Cyberpunk and I don’t always make the best bedfellows, but when I read the description to Crashing Heaven I just knew I had to check it out. Published in the UK, I’d initially decided to either get it shipped from overseas or wait patiently to see if it’ll eventually get a release date this side of the Atlantic. To my happy surprise though, I later discovered on the publisher website that it was actually available in the US in audio format. I very excitedly requested a review copy.
What I got was exactly what the description promised, a novel that hits relentlessly hard, fast and without mercy. I could sense the influence of William Gibson and classic cyberpunk in its bleak narrative about a future of an abandoned Earth, AI wars, and people living in augmented reality. After spending years in prison, protagonist Jack Forster is a soldier who returns home with two things: a reputation as a traitor for surrendering to the Totality, and a virtual puppet named Hugo Fist tethered to his mind. Designed as a weapon to fight the enemy, Fist is a combat-AI which would eventually expire and take Jack’s personality and effectively his life with it.
All Jack wants to do is to clear his name, but upon his return to Station, he discovers that while he was away, two of his old friends have met with suspicious deaths. One of them is a former lover, spurring Jack to get to the bottom of this mystery and find those responsible before his time runs out.
The story can be a bit confusing, though to be fair, I have a history of being frustrated with cyberpunk. While Crashing Heaven may be a much easier read than a lot of other books in the genre, I still found many of its ideas abstract and hard to follow, such as trying to imagine Fist as a puppet that mostly exists inside Jack’s head but which can also be “pulled” out to manifest in a form similar to that of a ventriloquist dummy. The writing is also rough in places and not always sufficient when it comes to giving descriptions, which added to my difficulty.
However, I was also impressed by a lot of ideas in this book. Using Fist as an example again, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that such an innocuous-looking puppet can also be such a deadly weapon, with one hell of a potty-mouth on him to boot. The world is a rich tableau of both wonder and bleakness, where myth mixes with virtual reality. Mysterious entities worshipped as gods walk among the populace and grant favor to the faithful. The dead can return in “Fetches”, bodies housing the memories of the departed so that the living can spend more time with those who have passed on. Almost every aspect of the world-building is multi-faceted and gave me a lot to think about.
Still, probably my favorite part about the book is the relationship between Jack and Fist, the complex dynamic between them and the way it evolves as the story progresses. Forever linked together, the nature of their interactions range from the humorous to the grotesque. You can never predict what Fist might say or do next, which might be exasperating for Jack but it works great for a reader watching these exchanges play out. They inject a fait bit of lightness to this otherwise gritty and despairing story.
Narrator Thomas Judd can also be credited for making the Jack-and-Fist alliance the highlight of this audiobook. His performance was overall decent but nothing too remarkable – except for one thing: his Fist voice. It was perfect. It also helped a lot, considering how much of the book is made up of Jack and Fist going back and forth in conversation.
Apart from a few flaws, Crashing Heaven was a good book. The writing may be awkward at times and the plot is convoluted in places, but the entertainment value in the story makes up for that. Furthermore, dedicated fans of cyberpunk will probably like this even more than I did, so if you love the genre, definitely consider checking out Al Robertson’s unique debut....more
And now time for something totally different. Long Black Curl isn’t a book I would have normally picked up on my own, and not least because it’s actually the third book of the Tufa sequence. I don’t usually like to jump onboard mid-series, but two factors made me decide to make an exception. First, I was told this book can be read as a stand-alone, and second, I’ve been hearing all these great things about it, which got me curious.
Now I’m so glad that I decided to give it a shot. I suppose Long Black Curl is technically an urban fantasy, but it’s certainly unlike anything else in the genre that I’ve ever read. When I think about the typical setting for a UF, I picture big cities or built-up metropolitan areas. The setting of the Tufa, on the other hand, is a remote valley nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We’re talking the rural south, a land of gorgeous peaks and ridges upon ridges of pristine forests. But it’s also a land of no indoor plumbing, dirt roads, and where bigotry is still very much alive.
It’s an interesting world. There’s beauty, but also a whole lot of ugliness. It’s also where the Tufa make their home. No one knows exactly where they came from before they settled here, but for generations they have lived in the quiet hills and valleys of Cloud County, passing on the their stories and traditions in the form of song. Music is a huge part of their lives, and an innate part of their identity. To be cast out of their community and stripped of their ability to make music is one of the worst fates imaginable, but this is exactly what happened to Bo-Kate Wisby and her lover Jefferson Powell, the only two Tufa to have ever been exiled.
Now Bo-Kate is back, and she is angry, bitter, and determined to take over both tribes of the Tufa, which means taking out the two leaders Rockhouse Hicks and Mandalay Harris. Her secret weapon is Byron Harley, a famous musician from the 50s who went down in a plane crash but did not die, trapped instead in a faerie time bubble for the last sixty years. Bo-Kate hopes that Byron will help her by taking advantage of his desire for revenge, and for a while she seems unstoppable, until the rest of the Tufa decide to seek out a secret weapon of their own: Jefferson Powell, Bo-Kates old boyfriend.
Anyway, that’s the brief description of the book. What’s way more difficult is putting into words the feelings I got while reading it. The first thing that struck me about the story was how atmospheric it was, seemingly evocative of so much more than meets the eye. Reading about the Tufa was like walking through a veil into another realm. And it’s not just the nature of the setting either; reading about some of the things that go on in this small community (especially those perpetrated by one of the Tufa leaders Rockhouse) are just so hideous and beyond the pale that convincing myself that this is some faraway fantasy world becomes easier and less traumatic to accept. Furthermore, because the Tufa are such a closely knit group, everything that goes on within their ranks – like internal politics or scandals, for example – feel so much more personal, making the emotions cut even deeper.
What I loved the most though, was the music. Creating it is an art form I find both mysterious and beautiful. And to a non-musician like me, it even almost seems like magic. Alex Bledsoe pretty much takes this idea and runs with it, so that music to the Tufa is in fact the source or their magical power. Songs become more than just a way to communicate ideas; they become a means for them to affect the world around them. Music is also a part of the Tufa shared heritage, something that links the community together and gives the individual a sense of identity and belonging. Of course, I’ve seen music used as a magical device in fantasy novels before, but Bledsoe’s handling of it is one of the more unique examples I’ve seen so far, despite—or perhaps because of—the abstractness in its execution.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the book a lot, and something tells me I would have liked it even more if I’d read the previous two before I tackling this one. Long Black Curl worked absolutely fine as a stand-alone, but I think the extra background information would further enhance the story by adding more context to the Tufa characters and all their complex relationships. I’ve gone ahead and added the first book The Hum and the Shiver to my to-read list, because this is a very special series and I would love to go back and read more. Highly recommended....more
For a long time I’ve wanted to read something by Karen Lord, so I was excited when I was given the opportunity to review the audiobook of The Galaxy Game. This latest novel by Lord sounded very promising, featuring a compelling blurb that teases a fascinating premise and hints at some action. Thus I admit I went into it with high expectations, but regretfully came out of the experience feeling rather underwhelmed.
I also feel that I should state that The Galaxy Game is a sequel, which I did not realize until I was about half way through the book. It probably would have eased some of the initial confusion, but I still don’t believe it’s entirely necessary to have read the first book The Best of all Possible Worlds before reading this because I was able to piece together a bit of what happened and follow the main story without too many problems. Plus, while it’s true I might have gotten more out of the story if I’d read book one, doing so still probably wouldn’t have negated some of my issues with this novel’s structure or stylistic choices.
In the book we’re introduced to Rafi Delarua, a teenager who is all but imprisoned in a place called the Lyceum which is a school for young people with psi powers. In a society that deeply mistrusts psionically gifted individuals, Rafi has to endure the education and various treatments designed to control those like him. It doesn’t help either that his father’s unethical use of his powers has left Rafi and his family a legacy of disgrace.
Rafi knows it would have been different if he had lived on the planet of Punartam, where psi abilities would be seen as the norm. So the first chance he gets, he escapes the Lyceum and makes his way there. Punartam also happens to be the home of wallrunning – his favorite sport. With the help of his friend, Rafi manages to find a way to not only play but also to train with the best players. Coming here didn’t mean the end of all his problems, however. There are new deals taking place, changes happening in the dynamics between civilizations in the galaxy. Learning how to integrate into a new society is challenging enough, but now Rafi finds out he will also have a role to play in the coming political storm.
It actually sounds more dramatic than it is. While I wouldn’t call this book dull, it did feel like a considerable amount of time was given to explanations of societal themes and classifications. Like I said, if I had read The Best of All Possible Worlds I might not have felt so lost, but regardless, I don’t typically mind putting in time to familiarize myself with a story’s setting. I didn’t even have a problem with the instances where I had to listen to a few sections of the audiobook over again to ensure I understood the significance of certain details. Lord has actually created a very unique and robust world here, which I really enjoyed. No, my struggles with this book had less to do with the deluge of information at the beginning (though it did make for a rough start) and more to do with the bizarre switches in narrative voice and points-of-view, as well as jumps in the plot.
In some ways, listening to the audiobook alleviated this problem. Narrator Robin Miles’ voice work is really impressive here, especially when it comes to her talent with accents. The result is that it didn’t matter how many times we switched POVs, Miles’ use of different voices made it immediately clear to me which character we were supposed to be following, saving me the time to figure it out. The convoluted plot, however, was another matter. This isn’t a light tale to begin with, and the exposition further weighs things down. The story also takes its time to get going, so some soldiering on is required to get to get to the part where it begins to find its stride, which is quite a bit to ask of readers (or listeners, in this case).
One final thing: I wish there had been more wallrunning. What we get in here does not make the sport sound as exciting as it should, also perhaps because it is so difficult to visualize what the players are doing. Rather than getting me pumped up, the action scenes instead made me feel bewildered and out of my depth.
All told, The Galaxy Game was not what I expected. In spite of a fascinating world, I wish there had been more substance to the characters and plot. Narrator Robin Miles did an excellent job, but even her fabulous performance could not resolve the flaws I found that were inherent to the story. However, I think I would have struggled even more with this book if I had read it in its print form. If I had known ahead of time that this was a sequel, I probably would have started with The Best of All Possible Worlds as my first Karen Lord book, and not least because it is book number one – it also appears that the consensus from those who have read both books is that The Galaxy Game was not as strong as its predecessor. When I read that one I will most likely seek out the audio version as well, especially since Robin Miles is also the narrator, and I expect the experience will be more positive....more
If ever you hear someone say women can’t write military science fiction, please do me a favor and smack them over the head with this book. First Light is the excellent, smart, and action-packed introduction to The Red series, originally indie-published but re-released again recently by a major publisher along with an audiobook – because it is JUST. THAT. GOOD.
Seriously, it doesn’t get more edge-of-your-seat than this near-future thriller, which seamlessly blends advanced technology and military action with political drama. In First Light, readers get to meet protagonist Lieutenant James Shelley in an explosive introduction. Stationed in a remote military outpost deep in the Sahel, Shelley and his team work round-the-clock to enforce the peace and gather intelligence in the area, aided by a cyber-framework that keeps them all wirelessly linked. But that was all before the devastating airstrike.
Shelley barely makes it out alive, saved by the mysterious power of precognition that he possesses, a phenomenon not even the top military scientists can explain. The attack, however, had cost him both his legs, forcing Shelley to agree to an experimental cybernetics program involving synthetic legs and a permanent monitoring “skullcap” implanted in his head. Very Robocop-ish stuff. While recovering, Shelley is hit with another whammy: all throughout his assignment in Sub-Saharan Africa, he and his team had been recorded for a reality TV show. The lines begin to blur for Shelley as tough questions come to the surface. What is real and what is artificial? Who or what is this voice in his head, and is it as benign as it wants him to think? Hidden forces are steering humanity towards an unknown agenda, and for whatever reason, Shelley is at the center of this storm.
There’s so much happening in this first volume, sometimes it gets hard to tease apart the threads. The story’s first act transports readers to its not-too-distant future, describing the soldiers and their state-of-the-art military tech which includes everything from combat armor to surveillance drones. Shelley and his team are hooked into the central intelligence network at all times, physiologically and mentally monitored and even altered by their gear. A process even kicks in for soldiers on the same squad which makes them regard each other as close as siblings, encouraging familial bonds of loyalty while at the same time removing distractions which might be caused by any sexual desire.
