strong as its predecessor. When I read that one I will most likely seek out the audio version as well, especially since Robin Miles is also the narrator, and I expect the experience will be more positive....more
Would it make sense to call a book “grimdarker than grimdark”? This question was the second thought that crossed my mind as I pensively closed the cover on the final page of my copy of Beyond Redemption. It followed right on the heels of my first thought, which was “Damn, that shit was a hundred different kinds of awesome.”
Grimdark, after all, is a term frequently used to describe fantasy fiction with mostly dystopic, brutal or violent themes. Very often it also features characters that are amoral or dishonorable. All of this applies to this novel, which most certainly is nihilistic and violent—viciously and disturbingly so. It’s also aptly titled, seeing as no one in this story is in possession of a single redeeming attribute. They are all terrible, disgusting people. No joke, I could strip these characters down to their infinitesimal building blocks in order to examine each and every single atom under an electron microscope, and I still wouldn’t be able to find the smallest trace of goodness in any of them. It’s quite amazing, really.
Gods help me then, why did I enjoy them so much? Perhaps one has to be a little bit crazy to revel in reading about dark, gritty and twisted characters such as these. In which case, can you please pass me some more of that sweet, sweet insanity?
Fortunately, Michael R. Fletcher is happy to oblige. The world he gives us is literally steeped in chaos, madness, and delusion. In Beyond Redemption, individuals known as Geisteskranken are the unstable and insane individuals whose psychoses manifest as reality. Furthermore, under normal circumstances their powers are also shaped by collective beliefs, so the more people who believe in your delusion, the more those ideas become the truth.
Let’s just take a moment to digest this, shall we? You’re essentially being thrown into a world where the “magic” is delusion, and all your magicians are batshit insane. Come on, doesn’t that sound positively delightful!
Not to mention, there are just so many types of Geisteskranken. Rarely do I recommend this, but in the case of this book, it might actually be helpful to check out the glossary of all the different kinds of delusions described in the back before you start reading. It’s an impressive list, each one more frightening than the last. Hassebrands, for example, like to set fire to everything as an outlet for their repressed rage and loneliness. Therianthropes, on the other hand, think they are possessed by animal spirits, and are able to shapeshift into these creatures simply because they believe they can. But perhaps the most nefarious of all are the Gefahrgeists, sociopaths who are driven by their desperate desire to be at the center of attention and to rule over others.
And heaven forfend if you happen to be one of those Geisteskranken who are comorbidic, a person who manifests multiple delusions. These men and women tend to be even more unhinged, as mental instability often goes hand in hand with comorbidity. In Beyond Redemption, High Priest Konig Furimmer is one such individual, a twisted madman who seeks to forge order from the fiery chaos around him. Konig’s plans involve creating a god – a god his church can control. An innocent and sheltered young boy named Morgen is being groomed for the honor, to be killed once it is determined that he is ready to Ascend.
But before his Ascension could come to pass, Morgen is stolen away by three wretched thieves: Bedeckt the old cantankerous warrior, Stehlen the bloodthirsty kleptomaniac woman, and Wichtig the pompous Gefahrgeist who fancies himself the Greatest Swordsman in the World. Konig has no choice but to send the most dastardly of his Geisteskranken after the trio of brazen miscreants, hoping to salvage his plans before Morgen is forever corrupted. Anything can happen in this wild, dark tale of cat and mouse, but one thing is guaranteed – there’ll be a body count numbering in the hundreds and a whole lot more blood and guts spilled before this is done.
If you think a book like this sounds too crazy and ludicrous to pull off, I don’t blame you. The thing is though, it works. It really does. Declaring the protagonists as flawed might be the understatement of the century, but I was nevertheless fascinated by their delusions and eccentricities. You might find yourself wanting to root for them, even if you hate yourself a little for it. They are all so vile and depraved, and yet I cannot deny this was one of the most fantastic and unique cast of characters I’ve ever met.
It’s impossible not to get completely sucked into this story. Not that I wanted to fight the pull, mind you. Beyond Redemption is so wildly imaginative and intensely entertaining, you just can’t help but embrace its bleak world, the tortured characters, the wicked concepts. Giving in to the madness has never felt so good....more