A simple enough novel in which a woman runs from those trying to do her harm after a drug war spills over to something more personaFantasy Review Barn
A simple enough novel in which a woman runs from those trying to do her harm after a drug war spills over to something more personal. Only the major parties involved happen to be vampires. Which makes things a little more...not simple?
Certain Dark Things is completely engaging yet very simple in execution. The story follows Atl as she ends up in Mexico City while on the run from the rival family who killed her sister. Mexico City is not a good place to be a vampire; sanitation crews are always on the lookout in an attempt to keep the city bloodsucker free. A hunger for young human blood makes hiding out even harder so Atl recruits a teen street kid for a meal. She then makes a decision that could be a mistake by letting young Domingo live.
It is dark and emotional. Domingo goes from crush to possible love interest but Atl always knows her past and future involve blood and heartbreak. A jaded police officer on her trail fights her conscience when the system doesn't provide the support but a human gang does. And Nick, the spoiled son of a vampire lord, provides the perfect mix of evil and youthful arrogance while acting as the main villain.
There is a bit of a role-playing influence at work as the different vampire sub species are introduced. Atl can trace her heritage back to the Aztecs; she requires younger blood than some and can fly when she has the energy. Nick's group are bit more Dracula; making puppets out of their human victims through some sort of blood induced mind control. And hints of even more are seen throughout.
On the one had all this is fascinating and the distinctions are not gratuitous; the vampires use their various advantages in a the battle to get the upper hand on each other and a reader who stays aware will have something of a head up before each twist and turn of the plot. On the other hand there is a lot of excess world building that may never pay off; the history of vampires outings could be fascinating but is only a background detail.
As vampire tales go this is one of the better recent releases. It carefully builds a lore that could easily lead to our current myths while adding enough originality to stand on its own. The simple story was a page turner, never a bad thing. And the ending fit the personalities of the characters perfectly, not coming as a surprise but with just the right mix of melancholy and heartbreak.
A strong book with a cool take on vampire lore. Perhaps not the most memorable nor is it a genre changer but well worth reading.
A bit out of place on this humble blog as unless I missed something there were no dragons involved in this non-fiction book about tFantasy Review Barn
A bit out of place on this humble blog as unless I missed something there were no dragons involved in this non-fiction book about the history of baking powder. Nor did any of the major companies involved prone to hiring any type of magical assistance. So feel free to skip this review if the riveting battle between companies trying to sell flavorless white powder does nothing for you.
The Baking Powder War caught my eye because I am fascinated by the history of marketing and the blurb promised plenty of this. I was not disappointed on this front but I also got so much more than I expected. This was not a minor marketing battle between rival companies; the 'war' statement in the title of the book was in no way hyperbole. It can also not be overstated just how important the creation and distribution of this product was both in its time and leading up to today.
For those that don't cook baking powder is a product that leavens bread. Almost any bread product bought today (outside of artisan loafs) as well as most cakes, cookies, etc contain this product. If you put it in an oven and it gets bigger, or if it is soft and fluffy, you know it has baking powder. If it can be cooked in less than an hour the same statement holds true.
Starting with the introduction of bread making in colonial America the author takes her time showing just how important bread making was in the time period; setting up just how revolutionary this simple product ended up being. From there the focus slowly shifts down two paths; how the product was changing society and what four major companies were doing to ensure they profited the most off it. Both of these aspects were fascinating.
On the societal change front it is almost shocking how much impact this simple product has. Bread making went from something that went on all day (and took constant prep to ensure the baker had yeast at hand as a dried version is years away still) to something that could be done on more of a whim. This leavening was so important that the first patent issued in America dealt with a baking powder predecessor. Many diverse aspects were looked into, often briefly. The rise of the tin industry (baking pans were suddenly needed for breads that didn't stay self contained), the start of chemical additives to food (baking powder is convenient but it adds neither flavor nor nutritional value) and eventually the rise of chain grocers.