But the technology is also far from perfect. It is not uncommon for soldiers like Shelley to become “emo-junkies”, becoming overly dependent on the processes of the skullcaps they wear. You can never be sure whether or not the emotions you feel are really yours, or if they are being controlled or altered by the skullnet. This question of “what’s real vs. what’s not” is a recurring theme that pops up throughout the novel, in many different contexts. War is also introduced as something prevalent and inevitable, a powerful driving force behind the economy. Soldiers are treated like property in this world where reality TV shows can be made of their lives without them even knowing about it, while rich CEOs of big defense contractors play games of political chance using the world as their game board.
This is actually a major premise in the second half of the novel, broadening the scope of the story to tackle conflicts with more significant and far-reaching consequences. The sequence of events that make up the climax and the ending of this book had to be one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had with an audiobook. My heart was pounding the whole time as I listened, and you probably couldn’t have convinced me to take off my headphones even if the house was on fire.
I only have a minor gripe specific to the audiobook, and it is related to the narrator. Kevin T. Collins’ performance was good, and I love his enthusiasm. But this also means he sometimes overacts, his voice bordering on frantic. Good for when we’re in those tense scenes, but very distracting when we’re not.
Nevertheless, this book has my full recommendation, especially for fans of military science fiction. It’s certainly the best of this genre that I’ve read in a good long while. First Light is engaging, intelligent, and full of thrills. It’s been getting all kinds of attention lately, and now I understand why....more
After hearing about this book from so many people, I just knew I had to experience it for myself. And now that I’ve read it, When We Were Animals may well be the most interesting book to hit my shelves this year. I’m still finding it difficult to categorize this unconventional coming-of-age tale, which combines elements from a variety of genres including mystery, paranormal and horror.
Most of the story is told in retrospect, as protagonist Lumen Fowler looks back on her childhood growing up in a small, quiet Midwestern town with a big, dark secret. For a few nights every month during the full moon, the town’s teenagers run naked and free through the streets like animals, seized by a mysterious and uncontrollable urge known as “breaching”. Every resident of this town has gone through it and know to also expect it in their children, which typically coincides with puberty and lasts about a year. Breaching is just something everybody goes through, an unavoidable and natural fact of life about growing up in this town.
But is it really inevitable? Lumen hardly remembers her mother, who died when she was very little, but she is intrigued by the stories her father tells, about how Lumen’s mother never went breach. Always the good girl, the high achiever who never gets in trouble or gives cause for worry, Lumen makes a promise to her father that she will never breach either, determined not to succumb to the call of her baser instincts and join her peers in the unrestrained orgies of sex, violence and wild abandon during the full moons.
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to figure out When We Were Animals is an allegory for growing up, specifically for the tumultuous period when a young person transitions from adolescence to adulthood. What fascinated me is the story’s ability to illustrate a range of perceptions towards the concept of breaching. Residents seem both proud and ashamed that such a phenomenon is unique to their town, and parents of breaching teenagers treat it with a mixture reverence and trepidation while children both dread and look forward to the day when they too will be called. It is beautiful and magical, but also messy and frightening. What everyone in Lumen’s hometown can agree on though, is that breaching is an important rite of passage – once you enter and emerge from the other side, childhood ends and the journey to adulthood begins.
What singlehandedly made this book so great was the character of Lumen, whose personality gives this coming-of-age story an even more unique spin. Small and unassuming, our protagonist isn’t someone who would stand out in a crowd. At school, she would be the one hanging out on the edges of a group, the girl you don’t really notice is there. Ironically, the fact that she’s different from the other kids just makes her even more invisible, and being a late bloomer doesn’t help either, widening the divide between her and her peers.
Lumen’s introspective nature means that this is a very personal narrative, light on plot but heavy on character. She loves to read and learn, and her very unusual way of looking at things made it so that I hung on her every word. This story isn’t the kind where a lot of things happen, and instead emphasizes internal dialogue over action. But I was captivated by it nonetheless. In Lumen, I saw not only a teenager struggling to find her identity, but also a girl trying to reconcile her desires to fit in and yet still stand out from the rest. It’s a motivating factor in all that she does, whether it’s asking her dad for stories about her mom or looking up definitions of her peculiar name. It shines a new light on her determination not to go breach, which becomes more than just a way to connect to the mother she never knew. Not breaching ultimately becomes something she hopes can define her, an achievement she can call her own and make a part of herself.
I was completely charmed by Lumen, who is now an adult in a new town with a new name with her own family, telling us about her past. This is what made the audiobook such a pleasure to listen to. The only downside was sometimes not knowing whether we’re in the past or present, since the transitions weren’t always obvious in the audio, but the narration was simply fantastic. My praise goes to narrator Suehyla El Attar bringing Lumen to life. Her voice became the character’s voice, and after that it was just a matter of letting go and allowing the story to transport you to another time, another place.
At times eerie and unsettling, at others powerful and heartwarming, When We Were Animals has a lot to say about topics like independence and teenage rebellion and peer pressure. There are the moments that disturbed and horrified me, many of which are related to the descriptions of what goes on when the teenagers were breaching, but there were also scenes that touched me, especially those featuring the closeness between Lumen and her father. This an absolutely fantastic and well executed story about the stark realities of human nature and growing up. I’m still reeling from the rollercoaster of emotions....more
Ever wondered what a tournament joust would look like, if both opponents were charging full-tilt towards each other while mounted on three tons of bellowing hadrosaurus? Honestly, I can’t say I have. But Victor Milán has shown me the light, and it is glorious.
Knights and dinosaurs. Tell me you can resist that, because I know I couldn’t.
The Dinosaur Lords takes place in the Empire of Neuvaropa, a fictional land reminiscent of 14th century Europe. The story opens with a great battle. Famed noble captain Karyl Bogomirskiy and his mercenary Triceratops army (though Karyl himself rides Shiraa the magnificent matador, an Allosaurus) are betrayed and then promptly crushed by the forces of Count Jaume Llobregat and Duke Falk von Hornberg. Karyl dies and is resurrected — twice, actually – and eventually joins up with dinosaur master Rob Korrigan to travel to Providence, where they are recruited by the adherents of the Garden of Truth and Beauty to defend their lands and train their troops.
Meanwhile in the capital, the princess Melodía awaits the return of her lover Jaume from his campaign. She becomes increasingly concerned over the war, as well as the rivalries and intrigues within her father’s court. It is especially troubling, given how easily influenced the emperor can be without the presence of his right hand man. Furthermore, unbeknownst to all, the Eight Creator’s mysterious cadre of Grey Angels stand witness to the games of power playing out before them – watching…and waiting.
This is a fantastic introduction to a new series featuring engaging characters and a fun and addictive story. But let’s first talk about the dinosaurs, and about how they make everything better. If that’s what initially drew you to The Dinosaur Lords, you’re probably not alone; I myself confess that they were the huge driving force behind me finally breaking down and requesting a copy of this for review. And yet, the presence of dinos is far from being just a shtick to draw attention. Milán has deftly integrated them fully into the fantasy world of his novel, portraying his vision of a human culture that evolved side-by-side with these creatures.
Not surprisingly, a myriad species of dinosaurs in this story have been domesticated by people for different uses, including but not limited to food, beasts of burden, beloved companions, and of course, prized mounts. Ultimately, dinosaurs are undeniably an integral part the characters’ everyday lives – their folklore, their traditions and even their metaphors. They’re so ubiquitous that a lot of the time, you forget they’re even there, so seamlessly are they incorporated into the world-building. As you can imagine, there are endless possibilities when it comes to the role of dinosaurs in a medieval-like setting. The author explores many of them, and as a result, we readers win. I was especially impressed and thrilled by the battle scenes involving the mounted cavalr—er, dinosaurry. To paraphrase Jaume, a knight’s greatest weapon is his war-dinosaur, and vice versa.
By the way, have I mentioned the beautiful flavor artwork that adorns the first page of each chapter?
Featuring a huge variety of species, this book will be a real treat for any dinosaur lover. And you can imagine my relief to have my kid’s Big Book of Dinosaurs on hand to look up the “true names” of all those described in these pages.
I could probably go on at length about the dinosaurs, but of course this isn’t just all about them. For once a cover blurb actually rings true for me after I read the book. Within the first handful of chapters, the story’s “Game of Thrones vibe” made itself apparent with a focus on courtly politics and the fates of kings, princesses, and nobles on the line. Probably not surprising that The Dinosaur Lords is just as much about lords is it is about dinosaurs. Leaving all the things like dinosaurs and the gigantic insects of this world aside though, there’s actually little in the way of fantasy elements apart from a very subtle thread of magic woven in. Thus even though this world is not our own, it’s easier to imagine this book as a historical fantasy rather than a general epic.
Story-wise, with the exception of a couple instances in the middle where I thought the quick bouncing back and forth of POVs was erratic and perplexing, the narrative was generally well-structured and the pacing was spot on. My only other regret was not seeing Melodía, who was my favorite, in a more significant role relative to Rob’s or Jaume’s. This isn’t the first time I’ve read a series-starter feeling that the main female character was underused compared to other perspective characters, and I hope she’ll feature more prominently in the sequel and have a stronger effect on the story.
I guess that addresses the question of whether or not I’ll continue with the series. My answer is absolutely, yes, sign me up for the next book! Fan of dinosaurs? Then you’ve got to read this novel. Even if you do pick this up for love of dinosaurs alone, you’re guaranteed to leave with a lot more than just that, no matter what. Totally worth it....more
When it comes to Young Adult fiction, David Hair hasn’t just broken the mold. He’s completely shattered it. His book The Pyre is a substantially revised edition of his 2010 novel Pyre of Queens, inspired heavily by Indian folklore and mythology, even incorporating a reimagined version of the epic Ramayana. The entire novel takes place in India, following the lives (and past lives) of a trio of Indian high school students.
Two story lines occur in tandem over the course of this novel. One takes place in 769 AD in the royal court of Ravindra-Raj, the mad king of Rajasthan. His people live in the shadow of his tyranny, and anyone suspected of sedition or rebellion is quickly tortured and killed. Fearing that Ravindra will come for him next, Madan Shastri, Captain of the Guard, redoubles his efforts to show his loyalty even though his king’s cruel commands sicken him. The court poet Aram Dhoop is a bookish man who is unhappy with the way things are, but lacks the fighting skills or courage to do anything about it – that is, until Ravindra suddenly dies under mysterious circumstances and Aram learns that the king’s wives are to be burned to death on the pyre along with their husband’s body. Aram had fallen in love with the newest of the wives, a young woman named Darya, and in a moment of daring, the poet rescues her from the flames and whisks her off away from the palace. As the guard captain, Shastri is ordered by Ravindra’s son and heir to go after them. Reluctant as he is, Shastri has no choice but to obey.
However, all was not as it seemed. Ravindra’s death and the burning of his wives was actually a part of the mad king’s schemes all along. His plan to rise again as Ravana, the demon-king of the Ramayana was thwarted by Darya’s escape, and now he’ll make them all regret it – for a long, long, LONG time.
Fast forward to a high school in the city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, in the year 2010. Nerdy Vikram, athletic Amanjit and beautiful Deepika are three students whose lives are changed forever when a strange phenomenon is triggered the first time they all find themselves together in one place. Soon, they’re working together to solve the mystery of how the three of them are linked, and the answers they seek may be hidden in the past.
Before reading The Pyre, the only other works I’ve read by David Hair were his Moontide Quartet books, pure epic fantasy albeit with some influences from real life locations, cultures and religions. This book, however, is impressively solid mix of Hair’s understanding and respect for Hinduism, the rich mythology and history of India, as well as the realities of modern life in that country today. The amount of research and care that went into this book to make it as accurate as possible must have been astounding.
Also, for a book that’s being classified by many as Young Adult, it is actually quite mature. Even though the three main protagonists are teenagers, adults will have no trouble enjoying this. David Hair doesn’t pull punches or talk down to his audience, even when it comes to the portrayal of difficult or sensitive themes in both the historical and modern-day timelines. Reflective readers will also find plenty in this book to discuss or think about.
The book is not without its flaws, though in the overall scope of things, they can be considered pretty minor. I thought the story was a little slow to take off, and generally I found the storyline with the three teens in the present to be more interesting and engaging than the storyline with Aram, Shastri, and Darya in the past, though that may be a very personal preference. Even with the very obvious love triangle thrown in, I simply found life Hair’s description of Vikram, Amanjit, and Deepika’s day-to-day lives in modern-day India much more fascinating and unique. After all, how often do I get the chance to read something like that? Whereas, the past storyline didn’t feel that different from reading historical fantasy.
