Is Radiant science fiction? Or is it fantasy? Perhaps it is both, just as I like to think this book could fit comfortably in both the Adult and Young Adult categories. No matter how you look at it, it seems there’s something for everyone in this brilliant and unique cross-genre piece from debut novelist Karina Sumner-Smith.
It all begins with a ghost. Teenager Xhea may have been born without magic – not one bit at all – but she has a power that allows her to see and speak to the dead. Forced to live in the Lower City where those with little to no magic struggle to eke out a living, Xhea manages to survive by scavenging and selling her services to the haunted, offering to take on their ghostly burdens for a few days in exchange for some food or money.
This is how Shai comes into Xhea’s life. Even as a ghost, Shai has so much magic that she can use it to generate the power that keeps the floating towers of the city’s upper class supplied with endless fuel and energy. This is because Shai is a Radiant, a rare individual who is literally a magic generator and there are powerful factions out there who will stop at nothing to get their hands on her. To these individuals, Shai is nothing but a tool. They care nothing about the pain and torture her ghost will endure, and it is up to Xhea to protect and fight for her new phantom friend.
The story of Radiant revolves around this incredibly beautiful relationship. Xhea is a down-on-her-luck outcast who has survived years of abuse and trauma. Shai is a dead girl who, in her living years, only knew a life of luxury and comfort, albeit burdened with the responsibility of being a Radiant. And yet, a friendship is forged between these two very different characters, and the bond only strengthens with every page.
This central dynamic serves as the novel’s entire backbone, and I’m glad for it. There is very little fluff or filler content to distract from the main plot, no stale romantic arcs or angsty teenage drama to get in the way, just a compelling journey of two strong young women who go through many adventures and much strife in order to help one another. Even divided into three parts, the story is tightly told, and I enjoyed Sumner-Smith’s straightforward and easy-on-the-eyes writing style. She doesn’t go overboard with descriptions or the details of the characters’ backgrounds, providing enough to keep the reader engaged yet also satisfy the folks like me who crave world building and character development.
The remarkable friendship between Xhea and Shai alone makes this a very special novel, but I also loved the world the author has created here. Like I alluded to in my introduction, it would be impossible to assign just one genre to Radiant – and quite honestly, it wouldn’t do the book justice if I did. There’s a mix of so many things here. Potent magical spells existing in harmony with advanced technology. The images of glimmering gargantuan towers in the sky suggest a futuristic setting, while the dirty and crumbling ruins of buildings and defunct subway tunnels in the Lower City are reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic dystopian. Mindless, shambling undead creatures resembling zombies stalk the broken streets at night, injecting a bit of horror into this already mind-blowing blend of spec fic elements.
Radiant truly stands out. As a debut novel from an author already highly acclaimed for her short stories, there is a quality of rawness to some parts of it, but it’s nevertheless a very polished and great book. Karina Sumner-Smith is one to watch, and I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next installment in the Towers Trilogy....more
I had no idea what to expect before heading into Gleam. I was only perhaps vaguely aware of its dystopian nature, and coupled with that striking image of the pyramid on the cover and the “Gormenghastian” description in the blurb, I was fully prepared for a wild ride through a world rooted in bizarre and unfathomable traditions.
The book ended up being all that and a lot more. But what I didn’t anticipate was the highly engaging quest narrative, following a group of ragtag adventurers on a journey to discover the dark secrets of their strange and wildly imaginative world. But boiling the story down like that somehow also feels woefully inadequate, because nothing is at all simple in the universe of Gleam.
The story starts off by introducing us to our protagonist Alan, who lives with his family at the center of the gargantuan factory of Gleam in the fully inhabited and operational Pyramid. However, we get the sense that Alan is somewhat of an outsider, which is hinted at by his mistrust for the other Pyramiders and his penchant for making trouble for the authorities. We don’t know what kind of trouble he’s been stirring up at this point, but it was enough to provoke the Arbitrators, who threaten Alan with attacks on his wife and young son. To protect his family, Alan is forced to exile himself into the Discard, the barren and lawless wasteland that surrounds the central district.
I admit, I wasn’t sure what to make of the book for the first 50 pages or so. Time skips ahead about four years, and I experienced many moments of confusion. It appears “Wild” Alan has done lot during that time, but it’s not clear exactly what he’s been up to. It’s gradually revealed that he has been surviving as a traveling musician, earning room and board singing songs that are mostly about the corruption of the Pyramiders. He’s also apparently run afoul of a Discard drug lord of sorts, for stealing from her supply of rare psychedelic mushrooms. It turns out Alan has a good reason for his pilfering, but all that doesn’t become clear until a good handful of chapters. Plus, we also discover that Alan did not always live in the Pyramid before his exile. In fact, his parents and his whole village was massacred by Pyramiders, but as an act of mercy a soldier brought him back to the Pyramid and he was raised there. Finally, his bitterness and dissension started to make sense. All the pieces of the puzzle ultimately did come together, but it just seemed to take a while which made this beginning section of the book a rocky experience for me.
To be sure though, after everything eventually fell into place, that’s when the story started taking off for real. With his supply of mushrooms cut off, Alan must find a way to get some more and get it fast – or it would mean dire consequences for his family still confined in the Pyramid. With the quest item established, our protagonist starts gathering himself a party to go forth into the unknown, braving the wilderness beyond. But like I said earlier, this is not your ordinary adventure.
Firstly, Alan is not your traditional hero. He’s not intrinsically a bad person, though he is entirely self-serving and makes it clear he’s on the quest for no other reason than his own purposes. His fellow adventures are a group of vagrants much like Alan, a quirky mix of eccentric and just plain weird characters. Hands down, my favorite member of the party had to be Bloody Nora, the woman who belongs to a mysterious group called the Mapmakers, a faction dedicated to exploration and recording of the features and changes to Gleam. They are also deadly fighters, as evidenced by Nora’s brutal efficiency at killing their enemies.
But the story and the brilliant characters are just icing on the cake. What really blew me away was the setting and the world building. While great world building is something I remark upon frequently in my reviews of fantasy novels, I have to say very few have actually come near to the caliber in Gleam. I don’t even know where to start. The large, mystifying concrete structures infused with “bubble” hollows in which Discarders make their home? The giant snails that can serve as mounts for vertical traveling? Freaky and disturbing descriptions of unusual ailments that afflict unfortunate locals? There’s just so much to talk about.
Even a wasteland like the Discard is so vivid and evocative in all its strange and wonderful details. The best part is the mystery – how did this place come about? Who built these crazy structures that litter the landscape? No one knows for sure, and it is part of the reason why the Mapmakers seek to explore and document everything. The world is disgusting yet beautiful, an all-around unpleasant place to be filled with monsters and mutants, but I couldn’t help but be drawn in by all the pure insanity of the surroundings. It’s amazing in all its slimy, swampy, icky glory.
Gleam is simply beyond fascinating. There are certainly dystopian undertones, but unlike a lot of dystopian novels, the focus here isn’t so much on the social or the culture, but on the environmental. It’s the physical world that really comes to the forefront, which really helped me get immersed in the story. The plot itself is also relatively simple, but not once did I feel the quest narrative flounder once it got going, because something was always happening, or my attention was held captive by yet another mind-boggling aspect of the world. After a briefly dicey start, I quickly fell in love with this book....more
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire”, so the saying goes to describe going from a bad situation to a worse one, and that’s exactly what happens to Clancy “Big Guy” and his friends after they escape from the Island only to find out that the mainland they hoped to return to is not the home they remembered.
Into the Fire is the follow-up to Peter Liney’s The Detainee, an adult dystopian novel that impressed me by setting itself apart with its dark brutality but also a beautiful, compelling message about love and courage. The most exceptional aspect of the first book was Liney’s ability to tell a story which explored the unpleasant effects of a dystopian environment across multiple age groups, detailing the horrors that befall both the young and the old. The main protagonist himself is sixty-three years old. Along with others who are past their prime, he was banished to the Island with society’s other castoffs like the sick, the dying, and unwanted children.
I admit, I had my doubts when I first found out about Into the Fire. My first thought was, Does The Detainee really need a sequel? After all, I was quite satisfied with the way it ended. Obviously, Clancy, Lena, Jimmy and Delilah managed to find the way off the island with the children they befriended and adopted, and it was the classic moment of triumph as we leave them swimming across the channel towards freedom. It’s always nicer to leave things on a high note, and I might have been content with simply imagining bright and pleasant futures for our beloved Big Guy and the gang as they make brand new happy lives for themselves back on the mainland. Into the Fire, of course, erases those hopes.
However, with a sequel also comes an opportunity for something I didn’t think we were going to get after the end of the first book. Clancy’s past has always been shrouded in mystery, and we knew from occasional mentions that it was a checkered one. When he was younger, his huge stature served him well as a mafia crime boss’ thug, a position which required him to commit no small number of unsavory “errands” for the crooked Meltoni. Decades later, upon his return to the radically changed mainland, Clancy must turn to his old life again in order to help his friends survive and also save the woman he loves.
Clancy always was a captivating character and narrator for me, with many more years of experiences under his belt than most protagonists. Going back to some of those years and finding out more about his life working for the mob was one of the highlights of this novel. In my mind he was always like a Clint Eastwood, someone you wouldn’t want to mess with no matter what his age. Despite his desire to turn over a new leaf, his fierce loyalty also makes him capable of showing no mercy to those who would do his loved ones harm. It was interesting to see that young or old, Clancy was and still is a force to be reckoned with.
Into the Fire was thus a worthy follow-up, but The Detainee was a strong debut that was hard to beat. We went from a small island where the dynamics and everyday dangers were well understood to a large city where too much seemed to be happening at once. It was hard to visualize this society and figure out how everything was supposed to work, and it really wasn’t clear to me how scattered pockets of the city such as doctors’ offices, sushi bars, gaming arcades etc. could still be operating like nothing was out of the ordinary while most of the place burned and crumbled, with hordes of sick people wandering the streets, refugees looting stores left and right, and Infinity just gunning down people indiscriminately.