But the majority of the book focused on the cut throat war the various companies engaged in during a time with less ease of consumer information. Wholesale bribery of state legislature type of warfare; these companies were robber barons every bit as crafty as any steel tycoon. Early marketing was as horrifying as it is fascinating; one ad basically told women that a can of baking powder saved so much time it was like owning a slave!
I don't review non-fiction much and this certainly isn't an academic journal. Unlike fiction reviews I don't see any need to discuss pacing or narrative style. I found The Baking Powder War to be easy to read and completely fascinating. I was expecting more on marketing and was slightly disappointed that it only came up sporadically but I got so much more than I realized from this book.
Recommended for those interesting in marketing, American history, and the quality of their food.
So I have an honest question. How much does a first person narrative absolve semi-pragmatic aspects of an otherwise good to very good story? If a thirSo I have an honest question. How much does a first person narrative absolve semi-pragmatic aspects of an otherwise good to very good story? If a third person account says someone speaking a foreign language is jabbering it is quite often called out; but if a criminal overlord with some mild racist tendencies brings it up it is not necessarily the lore of the land but rather one man's train of thought. I really don't have an answer to this question at all, and it didn't affect my personal enjoyment, but it was certainly something I noticed and thought about.
But I am doing this wrong. Reviews shouldn't start with a negative should they? Ok, back it up, start with what I liked.
1. I like the first person noir feel Low Town had. The story starts with the protagonist finding the murdered victim of a well publicized missing child case and against his own best interest getting involved in the investigation. The narrative voice was STRONG. 'The Warden' has an obvious feel for the streets and quite realistically moves between the underworld he currently owns a piece of and the law he used to be part of. Take the best parts of Sam Vimes (feeling the street trough the souls of his feet) and Tracer Bullet (giving just a bit of levity to the proceedings).
2. I like the city that the book entirely takes place in. Getting an actually grasp on it is tough; it feels like Dicken's London but in a timeline without any advances in gunpowder. Mostly we see it through the underbelly; drug lords and minor traffickers. But making the protagonist a drug lord opens up the whole city; there is nothing out of place with his travels taking him anywhere from the slums to the house of nobles. When we do see the lawful side of things we see exactly the corrupt force one would expect; complete with a real monster at the top that deserves his own book.
3. And finally I can't fault the pacing or story at all; it kept me hooked throughout. Some of the twists are telegraphed a bit too hard but that is forgivable. Flashbacks are short but interesting and while they don't answer everything they help fill in the protagonist's rise and fall in society. It is a dark story for sure; the Warden is not against using violence to keep his territory and a reader can never forget he is only temperately back on the investigative trail.
Ok, I have had time to think about it and I do admit I am still kinda annoyed by the way race was portrayed at times. There was a culture that was very much a Chinese stereotype and while the protagonist himself doesn't know how much they are playing to the part it is a deliberate choice. Women also didn't a strong showing in Low Town; those with any ambition especially . This is a book that wouldn't have seemed out of place on the shelves ten years ago and yet it is not weird to see a semi-recent release fail the Betchel test completely.
Reservations aside I enjoyed this book quite a lot and will be rating it higher than some of my criticisms suggest. I am already cussing that my library doesn't have the sequel in audio format; I will have to track down that book in another form it appears. Low Town was a good blend of fantasy and Noir it is an author I will certainly be reading again.
The opening to my favorite fantasy series of all time begins with a city on fire. The Holver Alley Crew starts with a city on fire.Fantasy Review Barn
The opening to my favorite fantasy series of all time begins with a city on fire. The Holver Alley Crew starts with a city on fire. This says absolutely nothing about the book, nor are there any comparisons to be made to The Color of Magic here, it is just an observation.
Maradaine is a city that has appeared in two series previous but The Holver Alley Crew is the start of its own series within the series; I had absolutely no previous experience with the author myself and this book felt like the start of something completely new.