All in all, if you enjoy books that are creative retellings of myths and would like to broaden your horizons beyond stories inspired by the western tradition, you definitely need to put this one on your list. The Pyre is a great opportunity to experience a story featuring diverse locations and characters, not to mention a wonderful read all around....more
In this day and age where one can’t even walk into a bookstore’s sci-fi section without a few dozen dystopian titles getting thrown in your face, I have to say Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife really impacted me in a big way. It put me in mind of an eccentric high school teacher I once had, who was a little obsessed with doomsday scenarios. He used to be fond of saying that if the civilizations were to crumble or if the whole world were to go to war, it wouldn’t be over things like a pandemic or nuclear war. No, it would be for water – fresh, drinkable water without which none of us can survive.
Indeed, Bacigalupi paints a rather bleak, hellish picture of a place where water is scarce and more valuable than gold, a resource for which people are willing to kill and destroy. Drought has ravaged the American Southwest, changing the physical and political landscape. States like Nevada and Arizona clash viciously over shares of the Colorado River while bigwig California looks on, and states like Texas and New Mexico have long since given up the ghost. Las Vegas employs mercenaries like Angel Velasquez as “Water Knives”, hired to “cut” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its boss, Catherine Case. This ensures continued survival for her lush arcology developments in the hot desert, where the rich luxuriate in cushy comfort while elsewhere cities like Phoenix dry up and stagnate for lack of water.
This book follows Angel as he travels to Phoenix to investigate rumors of a new water source for his boss. The story is told through two other perspectives, including a journalist named Lucy Monroe, as well as a young Texan refugee named Maria Villarosa. Desperate and destitute folk like Maria are struggling to make a living in the city while dreaming of one day having enough money to escape north. Lucy, on the other hand, could have left any time she pleased, but years of living in Phoenix has led her to adopt it as her home, and you get a sense that she’d do what she can to try to help the city. When it appears that California is finally making its move to monopolize the river, Angel, Lucy and Maria end up coming together in a precarious alliance to stop a conspiracy and secure a future for the people of Phoenix.
There are many unsettling themes in this book, and not least of all because the scarcity of potable water is a reality for many people in the world. Talk of droughts in California and in the American Southwest in the news today makes The Water Knife seem less like science fiction and more like a commentary on current issues. If seeing pictures of the immaculate green lawns and freshly filled-pools of the rich and famous during a drought make your blood boil, then this book will take that fury to a whole new level. It’s really hard to read about this divided America where characters like Maria were driven out of Texas after their water got shut off, only to be treated like interlopers when they have no choice but to migrate to Arizona. Girls like Maria’s friend Sarah turn to prostitution as a last resort, servicing those wealthy corporate types for whom a single shower may use up more water than a poor person in Phoenix might see in an entire week. Then to rub salt in the wound, the girls’ money gets taken away by the local gangsters, never allowing anyone a fair shot to work themselves out of this nightmarish situation. There’s a lot in this book that’s hard to take.
It’s also heavy on graphic violence, descriptions of torture both during and after the act, and generally features many scenes of groups of people doing terrible, unspeakable things to other groups of people. If you are squeamish about such things, you should probably go in prepared to read some pretty sick stuff. To the book’s credit, while there’s certainly no shortage of examples in here when it comes humanity’s lowest moments, there are nonetheless many instances of characters stepping up to show an extraordinary amount of bravery and compassion. Despite being categorized as a sci-fi thriller, The Water Knife is also a very human story, where characters are intimately touched by plot events as well as the lives of other people.
The book isn’t exactly a light read, even in the audiobook format I listened to, with its heavy themes and also some parts which are quite drawn out with descriptions. But for all their lengthiness, I think I have these sections to thank for making the world of The Water Knife one of the most detailed and fleshed out dystopians I’ve read. Southwestern America has reverted back to a kind of wildness, a melting pot of disparate rhythms and cultures where Red Cross aid workers, rich Chinese businessmen, underworld crooks, poverty-stricken refugees, sensationalist media journalists, religious evangelists, and dangerous mercenaries all commingled together in a dying city. This also makes the audiobook of The Water Knife worth experiencing, as narrator Almarie Guerra delivers a performance filled with a great variety of accents and voices, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.
This is the first book by Paolo Bacigalupi I’ve ever read, but if this is the kind of originality and well-rounded quality I can expect from his writing, it certainly won’t be the last. I really enjoyed The Water Knife, and I look forward to checking out the author’s previous work as well as his future books.
Total newcomer to Chloe Neill here, so I had no idea what to expect when I started the first installment of her new Devil’s Isle series. Being peripherally aware of her Chicagoland Vampires books though, I knew enough to prepare myself for a fun urban fantasy story, and I was right. Leaving aside a shaky start and a couple rough edges, The Veil is a pretty solid introduction to a brand new post-apocalyptic world featuring an intriguing protagonist.
Her name is Claire Connolly, just another young woman trying to survive in post-war New Orleans running her late father’s antique shop (which sells more emergency batteries and MREs than furniture these days). She’s also a Sensitive, someone endowed with the magic which seeped through the Veil when the Paranormals came through seven years ago to wage war on humanity. It’s a secret she guards closely, for if anyone discovers her powers she could end up in Devil’s Isle, a prison for Sensitives and other stray Paras trapped in this world after the fighting was done.
However, keeping her secret also left Claire untrained and unable to control her magic. When bounty hunter Liam Quinn discovers the truth about her, he wastes no time finding her a mentor before the magic can consume Claire and turn her into a wraith like the one that killed his sister. But then strange things start happening to the Veil, which has remained closed for many years now, and Claire and Liam stumble upon a plot to plunge what is left of NOLA back into conflict with the Paranormals, a threat they and their friends must stop in order to prevent more death and destruction on all sides.
I confess, this book and I didn’t exactly start off on the right foot. If things like large swaths of infodumps bother you, then you might experience some of the same difficulties I had with the introduction. Claire’s story about how she discovered her powers, along with the entire history of the war with the Paras following the opening of the Veil were unceremoniously crammed into the first handful of pages, without much effort to make the deluge of details less awkward or obtrusive.
However, the book also started with a party, with the characters celebrating the not-so-imaginatively named War Night, a day which commemorates the survival of New Orleans after one of the biggest battles towards the end of the war. New Orleans is a city that ranks high among my favorite urban fantasy book settings, so it was really hard to resist the boisterous and frenetic atmosphere where everyone just wants to have fun and forget the hardships of everyday life. Even though the city is a shadow of what it once was, the spirit of its people is alive and well.
My impressions of the story also improved a lot as it progressed, once we were through with laying down the groundwork. I wouldn’t say the premise is anything unprecedented and there are admittedly a few kinks in the world-building that need ironing out or expanding, but on the whole I had a good time with this book. I enjoyed Claire as a protagonist, even if she is still feeling rather generic at this point, but I do look forward to seeing her develop more of a personality as the series progresses. The character of Liam Quinn, on the other hand, I really loved; when we first met him I immediately pegged him for a cookie-cutter UF love interest, one of those mysterious and smoldering tall, dark, handsome (and boring!) types — but turns out, I couldn’t be more wrong. He’s the character I found most likely to surprise me by going against my expectations, which immediately made him the most interesting in my eyes.
I was also astonished (but not entire unhappy) to see that the romance is relatively understated. The priority here is the overall story, and Chloe Neill really takes a no-nonsense approach to pacing by limiting the superfluous drama, instead focusing on driving the plot forward so that I never lost interest.
All told, The Veil may not be breaking any new ground, but I found it satisfying and entertaining. I’m curious to see where the author will go with the world-building, but what I’m most interested in is the potential in these characters. I’m definitely on board for the next book....more
The Price of Valor is the third book of The Shadow Campaigns, of which five books have been planned so we are officially now past the half-way point. An epic fantasy series is often at its most precarious when we get to this tricky place between the introduction and the ending, where arguably the best action and excitement is usually packed. However, it appears Django Wexler is not content to slow things down or let his story languish. Not only does he succeed in carrying through the momentum for the rest of the series, he’s also transformed this middle book into an important turning point.
So far, each installment of the series has given readers something different. Book one The Thousand Names threw us into the middle of a war and treated us to many scenes of large-scale conflict and sweeping battles. Book two The Shadow Throne reined in the scope, concentrating instead on the politics and subsequent revolution in the capital of Vordan. Now book three The Price of Valor is like an amalgamation of both, so that half the narrative remains in the city in the wake of the successful uprising, while the other half takes us back onto the bloody battlefields.
In the wake of her father’s death, Princess Raesenia is now the queen. After an attempt is made on her life, she suspects that the new leader of the Deputies-General is responsible, and goes undercover to search for evidence. Remaining behind in the capital as the representative of the army, Colonel Marcus d’Ivoire finds himself teaming up with the young queen, tasked to protect her and to help her root out those who want her dead. Little does he know though, Raesenia might have a secret or two up her sleeve which would actually make her rather hard to kill…
Meanwhile, Winter Ihernglass is back out in the east, trying to win the war for General Janus bet Vhalnich. She has been promoted and given her own regiment to command, including the new all-women company called the Girl’s Own, though ironically Winter’s own gender still remains a secret to the army, save for a few individuals who are in the know. Among those who are aware of Winter’s secret is her lover Jane, whose hatred for the contingent of Royals in the regiment is making Winter’s job very difficult. Lurking behind the scenes are also the agents of an ancient order called the Priests of the Black, whose Penitent Damned will harness the power of their demons to do whatever it takes to stop the Vordanai army and retrieve the priceless magical artifact known as The Thousand Names.
I was so pleased to see that the military action is back in full force for this sequel. Taking a break to delve into political intrigue and rebellion in book two was a nice change of pace, but I admit my interest mostly lies in the war campaign and the huge battles. Wexler doesn’t disappoint, throwing in plenty of heart-racing encounters with the enemy. Reading some of Winter’s chapters was a little like watching a session of wargames play out across a vast gameboard, with troop actions directed by a shrewd chessmaster who is aware of every piece’s location at all times. In point of fact, these qualities closely describe Janus bet Vhalnich, the military genius whose presence is actually quite limited in the first half of the novel, which made the wargames analogy that much more apt in my mind.
The general’s craftiness is not lost on Jane either, and Winter’s storyline is also made more interesting by the increasingly strained relationship between the two women. Winter’s loyalties are put to the test when she is made to choose between the two things she holds most dear, and I have to hand it to the author for not making that choice trivial. There’s a lot of development to Winter’s character in this book, and I respect her all the more for the difficult decisions she’s had to make about her lover, whom I’ve taken to calling “Insufferable Jane” due to all the problems she’s caused (and that’s already one of my more polite names for her). The road to the eventual camaraderie between the Girl’s Own and the Royals was also fun to read, and made for a good side plot to lighten up the otherwise heavy narrative focused on intense fighting and the resulting casualties.
Still, I was wrong when I thought the best part about this book would be the military action, because what surprised me was how much I enjoyed Marcus and Raesenia’s storyline back in the city of Vordan. Raesenia really grew on me back when she was introduced in The Shadow Throne and I was happy to see her return as a POV character in this one. To see her partner up with Marcus – who has always been my favorite character in these novels – was a real treat. Together they make a great team (and dare I hope, could Wexler be planting the seeds of something more happening between them in the future?) and their investigations into the corrupt government saw their Vordan chapters culminate into one hell of an epic showdown with the Patriot Guards and the Penitent Damned.
Speaking of which, we’re definitely making some real headway into the overall story. I’ve been wondering since the end of the first book when we’ll see some major advancement into the conflict caused by the discovery of The Thousand Names, and when the Black Priests will show their hand. Looks like this book is where it all happens. I did say The Price of Valor is a turning point, and you’ll see why. Even after three books, the impact of the stories have not dulled a single bit.
Needless to say, I’m very excited for the next installment. It’s easy to get caught up in The Shadow Campaigns. Django Wexler’s riveting world of dark magic and martial action featuring strong characters – and especially strong women – is one I’ll want to visit again and again. Military fantasy at its finest....more
In a small island town on the coast of South Carolina, everyone disappears. The military, scientists, and media are all perplexed. Rewind back to a day before, when everything still seemed hunky-dory. There’s David Ribault, smarting over the arrival of a slick Northerner named Rawson Steele who has come blazing into town looking to buy up property. Davy returns that evening to the home he shares with his girlfriend Merrill, to find her and Rawson leaning close to each other on the porch, talking. Jealousies flare, tempers rise, and Davy and Merrill end up having a huge fight, ignoring the sage relationship advice of “never go to bed angry.”
It’s a decision that both of them will come to regret. Without waking Merrill or leaving a note, Davy wakes up in the dead of night for a meeting and confrontation outside the town with Rawson Steele. However, Steele ends up being a no-show. Morning has come by the time Davy decides to head back to the island, but it is already too late. Everyone in the village gone without a trace, including Merrill.
