The Witch Hunter is probably one of this summer’s more buzzworthy Young Adult titles, if the amount of coverage I’ve seen for it is any indication. Most of my friends who have read it also enjoyed it, while others were not so keen. If nothing else though, the book did succeed in getting my attention, and I was grateful to receive the audiobook for review, which is actually my preferred format when it comes to reading YA.
The story starts off by introducing us to its protagonist, Elizabeth Grey. She’s sixteen years old and already an accomplished witch hunter, part of the king’s elite group of agents trained to track down and capture sorcerers. But when a nighttime rendezvous goes awry, Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself and is taken to the dungeons to await burning at the stake.
On the eve of her execution, a strange man pays a visit to her cell. Believing her to be a witch, he helps break her out of prison. As it turns out, her mysterious rescuer is none other than Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful sorcerer in the kingdom as well as leader of a group of young rebel witches and wizards who are unhappy with being persecuted by the king’s laws. By helping her escape though, Nicholas has also turned Elizabeth into public enemy number one, forcing her to accept his terms or be left on her own to deal with the authorities. Reluctantly, Elizabeth agrees to help Nicholas break a deadly curse that has been laid upon him, and the group also takes her in as one of their own.
But of course, Elizabeth knows that it’s all a lie. Not only is she not a witch, she is one of the hunters whom they hate and fear, and there is no telling what Nicholas and his group might do when they find out the truth about her.
Now that I’ve finished the book, I feel I can better understand the different reactions I saw across the board. My own feeling lie somewhere in between. The Witch Hunter is a story peppered with tropes and familiar clichés, making it a very typical middle-of-the-road YA fantasy. As a protagonist, Elizabeth was not exceptional, nor did she really strike me as particularly sharp. Are you really telling me, that in all the years of witnessing countless examples of her mentor using magic as a tool in their witch hunter training sessions, Elizabeth never once suspected he was a magician? The logic is not strong with this one. It was also one of the bigger plot holes I tripped upon. The story itself is rather simplistic too, with the obvious message of “magic itself not being inherently evil, it just depends on how you use it” being presented as the crux of the conflict. Not exactly profound.
For all its flaws though, The Witch Hunter also has plenty of redeeming factors. The novel’s strength is in its light and adventurous tone, which had me chuckling at a couple places in response to some clever lines of dialogue. I especially loved the conversations between Elizabeth and Fifer, the only other female in their group. When Fifer’s character was introduced, I despaired thinking she would be yet another typical “girl rival” whose only purpose in the story is to make the heroine look good. Suffice to say, I was glad to be wrong. I also enjoyed the lack of a full-blown love triangle, and I felt the romance arc was stronger for it.
Most of the time I also prefer to listen to YA novels in audiobook format. I’m less likely to get hung up on world-building (or the lack of it) when I’m experiencing a book in this format, and characters feel richer to me when a narrator gives them a voice. This isn’t the first time I’ve listened to an audiobook narrated by Nicola Barber; in fact it was just a few weeks ago that I listened to her on another title so her performance was still fresh on my mind. I find myself very impressed with her versatility. For The Witch Hunter, Barber sounded younger, giving the protagonist the bubbly, energetic personality which her character called for, and her deftly delivered curses of “Damnation!” made me think, yep, that’s Elizabeth right there.
Simply put, this book was a lot of fun. I may have called the story simple, but that in itself is not necessarily a weakness. In fact, if you enjoy tightly woven plots and are tired of the ostentation and gimmicky shticks cropping up all over the genre these days, this one might very well work for you. It’s mainstream and not looking to break new ground, but it definitely knows what it has to offer....more
Over the last two months, I’ve been working my way through all the available Witcher Saga novels in audiobook format. The series is surprisingly addictive, so much so that it feels like I was just listening to the first book Blood of Elves yesterday. And now that I’ve come to the end of book three, I find myself a bit lost and drifting. After all, the print version of the next book (The Swallow’s Tower) hasn’t even been translated in English yet, with the release date planned for 2016. So yep, unless I learn Polish in the next year (highly unlikely!), it’s going to be a looooong wait.