While the setting wasn’t as coherent as it was in The Detainee, that was probably my only stumbling block. I love the story and the characters, and we get lots of development into both in Into the Fire. Peter Liney takes this world he has created and carries its background and history even further, which is something I really wanted to see, and this book sees some major changes in the characters’ lives and I couldn’t even begin to guess where the author will take us next. This is shaping up to be a fascinating series, one I would recommend for fans of dystopian fiction looking for something different....more
I don’t DNF books. I’m sure that is in large part due to my obsessive completionist nature. I’m still trying to learn to let go, because as everyone so wisely says, life is too short for books you don’t enjoy. But I just can’t help it. And here’s what I think is another reason for my perseverance: Hope. HOPE that the book will get better, HOPE that the story will eventually pick up, HOPE that I’ll finally be able to connect with the characters. After all, it’s happened before. There’s a good handful of books in my 4 or 5 star pile including a couple on my Favorites shelf that I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of experiencing, if I’d gone with the instinct to put them down. Sometimes, my stubbornness pays off.
A lot of the times though, it doesn’t. The Forever Watch was one such book. I had high hopes for it, because even though it got off to a slow start, the ideas and world building it in were phenomenal and when the story started picking up around the 10% mark I thought to myself, “Helloooo, now we’re cooking with gas!”
But just as suddenly as things picked up, they slowed way down again. It happened again around the halfway point. And again around 75%. Every time I thought I was finally getting somewhere with this book, the story would plunge me right back into the usual meandering, aimless pace.
It was disappointing. And even more so because of the incredible foundation laid out for us in the first part of the novel. The planet Earth has died and been abandoned, so our story takes place on a generational ship called the Noah, traveling on a centuries-long journey towards Canaan, humanity’s new hope for a home. The society on the Noah is strictly regulated with highly advanced technology, with programs like forced retirements, mandatory breeding duty for women, and designated Keepers to raise children. Everyone is highly specialized for their roles on the ship, and certain individuals are gifted with powers or implants, giving them abilities like telekinesis or super strength. Every angle of this highly intriguing dystopian society felt impressively detailed and well thought out.
But even though the world building was simply amazing, The Forever Watch faltered for me in other areas. Hana Dempsey, the novel’s main character has just completed her breeding duties, waking up from a nine-months-long induced sleep. Breeders are placed in this state for the whole duration of their pregnancy and never get to see their babies, but while Hana was aware of this, what she did not expect is the secret loss she feels now, yearning for the child she would never know. At first, I thought the narrative would continue exploring this heartbreaking thread, but then it switches tack, introducing Leonard Barrens, with whom Hana has a very special relationship. A police officer running an investigation into the violent death of his mentor, Barrens turns to her for help, and just like that the matter of her baby was relegated to the background, and doesn’t come back again until much later in the book. It was a bit maddening.
Still, I can never resist a good murder mystery and a hunt for a serial killer, in this case dubbed “Mincemeat”. But The Forever Watch isn’t your usual murder mystery either, since it doesn’t have that same dramatic tension. Granted, the book had a few surprises that hooked me in, but otherwise the plot could barely hold my attention from all the scientific jargon and unnecessary exposition which was all white noise distracting me from the main story. I felt no connection to either Hana or Barrens whose personalities were as sterile and rigid as their social environment – which might have been by design, but either way it did nothing for me. Consequently, I also didn’t care much for their romantic relationship.
The Forever Watch therefore gets high marks from me for innovation and world building, but unfortunately I am not too fond of the story or its execution. There were some great moments, but they were few and far between, not enough to generate any sustained momentum. Admittedly, the revelation at the end about Mincemeat and how everything was linked together was pretty mind-blowing, but because I place so much importance on storytelling and character development, the inconsistent pacing and my ambivalence towards Hana and Barrens ultimately made me less excited about the final outcome. I think other readers may find lots to like about this book, but in the end it just wasn’t for me. ...more
I make it no secret that I’ve been in a bit of a YA slump lately. This year saw a few of my favorite YA series finishing their runs and I’ve been flitting around checking out more books to fill the void, and it’s been difficult finding anything that clicked with me. This has led to discouragement and no small amount of burnout, so I’m really glad for books like Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King and now Chuck Wendig’s Blighborn to come along and snap me out of my funk.
If you’ve read the first book of The Heartland Trilogy, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Under the Empyrean Sky was a real shaker-upper for me, making itself stand out from a lot of Young Adult dystopians novels by being surprisingly candid and authentic. The Heartland is a rough place that breeds rough folk, a place where killer corn, deadly Blights and piss-blizzards are an everyday reality. After several YA sequels have disappointed me earlier in the year for having plots that are unimaginative and contrived, Wendig’s refusal to sugarcoat or hold anything back is exactly what I needed. Blightborn was interesting and unpredictable, much like life in the Heartland.
The book picks up where the first one left off, with Cael, Rigo and Lane on the run, looking to find a way skyward to the Empyrean flotilla. Right on their heels are Boyland Barnes Jr., Rigo’s father, and Wanda, who all have their reasons to pursue the three friends. Boyland wants revenge, after believing Cael killed his father. Rigo’s father just wants his son back. And Wanda hopes to be reunited with Cael, her “Obligated”. However, Cael’s heart already belongs to Gwennie, who is living the life of a Lottery winner on the floating city of Ormond Stirling Saranyu and is realizing it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
As you can see, interwoven between the various plot threads are these intricate relationships between the characters which add a lot to the story, so I highly recommend grabbing the Under the Empyrean Sky before reading Blightborn to fully experience all the underlying nuances. Wendig continues to explore and develop these relationships, especially when it comes to the dynamics between Cael, Lane and Rigo. As their fight for survival intensifies, the three friends learn to trust each other. Over a number of intense and sometimes touching scenes, they discover new things and gain a deeper understanding of each other and themselves in the process.
Romance also isn’t a central focus of this series, but love and devotion certainly plays a part. It’s the motivation behind so much of what the characters do, after all, with Cael and Boyland both going after Gwennie, Wanda after Cael, etc. Usually, I have very little patience with stuff like love triangles – or God forbid, love squares – but I’ve come to appreciate the complicated emotions flying between all these characters and the fact that they never remain static. Cael and his friends do a lot of growing up, and with growth also comes a more mature way of looking at the world and others. Cael, for example, is much less self-absorbed in this book, learning to put himself in his friends’ shoes, and sometimes even in his enemy’s. While he and Boyland have always been at odds, Cael can still admit to himself that what the other boy feels for Gwennie could be genuine and respect that, which is a huge step for him as a character in my eyes.
Another thing I loved about this book is the expansion of the readers’ world into the skies. We’d heard over and over about the corruption and decadence of the Empyrean in the first book, and now we finally get to catch a glimpse of how the elite live. It was important to see the huge disparity between life on the flotilla and life down in the Heartland as it builds the story up quite a bit, setting up the stage for new players like the Sleeping Dogs rebels, who do their share of stirring things up both in the skies and on the ground. No dystopian novel is complete without an uprising, and the pressure that has been around since the first book finally boils over in Blightborn, culminating in a stunning climax, but not before Wendig takes us on a crazy wild ride to get to that point.
I highly recommend this series, especially if you’re a fan of Chuck Wendig. I’ve always loved his writing style and characters, and that hasn’t changed even with his venture into YA dystopian. Books like this one keep me excited about the genre!...more
Archetype was not a book I thought I’d like. I mean, dystopian, romance and amnesia isn’t a cocktail I’d normally go for. But this book ended up being surprisingly enjoyable.
We begin with an introduction to Emma, our protagonist who wakes up in a hospital with no memory of who she is. A kind and patient caretaker introduces himself to her as Declan Burke, and BOOM! also drops the bombshell on her that he is her husband. Declan helps with her recovery, filling in more blanks, but Emma finds herself having strange, vivid dreams of a traumatic past. Sometimes, her subconscious mind also remembers happier times with another man, a man who is not Declan – and these dreams fill her with both love and fear.
Emma tries to put it all behind her and get her life back on track, assured by Declan’s presence and protection, until one day she comes face to face with the other man in her dreams. And just like that, the illusion is shattered.
The dystopian future of Archetype is believable and well written, with several features that make it sufficiently intriguing yet disturbing. Humanity is on the path to extinction, with fertile women being a tiny minority of the population. This has led to serious social implications, especially for women, who are guarded very fiercely and in many cases are treated like rare commodities to be bought and sold.
But while this provides a fascinating backdrop for the story, the setting – and in fact the world-building in general – is probably not the novel’s strongest aspect, nor do I think it was meant to be. Instead, the focus is on characterization, particularly when it comes to Emma’s personality and the way she deals with her amnesia. The main draw of the story for me was the progress of her recovery and regaining her memory. Her transition from a scared, trusting newly awakened patient to a wiser and more questioning skeptic made her feel very real to me, because I imagine these are the logical steps someone in her position would go through. Towards the end, Emma is no longer content to take everything at face value or accept Declan’s words as the truth, especially when the inconsistencies start piling up. Declan is also much too perfect, which raised alarm bells for me early on, and Emma eventually begins to grow suspicious as well.
I probably wouldn’t call Archetype a Romance, or at least I don’t believe it fits in the traditional sense of the genre, even though much of the story is charged with very passionate feelings and there are a couple very hot and heavy sex scenes. Needless to say, the relationship dynamics between the various characters are paramount to the plot and its themes. It made for an emotional novel, and that along with the fantastic development of Emma’s character had my heart going out to her at as certain revelations came to light in the climax and conclusion.