This mysterious and spooky scenario has the feel of a Stephen King story all over it, starting with an unexplainable paranormal event that disappears the entire population of Kraven Island, eventually culminating into an end with lots of panic, terror and paranoia. But that’s pretty much where my comparison ends, because Where is a very unique novel that does its own very unique thing. Kit Reed’s choice of writing style for this book is interesting, adopting an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative for most of it. Reed also makes a story decision that I personally find very bold, in that she shows both sides of the mystery and lets us see through the eyes of the missing. We get chapters from the perspectives of Merrill, her brother Ned, as well as their overbearing and unstable father, who along with all the townsfolk have been mysteriously whisked away to another plane of existence. Time moves differently in this strange new dimension, and the longer the missing are trapped, the more the feelings of helplessness and fear seem to warp their minds.
Where is a real head-trip, and it’s good at playing on readers’ fear of the unknown especially when it comes to unsolved mass disappearances. Its story even makes references to high-profile incidents like the Lost Colony of Roanoke as well as missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Coverage of such incidents make a lot of us anxious and uncomfortable, particularly when they happen in more modern times when it really hits home that neither science nor technology can prevent or explain every case, and the book is written in a purposeful way to stir up all these unsettling emotions. Through Davy’s chapters I could feel his guilt and frustration, because sometimes not knowing can be even more painful than the truth. Through Merrill’s, I could feel the rising tensions and the collective fear ultimately becoming too much for everyone to bear. Throughout the novel there is a pervasive sense of eeriness that I really enjoyed.
As for where the book stumbles, the aforementioned quirks in the writing style could pose possible obstacles for readers; I personally found the 13-year-old Ned’s chapters very difficult to read because he uses bad grammar, bad punctuation and run-on sentences galore. Where is also a very short novel and I didn’t feel enough time was given to develop the characters or story. Someone like Merrill’s arrogant and power-hungry father was given an intriguing chapter where we were able to glimpse his very disturbed mind, but for the most part he came across like a caricature. I didn’t get a good feel for any of the characters which is a shame, because without the emotional connection in what should be a very emotional tale, this book falls a bit flat. The ending also came very abruptly, leaving me hanging on this mystery that doesn’t really offer a solution or much closure.
Still, right up until the ending, I was really enjoying this book. I wish the ultimate payoff could have been more satisfying, but I also can’t deny that for the most part Where is a very eerie and atmospheric novel. The build-up of tension alone makes this one a worthy read, and be prepared for some chills if you find you get spooked by unexplained phenomena or stories about strange mass disappearances....more
I spent most of the last week bouncing up and down telling everyone I know about Ink and Bone. In case I haven’t already gotten the chance to corner you with my mad ravings about this book, let me just tell you right now: this is an outstanding novel. Needless to say, it is going straight on my Favorites shelf and on my list of best books of 2015. There’s still almost half a year to go but I already know it’ll be hard one to beat. Books of this caliber don’t come along often.
Ink and Bone tells a tale of alternate history. As we all know, the invention of the printing press had an enormous impact on humanity, revolutionizing the way information is acquired, processed, and spread. But what if that never happened? Imagine a world where Johannes Gutenberg’s creation never came to light, a world where great minds like him were systematically silenced every time a new proposal for a method of printing came close to being realized. Imagine no ink plates, no moveable type, no presses – all innovations that were deemed too dangerous by an all-powerful ruling class that seeks to gather and control all knowledge, deciding who should have access to it, how and when.
Jess Brightwell lives in such a world, where the only books that exist are original works or copies painstakingly written out by hand. By law they are all property of the Great Library of Alexandria, that powerful bastion of knowledge that never succumbed to destruction in this reality. The scholars of the Library strictly govern the distribution of books to the public, using a complex alchemical process to deliver content instantly to an individual’s personal Codex or blanks. As a result, traditionally bound books have become very popular on the black market, as has the illegal trade of smuggling them into the hands of private collectors and other rare book hunters. It’s risky, but the Brightwells have prospered in this business, and Jess’ father has decided to take it to the next level by sending his son into the Library’s service, hoping that having an inside man will benefit the family in the long run.
But being a Library servant is a position of prestige, and as such, the trials used to seek out the best of the best are rigorous, brutal, and not always fair. I’ve always been fond of stories about magic schools, but Rachel Caine took the basis of that idea and made it all her own. Together with about two dozen other hopeful postulants, Jess Brightwell travels to the bright, magnificent city of Alexandria, home of the Great Library. Because knowledge is deemed paramount, training doesn’t just involve learning how to run one of the many daughter libraries present in every major city of the world; postulants are also taught to guard and protect it, keeping original works out of the public’s hands even if it means dying for the cause.
As an avid reader, I of course find it difficult argue with the importance of knowledge. But to place its value above human lives? This should clue you into the kind of place our protagonist has landed in, and even with his book smuggling background, Jess is unprepared to learn about the corruption at the heart of Alexandria, or just how deep it lies.
Despite its secrets (or perhaps because of them), the dark underside of the Great Library was a wonder to explore. Imagine a world where the personal ownership of books is forbidden – what a horrifying thought. But the story also appealed to a part of me that understood all too well why some people would resist the rule of the Library, or risk their lives to own a genuine paper book for the chance to hold a hefty volume in their hands, take in the heady scent of age and ink, as well as feel the hard leather of the binding or the crispness of the pages. Ink and Bone had that addictive and intoxicating effect on the delighted bookaholic in me, and I just couldn’t get enough.
The novel is also so much more than that. I’ve never understood what a book hangover felt like until now, wishing I’m still in Jess Brightwell’s world. What Rachel Caine has created here is a rich and vibrant tableau, filled with beauty and amazing wonders but also no shortage of pain and darkness. Scenes of clean and shining Alexandria are juxtaposed by the ugliness of war in England as well as the destructive Greek Fire of the rebel Burners. The same alchemical processes that bring knowledge to the masses are also used to oppress them, keeping a watchful eye out for sedition or powering the nightmarish automatons that guard the Library from its enemies. All told, the world building is phenomenal but so is character development. Jess and his fellow postulants are part of an unforgettable cast, every one of them endearing themselves to me with their unique and individual personalities. Rare is it also to find an adult character in a YA novel as complex as Scholar Christopher Wolfe, who was not at all what I expected, and he quickly became a favorite.
Once I started reading this book, I just couldn’t stop. It has raised the bar for the YA I’ll read for the rest of the year. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re a teen or an adult. Ink and Bone is for everyone, and a must-read for all who treasure the gift of the written word. A perfect mix of breathtaking fantasy and edge-of-your-seat dystopian fiction, this is a masterfully written novel guaranteed to hook you in....more
I’m not usually one to pick up novellas outside of a series’ main books, but for The Shadow Campaigns I’d gladly make an exception – which should give you a hint into how much I love this series. A couple of years ago when Django Wexler released the prequel short story The Penitent Damned for free, I snatched it up and read that one too. It introduced us to a young female thief named Alex who possesses a demon inside her that allows her to do some incredible things, giving her an edge over others in her trade.
Now Alex’s tale continues in The Shadow of Elysium, but it is told instead through the eyes of a young man named Abraham, a character who also has a demon inside him. The novella opens with the two of them in chains, traveling on a prisoner wagon to the fortress-city of Elysium to start a lonely and brutal life under the watchful eyes of the Priests of the Black. Every other chapter we get a glimpse into Abraham’s past as he tells of his life growing up in a remote village, the day he discovers his demon and the healing powers it grants him, and the events that led up to his arrest. Eventually things converge into the present, and Abraham has decided to stage a daring breakout. But then, there’s his fellow captive Alex. The young woman’s abilities are a mystery to him, but he has no doubt that they must be dangerous if the guards feel the need to keep her sedated at almost all hours of the day – which means she could be their greatest chance for escape.
The Shadow of Elysium can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone, no prior experience with The Shadow Campaigns series is required since these characters and events are completely apart from the main story. You don’t even need to have read The Penitent Damned. It’s a great place for new readers to jump on board but also a wonderful experience for fans of the series because it adds so much in terms of world building. This novella’s main focus is Abraham anyhow, a deeply personal tale that does a way better job exploring a protagonist than most short fiction I’ve ever read. We’ve not seen first person narration used in this series until now, but it works extraordinarily well for Abraham’s story and it was probably the foremost reason I took to him so quickly in just a handful of pages. A lot of short stories and novellas have disappointed me in the past because they don’t leave much room for character development (which is why I typically avoid them), but this isn’t a problem here. In fact, I find the storytelling well-paced and very balanced.
Now I realize complaining that a novella is too short is a bit like complaining that ice cream is too sweet, so I’m not going to do it here; but I do, however, want to say I wished it hadn’t ended so abruptly. It was a deflating moment when I turned the page with excitement expecting another chapter to see what became of Abraham and Alex, to discover that the remaining 25% of the book or so was actually a preview for the third novel of the series The Price of Valor. To Wexler’s credit though, he definitely made me want more. And considering how I’ve been looking forward to The Price of Valor for almost a year now, I certainly couldn’t remain glum for long.
What else can I say but if you haven’t picked up The Thousand Names yet, what in the hells are you waiting for, go out and get it, go out and get it NOW! But okay, if you’re still on the fence and not sure if you want to take the plunge into yet another epic fantasy series (I understand, as they do demand a lot of your time), I urge you to check out The Shadow of Elysium. Like The Penitent Damned, it serves as a fantastic introduction to Wexler’s writing and gives a taste of what The Shadow Campaigns has to offer, and it’s an even better novella. A wonderful place to get started....more
I really enjoyed Seriously Wicked, though feel I should also preface my review with the note that I’m probably not the intended demographic for this book. Young Adult and Teen Fiction is a genre I dip into quite frequently, but I was initially thrown off a bit by this novel’s tone and writing style which felt skewed even younger, maybe preteen (back in Grade Five and Six, we were already reading books about high schoolers, so it’s possible). It took some adjusting, but once I was able to get used to the crushes on “boy-band boys” and girls named Sparkle, I felt I could give this one a shot. And really, it was a lot of fun. If it were possible to go back in time, I probably wouldn’t hesitate a second to hand this one off to my 11 or 12-year-old self.
The story begins with an introduction to our 15-year-old protagonist Camellia Anna Stella Hendrix, whose days consist of figuring out ways to foil her adopted witch mother’s plans for world domination, running around town collecting strange and sometimes disgusting ingredients for her magical spells, and all the while trying to pass her algebra test and not get distracted by the cute new boy in town. However, the witch Sarmine’s latest plot to take over the world by harnessing the power of a dying phoenix on the night of the big Halloween dance might complicate matters slightly.
Actually, scratch that. Matters are complicated by A LOT when Sarmine’s failed demon summoning session ends with the demon taking over the body of Devon, the aforementioned cute new boy in town. Now on top of not flunking algebra, Cam has to worry about getting the demon out of Devon and preventing the school getting destroyed. Can things get any worse? Well, yes, yes they can. Hunting down hidden phoenixes and chasing after demon-possessed boys is just the beginning.
As you can probably tell from its description and cover, Seriously Wicked is a fun, quirky book – emphasis on the quirky. Like I said, the story is probably geared more towards preteens or young teens, which might account for some of the silliness. It’s a very lighthearted and upbeat book, which means it’s probably good for providing some cheerful, innocent entertainment for folks of all ages. Its lightness and YA designation notwithstanding, the story actually has a lot of complexity, quite a few not-very-obvious twists and turns, as well as many instances of Cam finding very creative and outside-the-box solutions to her problems. Readers will adore Cam, whose quick thinking and determination can help get her out of any difficult situation, from dealing with high school mean girl cliques to procuring a source of goat’s blood for Sarmine’s spells.
My final verdict is, if you’re an older teen or adult looking for more age-appropriate reading, Seriously Wicked probably will feel too immature for you. However, yours truly did her best to put herself in a middle-grader’s shoes and was still able to find plenty to like about the book. Those curious about Tina Connolly’s work but aren’t into Children’s or YA fiction could probably check out her Ironskin series which is said to be quite good, and having read the second book Copperhead I can attest to that. If you don’t mind a cute, charming read that clocks out at just a tad over 200 pages though (so it’s also very quick), give this one a go....more
Faces is book three of the Masks of Aygrima, a series about a magically gifted young woman living in a land ruled by the all-powerful Autarch who controls his empire by requiring all its citizens to wear special, magic-infused masks. I talked about this in my review of the last book, but I think it bears mentioning again that this series reads like Young Adult, even though the covers, description or imprint may not strongly indicate that. I just hope this is helpful information for others to know what to expect.