The fact that Baptism of Fire was perhaps my favorite book in the series so far isn’t helping my patience either. At first, I wasn’t sure that I liked where the story was going. This installment feels different from the others, shifting to a more traditional quest narrative while downplaying the political intrigue. We start the book off with an introduction to a new character, an expert archer and hunter named Milva. She meets Geralt in the forest, finding him badly injured from the events of the Thanedd coup. However, the Witcher only has his mind on recovering so that he can continue on to Nilfgaard to find Ciri, the young princess-turned-sorceress whom unbeknownst to everyone has settled into a life with a gang of rebels.
Despite his misgivings, Geralt gives in to Milva’s request to tag along. They are accompanied by Dandelion, the poet. And on their way, they also meet a dwarf named Zoltan. Further along their journey, they join up with a Nilggaardian named Cahir. Eventually, the party even gets a vampire named Regis. Far from the monster the group expected him to be, Regis actually proves quite invaluable thanks to his medical knowledge and skills.
I know what you’re thinking. Geralt and his fellow adventurers sound like they stepped straight out of a role-playing game. You even have your different races and classes. Not that I don’t enjoy this particular classic trope, but for a series that has thus far been all about the complexity and plot depth, I was surprised because this seemed like a step back. And indeed, I felt that the story in Baptism of Fire was much simpler when compared to the other books, and not a lot happened at the beginning while Sapkowski worked to introduce all the new faces and names. I also noticed a lot less of characters like Ciri, Yennefer, and Triss Merigold, given that most of the attention was on Geralt and his group. Don’t get me wrong; I always want more Geralt, but I can’t deny I was expecting more Ciri, especially in light of her prominent role in The Time of Contempt.
Around the halfway through the book though, something happened. Maybe the story finds its stride at this point, or maybe I finally got to appreciate the personalities of all the different characters, but I started really enjoying myself. Our adventurers make their way east, eventually running afoul of trouble caused by the ongoing war. Battling enemies and working together towards a singular goal – that’s my favorite part of these kinds of stories, after all. The dynamics between everyone in the group started to get a lot more interesting too, with Regis emerging as one of my favorites. Dandelion was a riot as always, and I got such a kick out of his conversations with the old vampire. Near the end, there was also a very good example of how far the characters have come as a group, when everyone got together to discuss what to do about a situation that would affect one of their members. A ragtag bunch of strangers become a family of sorts, which is what I love to see.
Something else to keep in mind: the original Baptism of Fire was published in 1996. And for a story that’s almost twenty years old, I think it has aged exceedingly well. Classic quest narrative or not, it still feels fresh, probably a testament to Sapkowski’s storytelling as well as the skills of the translator.
And don’t dismiss the audiobook and what it brings to the table. I maintain this is the best format to experience The Witcher Saga. Peter Kenny once again proves what a versatile narrator he is, delivering a superb performance as always. In fact, I feel this is probably his best work on this series so far. Kenny really knocked it out of the park, bringing the whole gang to life in this one, giving each group member a unique voice. He was absolutely fantastic.
So now I settle in for the wait. Heck, it may be even longer for the audio version. But it doesn’t matter; something tells me it will be worth it....more
It recently occurred to me that over the years I’ve consumed a fair number of movies, games, comics, television shows etc. featuring retellings or re-imaginings of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – but never a novel. Huh. Suffice to say I was pretty shocked by this realization; after all, there are quite a few high-profile titles out there.
Christina Henry’s Alice therefore had the distinction of being my first “Alice retelling novel”, and I’m actually quite happy about that. Of the many different versions of Lewis Carroll’s classic that I have experienced, my favorite ones were typically those considered “dark” or “twisted” – and to be honest, those are the types I’m mostly interested in. There’s just something about the original tale that lends itself to the creepy or macabre treatment.
In any case, dark was what I wanted and dark was what I got. Henry’s retelling is definitely not for the faint of heart, and readers should also beware that themes of sexual violence and abuse feature heavily in this novel. This is Alice’s Adventures told through a horror lens, as vicious and sharp as a butcher’s knife wielded unflinchingly in your face, and all the whimsy and magical light-heartedness is warped here into a horrible nightmare of savagery and pain. If you enjoy close adaptations or would prefer to see the fanciful nature of the original story preserved, this book is not for you. But if, on the other hand, you know what you’ll be getting into and would like to see a refreshing new take on creative retellings, then this one could very well be right up your alley.