Granted, this is not a terribly complex book, and despite the many dream sequences and flashbacks, the plot and themes don’t vary too much. But for all of that, it worked for me. The world building and probably wouldn’t be enough for hardcore Science Fiction fans, and not surprisingly there were many moments where I was left wishing there were more details about the technology and history of the world of Archetype. Still, Waters wrote a great book here, and it’s my feeling that she was not aiming for hard sci-fi, instead going for atmosphere and a more character-driven novel. What you end up with is a straightforward book that knows where it wants to go, and I thought it was actually quite effective. I am looking forward to the conclusion of this two-book series in the sequel Prototype....more
If there's one thing I learned from reading Seoul Survivors and now Astra, it is that author Naomi Foyle has a remarkable way of making me feel. I have been shocked and disturbed by some of the ideas in her books, but likewise there have been times where the touching beauty of her writing has bought me to tears. Her stories might not necessarily read like heart-pounding thrillers or page-turners, but no matter what, they always pack a powerful punch.
That most certainly describes Astra, a bold dystopian tale about a girl growing up in a closed and isolated nature-worshiping community called Is-Land. The novel is divided into three parts, detailing the journey of its eponymous heroine as she ages from a child to young adulthood. Because of the format in which her story is told, it's probably going to be easier for me to summarize and give my thoughts and opinions on each part separately.
The first part begins when Astra is only seven years old. In this section, we learn a lot about the nation of Is-Land from her perspective. Life seems wonderful and perfect in her little town of Or, where the social structure is highly fluid and everyone lives as naked as the day they are born in harmony with Gaia's creatures. At the same time, advanced technology exists in his world, used to do things like engineer alt-meat for consumption, or to allow children to learn the ways of Is-Land and Gaia on devices called "tablettes". Starting with Astra's generation, children will also be getting the Security Serum, a shot that would make the subject physically stronger, but would also give them a more obedient and pliable personality.
Not surprisingly, many of the details we read about in this section are filtered through the lens of Astra's youth and innocence. She's lively, curious, and not just a little bit impish. It's challenging to write young characters, but I believe Naomi Foyle nailed it perfectly. Astra is good at driving her caregivers up the wall with her unending questions, quick temper and silly antics -- in other words, she thinks and acts like a very active and bright seven-year-old. Just thinking about the possible loss of that precociousness really hits home, which is what I think the author intended. Receiving the "Sec Shot" would be the end of everything that makes Astra who she is, and so her Shelter-Mother Hokma devises and carries out a plan to help the young girl avoid getting it.
Then the book skips ahead to when Astra is twelve years old. This is probably the longest section, but it was also the one I found the most interesting. While the previous part amazed me with the depth of the world-building, this part blew me away with its character development and unique take on the classic coming-of-age tale. All sorts of changes are happening to Astra at this point, both physical and emotional. The theme of sexuality also features heavily in this section, and I felt Foyle's bold and fearless writing style did an excellent job of describing this stage of Astra's life, conveying all the excitement and poignancy that comes with it. Once again, she gives her main character a voice that is both age-appropriate and believable.
This section also introduces Lil, an orphaned child rescued from the woods who comes to live with Astra in her community. An uncannily realistic "frenemy-like" relationship is forged between the two girls, one of friendship but also rivalry. Astra, who has always felt like an outcast knowing that she has not received her Sec Shot like the rest of her peers, takes an immediate fascination to Lil, who also doesn't seem to quite fit in. Eventually, the latter's ideas of the world begin to bleed into Astra's view of the world, and as everything Astra thought she knew begins to crumble, that's when things start getting very interesting...
The final part, which is also the shortest, focuses on Astra when she is seventeen. This is the section where everything comes to a head. For the last decade, she has grown up seeing the world differently than her "Sec Gen" friends, and that fateful decision Hokma made with her all those years ago finally leads to some widespread repercussions. A lot of dystopian novels come to a point like this, where the main protagonist's worldview is shattered by a life-changing event. I can honestly say, however, that there was no way I could have foreseen what happened afterwards. Indeed the conclusion may come as quite a shock.
Like I said, this book isn't exactly a page-turner, and don't go in expecting too much action or a grand adventure because that's not what it is about. But by following Astra through all three life stages, I feel like I've come to know her very well, and the author has managed to make me care deeply about her character. I didn't even realize how completely immersed I'd been until I reached the end, and tears started coming to my eyes while reading a scene that was particularly touching. I don't know if that would have hit me so hard emotionally if the book hadn't been so well-written overall.
The sequel will no doubt focus more on the bigger world, now that Astra has discovered some truths about herself and Is-Land. This book, however, was an intensely deep, complex and thought-provoking narrative of the main character's life. It's a beautiful story, unique and daring, which serves as a solid foundation for everything else to come....more
It's only January, but already I have a feeling that this is going to be one of the more "out there" books I'll read this year. As usual, Jo Fletcher Books continues to push the envelop and explore beyond the boundaries of traditional adult speculative fiction with novels like Seoul Survivor.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first read the description. With the impending destruction of earth by a meteor called Lucifer's Hammer providing the backdrop for the story, I wouldn't have been surprised to find something along the lines of an apocalyptic science fiction thriller. What I actually got, however, was something all together different. Strange, too -- but in a good way.
The book follows the lives of four characters: Sydney Travers, a former escort from Canada who hopes to start over with a modeling career in a new country; her boyfriend Johnny Sandman, a vicious, sociopathic and just all around disgusting corporate executive and a sorry excuse of a human being; Damien Meadows, so down on his luck and desperate to leave England that he reluctantly agrees to be a drug mule; and finally Lee Mee Hee, a North Korean peasant woman who is smuggled away from death and famine in the false bottom of a foreign aid truck. Their separate paths all lead them to Seoul, Korea where the brilliant Korean-American scientist Dr. Kim Da Mi is the mastermind behind a plan to redesign humanity with genetic engineering and social experiments, in spite of the killer asteroid hurtling earth's way.
Beyond these basics, the book gets more complex and difficult to describe. At times it falls into seriously outrageous and bizarre territory. It also may not be for everyone, and indeed it's not for the faint of heart; there are parts that made me feel downright queasy while reading, especially some of the scenes that depicted acts of a deviant nature as well as the few instances which involved graphic descriptions of sexual violence. I didn't expect it from its cover or description, but this novel is dark and at times twisted, containing some disturbing themes.
At the same time, I couldn't help but be drawn to the characters, and be enthralled by the way their individual dramas unfolded. Confoundingly, none of them are even all that likeable as people, but for some reason their lives are like a car wreck I can't seem to tear my eyes away from. Take the shallow and insecure Sydney who so easily gets manipulated, for example, or timid Mee Hee with the personality meeker than a lamb. Neither of them possess particularly admirable traits, but all the same, their fears and desires make them feel very human. Even megalomaniac Johnny whom I consider to be more monster than man has his part to play, and then of course there is the geneticist Dr. Kim and her eerie charisma worthy of a cult leader.
The setting itself feels like a world in a not-too-distant future, one that feels familiar but also exotic in part due to some of the advanced technology but also because of the foreign culture. From her author's bio, Naomi Foyle spent many years in Asia and it is clear that she drew upon her experiences in Korea to paint a clear picture of the people and places of Seoul. As a reader, you can easily become completely immersed in this milieu.
I also thought the crisis and spectacle of Lucifer's Hammer would feature more prominently in this novel, but aside from Damien no other character takes the meteor all that seriously, and as such it is always in the background but not discussed to a great extent. I wish there had been more; though nonetheless, the all-pervasive undertones of worldwide tension are so strong they are practically palpable. It's interesting because while I wouldn't technically classify this book as apocalyptic fiction, so few novels actually take this "countdown to doomsday" angle.
To put it simply, Seoul Survivors is a book that defies all expectations. Just sitting back and letting the story be what it is can lead to some pleasant surprises amidst the dark twists and turns. The true nature of it can take a while to unravel, but the never-seen-before ideas and diverse cast of characters make this one an intriguing read. It touched me, and it also shook me to my core....more
I think Masks slipped under a lot of radars last year, and even as someone who read the book, I really had no idea what a strong impression it made on me until the sequel Shadows showed up and I found myself wanting to dive right in. I do remember being struck by the richness of the world and magic, and realized that I was very much looking forward to continuing the story of protagonist Mara Holdfast.
One thing I should mention is that while nothing about these books ostensibly scream Young Adult (at least not on the surface – it’s not really obvious from the cover, not published under a YA imprint, and not mentioned in the description), this really does read like a YA series. It’s more than just the age of the protagonist, who is fifteen years old in Shadows and for most of Masks; thematically and stylistically, the way it was written also made me want to categorize the first book as a YA, and book two only furthered my belief. This is neither good nor bad. However, I just think readers going in should be aware of it since it may affect expectations. I personally chose to view and rate this one as YA.
Last we saw her in Masks, Mara had escaped from the mining camps where the tyrannical Autarch sends all those who are labeled traitors and not fit to be part of society. She ends up back at the system of secret coastal caves where a group of underground rebels calling themselves the unMasked Army have made their home. The rebels’ leader has asked Mara to use her gifts to craft special masks for them, which would hide the user’s intent from the Autarch and his Watchers, but untrained and inexperienced with her magic, Mara is frustrated when her attempts to do so fail.
At the same time, a mysterious young man washes up on shore, claiming to be a scout from Korellia, a city long thought to have been lost, sunk beneath the seas. But Chell is even more than he appears, and though the unmasked Army remain wary of him, they allow him to accompany Mara on a dangerous mission back into the city in the hopes of reaching Mara’s father, the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, in order to glean information about the secrets of his trade.
Like most second books in a dystopian series, this is the point where the danger and desperation starts to really come to the forefront and can be keenly felt by the reader. The Autarch’s forces continue to close in, pushing Mara and her allies to make riskier decisions, and sometimes those decisions lead to disaster. Mara is already an unstable vessel of magic, trying to learn how to handle her one-of-a-kind powers, and just when the slightest spark can set her abilities off, something akin to a mega-ton explosion happens in her life. It was a twist that was wholly unexpected to me, one that I didn’t think the author would carry through, but in retrospect I shouldn’t really have been that surprised. In both Masks and now in Shadows, the story has taken some pretty dark turns, and the emotional trauma transforms Mara into an uncontrollable element, adding unpredictability to her powers which are already little understood.