Thrown right into the action we meet the Rynax brothers as they awaken to a fire threatening not just their homes and business but the entire neighborhood. When the smoke clears they come to the realization that all their previous plans are for naught. They are two old criminals who tried to go strait and now have nothing but debt to show for it. What is there to do? Go back to the old work of course.
Ultimately this is a buddy heist type of book complete with lovable misfit cast. The Rynax brothers are thieves with a heart of gold bronze tarnished tin. They may steal and kill but they have morals, damn it, rules on who is allowed to be killed passed on by their daddy. They are soon joined by a sharpshooter and the gentle giant, a plucky street kid with skills way beyond what a life of begging should allow, and finally Q from the James Bond films (a chemist with ALL the cool new toys). Together for a heist they learn together that they may have a larger purpose as it becomes clear the fire was deliberately set their plucky crew is the only one who can dole out appropriate justice!
Sadly, though fun, almost nothing was memorable enough to leave any kind of impression. If one is looking for a heist novel no matter what The Holver Alley Crew will suffice; it is entertaining in a way and absolutely has some highlight moments (the creative way a mage is taking out of the protection picture is genius). But it is a straight forward path with no real suspense or surprises. Nothing about the plans these brothers put together is particularly noteworthy, nor are any of the crew’s interactions. The banter is lacking, the emotional appeal is lacking, and the payoff is fairly unremarkable.
If fantasy literature got the respect it deserved this would be a novel found at the checkstand at the local grocery store. Not the novel that one would brag about reading to their friends but a novel one would have no problem grabbing before their next business trip for some easy reading. And in that capacity it absolutely works; it is almost certainly better than most the thriller of the month book options. Beyond that though there isn’t much to say; empty calories are ok sometimes but not what I am hoping for when grabbing a new treat.
Nathan, what the hell are you doing now? I thought you were writing a review for The Waking Fire.
I was, but I got to looking into carnivore populationNathan, what the hell are you doing now? I thought you were writing a review for The Waking Fire.
I was, but I got to looking into carnivore populations and I am pretty sure there is no way the dragons in this book could survive in the numbers they have been shown.
Oh geez, I thought you liked this book. Didn’t we already go over this with Novak’s dragon series?
Well, I thought about it, sure. But I never actually did any research. But this time I am sure of it; the numbers just don’t add up. The largest population of large carnivores I found was brown bears and they topped out at a hundred grand in Asia. The Greens in this book are at least twice that size AND THEY FLY! That has got to require a crazy metabolisms. And the greens are just one species of dragons! We see them in herds like buffalo; you never see carnivores in that large of a herd.
Ok, it is a fantasy book Nathan. Dragons have magic metabolisms, can we move on?
I…I guess. Magic metabolism, sure.
So, you didn’t like Blood Song but decided to give the author another chance. Outside of dragon population distributions did this one work better for you?
See? Who says I didn’t like Blood Song? I gave it a decent review, I just didn’t rave about it! Just because I don’t give five stars doesn’t mean I don’t like a book.
Oh, sorry. Yes, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It had three very distinct point of view characters with three very different paths. A spy, a mariner, and a criminal and all very enjoyable. It was like three separate stories that wove together very well (well, the sailor story kinda fell to the background but it was still entertaining). The young criminal roped into an inland expedition was my favorite; it read like an old timey adventure story. Lost civilizations, monstrous creatures, rival expeditions, it was all a lot of fun. It even had ‘savages’ that avoid being orcs; though it takes spoilers to explain why they differ from old representations of stereotypical natives.
Plus it had dragons! I know you like dragons.
I am a sucker for dragons. I am knocking a few points of for color coding them though. Blue for water dragons, green for forest dragons, it all feels a bit too Legend of Zelda and really out of place in an other wise well crafted book. Plus the extract made from their blood actually being the same color? Some weird mix between a video game and Mistborn.