This third and I think final book picks up right from the end of book two, Shadows. Mara Holdfast and the survivors of the now broken unMasked army have been saved the Lady of Pain and Fire, the legendary sorceress who is said to be the only person ever to have challenged the Autarch. And now she has been found.
The Lady takes Mara under her wing, and Mara immediately feels a kindred toward her, since both of them possess the rare gift of being able to see all colors of magic. The Lady offers to train her so that the two of them can work together to bring down the Autarch, but Mara spending all her time with the Lady also means being cut off from her friends Keltan, the boy she has started to grow close to, and Chell, the prince from across the seas. As time goes on, Mara starts to suspect that not all is right. The Lady is driven by revenge, and some her methods start to seem as bad as the Autarch’s. Mara herself also grows increasingly troubled by her own feelings of anger, which seem to get stronger and more uncontrollable each day.
In fact, Faces features Mara at her most angsty. Regrettably, even though her emotions are not entirely her fault, this makes her very exasperating for the first half of the novel. That said though, Mara is also a fascinating character because of all the changes she has gone through over the course of this series: first naïve and idealistic in Masks, then imprudent and foolish in Shadows, and now finally frustrated and angry in Faces. The evolution of her personality has been shaped by the events in her life since the day her mask shattered and she went on the run, and many are experiences that were harsh, brutal and traumatic. In this book, she is also facing hostility from all sides, and while it may be obvious to the reader who is friend and who is foe, to Mara it feels like everyone is out to use her or harm her.
In many ways though, Faces feels like a book with two story arcs. After all, there are two obstacles Mara has to overcome, first the Lady of Pain and Fire and then the Autarch. With so much that needs to happen in this concluding volume, the pacing feels a bit rushed in certain sections. Still, I was impressed with how the plot was able to link both conflicts, and make them play off each other so that I was never sure of how all the problems will resolve. The final results were unpredictable and more than once I was surprised at how things concluded.
That brings me to the ending – which I did not expect at all. It’s a bittersweet one, which are the toughest for me to handle; sometimes they’re great and sometimes I’m left wanting. I’m still unsure how to feel about the one in Faces, because at once I am satisfied but also feeling a little indignant for the fate of our protagonist. Even though I know in my heart that it makes sense, some part of me still wishes for something else.
However, I will say that it is a good lead-in for a sequel series. This chapter of Mara Holdfast’s life has ended, but will there be more adventures for her in the future? The ending of Faces strongly hints that her story is not over, that there those who still need her help which only her powers can provide. Who knows what new places Mara will visit next, or the new characters she will meet if a new series is on the horizon? I’m definitely open to finding out, if that happens....more
Mother of Eden certainly wasn’t a bad book, not bad at all. Still, I have to say it’s a far cry from the first book, which I absolutely adored.
First, it’s important to know that Mother of Eden isn’t exactly a direct follow-up to Dark Eden, taking place roughly five or six generations in the future. Be aware that if you are thinking of reading it as a stand-alone though, you’ll miss out on a lot of the background information in the first book. Remember how I’d ended my review of Dark Eden with the theory that characters like John Redlantern, Tina, Gerry and Jeff would eventually become the stuff of legends to their descendants, much like how “First Couple” Angela and Tommy became revered by Family? Turns out that is exactly the case, so it wouldn’t hurt to be familiar with the events of book one.
Still, the world of Eden has changed a lot since John Redlantern first destroyed Circle of Stones and took his supporters away from Circle Valley and over Snowy Dark. There are now thousands of humans living across the planet, divided into two main groups: Johnfolk, those who were descended from John and his followers; and Davidfolk, descendants of those who remained with the original Family led by David, John’s greatest rival. There are quite a few offshoot populations as well, and our protagonist Starlight Brooking is a young woman from one such tribe, a member of the Kneetree Folk who live on a tiny island far away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Eden.
But Starlight has always wanted something more out of her life than just catching fish and making boats. She convinces her uncle, brother and a couple friends one day to travel with her to Veeklehouse, a kind of trading port where many of Eden’s tribes converge to buy and sell their goods. There she meets handsome Greenstone Johnson, a Johnsfolk man from across Greatpool who came in his colorful wraps and mighty sail boats to trade his shiny metal. Greenstone is drawn to Starlight right away and asks her to return with him to his home of Edenheart, and sensing her chance for a great adventure, she agrees. After all, Greenstone isn’t just a descendent of John, he’s the great-great-grandson of John himself, and is a prince of sorts among his people. Starlight is even more excited when she discovers that as Greenstone’s “Housewoman”, she’ll get to wear the legendary Gela’s Ring and take on the mantle of Mother of Eden.
As she soon discovers though, living in Greenstone’s home of New Earth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, life is downright unpleasant if you’re not one of the “Big People”, and even “Small People” make themselves feel bigger by pressing semi-intelligent creatures into slave labor. If you’re a Batface or have any other type of physical or mental deformity, you’re immediately relegated to the lowest rungs of society and it’s the metal digs for you! Greenstone himself isn’t a bad guy, but his father the Headman as well as Edenheart’s Chiefs and Teachers will throw you to the Fire if your beliefs deviate from the “correct” version of history, and if you’re a woman you’ll have no say in how Edenheart is run because your opinion means nothing.
This is how Starlight quickly realizes that even though she is the Ringwearer and the beloved Mother of Eden, she actually holds little to no power at all. And that is NOT all right with her, and neither are all of New Earth’s injustices. Starlight’s character is probably my favorite part of this book; she plays a similar role to John Redlantern’s from the first book, but for one key difference to me: while both John and Starlight are initiative-taking people who are constantly seeking something more, John sought glory only for himself, versus Starlight whose ultimate goal was to better the lives of others. Huge respect. I found myself rooting for her every step of the way.
Now for the book’s not-so-great parts. Like Dark Eden, it carries on its commentary on the evolution of civilization and culture, language, religion, etc. But whereas the social-fiction elements in the first book were more understated and nuanced, Mother of Eden has a clear message and it is delivered with the subtlety and grace of a wrecking ball. Never mind that I agreed with and admired Starlight for everything she tries to do for New Earth, like fighting to give better quality-of-life for Small People and a voice to women, or the fact that I loved this book for its heartfelt attempt to honor the role of motherhood and the power of a mother’s love. All that’s fine and good but only when it doesn’t affect the quality of writing or give rise to frequent character actions and dialogue choices that feel incredibly awkward or out-of-place. Too bad that in this case, I felt it did.
My biggest problem with Mother of Eden though was the ending. Even if I hadn’t found it unsatisfying – and it really was off-putting – I still probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it. The thing is, “unsatisfying” endings I can live with, but “incomplete” is a whole other matter. Unfortunately, everything after the climax felt rushed and not entirely all there, with multiple skips of varying degrees in time and a lot of important events happening off the page. Up until that point, the author had more or less kept us in the loop with what’s happening across multiple locations by giving us a wide range of character perspectives. But when it came to the ending where it really mattered, the scope narrowed so much that I was left wondering what happened to a major character, whose fate was only then mentioned in passing in one of the final chapters in Afterwords section (and I felt that character totally deserved to be handled better than that).
Maybe a sequel to Dark Eden really wasn’t needed, but nevertheless I’m not sorry I read the book. It was fascinating to see what Eden has become. If Chris Beckett were to write a third Eden book I would likely still read it. Hopefully it would redeem that disheartening ending....more
Every fan of Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series should check out this collection. I promise you won’t regret it! Not only does The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold contain two excellent short stories, it also features fun little extras like “outtakes” from earlier versions of The Warded Man and a ward grimoire complete with illustrations of the wards themselves. While longtime readers of the series will likely be the ones to get the most out of this volume, I believe it can also serve as a great introduction and the perfect jumping-on point for newcomers to the Demon Cycle.
Not usually being one to pick up short stories outside of main novels, I was really surprised how much I enjoyed this book. It probably helped that both The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold take place during my favorite period of Arlen Bales’ life; that is, back when he was still a humble messenger traveling the world and going on his adventures, and before he was corrupted by demon’s flesh (and Renna Tanner – hey, I’m only being honest here) to become the Warded Man and the Deliverer.
While this one certainly isn’t required reading, the story Brayan’s Gold alone probably makes this book worth picking up. Read on for a more in-depth analysis of this book’s contents.
Brayan’s Gold – 5 of 5 stars
Arlen Bales, now 17, is an apprentice Messenger preparing for his first big assignment. But instead of a simple overnight trip, he and his companion are tasked to carry a dangerous cargo of thundersticks to Count Brayan’s gold mine, situated high up in the frozen mountains. The journey through the ice and snow will be treacherous, not to mention the threat of bandits on the road. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the giant rock demon known as One Arm still stalks Arlen every night, hungry for its revenge.
What can I say, but this version of Arlen is the character I first fell in love with: inexperienced, but determined; idealistic, but full of spirit; brave, but just a little touch insane. Best of all, it is Arlen’s story all his own, and it is amazing how much substance Brett was able to pack here in about 70 pages. For a short story, the plot is surprisingly rich with plenty of action and suspense, drama of human relationships, and of course, a heart-stopping showdown with a never-before-seen type of demon.
Its short length notwithstanding, Brayan’s Gold has become one of my favorite pieces of Demon Cycle-related fiction to date, and I can’t believe it took me this long to check it out. Loved it.
The Great Bazaar – 3.5 stars
In the main series, Arlen finds the ruins of Anoch Sun, the ancient Krasian city in which he unearths the tomb of Kaji and retrieves the legendary warded spear. This great discovery, however, was actually preceded by a complex chain of events. The Great Bazaar tells how Arlen first managed to acquire the map to the ruins, a story that involves Abban, our favorite khaffit.
From the sound of things, Brett first wrote this story around 2009 or 2010, right around the time before The Desert Spear came out (and the story itself takes place somewhere between Chapters 16 and 17 in The Warded Man), so this was still relatively early in his writing career. It showed in the writing, which was laden in places with awkward exposition. This is also around the time when Arlen’s character started to become aggravating, when his obsession for wards began to take over his life, resulting in unnecessary risks.
The story was pretty decent though, with a very satisfying ending. It’s mostly filler, but I can’t deny that it was entertaining.
Deleted Scene: Arlen
Peter V. Brett made the right decision when he cut this following his editor’s advice. It would have felt out of place in the novel, though I appreciated Brett sharing the story about how his entire Demon Cycle series was born from the seed of this introductory scene. I can certainly understand the personal and emotional attachment to a piece like this, so even though it has no place in The Warded Man, it was still a fascinating little bonus.
Deleted Scene: Brianne Beaten
Brett explains that this was one of his favorite scenes, but since it added nothing to the narrative (it was supposed to show how badass Leesha had become, but it was already clear that Leesha was badass enough) he decided to cut it. It’s probably the right decision, though I wonder why he didn’t do the same for the latest installment of the series The Skull Throne, which I thought had its fair share of superfluous village scenes like this one too.
Brianne Beaten could have been a mini-story on its own, and it read like a classic deleted scene. A village woman who feels animosity towards Leesha finally swallows her pride and lets the young herb gatherer help her. Leesha ends up saving the day and shows just how hardcore she has become. Yeah, leaving this scene in probably would have been overkill. But again, this was a fascinating look behind-the-scenes at Brett’s writing process.
Krasian Dictionary and Ward Grimoire
The final sections of this book are mostly for reference. Readers already familiar with the series will know a lot of this information already, but the real treat are the illustrations of some the most common wards mentioned in the novels. The grimoire also kind of doubles up as a bestiary, useful if you need to brush up on your demons.
Final Thoughts: This edition of The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold is a wonderful contribution to the world of the Demon Cycle, packed with bonus content-like material that enhanced my experience with the setting and characters. Filled with goodies for fans of the series and yet still accessible enough for new readers, this volume both thrilled and fascinated me. Highly recommended....more
The Gabble and Other Stories is a collection of short fiction set in the universe of the Polity series by Neal Asher. I’ve been curious about his books for a long time now, especially since his work has been described as being close to Splatterpunk, a sub-genre often characterized by its depiction of gory graphic violence, fast-paced action, and a tendency to push the boundaries especially in horror-themed sci-fi.
I was not disappointed! Indeed, The Gabble ended up being a lot of fun and I enjoyed a lot of the stories in here. Being an anthology, I also went with the assumption that this book would work well as a stand-alone read, and thus a good place to jump on board. I think for the most part my instinct was correct, though I do have more to add to this. I will go into the details below in my in-depth analysis of each story, but I did notice a couple trends in my overall experience:
1) My favorite stories tended to be shorter ones, while the longer novelettes are perhaps too steeped in the Polity lore for me to get into as easily.