Mara also grows as a character, in ways that are more than just about her magic. The fact that she is played up to be the most powerful person in Aygrima is still a bit vexing, but it’s also clear from the events in this book that she is far from perfect. To put it simply, some of the decisions she makes are impulsive, inconsiderate, embarrassing, and in several cases, downright dumb. This, however, is not always a negative. Her bad choices indicate vulnerability in her character, showing that despite her staggering power, she’s still just a teenage girl who is prone to mistakes, not to mention she can barely control her gifts. I think it humanizes her and makes her less exasperating than she was in the first book where it almost felt like she could do no wrong.
There are definitely more high points than low points in this novel, though there are still a couple weaknesses I should mention. Despite viewing Masks as YA, I did note that a wider audience can probably appreciate it too, since the nature of the fantasy setting and the characters that E.C. Blake has created sets the book apart. Shadows, however, feels distinctly more YA, if that is a comparison I can make. One example is a not-so-subtle hint of a love triangle which manifests itself into a full-blown LOVE SQUARE within the first 40 pages. It eventually resolves itself, and I won’t spoil how, since that in itself is a pretty interesting side-plot. However, it did bug me a little to see romantic drama worm its way into the picture so soon in the story, when there’s so much else that’s more important in Mara’s life. There are also some very dramatic, very exciting developments in this book, but also large chunks of it that felt drawn out, most of it boiling down to Mara being on the run.
But as you can see, I really enjoyed this for the most part, especially if I’m looking at it as a YA novel. I probably still liked Masks a little more, if I had to compare the two books in the series so far, but Shadows was a worthy sequel and promises to bring even more thrills and delights in the next installment. A 3.5 to 4 star read for me....more
Sanderson's work is always top notch, even his shorts. I loved Steelheart, so picking this one up was a no brainer. Mitosis is basically a mini storySanderson's work is always top notch, even his shorts. I loved Steelheart, so picking this one up was a no brainer. Mitosis is basically a mini story that takes place after the Reckoners reclaim Newcago, welcoming new citizens to the city while guarding it from any opportunistic Epics who might seek to fill the void left by Steelheart.
Not much more to say other than it was a quick and fun read. You won't be missing any important information for Firefight even if you don't read it, though it might get you excited for the next book if you aren't already, and even more pumped if you are. A very fast-paced story which does a good job presenting the atmosphere of Newcago post-Steelheart, and features a very cool villain and many suspenseful action scenes....more
Masks is the very promising first novel of what's shaping up to be a phenomenal series. And to think, at first I was tentative about approaching this book because (wait for it, silly irrational reason incoming) I was a little spooked by the cover! There's just something so unsettling about the blank gaze of an empty mask, but I couldn't deny there was a lot of beauty in this particular one too.
Thinking back on it now, I realize that the cover for this book is actually quite perfect. The story it contains within is indeed quite beautiful, but it also has its moments of darkness, as a lot of these types of books with dystopian-like settings tend to have. Masks features Mara Holdfast, a girl growing up in Aygrima, a land overseen by the all-seeing Autarch. In this society, everyone is require to wear a mask the day they turn fifteen. Through these masks, it is said that the Autarch and his Watchers can know the thoughts of every citizen, enabling them to put down dissidents and maintain everlasting peace and security in the empire.
Mara has known from a young age that she is Gifted; the magic that few are born with in this world runs strongly in her family. She has hopes to follow in her father's footsteps and become a Master Maskmaker just like him, and looks forward to her masking day when she can finally become his apprentice. But then things go horribly wrong on her fifteenth birthday during the ceremony, and Mara is immediately labeled a traitor, not fit to be part of society. Everything Mara has ever known is ripped away as she is consigned to a wagon bound for the mines, where she will be forced into a life of imprisonment and slavery.
This is a story that had me riveted from beginning to end. The introduction with the build-up to Mara's masking ceremony is probably one of the best I've ever read, because it really does a good job of grabbing your attention right away. And as if that wasn't enough, the journey doesn't ever slow down, constantly driving forward as Mara is whisked from one dilemma to another. While there are some elements to this story that are predictable, the question of where the main protagonist will end up next is always in up in the air, and I was held rapt by the multitude of possibilities that could happen.
I was also struck by the magic in this book, which goes hand in hand with my fascination with the idea of the Autarch using masks to control the population. At this point, not everything about the masks and magic is explained yet, and while I do have many questions, it also feels like the author is leaving lots of room to flesh it out in the next installment. Nevertheless, what's established here already gives this book a certain uniqueness, and I'm excited to know more.
I'm also very much looking forward to the character growth of Mara. If there's one thing I wasn't particularly fond of about this book (and it's a tiny thing), it was her constant questioning and second-guessing of herself. She also tends to dwell on things and appears to have the weakest stomach of any character I know, leading to a few instances of repetition in the narrative and a lot of vomiting on poor Mara's part. On the other hand, I realize she is barely fifteen and has lived a relatively sheltered and privileged life before everything in her world turned upside down. In that sense, I really can't fault her all that much. I expect there's a lot potential for her in the next book though, as she develops into someone in a leadership position who has the ability to change things for the better.
I did ask myself after reading Masks whether or not I should categorize this book as Young Adult. The age of the protagonist along with certain factors like the not-so-subtle hints of a future romance or love triangle makes me want to say yes, and certainly I think the story could appeal to older teens. At the same time, the nature of the fantasy setting and characters that E.C. Blake has created sets this book apart from conventional YA, and so I think a wider audience can appreciate it too. I know I did...a lot!...more
Dystopian fiction seems to be all the rage these days, but if you're hankering for a book that sets itself apart and that is not a Young Adult novel, then boy do I have a gem for you.
The Detainee is set the distant future, where society as we know it has essentially collapsed, the economy and infrastructure in tatters. The population is kept in line by security satellites in the sky, constantly watching. Do something against the rules and -- ZAP! -- you're either disabled, dying or dead, depending on the severity of your crime. But if you're a troublemaker, the authorities would sooner just throw you away than deal with you. Anyone who represents a burden is unwanted, dumped onto The Island like the rest of the Mainland's garbage.
But what makes this book stand out is the main character Clancy, also known as "Big Guy" on account of his huge size as a youth, a trait that gave him such an edge as a former mafia goon. He is also sixty-three years old. Now, with people living longer and longer these days, I don't know if I would really call that old ... but the point is, Clancy certainly identifies himself as elderly. So, that's a bit different. I don't often come across stories told from the point of view of someone "aged" (for the entire duration of the book) and I thought Clancy's position offers a very unique perspective, as someone who has watched the "good old days" turn gradually into the hell they live in now -- piece by piece and slippery slope by slippery slope.
Because of his age, Clancy is also an involuntary resident of the Island, because those who are past their prime are seen as nothing more than takers and freeloaders. Elders in this society are not revered but instead treated like scapegoats for the system's collapse -- along with the sick, the poor, and even children. There are many young people at the Island too, many of whom ended up there because their parents chose abandoning them over being cast off themselves. These kids are rounded up and manipulated by the island's Wastelords who use a regime of drugs and abuse to create a brutal child army, which they use to set against the old people who live in the village.
Like I said, this is not your teenager's YA dystopian. In an ironic twist, the youth are the enemy, the face of death to Clancy and his friends. Their village becomes a bloody battlefield whenever the fog rolls in, because that's when the kids come raiding, knowing full well their activities are obscured from the gazes of the uncompromising satellites.
Powerful and provocative, you can practically feel the weight in Peter Liney's writing. The Detainee paints a hollow, painful existence for everyone living on the Island, for while the book is told in first person from Clancy's point of view, we find out later on that things are just as bad (if not worse) for the young people at the Camps. Instead of focusing on a single age group, the author has taken things further to explore the unpleasant effects of a dystopian society across multiple generations. But the novel is also hopeful and inspiring; even in a world of misery, the protagonist Clancy forges several unlikely relationships that give him reason to carry on. In time he learns when it comes to love and suffering, age is just a number, and that everyone longs for freedom the same way.
What you'll find here is a compelling story about adaptability, compassion and courage. Clancy is a very interesting narrator, with the experience of his years behind his character, and who ultimately discovers you are never too old to surprise yourself. I could be wrong, but I think The Detainee is a stand alone novel (EDIT: seems that I am wrong, I'm told there is a book 2 in the works YAY!) It reads perfectly fine as one, in any case. I would have liked to see more from the story about its world's history and background, but I found the book thoroughly enjoyable. Perfect for fans of dystopian fiction who are looking for an exceptional novel to dive into....more
The Diamond Deep was a very pleasant surprise, one of those books that I have a feeling should deserve a lot more attention than it gets. Nevertheless, I'll admit I knew very little about the book when it first came into my possession, and for that reason, I almost relegated it to the "save-for-later" pile. Boy, am I so very glad I didn't.
It was reading the first page containing the Author's Note that first transformed my mild curiosity into awed interest. There, Brenda Cooper writes that Evita, the musical about Eva Perón, was the main inspiration for the book's story. Something about this struck me, made me want to know more and read the book right away. Cooper further writes, though, that The Diamond Deep is simply the story Evita's legend teased out of her. And knowing what I do about Eva Perón, I could definitely see how her life and legacy inspired this novel, but the story is also a very fascinating piece of social-science-fiction, a class-oriented space opera with elements of action and suspense.
The book's main protagonist, Ruby Martin, is a very strong and complex character, much like the historical figure she was based on. She and the inhabitants of their discovery ship are heading home from a multi-generational journey, and from the sound of it, things haven't been easy. I have not read the first book of the Ruby's Song series, The Creative Fire, but it is clear that there'd been a rigidly divided social structure on the ship, before a movement spearheaded by Ruby and others brought a change.