Alice begins with an introduction to our eponymous protagonist, a young woman who has spent the last ten years in a hospital ward for the insane along with the city’s other undesirables. She can’t remember the events that precipitated her imprisonment, and only knows what she’s been told – that as a girl she went missing, and then was later found again beaten and broken, one cheek slashed open and blood running down between her legs, gibbering nonsensically about “the Rabbit”. Now Alice finds herself mostly forgotten by the world, and her only friend is another prisoner called Hatcher, a multiple murderer who talks to her through a mouse hole in the wall connecting their cells.
One night, a fire breaks out in the hospital allowing Alice and Hatcher to escape, but the two of them are far from free. A shadowy monster known as the Jabberwocky is on the hunt, and it has their scent. The only way to be rid of the beast is to slay him with a magical blade, forcing Alice and Hatcher to seek it out in the heart of Old City where they will face monsters of a different sort – for this is where the magician crime lords rule, feeding off the fear and misery of the populace. Within their ranks are the men known as Cheshire, Caterpillar, the Walrus…and to Alice’s dismay, her old enemy the Rabbit.
As I was saying, if you like your Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland retellings dark and twisted, you’ve come to the right place. Christina Henry doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to filling her world with brutal violence and death. Her protagonists are troubled and broken people, haunted by traumatic pasts and memories. It’s not a happy book. And yet, beneath all the horror and disturbing themes, I’m impressed by the author’s sheer imagination and creativity. I like how she’s taken the familiar elements from the original story and reworked them into her version, making Alice one of the most unique retellings I’ve ever read.
Still, as much as I enjoyed this novel, I couldn’t help but feel like it was missing something vital. In spite of its relatively short length, Alice took me an inordinate amount of time to finish due to the numerous occasions where I got distracted or drifted off while reading. I liked the book a lot, but it just didn’t grip me the way it ought to have, even though the characters had purpose and the plot maintained a steady momentum. I wanted to stay connected but at times it was a struggle, almost like the darkness in the story was a massive black hole that sucked all life from its surroundings. To be clear though, it wasn’t the brutal nature of the story that affected me, but rather the hollowing effect it had on the characters. Both Alice and Hatcher felt distant to me, and whether or not this is by design, it had an impact on my experience.
Nevertheless, I’m still a fan. Alice is unconventional and rather fascinating in its uniqueness. This book is certainly not for everyone, but I can see it scoring a hit with readers who enjoy strange and dark retellings. Themes like sexual abuse and psychological trauma makes this one a disturbing read, but I feel they are handled with a complexity that’s not just there for shock value and cheap thrills. While Alice features a self-contained story, the end does leaves things somewhat open for a future installment. If that’s the case, I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more!...more
For the first time ever, the English translations of the novels in Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher Saga series are being made into audiobooks, and I have been enjoying them immensely. Thus far, four Witcher books have been published in this format, including the short story collection The Last Wish. Today I’ll be reviewing The Time of Contempt, the second full-length novel in the sequence.
The story beings where Blood of Elves left off, following Yennefer and Ciri’s journey to Gors Velen where the sorceress hopes to continue her young apprentice’s education by enrolling her into a school for magic. Unhappy with these plans, Ciri devises a plan to escape and seek out Geralt, whom she has been told is not far from the city. However, on the way she is intercepted by the Wild Hunt and given an unexpected choice.
Meanwhile, more political intrigue and back-alley negotiations are happening in the shadows. A power struggle is developing, and the players must choose sides. How is a Witcher, sworn to neutrality, supposed to deal with this? Especially if that Witcher, a staunch and principled man, stumbles upon a coup that could lead to a bloody war that would tear apart the land? Gerald faces one of his hardest challenges yet in this novel, putting all his wits and fighting skills to the test.
If you’re even mildly interested in The Witcher video games, I would highly recommend picking up this series. Even if you’re not, you can still enjoy these novels for the excellent sword and sorcery fantasy books they are. Bottom line: these books are great, featuring plenty of spectacular action scenes along with magic and sword-wielding heroes; you really can’t ask for more than that. Geralt the Witcher is in especially rare form in this one, our favorite “white-haired fiend” demonstrating just how good he is at what he does – killing lots and lots of bad guys and monsters.