2) If the main focus of a story is aliens or alien culture, there’s a good chance I loved it!
* * *
Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck – 4 of 5 stars A pair of incestuous siblings hires a guide for a killer safari on the planet Myral in this adventure tale that ends in terror as a Gabbleduck appears through the mist and hunts them in return. Honestly, you couldn’t have found a better opener for this book of short stories. The Gabbleduck is of course the creature featured on the cover, a cool and scary looking thing with too many limbs and a duck-bill like mouth full of sharp teeth. Its comical appearance belies its deadly predatory tendencies, and should at once tell you the kind of weirdness you’re in for. Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck is a fantastic introduction to this anthology, to Neal Asher’s writing style, to his world of Polity, to the eponymous alien, and heck, just to everything! I wish more of the stories were like this one.
Putrefactors – 5 of 5 stars A bounty arrives on a planet to kill his target and instead uncovers a corrupt plot that spells dire consequences for the colonists there. By the time he realizes he himself is caught up in the conspiracy’s net, it is too late. Hands down, this was my favorite story in this collection. It was totally awesome, featuring concepts that will leave you feeling disgusted and truly horrified. Not to mention, I will never look at the phrase “a good friend” the same way again.
Garp and Geronamid – 3 of 5 stars Garp is a former policeman and a reification, a corpse kept alive through advanced tech because he simply could not stop doing his job even after his death. Geronamid is an AI, who in this particular story is implanted into a body of an allosaur. Yes, you read that right. An allosaur. Fascinating ideas in this very cool story, but the heavy involvement of things like politics and the underworld drug trade made this one harder for me to follow. It’s got some great twists and turns though, and a sensational finish.
The Sea of Death – 3 of 5 stars Two characters discuss the millions of frozen sarcophagi found below the surface of Orbus, each filled with the remains of aliens that bear some resemblance to humans. This is one of the shorter stories in this collection and can truly be read as a standalone, albeit it is not very exciting and ends quite abruptly. Not bad, but with such an interesting premise, I’d hoped for a bit more.
Alien Archaeology – 2.5 of 5 stars Another tale featuring the Gabbleduck, Alien Archaeology is a novella – and therefore the longest story in this collection – that greatly expands our understanding into the history of alien life on the many worlds of Polity. But what should have been an exciting plot and engaging experience instead left me feeling cold. I could barely keep myself focused while reading, and felt no connection to the characters. The title and some of the mildly cyberpunkish themes of the story intrigued me, as well as the idea that Gabbleducks are actually the “devolved” descendants of the Atheter race. But I just couldn’t get into it. I can definitely see someone who is more familiar with the Polity universe or Neal Asher’s work liking this one way more than I did, though.
Acephalous Dreams – 2.5 of 5 stars Another story featuring the A.I. Geronamid. After the discovery of a Csorian node, a death row prisoner is offered the chance to clear his sentence if he agrees to test drive the device. Having a bit of alien brain implanted in your head versus execution…should have been an easy choice, right? This is another story that should have been awesome, but again it didn’t quite grab me. I liked it, but with such an ambitious plot, I think this one would have worked better given more pages to develop. I might have enjoyed it even more if it had been a full-length novel.
Snow in the Desert – 4 of 5 stars Snow is an albino living in the desert…and everyone wants his balls. Literally! His unique DNA means that he has an exorbitant bounty placed on his testicles. While everyone is hunting him, Snow does what he can to survive the numerous attempts on his life as well as the dangerous conditions of his hot, arid planet. I really liked the crazy, over-the-top premise and nature of this offering. A fun and action-packed novelette.
Choudapt – 3.5 of 5 stars Perhaps a cautionary tale into the dangers of mixing alien DNA just to gain an edge. We venture a little into horror territory here. Truly terrifying. Truly enjoyable. Don’t want say anything more than that for fear of spoilers.
Adaptogenic – 3 of 5 stars It all began with an auction. Two relic hunters go searching for a missing piece of a puzzle, and their efforts land them on a strange planet at the worst time possible. An enjoyable yarn, but not the most memorable. I had to go back to the book to remind myself what happened because I hardly remembered the nitty-gritty details of it, especially since some of the better stories have already gone ahead and the bar to impress me now is set pretty high at this point. Not bad though, and I don’t remember disliking the story when I read it.
The Gabble – 4 of 5 stars We end the same way as we began – with a Gabbleduck! Researchers want to uncover the secrets behind these mysterious and frightful beings. Like Alien Archaeology, this story reveals a little more about the history and connections between different species, especially when it comes to Gabbleducks and Hooders. The Gabble is a great closer for this collection, wrapping things up with a solid tale that ties together threads introduced in some of the previous stories in this book. It’s not an overly powerful or profound offering, but it cuts deeply all the same, making it an apt conclusion.
* * *
On the whole, this is a great collection. Like all anthologies, it has its ups and downs, i.e. some stories are better than others. I’m admittedly not a big reader of short fiction because I so often find stories to be too short (“I want more character development! More world building!”) or too long (“Wait, what’s going on? Am I supposed to understand this part? But I haven’t read the original series, there’s just too much I don’t know here!” etc., etc.) My experience with The Gabble was not so different, but I did enjoy myself more than I expected.
I think this is a decent place to start if you’re curious about Neal Asher’s work and want to give it a try, or if you want just a taste of what Polity has to offer before taking the full plunge. Being new to this universe, I have to say I was pretty impressed, and if you’re already familiar with Asher’s Polity series, you’ll probably enjoy it even more. My interest is certainly piqued; I might have to check out his other books now....more
Boy is a Mage, brought up on lessons about the power of illusions, taught that reality is a sham and that people are shadows – and oh, no matter what you do, do NOT trust those lying, stinking Mechanics.
Girl is a Mechanic, a master of logic and equations who prides herself on the fact that no machine is beyond her abilities to fix, and of course, Mechanics are just so much better than those useless Mages.
Then boy meets girl. Everything changes. Alain and Mari come together after their caravan is destroyed by bandits, only managing to survive the treacherous journey back to civilization with each other’s help. They begin to discover just how much their Guild elders have kept from them, secrets and misconceptions that have been keeping the Mage-Mechanical rivalry alive for all these hundreds of years.
Then the power of Foresight unexpectedly comes to Alain. He learns something that Mari doesn’t know – that she is in fact the prophesied chosen one who will unite the two great guilds and save the world. As the two are sent to Dorcastle amidst rumors of uncontrolled dragons and sabotage, Alain can hardly begin to describe the way he feels for Mari, but he does know staying away from her as his masters had ordered is not an option.
The Dragons of Dorcastle is a sweet little story about the serendipitous partnership between two people from different divides, who end up realizing they were wrong about everything they thought they knew about the other. I’d never read anything by John G. Hemry AKA Jack Campbell before, though I do know a bit about his military sci-fi Lost Fleet series, which I can’t imagine can be any more different than this book, a Young Adult-ish fantasy and steampunk romance.
Surprisingly though, this was very good. A little standard, perhaps, and playing a bit too safe when it comes to ideas. However, seeing as this book was originally written to be an audiobook exclusive for Audible Studios, it wouldn’t surprise me if a fun and practical story like this – intended to appeal to a wider and more general audience – was a conscious decision. And it was probably the right decision; I can see it being the perfect choice for anyone in the mood for an entertaining and light read looking to pass the time, though it’s possible that diehard genre readers may be left unsatisfied.
But hey, here be dragons. Well, okay, maybe not exactly. I don’t actually hold this against the book, but I think it’s worth mentioning anyhow that I find the title a bit misleading. There’s some dragon activity for sure, though it doesn’t come until very late in the book, and relatively briefly. Relating this to my thoughts above, I can’t help but to think the name was another clever move to boost appeal. Granted, the story does present a rather intriguing mystery about the dragons at the end, so even though they aren’t the center of attention, we are left with some major dragon-related questions to ponder and there’s no doubt they will play a bigger role in the next book.
Perhaps the novel’s greatest strength is its focus the characters. Most of the book is spent developing the relationship between Alain and Mari, even when the two aren’t even in the same scene. We’re in their heads all the time, experiencing their thoughts and emotions as contemplate the other. The narrative does an especially good job with Alain, whose capacity for emotions has been all but stripped by the Mage guild. The way I looked at the situation, it’s actually a lot like reading about Spock falling in love. That is to say, it’s no easy feat. The author deserves my admiration for pulling it off.
Let’s face it, too: I’m a sucker for Forbidden Love. Despite being YA and the style of prose leaning towards younger audiences, I really enjoyed the delightful romance blooming between Alain and Mari. It’s a relationship I find more “cute” than “passionate”, but nonetheless it worked surprisingly well for me.
In the end, The Dragons of Dorcastle is not a terribly original or noteworthy book, but I really liked it. Its down-to-earth style, entertainment value, and wonderful characters made it very hard for me to resist its charms. All told, a very good book to just curl up and relax with....more
I admit The Wrath and the Dawn wasn’t initially a book I was drawn to, but as time went by, the concept started to grow on me. I still would have preferred a stronger fantasy component, but its hook – the fact that its story is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights – became more intriguing the longer I thought about it.
The book introduces us to sixteen-year-old Shahrzad, getting ready for her marriage to Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. It’s a sad affair for her family, who all believe it will be the last time any of them will see Shazi alive. Everyone says that young Khalid is a monster, for what kind of man would take a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise the next day? Shazi, however, had volunteered herself for this, and she has a plan (arguable, but more about that later). Not long ago, her own best friend was taken and killed by the Caliph. Now Shazi is determined to find out why Shiva and all those other young girls had to die, and she won’t stop until she gets her revenge.
Things are not as they seem, though. Shazi may have escaped death for a day by captivating Khalid with a story, cleverly withholding the ending by the time dawn arrives, forcing the Caliph to put off her execution in order to find out what happens. The more time she spends with the boy king, however, the more she realizes he is not the monster everyone made him out to be. Still, he did kill all those women, and the reason for that is a closely guarded secret that no seems to know or want to talk about. While seeking answers, Shazi finds herself slowly drawn to Khalid and even begins to fall for him. But when her first love Tariq learns of her marriage to the Caliph and comes riding to her rescue, Shazi will have to make a choice.
I found this book to be one part romance, and one part A Big Question. The former is relatively straight forward; Shazi marries Khalid, realizes that he’s actually not that bad, the two fall in love. It happens very quickly, almost too quickly for my tastes. Here’s another Young Adult novel, where in its eagerness to get its two lovers together, we lose out on a lot of the emotional layers that make the relationship convincing. And how was Shazi supposed to take revenge on the Caliph after marrying him anyway? She didn’t even really try. Her half-baked plan didn’t seem to go much farther beyond enticing him with stories (and I do wish she had been able to tell more of them), so all I can see is the instalove being a decision of convenience. Thing is though, I could easily look past this in favor of what I really felt was the most interesting aspect of the whole book.
Enter the big question: Why did Khalid kill Shazi’s best friend Shiva and all those other wives of his? That’s the mystery that really caught my interest and kept me reading, and it was treated in the exact opposite way as the romance, an intricate puzzle that slowly unravels. For that I was very happy, and I liked how the author took the time to make the answers worth it.
I was also most impressed with Shazi’s character above any of the others. I liked that she had such class and dignity, but also a strong personality that wouldn’t stop her from teaching a lesson to someone who shows her disrespect. She’s also truly fearless, as evidenced by the calm and quiet way she decided to volunteer to marry the Caliph knowing very well it could mean her death, and also by a scene where she strikes out at an attacker even when she very literally had a blade to her throat.
There was really one factor about the writing that made me stumble. Five words: Attack of the purple prose.
“But the thought that she might lie to him – that those eyes, with their unpredictable onslaught of colors, flashing blue one instant and green the next, only to paint his world gold with the bright sound of her laughter…”
Occasionally there will be a glaring overkill of these flowery phrases or paragraphs. I think it’s pretty common with relatively new authors who are also extremely talented writers though, who maybe just need to know when to dial it back a little.
Still, on the whole I do think Renée Ahdieh writes beautifully and has a bright writing career ahead of her. While it may not be perfect, The Wrath and the Dawn impressed me and so I’m on board to see what happens next....more
This review is for the “Author’s Definitive Edition” of The Unremembered. What does this verbiage spell for the book, exactly? According to an interview I found, author Peter Orullian made a ton of changes for this re-issue, many of which were not just limited to minor adjustments like adding an excerpt or fixing a typo here and there, though there was certainly some of that involved too. In fact, there are significant differences between this and the original (but Orullian also assures that those who read the latter will be able to transition into the sequel just fine), like about fifteen thousand words added in, but even more cut out. So, unlike a lot of Author’s Editions, this new version is actually substantially shorter than the original. It’s all supposed to make a stronger book – trimming the fat, bolstering what needed to be bolstered, fixing the pace, improving character development, etc.