Just as Evita had been an actress before becoming First Lady of Argentina and a political leader in her own right, Ruby started off as a robot repair assistant and a singer before becoming partners with the ship's leader Joel North. And just like Evita during her short life, Ruby's character is controversial, as adored as she is hated by her crew. When they finally reach their destination, her leadership is further tested when it turns out their new home is nothing like any of them expected.
After being away for so long, they are immediately dismissed as primitive and naive, given no status, voice or power. Having just rid their own society of inequality, they arrive at The Diamond Deep space station only to be treated like beggars and slaves, the lowest of the low. They are used and manipulated by parties who deliberately and shamelessly keep them in the dark, knowing that there's nothing they can do about it. As with most fiction concerning sociological speculation, this book is a reflection of some of the current issues in our own contemporary societies, and it can be quite upsetting and infuriating to read about Ruby and her crew's situation.
Ruby herself is an interesting protagonist. She has a very dominant and energetic personality, but her love for her people is boundless. She can also be a tad vain and wrapped up in her own self-importance, but perhaps that's the point the author is trying to make about Ruby and her leadership -- that even strong characters are flawed and fallible, and that they can make mistakes and cause pain unwittingly even when they have good intentions or think they are doing the best for others. Ruby cares too much, perhaps, unwilling to accept that she can't be everywhere at once and do everything for everyone at the same time.
I think my appreciation for her character also increased after I finished this book and began researching more into the life of Eva Perón, which opened my eyes to more parallels made by the author. Moreover, though, I liked this book for its themes, which explore matters such as power, poverty, and the responsibilities of a society to its members. It is a very compelling story of revolution, and one woman's journey to fight for her people's voices to be heard.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Earlier this year I read Angelfall and was very impressed, more than I would've expected to be by a young adult paranormal novel which initially appeared quite typical on the surface. Featuring a teenaged female protagonist in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by invading angels, I figured it would do for an entertaining read, but didn't think it would go beyond covering old ground. I was mistaken, of course! I ended up loving Angelfall for the high quality of the storytelling and fantastic characters, and thank goodness I didn't discover the book until late summer because that meant much less of a wait for World After, this much anticipated sequel.
The story picks up where Angelfall left off, after the rebels' attack on the angel stronghold. Penryn had spent most of the last book trying to find her sister and ultimately succeeded in her quest, though little Paige has suffered much at the hands of the enemy and is no longer the girl she used to be. Driven out by the other human survivors that consider her a monster, Paige takes off, leaving Penryn to try and track her down...again.
Meanwhile, the angel Raffe was left scarred in more ways than one in the aftermath of the explosive assault on the Aerie, still hunting his wings that were severed and taken away from him. Penryn is crushed knowing that he still thinks she's dead, but she has more pressing things on her mind. While working for the resistance and looking for Paige, she discovers a nefarious plot at hand.
After reading World After, I still think Angelfall was a better book, though only by a small margin. The first book was a great debut that set some pretty high standards, and I knew it was going to be tough to beat. Nevertheless, the series continues to impress me with this sequel, which shows no sign of the plot slowing down. That's what I've been loving so much about this story, the fact that there is very little filler and no tedious expounding of the characters' emotional hangups or pointless dragging out of the romance. Less is more sometimes, and we all know a relationship is what's shaping up between Penryn and Raffe after all; I didn't need the extra bells and whistles to still have a great time anticipating the moment when the two of them will be reunited again.
So much of my enjoyment for a book depends on how much I take to the main character, and I think that is the key to why I'm a such fan. In a genre where topics like survival in the post-apocalyptic world (and even angels) have been done six ways to Sunday, Penryn is what makes this series stand out. She is a take-charge leader and a fighter, and the best part is that she is consistent, not switching from a tough girl one moment to a shrinking violet the next. She's also sassy, but not in an over-confident or obnoxious kind of way. Of course, she is not without her problems, but what's important is that she doesn't dwell on them or whine about the things she knows she cannot change.
Basically, Penryn feels like a real person just doing her best to stay alive in a difficult situation, though the events of this book definitely tests her mettle. While she may be resilient, she is not dismissive of her own pain or that of others'. There are some very heart-wrenching moments when Penryn sees what her sister has become and has to struggle to accept her. Indeed, what chance does the human race have, when people are turning on their own, especially on those who have endured the worst? It will also be interesting now to see how Penryn will respond to her deepening feelings towards Raffe. In my experience, nothing changes a YA heroine faster than a burgeoning romance, and here's hoping Penryn remains the strong female protagonist I know and love!...more
This is going to be less of a review, and more of a list of my thoughts on why I just couldn't get into this book. I try generally to finish every booThis is going to be less of a review, and more of a list of my thoughts on why I just couldn't get into this book. I try generally to finish every book I start because I'm way too obsessive-compulsive not to, but I have to say it was so tempting to put this one aside. I did end up finishing it, but not without much zoning out and skimming.
- I remember really liking Ashes, the first book of this trilogy. It was, in my opinion, a zombie survival story done well. We had a great beginning, an intriguing cause of the disaster in the form of the mysterious "Zap" that started it all and turned everything upside down. I liked the main character Alex and how she met up with Tom and Ellie, I wanted to see more of them and what they would do to make it through the apocalypse.
- But somewhere along the way, this zombie survival story became bogged down with too much character drama. Alex used to be the main focus, which was fine with me; I liked her and her whole backstory about her illness and the death of her parents. But ever since Rule came into the picture, Alex started showing up less and less; other characters I didn't care for were getting more attention. There were way too many players involved already, but Monsters added even more.
- This book really could have been edited down further, with a lot of filler cut out. I heard it was originally around 800 pages long, but even now at around 600, there's still too much exposition and unneeded detail, like aimless dream sequences and a lot of redundant repetition.
- I did not like how it seemed the author felt every chapter needed to end in a cliffhanger. It very quickly became unbearable when we would follow one character's perspective, stop at a point of suspense, go to follow another character in a very different place, stop at a point of suspense for them, and repeat this pattern back and forth. This excessive ping-ponging between perspectives was even more tedious when all of it would sometimes happen within the same chapter.
- No big picture, no explanations or answers to questions. We don't get to find out more about the Zap, the Changed, or any of the other strange things that have been happening to our characters. The action scenes felt thrown in perfunctorily whenever we needed a break from the soap opera drama.
- Disappointing end to a trilogy that really started out quite strong. I'd really hoped for it to pick up, but instead, it spiraled further away from the spirit of what made me like the first book so much. I think the departure had already started happening at the end of Ashes, but it only got worse in the second. I didn't like the direction in which the series was headed in Shadows, and I liked it even less in Monsters. ...more
Whoa, where do I start? My head is still reeling with all the things I have to say about Red Rising. Now let's just hope I can consolidate them all into a coherent review without having it devolve into unrestrained, mindless gushing. In any case, I expect this book will be wildly popular -- though only time will tell, of course. Nonetheless, 2014 appears to be off to a great start with debuts like this one from Pierce Brown.
Meet Darrow, a miner on Mars. His people, the Reds, occupy the lowest rungs of society. And like all Reds, Darrow is resigned to a life of hard labor, of digging under the planet's surface for the rest of his days. He thought it was for a noble cause, that his hard work will provide future generations a safe place to call home. Except, as it turns out, it was all a lie. Mars had been habitable for generations, and the decadent Golds have been maintaining this charade all along to uphold their hierarchical system of castes and slaves.
Let me just get it out of the way now and say that comparisons to The Hunger Games will be inevitable. You have a dystopian society featuring a main protagonist who rises from the poorest, most downtrodden and oppressed section of it, hoping to destroy the system from within. But before that can happen, he has to go through a transformation to help him fit in with his enemies. You have a competition in which the hero must come out on top at all costs. The war games involved are observed by many, in this case the Proctors of the Institute as well as thousands of Aureates and important Golds who follow the results eagerly, hoping to find their future apprentices amongst the competitors.
But now that that's taken care of, I can also tell you all the ways it was different. First and foremost, the world of Red Rising is hands down in a league of its own. The descriptions of the society and its people and its cultures all overwhelmed me. I credit much of this to Pierce Brown's writing, which is just gorgeous. How does he do it? How does he paint the picture of a life as a Red with so much suffering, hardship, and horrors and yet still manages to fill it with so much beauty? The first chapters were simply astounding, introducing you to Darrow, who comes across as much older than his sixteen years thanks to the experiences he's had as Helldiver, the most dangerous position on a drilling team. His people value song and dance, because even in the darkness there is a kind of hope in expression through music. It's all so lovely, just absolutely surprising and heart-breaking.
Oops, I'm treading dangerously into gushing-territory now, aren't I? Thing is, so much of my thoughts for what I read is tied up in emotion, and no question about it, this one gave me all the feels. There's a keen bite to the story, which will rub your emotions raw if you're not expecting it. Even knowing beforehand that some terrible event is going to set Darrow off on his mission for justice, I was not prepared for the number Red Rising did on my poor, battered emotions. I'm not typically one to give in to tears while reading, but when I saw that we weren't even fifty pages in yet and I felt like bawling my eyes out, I knew at that very moment I was holding a truly remarkable book in my hands.
It only gets better. That darkness and poignancy lasts for the whole book, even when the focus shifts to the games at the Institute. Saying that all hell breaks loose at this point would be a gross understatement -- but in a good way. Oh, in the best way. I expect this is where most people will draw parallels to The Hunger Games, but interestingly enough, my own mind went straight to Age of Empires. No doubt it's the gamer side of me coming through, for I could not read about the characters gathering resources, dividing their forces up for different tasks, commanding armies and conquering other Houses' bases and their Fog of War maps without reminiscing about some of my favorite real-time strategy games with fondness.
Seeing as how the game at the Institute makes up the bulk of this novel, this book would have been anywhere near as addicting or intense for me if not for the descriptions of the tactics and strategies involved. And yet, it is still a very human story; Pierce Brown takes the reader straight down to the trenches where we experience everything from terror and triumph as the competitors fight tooth and nail to try and conquer each other. One could hardly miss the symbolism behind it, a decadent pantheon watching on with amusement as the puny mortals below go at each other like depraved animals.