Damn it Nathan, I thought we were done comparing things to other authors works!
Oh come on. People ingest different materials for different powers, the influence is pretty obvious.
Fine. What I really like about this book was the corporate run state aspect of it all. East India Company times ten; where there isn’t even a monarchy they pretend to report too. It was an interesting aspect and strangely enough one I have seen in several recent releases. It makes for interesting philosophical questions and allows different dynamics than other fantasy. Especially a company whose power is based on one limited resource that they may have tapped out. To be honest I would have loved to see more about the company itself.
And what you didn’t like?
It kind of dragged on and the pacing was pretty uneven. The third story line was lost for most of the book and the two story lines that were more interconnected was kind of stretch if I thought too hard about what the spy was doing for the adventurer. But most egregiously? This book had four or five Dues Ex Machina moments; timely interventions were commonplace. Messed with my belief once or twice.
Seriously. So…Much…Dues Ex Machina.
There you go Nathan, you have put together something resembling a review finally. Now wrap it up with a bow.
Ok, so one dragon is eating at least one cow sized creature every few days if he wants to fly…
Scavengers in the air tip off three people biking across the vast desert of the planet on their way home. Hob draws the short straw and checks out the body finding someone she knows well. When a body is found out in the dunes of Tanegawa’s World there is no real secret as to how it arrived there; the corporation TransRift runs everything on the planet and unofficial deaths are not uncommon. But events will soon prove that her now dead 'Uncle' got into something over his head. There are secrets that TransRift means to keep.
Hunger Makes the Wolf is a fast paced adventure novel with a surprising amount of depth. Though it has two central characters who hold their own it is Tanegawa's World itself that takes center stage. Through it we learn very little about the universe around it but enough to know that it is much more important than its status as small mining colony suggests. The company controls everything, being blacklisted from work is a death sentence of its own but as seen in the opening so is a push from a moving train with multiple bullet wounds.
Through flashbacks we see glimpses of how TransRift controls this land. Long hours with little concern for safty. The aforementioned blacklisting of employees stuck on a world with no other options for work. And soon enough, when Mag's family finally saves the money to send her off world to another life, we see just how far the company is willing to go in order to keep their secrets.
Hob takes the main role in this adventure, acting as the glue between several story lines that all come back to TransRift's control. She is one of the Gray Wolves, a mercenary crew living on the edge of society. She is also a witch, controlling fire though not quite understanding why or how. This and her non-company sanctioned employment make her a prime target for TransRift's wraith. Mag is her longtime friend, though an old wound has kept them apart, who starts as a damsel in distress that quickly comes into her own. The two of them are fun to read about; make no mistake they carry the story through their own decisions and actions. But as stated above, it is the world of Tanegawa's World and TransRift's control of it that drive this book.
The problem is the proprietary information TransRift holds; especially the mysterious 'Weatherman' who are necessary for space travel and so much more. For those looking for just a bit of horror in their sci-fi the Weatherman should meet all needs nicely; deliciously creepy and plenty powerful without seeming completely invincible(just mostly so). How Tanegawa's World fits into the big picture, and what the seemingly benevolent but fairly powerless government plans to do about it, are just a few of the mysteries Mag and Hob may find themselves involved in.
There are a lot of cool aspects to Hunger Makes the Wolf. It is an adventure novel. It has cool mysterious beings like the Weatherman (oh, and wait until you meet the Bone Collector). It has universe spanning implications going on in the small scale; always focused and never to ambitious for its scope. But it also does have two kick ass heroines; they are who they are because of the world they live on sure, but also because they learn from mistakes and take charge of situations.
Obviously a first book in a series there are answers to be found but many more questions to be asked when all is done. There were a few quibbles to be had about the Gray Wolves and their longevity in a world under such strict production control, and a few things about their structure were either underdeveloped or coming in upcoming books. But never did it really affect my enjoyment of the story.