I’ve not read the original, so I can’t really speak to whether or not the Author’s Definitive Edition met its goals, but finding out all that information did make me curious about this book. It’s so rare that an author gets a chance to do this, and I wanted to see the end result.
The Unremembered opens with a god condemned by the rest of the pantheon for creating a world filled with terrifying creatures, upsetting the divine balance. As punishment, he is sent to live for eternity with his abominations in the Bourne. Thousands of years later, the focus shifts to the perspective of a villager named Tahn who encounters nightmarish creatures around his home and the lands of the Hollows. Mysterious strangers arrive in town, and one of them – an old man named Vendanj – warns Tahn of great danger. A tear between the realms has resulted in the evil things from the Quiet entering the world, putting everything in peril.
Together with his sister Wendra and his friend Sutter, Tahn sets off on a quest with Vendanj and the old man’s other companions, the Sodalist Braethen and the beautiful-but-deadly warrior Mira. Tahn has no idea where this quest will take him, but he is all too aware that the world is depending on him and his group to stop the darkness from swallowing up everything he knows and loves.
The Hero’s Journey immediately comes to mind. The Unremembered is exactly that, pulling in the familiar tropes in the genre for this traditional quest narrative. This makes it a tough book to review. On the one hand, many of the themes can be recognized as the conventional and rehashed ideas from well-known fantasy classics, and though I wouldn’t exactly describe the story as generic, I can’t exactly call it original either. On the other hand though, there’s a certain charm and appeal to reading a book that harkens back to the days of old-school fantasy, almost like slipping on a worn but comfortable and much-loved sweater. As with all books in general, I suspect how you feel about this one will entirely depend on the sort of mood you’re in.
Still, that’s not to say Peter Orullian brings nothing to the genre. I find his world and characters intriguing, and whether or not this has to do with the changes he made in this edition, I liked his writing style and found it flowed very smoothly. His world-building is deep and very detailed, and his characters – while playing a bit to clichés – are people you can relate to. After all, archetypes such as The Hero are popular because they resonate with us. Tahn is likeable in that role, and his companions also play out their respective parts nicely. Orullian fleshes out his characters and gives them individual traits that make them memorable, even if they are present in a derivative capacity.
Is The Unremembered perfect? No, but I still enjoyed reading it. It’s well-paced, probably much improved from the original version is my guess. Some scenes carry a lot of weight, and in these the author does a fantastic job with the atmosphere, highlighting tough choices and the consequences of making them. Sometimes, it can get very poignant and emotional in keeping tensions high and the reader hooked on every word. As well, at a certain point in the book, the story diverges into two different threads, which threw some variation into the mix.
Ultimately, I don’t know if I would recommend this book to everyone, but I imagine there will be fantasy readers who will enjoy it. If you’re looking for something wildly fresh and original, this probably won’t be it. But if you’re feeling nostalgic for some traditional epic fantasy reminiscent of The Wheel of Time or The Lord of the Rings, then it’s quite possible that this could work for you. Personally I thought this was a decent read, and I felt invested enough that I will most likely read the sequel....more
I’ve been wanting to read Exile by Betsy Dornbusch for a while, so I’m glad I was able to finally tick this off my list. Something tells me I might have enjoyed this more if I had read this a few years ago though, before I’ve had more experience reading fantasy fiction under my belt, because then some of its shortcomings might not have been as noticeable for me. It is a good book, but like many reviewers have pointed out, it is not without its flaws.
Exile introduces us to its protagonist Draken Vae Khellian, the bastard cousin of the king and a former guard commander, fallen far from grace and now chained up on a prisoner ship’s hold. Draken’s wife was found brutally murdered and he has been falsely accused for the crime, even though the circumstances around her death stinks of dark sorcery. Draken is summarily banished to Akrasia, a land of magic and wildness, a far cry from his homeland of Monoea. Grieving and alone, all he can think about is clearing his name and getting revenge on his wife’s true killer.
In a stroke of extraordinary luck, very early into his exile Draken encounters a sorcerer of death magic named Osias along with his half-Moonling servant girl Setia, who save him from possession by a malicious spirit called a Bane. He accompanies them both to the palace where he learns of the Akrasian queen’s plight – her land is in turmoil and on the brink of revolution, and no doubt even now her detractors are planning conspiracies and assassination attempts against her…
In fact, one was going down right that instant, putting Draken in the perfect position to rescue her and gain her trust. She subsequently grants him the prestigious post to guard her safety, and Draken swears to track down the assassin who attempted to kill her.
Has the issue become apparent yet? Draken seems to have the extraordinary ability to be in the right place at exactly the right time, despite starting out his exile with nothing but the clothes on his back – no food, no money, no friends, no nothing. Within what feels like mere moments of his landing on the shores of Akrasia, he’s found himself in the personal service of its monarch.
In spite of this, I found the beginning of the book very interesting. The world building is strong, with its myriad peoples, cultures and religions. The “arse-end of the world” that is Akrasia really isn’t so bad, and the strange land was actually a wonder for me to explore with its Moonlings and spirits. I was a big fan of the magic and its mysteries, and necromancers like Osias captured my curiosity with the dark nature of his powers. My first impression is that the world of Seven Eyes, named for its seven moons, sounds like a very beautiful and magical place for a fantasy setting. There’s also a lot of depth to its history and political landscape.
The story and characters admittedly pale a bit compared to the world building, but I was nonetheless satisfied. The sequence of events in this book aren’t so much predictable as they are much too convenient to be believable, but even though that skepticism kept me from engaging with the story fully, it was still an enjoyable read. I liked Draken’s characterization, though I found his healthy sexual appetite to be quite a turnoff, considering the all-consuming grief he’s supposedly feeling for his wife. For all his sadness, it was a short mourning period, apparently.
All told, Exile is a decent book, and with its in-depth world building but simplistic plot, I’d say it’s probably more suited for new-ish readers to the fantasy genre. There are a lot of punches you have to roll with, but nothing major that would be a deal breaker. A light, entertaining fantasy novel that has all the right stuff, just in imperfect amounts, but still quite good....more
Humor, as we all know, is subjective. Especially satire and parody. Case in point, the man I married can watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the nine hundredth time and still bust a gut laughing, while I’m sitting there beside him on the couch rolling my eyes because the movie stopped being funny after the first time (and I expect I will catch a lot of grief for that blasphemous confession). What I find funny/not funny might not be the same as others, which is why I feel it is necessary to preface this review with a big YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. There are many great things about this novel: it’s clever, it’s entertaining, and it has its uproariously funny moments. On the other hand, there are parts where the humor simply did not work for me. But that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work for you! Because it is so difficult to put a score on books like this, I’m actually going to leave my rating off for the blog.
The hilariously titled Witches Be Crazy pokes fun at one of my favorite fantasy themes – the epic quest. The story begins “once upon a time in the middle of nowhere” – in this case a desert oasis village, home to an unassuming blacksmith-turned-innkeeper named Dungar Loloth who hears tell of strange happenings in Jenair, the kingdom’s capital. The ruler King Ik is dying, if not already dead, with only his long-lost-but-now-only-just-found daughter to succeed him.
No, as a matter of fact, Dungar doesn’t think that sounds very legit either. Convinced of witchcraft, Dungar sets off on a journey to expose the princess for what she really is, and plans to kill her before she can set her evil plans in motion. Along for the ride is Jimminy, an insane hobo who loves to sing off-tune and drive Dungar (and me) crazy. Surviving each other is just the beginning, though. Together on their way to Jenair, the two companions get to come face-to-face with many more dangers, meet other questing adventurers, and run afoul of plenty more beloved genre tropes.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you might have noticed we participate in a weekly meme called “Tough Traveling”, a feature inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, a parody tourist guidebook that uses humor to examine the common themes in fantasy fiction. Tropes are popular for a reason – they’re tried and true and entertaining to boot, but it’s also very fun to recognize and affectionately make light of them, which is why I was drawn to the description of Witches be Crazy in the first place. Logan J. Hunder’s debut succeeds at lampooning many of the genre’s most established and cherished clichés, starting with character archetypes. I loved this book’s introduction, which featured many quotable gems such as this one about the ridiculously beautiful Princess Koey:
“She was known to have left the castle and made a public appearance only once. It is said that during this appearance her skin, which was oddly tanned for someone who had apparently never been outside, emitted a light more radiant than that of the sun and her smile was so alluring that a flock of birds splattered themselves all over a tower because they were physically unable to watch where they were going.”
The book is full of moments like this that will make you chuckle – because they reveal the illogical nature behind so many of our favorite tropes. The prologue made me optimistic for the rest of the book, though as I read on, I realized that I prefer a subtler kind of comedy. After the first handful of chapters, it’s clear that there was not going to be much variation to style of humor employed by the author, which consists of mostly punny wordplay and slapstick. If you enjoy that, then you are sure to be in for a real treat. For me, however, there was just not enough variation to the repertoire. While I had an excellent time with the beginning of this book, I have to admit the novelty gradually lost its appeal.
The story read like a series of skits – Dungar and Jimminy are plunged into one situation after another, some of which will be immediately familiar to avid readers of fantasy. You have the gladiatorial arena. A stint on a ship with a fearsome band of pirates. A magical tree with malicious nymphs. This random assortment of events made for an outrageous yet amusing plotline, though ultimately they featured a similar routine played out over and over. By the time Dungar and Jimminy got to the village populated by bigoted Amazons, I was just worn down and ready for this story to end. It might have been oversaturation for me at that point, but I really could have done without that entire section with the all-women village, which I did not enjoy or find funny at all. But like I said, to each their own.
In the end, I think a novella of this type of story would have been perfect for me, but a full length novel was perhaps more than I could manage. It was a fun book, but simply featured too much of the same kind of humor and ran too long for my tastes. I have no doubt that Witches Be Crazy will garner a lot of fans though; to me this is the kind of book with “dedicated cult following” written all over it, much like other parodic classics like Monty Python and the Holy Grail or The Princess Bride. If the novel’s description sounds like something that would interest you, it might be worth giving it a shot....more
Last year I discovered the awesome world of magic, demons, and sentient spirit-imbued weapons in Seth Skorkowsky’s Dämoren, so when I was offered a chance to read the sequel, I didn’t hesitate.
Hounacier builds on the first book, which introduced us to an order of modern-day knights called the Valducan. All the monsters or the world are actually human beings possessed by demon, and the type of demon in turn determines the type of monster and the transformation into werewolf, ghoul, lamia, wendigo, etc. A Valducan knight makes it his or her life’s work hunting and killing these demons, with the help of a holy weapon which the knight is bonded to with their whole heart and soul.
Book two expands upon these themes, but the story is also very different. For one thing, we have a change in protagonist. While Dämoren follows the life of a rogue demon hunter named Matt Hollis, Hounacier instead features another Valducan knight named Malcolm Romero. Dämoren was a jet-setting action/adventure thriller that took us on an ass-kicking demon hunt across the globe, while Hounacier takes place mostly in New Orleans and the story reads more like a mystery. The pacing is thus slower, but this is a good thing because it also sets the book up nicely for a heavier and more macabre horror vibe.
This dark fantasy series just got even darker, which is how I like it! Eleven years after he faced his first demon and became apprenticed to a Voodoo priest, Malcolm receives news about the grisly murder of his mentor. Now he returns to New Orleans to in order to catch the killer, armed with his holy weapon, a machete named Hounacier. As the investigation deepens and the details surrounding it becomes more disturbing, Malcolm finds himself betrayed. With his soul violated and his holy blade stolen from him, Malcolm is plunged into a nightmarish existence of violence and terrible dark magic. Seth Skorkowsky kept me on my toes the whole time, and it’s such an intense and brutal tale that I couldn’t even begin to guess how everything would turn out.
In many ways, the scope of Hounacier is smaller than that of its predecessor; we’re mainly in a single setting, there aren’t as many characters, and we also don’t see a big variety of demons in this book. Still, the narrower focus serves an advantage here, because it immerses us deeply into the culture and traditions of Voodoo magic. The author has clearly done a lot of research in order to make his portrayal of it as authentic and accurate as possible.