Ultimately, comparisons will probably abound no matter what. But none of them will change the fact that Red Rising is a very special book, filled with beautiful and terrible things in equal measure. It definitely has what it takes to shine on its own, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. ...more
I've heard so much about The Bone Season, which was quite possibly one of this summer's most talked about debuts by author Samantha Shannon. Though I'm the kind of person who's generally wary of the hype machine, I won't deny I was quite curious to see for myself what all the fuss was about! And now that I've had the chance to finish the audiobook, I can certainly understand why readers have been so impressed by it.
Though not officially marketed as a Young Adult novel, I'm also not surprised to see so many categorize The Bone Season as such. The nature of its story, main character and dystopian setting all mingle to give it that distinctive YA vibe, yet that's not to say that adults won't be able to enjoy this too. The book's crossover appeal probably has a lot to do its protagonist and narrator, 19-year-old Paige Mahoney who is a strong, mature and level-headed heroine with whom a wide audience can relate.
Paige is also known as a "Dreamwalker", in this alternate world set in the future where individuals like her who possess supernatural abilities are called "Voyants". The book takes place in London, 2059 where the security force Scion holds authority, declaring all voyants criminals simply by existing. Paige is forced to live a secret life, working for the underworld organization where she gathers information by using her rare powers to breaking into other people's minds.
When an unfortunate incident leads to her arrest, however, Paige finds herself imprisoned at a penal colony in Oxford, a city long forgotten. She finds out that Scion has been sending captured voyants here to become slaves and soldiers to an otherworldly race called the Rephaim. She is assigned to Warden, her Rephaim keeper in charge of her care and training. Now all Paige wants to do is to escape and find her way home, but as the days goes by she discovers there is a lot more at stake than just her freedom.
First, the good stuff: I really liked Paige, a smart and capable young woman who is also not infallible. Her history is well-developed and written in such a way that her past details are revealed gradually throughout the course of the novel, keeping things interesting for those curious about her story. My Audible version of The Bone Season is narrated by Irish actress Alana Kerr, who brings Paige to life with her performance. This was the first experience I've had with her work, and I could be wrong but I believe she's new to reading audiobooks. Generally, I prefer narrators who can do a broader range of voices (because sometimes it was hard to tell which character was speaking) but I probably wouldn't be averse to checking out her future audiobook performances if she does any. Overall I was happy with her reading, because she did such a wonderful job conveying Paige's strength and poise.
The world Samantha Shannon has created is also amazingly detailed, but this also means an almost overwhelming amount of information to take in. This does cause some hitches in the pacing, especially during the first half of the novel which didn't flow as well as the second half. I also had to go back several times at the beginning to learn and familiarize myself with all the different names and terms of people, places, organizations, voyant types, and slang. Doing so wasn't easy with an audiobook, but it was also absolutely worth it in order to get the full impact of the setting, and I got to appreciate just how rich it is.
In the end, I felt The Bone Season was an incredibly impressive debut novel from a 21-year-old new author. Hype can be a dangerous thing sometimes, and though it was impossible to ignore the comparisons calling this book the next Hunger Games or Samantha Shannon the next J.K. Rowling, I think going into this book with realistic expectations helped me a lot. I came out of this one pleasantly surprised, and I'm definitely open to reading more from this author and series....more
I tend to go into young adult novels of this type with a fair amount of wariness and trepidation, so color me surprised when this turned out to be a book I really enjoyed. Then I discovered it was actually first released as a self-published indie, and that just completely floored me. I am beyond impressed.
Anyway, at first glance, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. It's got all the makings of a Young Adult, paranormal, post-apocalyptic-dystopian-type novel starring a teenage female protagonist narrating in the first person present tense, and of course, there's always the promise of some romance. Though, I suppose there's something to be said of its "End of Days" scenario with the invasion of warrior angels coming to destroy the world. Even early on, when I barely knew anything about this book, the subject was what made it stand out for me.
The book starts six weeks after the angels of the apocalypse have descended, demolishing civilization as we know it. Penryn carries the responsibility of taking care of her mother, who has schizophrenia, as well as her little sister Paige whose legs are paralyzed and she needs a wheelchair to get around. When an angel steals Paige and carries her off, Penryn will do anything to get her back, including allying herself with the enemy. She forms a tentative agreement with Raffe, a warrior angel whom she rescues after finding him bloodied and lying in the street, beaten and broken with his wings cut off.
I'll admit that I started this book with a skeptical mindset, unconvinced it would win me over, even with all the great stuff being said about it. I love reading YA novels, but I also can't help but hold them to a higher standard, mostly because the genre is so over-saturated and it takes a lot for one to really stand out for me. And at first, I found that I liked Penryn, liked the introduction of Raffe, and liked the direction of the story...but still nothing made me truly love it.
That changed somewhere along the way, and I don't even know when it happened. Maybe it's because at no point did I find this book boring; the plot is constantly driving forward, and even when there's no action happening on the page, there's still plenty of tension to keep you interested in the story.
Penryn, too, sets herself apart as a strong heroine, who takes the weight of the world upon her underfed shoulders. Having your troubled mother and disabled sister depend on you when the world is crumbling before your eyes can't be easy, but she handles it with grace and maturity and none of the angst or dramatics. She's quick-witted and thinks on her feet, even if her plans don't always work out perfectly. My favorite scene is when she decks a chauvinist meathead for making lewd comments at her, with the expectation that potential allies would come to her aid, only to find herself fighting alone. But she ends up winning! Nice job, Penryn.
The climax and ending were also really well done. I'm amazed at how everything came together, since very often at this point of a book I will find myself spotting plot holes or picking apart illogical points in the story, ultimately just resigning myself to go with the flow. And yet, I really don't recall doing a lot of that here, but maybe it's because I was just so completely focused on the twists and surprising developments that I wasn't concentrating on thinking about much else.
And finally, how I really know this book made an impression on me? The fact that as soon as I finished, I quickly went online to find the next book...only to discover it's not coming out until November. Hey, well, something to look forward to....more
4.5 stars. It's going to be extremely difficult to talk about the sheer awesomeness of this book without giving spoilers, but darn it, I'm going to tr4.5 stars. It's going to be extremely difficult to talk about the sheer awesomeness of this book without giving spoilers, but darn it, I'm going to try! In general I tend not to do spoilers in reviews, but more important is the fact that I simply don't think anything will compare to the emotional rollercoaster of experiencing all the ups-and-downs of this book yourself.
Like the first book, though, it took me a while to get into the story. However, it's significant to note that some of the best books I've ever read start off slow in the first 100 pages, and this has been the case with both books in this series so far. Part of this also has to do with the writing style, which I still find over-encumbered and hard to get used to.
But feel free to ignore all that, because none of it mattered in the end; as soon as this book got its arashitora claws and talons in me, I was pretty much putty in its clutches. After the events of Stormdancer, I was on pins and needles wondering what Yukiko, Buruu, and the Kagen rebels would do now with the entire Shima Imperium in turmoil. My first shock was discovering the Lotus Guild's choice for the new Shogun. That just can't end well.
Now the Kagen are in a frenzy of planning, hoping to sabotage the Shogun-to-be's wedding and foil the Guild's aim to put him at the head of this new tyrannical dynasty. The enemy, however, are also plotting something of their own, something that would have the power to end the Kagen and destroy their forest home. Meanwhile, Yukiko flies off on Buruu across the oceans to learn more about the Kenning, her mysterious power that has been unstable as of late.
There's definitely an epic feel to this series now, especially with the addition of more characters, their points-of-view, and multiple plot threads occurring in different places all at once. For the first time, we also get a brief glimpse of the world happening outside Shima, finally giving some context to this "gaijin war" we've been hearing about for the whole of the first book and a part of this one, but so far have seen none of the fighting or battles.
And if I thought the first 100 pages were slow, the last 100 pages certainly made up for them and more besides. I know "unputdownable" sounds cliched, but it was almost literally the truth when the book was practically glued to my fingers with the nervous sweat coming off of my hands, I kid you not. I don't often like making comparisons to A Song of Ice and Fire when I talk about books (because truly, I have never come across anything quite like George R.R. Martin's series) but there were definitely times where I felt this one was "Game of Thrones-ing" me. It was just shock after shock in the last quarter of the book, some which were expected, some not.
Of course, I had some issues, especially with some parts of the plot (like, what a nice convenient way to get Yukiko out of the picture for a while), and the prose with its excessive use of metaphors often made me want to tear my hair out, but overall these were overshadowed by the climax and finale, as well as an insane revelation about Yukiko. I cannot believe I didn't see that one coming.
In the end, I think I liked this book even more than the first one because it was darker, more visceral, violent. I love books which are unpredictable and that keep me guessing, whose direction can change like the wind without warning. I liked how this was not a happy story. It has evolved a lot in this book, and its characters as well. Considering how Jay Kristoff left things off here in total chaos, I'm already looking forward to the next book which I have no doubt will be explosive....more
This was a refreshing read that stood out from all the steampunk I've been chomping through lately. I used to think this sub-genre and setting wasn'tThis was a refreshing read that stood out from all the steampunk I've been chomping through lately. I used to think this sub-genre and setting wasn't for me, but that was probably before I realized how few steampunk books I've read actually incorporate that "steampunkness" so fully and completely as this book does. And it's not just about the cool airships and armor and the wicked chainsaw katanas either (though all those things are indeed cool and wicked). The steampunk aspect is ubiquitous and feels like a living, breathing part of the story, going beyond descriptions of the mechanisms to actually touch upon the relationship it has with the whole society and industry.