Angry Robot has really upped its game lately; this is one of their best recent releases. Strong debut and I hope for a sequel to start answering a few more of my questions.
Let's look at some of the things I said about The Fifth Season.
“This one may have broke me.”
“Along with its ability to shred my emotions.”
“One of the most emotional reads I have had in a long time.”
I think there is a pattern here. The Fifth Season was a five star read that played on readers emotions. Looking back it is important that that is the case. Not a lot happened in reality, a couple characters traveled and met with each other and the groundwork for a world wide mystery was laid. But if a reader was looking for any sort of answers, or a fast paced plot, or all kinds of action they were not going to get it. Emotional gut punches and strong characters, yes. Answers? Oh no.
The Obelisk Gate finally starts to provide those answers. The great mystery of what Stone Eaters (people made entirely of stone), Guardians (magical police), and even Oregens (those who can use magic) are in this world with its geology based magic is slowly filled in. The world's broken folklore starts to mesh with a more scientific understanding of what has gone wrong in this broken world; Father Earth lost the moon and has punished humanity ever since. Why this happened, and more importantly what kind of end game may bring back some sort of harmony, begins to make it self known.
This second installment continues to follow Essun, now firmly in one timeline though annoyingly narrated in second person for reasons I can't quite fathom. Her story is one of world wide importance though her former lover now mentor Alabaster refuses to share the information she needs in any timley fashion. A new character is added with a more traditional third person point of view; Essun's daughter Nassun who is proving to be a powerful Oregen herself. Alternating between these two (and occasionally one more) The Obelisk Gate starts to really look at the nitty gritty of what can be done in this world rather than react to what is happening.
As a plot driver this is all great. Going into book three I have a strong foundation in this world and the cultures that have developed around its chaos. It is very safe to say that the conclusion of this series could be epic indeed; planet shaking goodness and the possibility of some high stakes personal confrontations between people with the power to make something happen.
But as a stand alone book within a series there is something missing; movement of almost any kind sans a fairly epic confrontation as the story wanes. Essun is firmly planted in one village learning her powers from Alabaster. Important to the story but not the most captivating story. Nassun quickly learns to be wise beyond her years but doesn't have much growth once she starts to realize her power; getting more powerful but no wiser. Alternating between their stories breaks up some of the monotony but three forths of the book feels like a clever info dump more than a story.
Perhaps the first book did this and I didn't realize it but The Fifth Season had no problem giving out emotional gut punches. Nassun's early story had a bit of this but Essun's story seems to have given everything it could already; all that is left is the cold hard facts of what her future holds.
The Obelisk Gate is not a bad book but it is a let down from The Fifth Season. As a bridge it may turn out to be just what the series needs; certainly it left me hungry enough to already be wanting the conclusion. But on its own it just doesn't hold up to its predecessor's lofty expectations.
“Leaves are falling all around, It's time I was on my way. Thanks to you I'm much obliged, such a pleasant stay.”
Humor is tough to pull off. Inside jokes can fail if they are too deeply buried to be noticed or so obvious they are less a joke and more a reference (hello Scary Movie and all of its knockoffs). Running gags can fall flat if used too often; or worse if they were not even funny in the first place (look up a Nakumara). So when an author proves within pages to be a deft hand with the dealing of jokes I already know I hold a book worth reading.
Dark fantasy can likewise be hit or miss. Without some sort of levity, be it through hope or humor, it has to be damn near perfect to justify the grimness or risk losing a reader who tires of nothing but bleakness. Kings of the Wyld is a book that knows how hold the balance and as such proves to be a stand out debut.
The premise is grim. Clay is living a happy life, married with a young daughter, when an old friend and 'band' mate shows up with a plea for help. A city under siege is where Gabriel's daughter is trapped and he knows only Clay has the pull to bring all the old members of 'Saga' back together for one last impossible fight. Leaving his own happy life behind Clay joins Gabriel as they reunite with each of the scattered old legends; a wizard, a thief turned king, and a pure killing machine turned...well that would be a spoiler. Yes friends they are getting the band back together in one of the more obvious winks a reader can expect in their hilarious journey.