We also get to know the protagonist a lot better. Malcolm was a side character in Dämoren, one of the lead knights who gave Matt Hollis a hard time because the Valducan believed Matt was demon-touched. So in the first book, Malcolm was painted as this huge asshole and admittedly that’s how I remembered him too. Imagine my surprise then, when I read Hounacier and realized how much I liked him and sympathized with him. Malcolm is awesome – he’s interesting, deep, and conflicted, and this makes him an engaging character to follow. I think I ended up liking him even more than Matt Hollis. The powers granted to Malcolm by the mystical properties of his weapon are also unique and new. Matt Hollis may have his blood compasses, but Malcolm Romero has his magical tattoos, including one that can see through your soul to tell if you’re pure or tainted by a demon. Very cool stuff.
I would consider these Valducan books to be Urban Fantasy, but there’s also a great deal of Horror thrown into the mix. The horror element is even more prominent in Hounacier, as we follow the trail of a murderer and then come face-to-face with a werewolf demon. The werewolves here are the savage, psychotic and bloodthirsty variety, with the monster in control rather than the human. More than once, the terrifyingly gruesome scenes in here evoked a visceral reaction from me. If you like your UF dark, brutal and completely unflinching about the fact, then Valducan is the series for you.
One final thing I’m grateful to Mr. Skorkowsky for is that these books can be read as stand-alones. Hounacier has some connections to Dämoren, like Matt Hollis showing up near the end to team up with Malcolm, etc. but for the most part both novels are self-contained stories. Pick up either one (they’re both good!) and read away. Highly recommended....more
I went into The Gracekeepers very carefully. From what I’d heard, it sounded a lot like the kind of literary magical realism which would require an active engagement of the reader’s imagination in order to fill in the gaps, and books like this with their haunting, dreamlike style can either be a huge hit with me or it can fall flat. After completing novel, I think my feelings hover somewhere in between. Overall I enjoyed the story, but also felt there was a lot that kept me from connecting with it fully.
To start, The Gracekeepers takes place in a world where the ocean has flooded most of the earth, so its people have learned to adapt. Those who have taken to the sea and made their permanent homes aboard ships and other vessels are referred to as damplings, while those who have remained on land are known as landlockers. A class disparity exists between these two groups, with damplings regarded as second-class citizens and often looked upon with condescension and suspicion by the more well-to-do landlockers.
The story focuses predominantly on two characters, North and Callanish. North is a young woman who performs with her trained bear companion as part of her act with the traveling circus ship Excalibur. The circus’s captain and ringmaster Jarrow “Red Gold” Stirling has dreams for his son and North to marry and settle on land in a house he’s spent his whole life saving up for, to the displeasure of Avalon, Jarrow’s pregnant wife who wants that house for herself. Meanwhile in another place, Callanish lives a solitary life while dutifully performing her role as a gracekeeper, an undertaker of sorts who lays the dead to rest at the bottom of the ocean. Callanish and North meet in the wake of a great storm after the crew of the Excalibur is forced to make their way to the gracekeeper to seek her services, and the two are drawn to each other immediately.
Kirsty Logan has created something very interesting here, as far as her world and characters go. The writing style evokes an image of a gauzy shroud enveloping everything in the story with a light aura of enchantment, even though there is little to no magic involved. As I had expected, a bit of imagination is required to find your way through the mist, because even though the world is fascinating, world-building itself is decidedly lacking. There’s a positive side to this if you like getting just enough to inspire the mind, especially if you enjoy a little ambiguity and speculation. For instance, could the waterworld of The Gracekeepers be our own in some distant future, or someplace else entirely? What caused the divide between damplings and landlockers? How did the rituals of gracekeeping first come about and what’s the significance behind the use of graces, small birds that are starved to death in order to mark the end of the mourning period? There are many things that don’t get explained, but perhaps they don’t need to be – similar to the way we’re content to accept folk or fairy tales as they are, because there is simply no need to question them critically. And certain aspects of the narrative – like Callendish’s backstory – are better off being vague because we already have all the information we need to know.
However, while there are the bigger and more general mysteries that I can abide going unsolved, I still felt there were some specific details lacking that hurt the overall cohesiveness of the story. There are two factions – the military and the revivalists – that are important to the plot of The Gracekeepers, but they felt like such a poor fit with the rest of the book because the parts they played were slapdash and written in so randomly. Individuals like North and Callendish are characterized very well, but when it comes to actual character relationships, the story loses some of its magic. I wasn’t even that convinced of the bond between North and her bear, her best friend and companion since childhood who apparently wasn’t even given a name. There are more examples which I can’t go into for fear of spoilers, but with regards to the writing style, it’s probably safe to say that the emphasis is on atmosphere – which, to the author’s credit, she creates very well – but there just isn’t enough substance for me. I would have preferred more reasons to engage with the story and to see everything tie together more neatly.
Still, I would happily recommend The Gracekeepers, even if it does come with a couple caveats. It’s quite an ambitious novel, very well-written considering how the author no doubt achieved the haunting, dreamy effect she was going for. Not as solid as I’d hoped, but the story is nonetheless fascinating and beautiful, walking that fine line between melancholy and optimism, and I found the characters genuinely interesting....more
Hunt for Valamon was recommended to me by a friend, and it is the first novel I’ve ever read from Australian fantasy author D.K. Mok. I didn’t know much about the book when I picked it up so I had no idea what to expect, but I have to say, I came out of it feeling quite impressed.
Valamon is the oldest son of King Delmar but was never meant to inherit the throne, due to the fact most people consider him to be a simpleton. However, that doesn’t stop all hell from breaking loose when the prince is kidnapped, sparking a frantic search for a noble champion to help rescue him. They end up with Elhan, a spirited and strong young woman whose skills are unparalleled when it comes to the deadly arts of combat. Unfortunately, she’s also cursed and very likely insane.
As if that weren’t enough, accompanying Elhan on the quest to find Valamon is Seris, a humble priest and healer with absolutely no fighting or survival skills whatsoever. Oh, and he’s also hindered by a ton of ridiculous rules imposed on him by his religious order. Despite being polar opposites, Seris and Elhan must nonetheless learn to cooperate as they set out together for the wilderness, embarking on a long and unpredictable journey to bring home a lost prince and prevent a bloody war.
It’s probably safe to categorize this novel as epic fantasy, but I was also pleasantly surprised to discover how different it felt from most books in that subgenre. The language is perhaps the most obvious thing that sets it apart. At times the narrative will feel decidedly modern, and characters will frequently use phrases and terms common in our everyday parlance. It is completely at odds with the fantasy setting, but there’s also no doubt at all this was done intentionally. The stylistic choice might not be for everyone, that’s true; but it does mean a lot of opportunities for humor, more so than you would find in other high fantasy works. So if you like a funny side to your epic fantasy, this just might be the book for you.
The characters are another factor which makes this book so enjoyable. Seris and Elhan are the main focus of the story, of course. Friendship eventually blossoms between them, but their differences in the beginning are marked by clashes and thorny interactions, giving rise to no small number of amusing scenes. But Valamon, the kidnapped prince and objective of their quest, is also a point-of-view character whose perspective adds much to the tale. It is interesting to me that Valamon’s personality and demeanor, along with how others in the book see him, strongly suggests Asperger’s or a similar kind of autism spectrum disorder, and one of the major themes is how everyone feels he is unfit to rule when in reality, the troubled prince is actually much wiser and more perceptive than he lets on.
Other side characters include Valamon’s younger brother Falon, who is the one actually being groomed to rule, as well as Qara, the princes’ childhood playmate who grew up to become a royal confidante and protector. The so-called villains of the novel, the ones who stole Valamon away, also played a big role. The tension created by this balance in perspectives was a good way to show all sides of the conflict and make the book exciting. The story was reasonably well-paced and quite engaging.
The plot and dialogue could probably benefit from a bit of fine polishing, but otherwise I thought this was a fun read that offered quite a few surprises. Hunt for Valamon is refreshing and unique, highly recommended for fantasy readers looking for an adventurous journey. I had a lovely time with D.K. Mok’s humorous and down-to-earth style. It’s also worth mentioning that this was my first introduction Spence City Books and it is great being able to put both a new author and an independent publisher on my list to check out in the future....more
If you recall in my review of Harrison Squared, I described that book as a fun, adventurous mystery which strikes the perfect balance for teen and adult crossover appeal. Well, nothing could be further from my experience with We Are All Completely Fine. Rather, try descriptions like “traumatic”, “disturbing” and “mature audiences only”.
Don’t get me wrong, though; I’ve developed a taste for horror fiction in recent years, and I loved this book. But what surprised me was just how completely different this it from Harrison Squared, which is actually its prequel. In fact, that was what prompted me to pick up We Are All Completely Fine, after finding out how the two books were related, and because I wanted to read more from Daryl Gregory.
The teenaged Harrison whom I first met in Harrison Squared is presently a man in his mid-thirties. Not that he was a jolly personality even at aged sixteen, but as an adult he has become even more gloomy, jaded and world-weary. He’s a famous author now, known for his “Monster Detective” childrens’ stories starring the boy hero from Dunnsmouth named Jameson Jameson, AKA Jameson Squared (things are getting kind of meta here). He’s also seeing a psychiatrist, which is how he eventually landed in a support group with four other members – Stan, Barbara, Martin, and Greta – led by the psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer.
Some reviewers have remarked on the strange quirk in the narrative style, specifically how at the beginning of each chapter in this book an unknown narrator appears to be speaking in the first person, though the usage of the pronoun “we” suggests he or she would be part of the support group. However, after a few paragraphs the narration will invariably shift back to the third person. As strange as it sounds, this style immediately brought to my mind the movie The Breakfast Club. Director John Hughes used a slightly different but similar “breaking the fourth wall” technique with voiceover narration at the beginning of the film, explaining to the audience what’s going to happen and why all the characters were there. This creates a kind of “reflection to the past” effect which helps us gain a slightly better understanding. In the case of this book, it tells you that despite the horror that is coming, you know that at least some members of this group managed to survive and come through intact. Well…mostly.
And perhaps comparing this book to The Breakfast Club isn’t so absurd, if you think about it. Instead of five teenagers who have little in common with each other, all trying to fit in amidst the crushing pressures of high school life, you have five likely-insane adults who have little in common with each other, all trying to get by in their normal day lives without the crushing fear of appearing completely unhinged. The characters in The Breakfast Club find themselves in detention, where none of them want to be. The characters of We Are All Completely Fine find themselves in group therapy, where none of them want to be. Despite their differences, the teens in TBC realize they are more than their individual stereotypes, and band together against a common enemy, Principal Vernon. Despite their differences, the strangers in WAACF realize they are more than their individual fucked up pasts, and band together against a common enemy, an ancient all-devouring evil from another world entirely.
All fanciful comparisons to classic 80s movies aside though, this was a fantastic book. It’s the characters that make We Are All Completely Fine – mainly because they are all so completely not. Everyone in Dr. Sayer’s support group is there because they have experienced something terrifying and traumatic…but also unexplainable. No one would believe them if they told their stories of what really happened to them. Unraveling each group member’s mystery is therefore the first step of this hair-raising journey, and my favorite part of the novella. How does Stan handle his minor celebrity status, after being abducted by a family of cannibals a la The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and emerging as the sole survivor? What message did the Scrimshander leave on Barbara’s bones twenty years ago, when he bound her, drugged her, and carved up her flesh with his knives? Why doesn’t Martin ever want to take off his sunglasses? And Greta, what awful inconceivable secrets must she be hiding behind her silence?
However, the biggest mystery of all – at least to me – was what on earth happened to the Harrison Harrison that I thought I knew from Harrison Squared?
It does make me wonder now, how I would have felt if I hadn’t read that book first before this one. We Are All Completely Fine reveals no major spoilers but does refer to many of the significant events from Harrison Squared, especially those relating to the nightmarish creature called The Scrimshander. It’s made me rethink everything I read in the prequel novel. How much of it was glossed over, played down for “a story for kids?” Mind you, I want to make it clear that reading this in no way diminished my experience with HS, but I am now looking at it in a whole different light. It’s that meta thing again. In a weird trippy way, the two books actually complement each other very well.
Well, now I realize I’ve gone about this review in a very roundabout way. Partly, it’s because I don’t want to spoil too much of the story. We Are All Completely Fine is an average-sized novella, a very quick read, and yet it is just so densely packed with goodness. It just begs to be experienced firsthand. True, it might not be an easy read at times, with its disturbing themes and bone-chilling violence, but I did also find it tremendously addicting. Needless to say, I highly recommend this book and author. It’s a good place to jump on board if you love the horror genre, or if you’re curious about checking out Daryl Gregory’s work. I for one am looking forward to more from his pen....more