But enough about the steampunk, because as brilliant as that is, it's only one of the many reasons why I loved this book. I think the kicker is the feudal Japanese-inspired world as well as the author's version on its myths and legends. In the center stage of Stormdancer is the arashitora, a "storm tiger" or griffin, which the characters Yukiko and the members of her father's hunting team are tasked to capture for Shima's megalomaniacal Shogun. However, the expedition is disrupted by a great tempest before they could bring one home, leaving Yukiko stranded and alone with one of the mythological creatures, and a furious one at that.
At is heart, the story is mainly about the friendship that develops between Yukiko and the arashitora Buruu, an unlikely pair who learns to trust and love one another after facing challenges together. While that's not exactly breaking new ground, I still have to say there were a few surprises in the plot that kept things interesting. Once again, it's the world that really pulled me in, and along with that the anticipation of seeing how the characters will prevail against the Shogun and his Lotus Guild. For a novel targeted at young adults, I am more than impressed with the whole package.
I suppose the only thing that gave me pause was the prose. I am torn when it comes to this, because so much of the writing was given to the world building, and surely no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details! The downside of this, however, was, well...no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details...
In general, I found the prose needed getting used to, and also could have done with much less embellishment. But the book's penchant to expound on everything was also both its strongest and weakest point. It may be the reason for its slow-ish start, but also gave life to in my opinion the best and most amazing scene in the whole book, which was the initial hunt in the storm at about a quarter of the way in. There's pretty much no way you can read those vivid chapters and not be hooked afterward! All in all, a great book, and nothing's going to keep me away from the next one.
In this novel we follow two stories, going back and forth between one and another. One features Gordon Black, whose birth into a world much like oursIn this novel we follow two stories, going back and forth between one and another. One features Gordon Black, whose birth into a world much like ours heralds the beginning of the end. Society makes its descension into the "Black Dawn", an era marked by environmental and economic collapse, poverty, starvation, and anarchy. The second story takes place hundreds of years later, focusing on Megan Maurice, a girl living in a future where humanity's level of technology has effectively reverted back to the dark ages.
Both characters are linked by a connection to the mysterious figure known as The Crowman. Gordon and Megan each undertake their own journey in their own time, struggling to discover more and understand their roles in determining the world's fate.
This book started out very strong, and I liked the development of these characters, even though I preferred Gordon story line. We are there from his birth, getting a better glimpse of his life growing up with his family. This made me feel a keener sense of sadness while following his tale as he experiences his losses, fears, and despair at what he perceives to be his personal failures.
Megan's story was interesting as well, but I just didn't feel as connected to her world or her character. While her future setting is admittedly a very unique and imaginative one, I couldn't help but feel the details lacked a certain cohesiveness, making it a challenge to wrap my head around concepts like the nature of her magic or Keeper's duties. Maybe a greater emphasis on Gordon was intended for this novel, but in my opinion the author did a much better job with his character over all, developing him and building his world.
Anyway, I wish the book could have continued its momentum for me all the way through, but around three-quarters of the way in, my attention started waning. The climax, if I was indeed correct in identifying it as such, left me cold and wasn't as engrossing as I'd anticipated, and I ended up mostly zoning out through the rest. I admit this might have cast a shadow upon my final thoughts, which is unfortunate, because this wasn't a bad book and I really enjoyed the beginning. Somehow, it'd just lost its steam for me towards the end, but I will say I'm still very much looking forward to the next book to see how things turn out....more
I have a confession to make: I'm a sucker for love stories. But not just any kind of love story would do, oh no, because I like my romance the same way I like my Fantasy -- gritty, transcendent, in-your-face, plus it helps if it's just a bit bizarre! Love Minus Eighty is definitely all this and more, as if you couldn't already tell from its exquisite tagline, "A novel of love and death in no particular order".
Decades from now, dwindling resources have caused cities like New York City to practically fold in and build upon itself, creating a social stratification system that's even more segregated than what we know today. No doubt, the book paints a pretty bleak view of the future, but it's especially bad if you're one of the hundreds of dead women cryogenically frozen in dating farms, awaiting your lucky day when some rich man will like you enough to pay millions for your revivification before whisking you home to be his wife.
And seriously, to think some of my friends complain about internet dating! Online dating sites have got nothing on the nightmare that are these dating farms, which charge male suitors thousands of dollars by the minute to "date" the dead women, whose consciousnesses are "awakened" for the session before the plug is pulled again and they go back to their state of non-existing. Will McIntosh expanded upon this idea from his award-winning short story "Bridesicle" (because that's what society in this world called the frozen women. Horrible, right?) for this novel, which follows a group of characters whose lives are all interconnected because of these dating farms.
What a disturbing and yet fascinating basis for a story, and it's all set before a futuristic backdrop which seems so outlandish but feels familiar enough to make you feel uncomfortable at the same time. It's a world of digital information and social media on steroids, where attention seekers can be trailed by thousands of literal "followers", their floating user screens going wherever that individual goes. People wear systems on their bodies to connect them to the network, allowing them to call up and communicate with multiple contacts at the same time. The setting was so vividly described that at times I felt like I was watching a movie (oh why oh why can't this be a movie?!)
But in spite of all the new technology, some things always stay the same. For one thing, people will still look for love, that timeless, formless, unshakeable deep connection to another soul. This makes Love Minus Eighty a sci-fi novel that's definitely more about the human story and less about the science and technology. Questions like how the dead can be brought back to life, or how these dating farms even manage to revive dead women for short periods of time aren't the point. Instead, what's important is the emotional impact of the story, and subsequently, the ethical implications of keeping women on ice and in limbo, basically according human beings who have the potential to live again less rights than what you'd give a dog in an animal shelter.
I also have to say the focus on love and dating was a nice touch, not only as it's something practically everyone can relate to, but also because it makes the characters and their motivations feel that much more poignant. It's hard to really say whose perspective was my favorite -- Rob, Veronika, Mira, and even a couple of the supporting characters -- because they each had their own experiences which I found acutely heartbreaking and intense.
Of course, this book wasn't perfect by any means, and I for one had some issues with some of the dialogue as well as the pacing, especially with the way it led up to the ending. However, the mere fact that I'm usually so persnickety about these things but was still able to overlook them meant that ultimately for me, Love Minus Eighty was all about the story and its provocative ideas. Above all, I enjoy books that make me feel (and here's where that whole "I'm a sucker for love stories" comes in), and this one was at once a very thoughtful commentary on the ways of the heart and just twisted enough for me to eat it up....more
This was an e-ARC I received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I thought it was really fantastic, but honestly, I'm aThis was an e-ARC I received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I thought it was really fantastic, but honestly, I'm also a little lost as to how to talk about it. To understand, I guess you have to be at least a little familiar with Chuck Wendig and his writing. If you're not, then you're in for a treat...or a shock. Or both.
I only just became a fan of the author myself, having recently read The Blue Blazes and Blackbirds. I liked them a lot, and especially adored the latter. But already, I knew enough to be skeptical when I saw that this was a Young Adult novel. Based on the books I've read by him, let's just say YA is pretty much the last thing to come to mind when I think about Chuck Wendig. Instead, I think "dark, twisted and gritty", "intensely violent", and "slick snappy one-liners often delivered in a terrible ear-shrivelingly foul manner".
I had to wonder, Is he going to be dialing it back for this? My guess was that he would have to, for a YA novel. And if that's the case, how much? Is this still going to read like a book by the Chuck Wendig I know and love? The answer, thankfully, was yes. The story here is definitely all Wendig, but just imagine it tweaked a bit around the edges to make it more appealing to the YA reading audience.
The book begins by introducing us to 17-year-old Cael McAvoy and his life in the Heartland. The Heartland is interesting -- imagine a dystopian Midwest-type setting where a particularly aggressive species of corn has taken over, creating an ocean of corn as far as the eye can see. As the leader of his scavenging team, Cael captains a small airboat over the cornfields day after day, scrounging for valuables and useful materials to sell.
But it's never enough. The Empyrean government oversees life in the Heartland, literally looking down on all of them from above in their luxurious sky flotillas, while people like Cael and his friends and family are struggling to survive. Heartlanders have to deal with poor working conditions, disease, a corrupt mayor and the oppressive government, but Cael has pretty much accepted this as the way things are...until Obligation Day comes and Cael stands to lose the love of his life.
As you can see, this book has all the trappings of a YA novel, with its dystopian world and teen protagonists. It also involves an authoritarian ceremony where the Empyreans pick the Heartlanders mates for them, resulting in uncertainty for the young lovers Cael and his girlfriend Gwennie. The book even hints at a blossoming love triangle.
But while it certainly has the feel of a YA novel, to me it also doesn't. And here's where I struggle to find the words to explain why I feel this way, because on some level I think someone not already familiar with Chuck Wendig or his books will be completely blindsided by this book -- which could be good. To his fans and readers open to different takes on YA fiction, this will definitely be a refreshing change. I've always felt that Chuck Wendig's books have a "presence" about them, and it exists here as well. It's reflected in the dialogue, the characters, and the plot, which retains some of its grittiness and what makes Wendig's books so great. Under the Empyrean Sky might be YA, but I'd still say it's geared more towards "older YA". Speaking of which, Wendig does have a hilarious way with words that makes swearing almost seem like a separate art form -- so while foul language generally doesn't bother me one bit, do beware if it does bother you, especially since some of it is on the vulgar side.
The thing I loved best, though, is the world building. The story in this book takes its time and in my opinion doesn't really start picking up speed until the halfway point, but that's because so much of the first half is dedicated to bringing the Heartland to life and describing the hardships of its people. I love books like this and The Blue Blazes where Chuck Wendig really gets to show off his talent for creating unique and highly detailed settings, because he's so obviously good at coming up with all these awesome ideas. Two words: piss-blizzards -- or the stifling yellow corn pollen wind storms that plague the Heartland, I love it.