But of course, these books aren’t just about Geralt, even though he is often used as the face for The Witcher franchise. It’s easy to forget sometimes that the other characters are just as involved as he is, and once in a while, as in the case of this novel, they can even play a bigger role. In my eyes, The Time of Contempt is where Ciri truly gets her chance to shine. She may be destined for great and terrible things, but readers are reminded that despite all the grand prophecies about her, little Ciri is still a child. While still struggling to control the magic in her blood, she learns there is even more to her potential. It’s a lot to place on the shoulders of a young girl, not to mention all the people who want to kill her or use her in their political machinations. The development of her character in this novel shows that she is a strong-willed and spirited youth despite being burdened with a world full of troubles, and that in the face of danger she can still show plenty of good humor. For that reason, she was my favorite character in this book.
Also noteworthy is how much the story has matured over the course of this novel, raising the stakes in this world of shifting alliances and backroom deals. The plot comes alive, becoming more twisty and complex as the result of the lofty ambitions and power-hungry maneuverings of mages, rebels and kings. This book also sees a greater role for the Scoia’tael, the group of guerilla fighters mostly made up of elves, dwarves and other non-humans. Portending a time of war and misfortune, the spectral riders of The Wild Hunt also make their appearance in the sky, a promise that everything we see here is merely the beginning.
Narrator Peter Kenny continues to deliver a superb performance for this series, making the experience of listening to the audiobook memorable. He has a great voice for expressive storytelling, and is especially adept at doing accents and voices without drawing excessive attention. As a fan of the games, I had initial concerns that I would have trouble reconciling myself to anyone other than actor Doug Cockle as the voice of Geralt, but Kenny quickly dispelled them. He truly is a talented voice artist.
In sum, The Witcher series and its characters are a one-of-a-kind creation, and The Time of Contempt is another excellent novel in the sequence, not to mention a great experience in audio format. I’m enjoying them a lot, as you can probably guess; otherwise, I wouldn’t keep listening. Obviously this is a series I want to keep reading, and I’m already excited for the next one....more
As someone who was totally new to Cathy Clamp’s work, I was very excited about the opportunity to read Forbidden, book one in a new series set in the Sazi universe. A “reboot” of sorts, the novel takes place ten years after the events at the end of The Tales of the Sazi, featuring a new story and new characters – a fresh start, essentially, and a perfect jumping-on point for a newcomer like me.
Indeed, there’s not much you need to know before starting this series, and any required knowledge is helpfully provided by the author. For example, I found it interesting that the two protagonists of Forbidden actually first appeared in the original series as relatively minor characters. According to Clamp’s afterword, the heroine Clarissa Evans (who goes by Claire Sanchez here) was in Moon’s Fury as one of the young victims of a child abductor. All grown up now and an agent of the Wolven, Claire is being sent to investigate a string of missing children cases in the remote town of Luna Lake.
For obvious reasons, the mission hits a bit close to home, and Claire finds herself struggling to deal with unpleasant memories on top of trying to figure out the complex hierarchy of her new pack. The community at Luna Lake is unlike anything she’s had to deal with before, on account of it being a former refugee camp for displaced Sazi and lost orphans. Shapeshifters of all sorts live together here, including owls, falcons, bears, cougars, and of course wolves like Claire herself. On her first day, she meets another wolf named Alek, a Sazi orphan who grew up in Luna Lake after being adopted into a family of owls. Sparks fly between them immediately – both the good and bad sort – but whatever attraction or differences they have between them, solving the mystery must come first…before it’s too late for the missing kids.
Right away, I was captivated by the magic of this world. There are all sorts of Sazi, like those who can turn into wolves, big cats, birds of prey, snakes, etc. There were also the little things that charmed me, like the fact they can talk in their animals forms, or use food smells (most often desserts, I find. Or maybe I just notice them more because of my sweet tooth) to identify the emotional states of other Sazi.
I was also amazed by the social dynamics of Luna Lake. You don’t have to be familiar with the Sazi series to understand that it’s a very special community. The bird shifters aren’t big fans of the cats, the cats don’t much like the wolves, and the wolves can’t stand the smell of the birds, but at Luna Lake all the groups manage to live in relative harmony because that’s the only way to ensure survival. For Alek and other Sazi like him who were adopted by the Williams, the town is literally one big family. Even though he is a wolf, Alek is a big brother to owls, eagles, bobcats, other wolves and more, and there’s this sense of solidarity and togetherness about Luna Lake that gave me all the warm and fuzzy feels. Yet, there’s also a cost to that peace. Over the years the pack has developed a way to identify their “omegas”, and these low ranked individuals are treated poorly and forced to do all the dirty jobs in town. It made me feel really unsettled and angry towards Luna Lake’s leaders and those townsfolk who turn a blind eye to this blatantly unfair and broken system.
Be aware too that while Forbidden is described as an Urban Fantasy mystery, in some ways it actually reads more like a paranormal romance. Claire and Alek’s relationship is often the focus of the story, and the mystery elements of the plot are in truth not that substantial. To really get into the story, you would need to buy into the chemistry between Claire and Alek, and that was perhaps my problem; I didn’t feel like I got a chance to know either of them very well before they were thrust together, and right on the heels of them falling in lust came the obligatory plot contrivances to introduce conflict between them. I also found Alek too self-absorbed for my tastes and Claire too much of a “special snowflake”, which all made it harder for me to care about their developing relationship. That said, I’m not a big reader of PNR so there may be a lot genre norms and nuances that I’m not accustomed to, so feel free to take my opinion on the romance with a grain of salt!
The world of the Sazi does have the benefit of being fully fleshed out and realized though, from all the groundwork that has been established by the original series. Just this little taste of it has gotten me hooked, and I find myself wanting more. Certainly if you have a love for stories about shapeshifters, you need to check this one out for the many different kinds of creatures alone. Recommended for urban fantasy/paranormal romance readers and fans of strange and beautiful magic....more
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
This was a great book. And the only reason I’m not rating it higher is because I’ve read better from Paolo Bacigalupi. If I had read this a few years ago, I think I would have enjoyed it unconditionally, but of course that’s not what happened. Instead, I read The Water Knife earlier this year and loved it, and as I usually do when I read an amazing new book by an author I’ve never read before, I went and picked up a bunch of Bacigalupi’s older titles. I decided to read The Windup Girl first, his multiple-award winning debut that shot him to stardom, and figured too that it was the perfect choice to review for Backlist Burndown.
The book takes place in 23rd century Thailand in a world ravaged by increasing temperatures and rising sea levels. Frequent disasters, both natural and manmade, cause widespread devastation to crops and human populations. Humanity is now dependent on biotechnology for food production, and megacorporations control the market using their own genetically modified seeds, which have all but replaced the natural order. The capital city of Bangkok only survives due to technology, and would be underwater if not for the levees that hold back the flood.
The story features multiple POVs. Major characters include Anderson Lake, a Calorie Man for the megacorp AgriGen, a sort of economic hitman sent to work undercover at a factory in Thailand. It is a front for his real mission, to search Bangkok’s street markets for produce thought to be extinct in order to discover the location of the Thai seedbank. Anderson leaves the running of the factory to his manager, Hock Seng, a Chinese refugee who was a businessman in his former life in Malaysia before being exiled from the country. Seng plots against Anderson, embezzling from the company while planning to steal secret designs and documents from his boss.
Then there’s Emiko, a “Windup Girl”. She is a genetically engineered being, and not human in the strictest sense, due to all the different modifications to her DNA. Windups are made to be docile slaves, programmed to obey. Abandoned by her Japanese master, Emiko lives a dangerous life in Thailand, because she would be destroyed if caught. She is forced to put up with sexual abuse and humiliation at the club where she works, in exchange for a measure of protection against the Thai government. She dreams of a day when she can finally buy her freedom and leave this place forever for a refuge in the north.
What I found interesting are the many similarities The Water Knife had to The Windup Girl. Bacigalupi seems to fancy writing dystopian science fiction about humans screwing up the future of the world. Both stories feature a shortage of vital resources, their supplies controlled by megacorporations or corrupt authorities. Both books even have a corporate hitman/mercenary-type character in a main role. So, perhaps comparisons between my experiences with his latest novel versus my experience with his first novel were going to be inevitable.
First, there’s the realistic premise, an important factor that makes all the difference. For me, dystopian novels tend to be more impactful when they take the form of cautionary tales or commentary on current issues, given how much easier it is to imagine them really happening. I also spent a part of my childhood in Bangkok, so reading this story also had a strong effect on me in more ways than one.