Really, my only criticism is that I wish Cael was a little more likeable. It helps, especially in a YA novel. But honestly, I really struggled to be sympathetic to Cael's character, at least in the beginning, since he often came off as immature, bossy and a bit of a jerk even to his friends. He also tended to be driven by his angry impulses and hormones, but then again, as they say, "Boys will be boys". Thankfully, I did start liking Cael (or at the very least, got more used to him) enough that I was staunchly rooting for him and his team by the end of the book. And that's the important thing....more
After hearing the praises my co-blogger Wendy had to sing about this book, I decided not to wait any longer and just had to see its awesomeness for myAfter hearing the praises my co-blogger Wendy had to sing about this book, I decided not to wait any longer and just had to see its awesomeness for myself. I'm so glad I did. At the same time, though, I'm also now hot and bothered over that crazy cliffhanger of an ending. Oh no, you did NOT just end there. I'm not kidding, I actually shouted that at the book, earning me a strange and slightly concerned look from my husband.
The story continues with mystery, action and good sci-fi thrills in this sequel to The Darwin Elevator, Jason M. Hough's hit debut that came out earlier this summer. With the appearance of a second space elevator in Brazil, our protagonist Skyler and the brilliant Dr. Tania Sharma have set up a new colony at its base, using the movable alien towers around it to ward off the deadly subhuman plague. A sudden attack from a band of immune militants, however, halts progress and endangers the colonists. Cut off from contact, Skyler is left on his own to fight off the savage SUBs and to figure out a way take back the colony.
I have to say the second book of a trilogy is often tricky; a lot of times, they end up being labeled as "bridges" since the first book typically is an explosive introduction while the last book contains the grand finale, leaving little for the middle book to do than to tie the two together and ramp up to the conclusion. I'm happy to report this is not the case with The Exodus Towers. Personally, I find it even more gripping than the first book, with non-stop action that starts on page one and won't let up.
At the same time, it also deftly manages to accomplish a prime goal of a second book -- developing and evolving the main characters, establishing the world, and furthering the intrigue of the situation. In this story of survival in a land taken over by the wilderness and hordes of mindless, violent creatures, we get to experience this at both the personal level through the eyes of Skyler, as well as at a community level following the struggles of the colony.
In addition, new threats and new players are introduced to spice things up. The story is getting a little darker and more brutal, and in a time when humans should be banding together, everyone is instead even more unsure of whom to trust. The suspense is also building steadily, as more is gleaned about the mysterious alien Builders and their daunting technology. All in all, this book succeeded in revving up the momentum and raising the stakes. Can't wait for the conclusion!
Note: Received eARC in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, NetGalley and Del Rey!
3.5 stars. We return to the adventures of Goldie and Toadspit in this final installment of the series, which picks up right where we left them in City3.5 stars. We return to the adventures of Goldie and Toadspit in this final installment of the series, which picks up right where we left them in City of Lies. The children return to Jewel after their harrowing escape from the kidnappers in Spoke to find that their enemy the Fugleman has taken over the city with his Blessed Guardians and an army of mercenaries.
It's showdown time now, and the Keepers will have to devise a plan to protect the Museum of Dunt and the people of Jewel. The Fugleman, however, has brought in a giant cannon, and is bent on taking over the city and destroying everything Goldie holds dear. To make things worse, Goldie had not escaped from Spoke entirely unscathed; after the effects of "The Big Lie", she holds in her head the personality and thoughts of a long-dead warrior princess. Day by day, Princess Frisia's presence grows stronger, threatening to take over Goldie's life.
And so, my journey with the Keepers Trilogy draws to a close, and with it, probably my last opportunity to enjoy Claudia Black's wonderful narrating work for a while. Looks like she's got a handful of other audiobooks under her belt, but I also hope she'll do more in the future; with her voice and talent, I think she would be perfect for urban fantasy.
As for the book itself, it hurts me a little to say this, but I wasn't as happy with it as I'd expected. It wasn't that the story was bad or that it didn't provide us with a satisfying ending to the trilogy. I just find myself viewing this book with an almost frustrating ambivalence, because I even now I'm trying to think of something--anything, good or bad, it doesn't matter--to say about this book and I'm struggling.
It almost makes no sense for me to feel this way; after all, the story was great -- the heroes overcome their trials and tribulations, honor prevails, everyone comes together in the end to save the city, and the bad guy is defeated while the good triumph, all that good stuff. It's a children's series after all, you know you'll get a happy ending and nothing's gonna come out of left field at you.
And maybe that's what it is. Not that I have an issue with books for youngsters having happy endings, but the fact I pretty much knew everything was going to work out in the end. Which is perfectly fine; like I said, it's how things should be, but I personally prefer more a little more uncertainty in my plot lines which is likely the main reason why I don't usually pick up books targeted for middle-grade.
But on the whole, these have been really great books. I probably enjoyed them even more because I listened to them all on audio, but I certainly don't regret my time with this trilogy one bit.
2.5 stars. Never have I felt so broken up over writing a review for a book that ultimately ended up not being my cup of tea. It's tough, seeing as Mas2.5 stars. Never have I felt so broken up over writing a review for a book that ultimately ended up not being my cup of tea. It's tough, seeing as Masque of the Red Death is a young adult dystopian novel inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name, and so it is at once creative, original and highly ambitious -- which all happen to be qualities I admire in a book. It had some good ideas, and so I wanted to like this, tried hard to like it, but in the end there simply were too many issues that prevented me from getting on board.
The book is set in a gothic, post-apocalyptic rendition of the late 1800s, with a dash of steampunk mixed in for good measure. 17-year-old Araby Worth lives life amongst the elite thanks to her father's illustrious career as a scientist, while the poor are left to fend for themselves in a city ridden with plague and death. Those who have the means to afford them buy the elaborate porcelain masks which help prevent the contagion, but the dictator Prince Prospero has a iron hold over their production. Still grieving the death of her twin brother which she believes is her fault, Araby wants to help change the way things are by working towards making salvation from the disease available to all.
I'm torn over these details. On the one hand, I'm completely in love with the setting, and my one regret is wanting to know a lot more about the history and background than the book was able to give me. I also think the main character had a lot of potential, but for some reason Araby feels pretty much devoid of any personality. If I had to guess, I would say it's the writing style; told in first-person present tense, the narration could have been a lot more powerful, but instead it came across very clipped as I was bombarded with simple short sentences that often described everything Araby saw in front of her eyes but sadly not what was going on inside her head. As such, I couldn't get a sense of who she was at all.
Even now, there are so many blank spots in my mental picture of her as a character, since a lot of her motivations and behaviors just didn't match up. Her father, for example, whom she thinks is cold, aloof and uncaring, is actually in my opinion a sweet, kind and rather cool dad! I mean, here's a man who takes his morose teenage daughter for walks just to get her out of the house and on a whim would buy her nice things like books. Then there's Araby, one of those girls who contemplates betraying her parents for a boy she's only known for a grand total of like five minutes. I'm just shaking my head.
Which brings me to another thing that bothered me -- the dreaded love triangle. It would be nice if I had any interest at all in either romantic option, but behind door number one is Elliott, the prince's nephew who seeks to fuel a rebellion by convincing Araby to join him by his side. Meanwhile, behind door number two is William, the handsome porter with the awesome tattoos who works at the club Araby frequents and whom she is drawn to. One guy is arrogant, the other is dull, and both are patronizing to the extreme. It's really tough for me to get into a book when the romantic drama takes up such a huge part of the story, especially when I think the heroine is deserving of so much more than what she's offered.
I feel like I'm being too harsh in this review, but even after putting my YA-reading hat on and embracing the romance, I just couldn't get into this book. I think it had some great ideas, but I feel like we've only scratched the surface on a lot of them, much like how I think Araby's character could have been much better developed. While this book was a quick read, I can't help but think maybe a little more detail could have gone a long way into fleshing out the story and making it more satisfying....more
Okay, let's see if I can pull this review off without making it another gush-fest on my love for Claudia Black. As usual, her narration is fantastic,Okay, let's see if I can pull this review off without making it another gush-fest on my love for Claudia Black. As usual, her narration is fantastic, but for this second book of The Keepers Trilogy, I want to focus on the story because that's what I think really shines.
After the events of The Museum of Thieves, Goldie Roth has been offered the chance to become a Keeper of the Museum of Dunt. But then her new friend Toadspit's little sister Bonnie is stolen away, and so the two older children take off after the kidnappers. After a journey upon the seas, Toadspit ends up being captured too, and they all end up at the city of Spoke where the much-anticipated Festival of Lies is about to begin. Now Goldie has to save her friends while trying to survive in the middle of this bizarre place, made even stranger by the nature of the festival, where every day is "Opposite Day" and no one can be trusted.
This series is targeted at the middle-grade audience, so younger readers would probably appreciate it more, but I found this book to be quite enjoyable all the same. The story is a lot of fun -- short, but very cute. I think children will like that characters have to speak and act in a way that is the opposite of what they mean during the Festival of Lies, but it isn't done in such a juvenile manner that adults can't find it all very entertaining as well.
There's also an aspect of make-believe, role-play and "playing pretend" in this book that kids would probably enjoy, which also involves a very abstract magical idea that I'm still trying to wrap my head around (though I'm sure children would probably take for granted and wouldn't question too much). There just seems to be a lot more going on in this sequel in terms of fantasy elements and ideas, some that are just more intriguing and appealing to all readers.
The focus is mostly on the adventures of Goldie and Toadspit this time around, with the other adult keepers back in the city of Jewel and given an obligatory side plot to keep them in the series. Quite honestly, I didn't mind the story's greater emphasis on the children because in my opinion they're a lot more interesting to read about. The audiobook narration also does a good job of bringing them to life, along with the crazy city of Spoke.
Once again, if you can get your hands on the audio version of this book, I highly recommend doing so. This series would not have made even made it onto my radar screen if it weren't for Claudia Black's name being attached to the project, since it's not a regular habit of mine to pick up children's books (but maybe I should make it one, since my toddler is growing up so fast). Black's voice work is always top-notch, and so far these books have been great. I've already put my name on the waiting list for the final installment of this trilogy from my library....more