There are some unpleasant and difficult themes to deal with as well. Bacigalupi’s novels are certainly not happy stories. Characters in The Windup Girl live in a grim and very brutal world, and many are subject to discrimination, violence and other kinds of abuse. Emiko, the book’s titular character is especially subjected to the worst kind of treatment – rejected, beaten, raped, tortured, hated – all because of what she is and what she represents. Created to be nothing more than a toy for the wealthy, Emiko is helpless to control her situation or even her own actions because of her genetic modifications.
As well-written as this was, the author has certainly come a long way since his debut novel. The Windup Girl is a fascinating and engaging tale. Compared to The Water Knife though, it’s not nearly as well-plotted or polished. I sensed that Bacigalupi’s storytelling was still outpaced by his imagination at this point, in part due to the uneven pacing as well as the unexpected turn of events in the last quarter of the book. I can’t say I’m too fond of the last 100 or so pages; what should have been a ramp up to a killer conclusion instead had me fighting to keep my interest, but for all that, I still thought this was a great read....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 was actually first introduced to Departure as an audio title (given how often I browse for interesting new titles to listen to, it was pretty hard to miss how often it popped up on the popular science fiction and fantasy audiobook lists). What I didn’t know, was that the book itself was originally self-published. The news of its success must have caught on though, because I just learned recently too that HarperCollins has bought it and will be re-releasing it later this year. Runaway hits like that often have a way of catching my attention, so my curiosity probably got the better of me when I decided to check this one out.
The story begins with the crash of a passenger plane on route to London from New York. Flight 305 ends up somewhere in the English countryside, its fuselage split in two. In spite of this, there are actually quite a few survivors, most of them from first class because their half of the plane went into the trees while the tail section went into a nearby lake. As the survivors treat the wounded and fight to save as many lives as they can, they soon realize that they have crashed into a very different world. Rescue might be a long time coming. If ever.
There’s not much more I say about the story without spoiling it, but suffice to say, the Lost vibes are strong with this one. If you enjoy mind-bending sci-fi thrillers with a slight touch of creepy mystery, you should give this one a look. On the other hand, if you were looking forward to more of a survival adventure, you’ll probably want to alter your expectations like I did. As someone with a fear of flying, I was really nervous and bracing myself for a heart-pounding intro, but what I ended up getting was barely a notch above suspenseful. After the first quarter of this book, the emphasis also rapidly shifts to the bigger conspiracy.
The focus mainly falls on five passengers: Harper Lane writes biographies for a living, but her real dream is to writer her own series of adventure novels one day; Nick Stone is an American businessman, on his way to a meeting with The Gibraltar Project to discuss the building of a dam in the Mediterranean; Sabrina Schröder is a German medical scientist, making her the best choice to care for the wounded crash victims even though most of her experience was in a lab; Yul Tan, a Chinese-American computer scientist, has just developed a quantum internet capable of transmitting more data farther and faster than anything seen before; Grayson Shaw, son of a billionaire philanthropist, is struggling with alcohol problems after finding out some news about his father.
Unbeknownst to any of them, these five characters are all connected in some way and may hold the clues to the reason why their plane crashed, not to mention an answer to where they’ve ended up. The details are gradually revealed as the events unravel, and it was a captivating journey to discover the truth – even in spite of the many confusing moments along the way. To be honest, this book ventured a little too far into hard sci-fi territory for me to feel truly comfortable, and even though I was able to follow the plot just fine, a lot of the themes that came up later in the book are just not topics I find interesting. Be that as it may, I didn’t actually dislike this book; I found most of the story very enjoyable in fact, and even liked how it ended (as opposed to how I felt about Lost!) but it’s difficult to ignore the technology aspects that I personally couldn’t get into.
As for my thoughts that are specific to the audio version, I’m always happy listening to multi-narrator books and I thought both Nicola Barber and Scott Aiello delivered excellent performances. They portrayed Harper and Nick respectively, and voiced their own characters’ dialogue even when they were in the other character’s perspectives, giving this audiobook a quasi full-cast feel without it actually being a full-cast production. With their natural performances, the two narrators also made a lot of the dialogue sound a lot less awkward than the way it probably looked on paper.
In truth, I don’t think I would have fared as well reading the print version of this, given the propensity for my eyes to glaze over when they come upon pages of technobabble, especially when they have to do with subjects like the quantum theories of time travel. My brain has a better time when this stuff is read to me, so I was quite happy with my decision to listen to Departure in audio format. This is a book I might have enjoyed more if it had been the survival adventure I expected, but all told it’s a pretty solid book with a story that will no doubt appeal more to sci-fi thriller fans who also enjoy some conspiracy with their mystery....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
Imagine living in an ultra-high-tech society, so deeply ingrained in virtual reality and cyberspace that all the actions you make are logged and billed for. Every time you blink, breathe a sigh, shout a swear word, grit your teeth, kiss a loved one, or even just relax in a resting position of your choice – all that information is being recorded into the BodyBank, a computer system implanted in each of our bodies. All your movements are monitored in real time, so that the corporations who own the rights to those actions – whether it be as simple as scratching your head or as intimate as sexual intercourse – can be paid their licensing fees.
Oh, and it’s a perfect process, completely automated and indefatigable, and it doesn’t make mistakes. So don’t even think about cheating the system. You can’t.
Just as you’d expect, living in a world like this ain’t cheap. People go bankrupt or “cash crash” every day, caught unawares by their expensive habits or finding themselves overwhelmed by the incurring charges on everyday actions, i.e. by simply just living. Before that can even happen though, Liquidators like our protagonist Amon Kenzaki are already waiting in the wings, ready to swoop down and capture these “discreditable” citizens, take out their BodyBank, and banish them to BankDeath Camps where they are forever removed from the economy and disconnected from the ImmaNet, a three-dimensional audio-visual overlay that would normally replace our perceptions of the mundane world.
Your life is virtually over if you cash crash, basically.
As someone who knows better than most exactly how this system works, Amon himself lives an extraordinarily frugal life. He scrimps and saves in whatever ways he can, typing messages in nigh indecipherable script so that he doesn’t get charged for using licensed words, even going as far as taking instructional courses on how to blink less or breathe less. His attention to details does not go unnoticed by his superiors, who inform Amon that he is being considered for a promotion. Everything is going well, until one day, Amon notices an incredibly expensive charge called “jubilee” on his BodyBank account, an action he is completely unfamiliar with and is sure he did not perform. But how could this be? After all, the system doesn’t make mistakes.
The whole story behind Cash Crash Jubilee could almost be humorous if it weren’t also so damn scary. Eli K. P. William does a fantastic job here creating his vision of a futuristic Tokyo, a cyber-dystopian society at its most extreme. Apparently it’s not enough just to watch our every move, but they’ve found a way to make it profitable too. Everyone is so obsessed with technology and corporate branding that almost every shred of humanity and emotion has gone out the window. The concept of Free Will has been distorted, for it is not free will at all if you have to think and calculate the cost of every action before deciding to perform it.
On the other hand, might it be possible to find a sliver of a positive side to this gloomy situation? Citizens are probably less likely to do and say things they would regret, if they have to stop to think twice before actually doing it, versus simply acting on impulse. How many wayward spouses might we see, for example, if a pre-nup in your BodyBank authorizes an automatic and immediate transfer of half or all of your funds to your other half the moment you commit infidelity?
Yeah, probably not a lot, is my guess.
Cash Crash Jubilee is utterly fascinating, from cover to cover. The premise is disconcerting, with details that sometimes bordered on the absurd, but it did make me think. Nothing delights me more than a book that gets my brain juices flowing, and I could even overlook the slow introduction to this story, simply because I found myself so completely absorbed in the sights and sounds of William’s dystopic Tokyo. It’s a trove of insanity and wonder, all in one place.
You might also recall a while ago in another review, I wrote about my feelings on cyberpunk. As a subgenre of sci-fi, I’ve definitely experienced more misses than hits when it comes to recent offerings. When I looked at Cash Crash Jubilee though, I saw a very different kind of cyberpunk. The author uses a lot of familiar elements in this story, but the way he rendered the ideas made them unique and stand out. And rather than going through my usual mental gymnastics trying to piece together all the abstract concepts commonly found in this genre, I found William’s descriptions of the ImmaNet overlays extremely intricate and detailed, but at the same time also very easy to visualize. The mystery plot was genuinely interesting, with the suspense and action in all the right places.
In short? This one scored a major hit in my books. It deserves a lot more attention, let’s hope it gets it.
All told, Cash Crash Jubilee is eye-opening, eyebrow-raising, grip-the-edge-of-your-seat read. Good thing I don’t live in Amon Kenzaki’s world, because if I had been charged for all the times I made those actions, I’m pretty sure I’d be bankrupt many times over by now....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
I love Epic Fantasy for many reasons, not least of which is the fact every book is a portal to a whole new world. But when you read as much as this genre as I do, you sure get to visit a lot of them. That is why, when every once in a while I come across a setting that truly stands out, I sit up and take note. And Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai made me do just that.
Right from the start I was captivated by the magnificent desert city of Sharakhai, where this novel takes place. Surrounded by a literal ocean of dust and sand, this political and cultural trade center attracts all manner of visitors. From merchants to dignitaries, they sail across the dunes in great sand-ships to treat with the city’s kings, twelve immortal men who have held power in Sharakhai since time immemorial. However, not all people are happy with their rule, and many remember the injustices wrought upon them by the kings and their ruthless agents.
The novel’s protagonist Çeda is one such individual. When she was eight years old, her mother was a rebel captured and executed by the kings, then hung from Sharakhai’s walls as a warning and example to other detractors. Çeda has sworn vengeance ever since. Now more than a decade has passed, and Çeda is still as determined as ever to take down the twelve kings, with the help of a book of cryptic writings left to her by her mother. Unlocking the book’s puzzles will not be easy though, and there are many questions about her own heritage that must be solved before Çeda can bring the fight to her enemies.
So many thoughts filled my mind when I finished this book, I’m not even sure where to begin. Beaulieu weaves a complex tale of intrigue, employing devices like flashbacks and bringing in other characters points-of-view to great effect. In many ways, Çeda’s story plays out almost like a mystery plot, following her on a journey to uncover clues about the twelve kings’ weaknesses while also revealing details about her own past and the secrets her mother kept from her. Flashback chapters are generally tricky to pull off, but I was impressed with the way they were done here, inserted at precisely the best moments to emphasize important events in the characters’ lives.
Çeda is also a wonderful main character, one of the best female protagonists I have encountered in years. We open the novel with a scene from the fighting pits, where she is a competitor in the tourney. Right after a phenomenal combat sequence which ends with Çeda serving her opponent his ass on a platter, she then goes on to engage in an intensely passionate tryst with the fighting pit’s owner. If all this was part of Beaulieu’s attempt to capture the reader’s attention right off the bat, well, it certainly worked on me! More importantly though, I got the sense that Çeda is her own woman. She does what she wants but she’s also smart about it, and she is committed to her goals and utterly loyal to those she cares about.
The story also introduces several more major characters, first of which is Emre – Çeda’s childhood friend, partner in crime, and brother of her heart. As Çeda’s mission takes her down one path, Emre’s involvement with the underground resistance takes him down another, leading the two friends to drift apart. But what I love about this story is that nothing about it is black and white, and there’s much more to it than simply good versus evil. The twelve kings may be ruthless and cruel, but the rebels – a group calling themselves the Moonless Host – are far from innocent themselves, employing methods that are just as bloody and destructive. The relationship dynamics between Emre and Çeda become a focal point when the two of them end up on opposite sides, fighting for the same cause while driven by different forces. Throw in a third faction, Ramahd and Meryam of the Qaimiri delegation, and it gets even more difficult to tell friend from foe. As with the best and most realistic stories of fluid loyalties and political intrigue, there is absolutely nothing clear-cut about the situation and the plot will keep you wondering who’s an enemy and who’s an ally every step of the way.
While Beaulieu never stops challenging his characters, the world building in this novel is where his skills really shine. The many distinct cultures that feature in the pages of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai provided a diverse setting, which is further fleshed out by its rich history, religions, and various magic systems. The many sights and sounds of the city are brought to life by the stunningly detailed descriptions of important locales, from the decadent halls of the Tauriyat to the blooming fields of adichara plants in the surrounding desert. The world-building also made up for the slower pacing of the first half of the novel, because there were just so many wonderful things to take in.
All told, the payoff was definitely worth it. A promising start to a new series, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai offers readers a glimpse into Bradley P. Beaulieu’s talent for storytelling as well as his emerging role as a master world-builder. With its many different peoples and cultures, Sharakhai’s desert setting was utterly spellbinding. I also found myself enthralled by the plot’s combination of adventure and intrigue, along with the richness and depth of the characters. Books like this keep the epic fantasy genre fresh and diversified, and I am very excited to see what the future holds for The Song of the Shattered Sands series....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