There is a hope to this book that separates itself from so much dark fantasy. The entire quest is driven by love; Gabriel for his daughter of course (and Clay out of respect to his own) but also out of a bond between the band themselves. Clay is a protagonist from another era; genuinely good who occasionally has to do bad things. He is Logan Ninefingers as Logan wanted to be, or rather how Logan pretended to be (I can do references too you know). Despite the bleak outlook for their particular quest the group never really loses hope or even thinks of turning back. And one particular side character's amazing journey to put the best spin on everything for a friend is down right heartbreaking! Just wait until you see to whom I refer.
But it is the humor that sets Kings of the Wyld apart. Small pop cutler references litter the pages (I saw Princess Bride and Spinal Tap among others). But the references never stop and wave to try to call attention to themselves; they are dropped subtly and left where those looking can find them. It isn't just pop culture references though as even fight scenes turn hilarious once the bands mage, Moog, joins the fray. I am still laughing about a horn that supposedly turns swords into snakes. Eames has great comedic timing, seamlessly going between action, seriousness, and humor between one line and the next.
Most impressive of all is just how tightly written Kings of the Wyld is. Most would be happy to read this book for the laughs or the rock and roll quest alone. But despite its simplistic premise, or perhaps because of it, this is a book that one would be hard pressed to poke holes in. It has an ending every bit as satisfying as the journey to took to get to it. Loose ends are tied up, side characters are not forgotten and main characters each get something out of the quest. Just enough is left for a future sequel to peak interest without being infuriatingly open.
I didn't love every character and there were a few portions of the quest that could have been edited down a bit more (everyone has their own tolerance for 'random encounters' in a book and I hit mine). A few of the Saga's problems were solved a bit too easily (though when done with comedic effect this wasn't always a negative). But all I can offer is nitpicks here, overall I was quite happily surprised by this book.
Joe Abercrombie meets Terry Pratchett, and that is not praise I would give lightly.
I wish I could give Home, second in the Binti series a more in depth review. Sadly, despite enjoying it, I find myself completely lFantasy Review Barn
I wish I could give Home, second in the Binti series a more in depth review. Sadly, despite enjoying it, I find myself completely lacking of anything to say. I think I know why, reviewing this series is like reviewing a TV drama series. Perhaps if I read the entire series in one go once completely, as many reviewers of television do once an entire series is complete, this would be easier.
Binti was a debut episode. It was kind of rushed, introduced too many characters that won't matter, but had the pieces to hook a new reader. In it Binti saved the world, stopping a war by use of a Chekhov's device that allows her to communicate with the militant jellyfish who slaughtered her ship. In the end she is going to school, with one of the aliens in tow as new best friend. The reader is not given much in explanation or resolution; it is expected that future episodes will fill in the details.
Binti:Home is that all important second episode. You know, after the advertising has already stopped and the time slot is moved to Friday night. But character growth comes in installments as new reveals are showcased. In this situation Binti's already rough trip home (major cultural and family pressures she was able to quasi avoid while at university) is further complicated when some family history shows up at her door. Binti must learn to deal with expectations, culural and family, and figure out where to fit them in her new life. With her new friends. And soon enough, with the other side of her family she never had to consider before.
I am still not enthralled by this series. Some cool sci-fi ideas, a great main character, and a focus on the personal rather than universe affecting events. All this is good. But even after two episodes, err, novelels I am not seeing the depth I had hoped for. This may just be a book where mileage can vary. I am still enjoying the series and the short page length make it easy to follow. But I can't help but feel there could be more here than the slow, not real deep story I have gotten thus far.
Copy for review provided by the publisher. ...more
I was blessed with the oppurtunity to do a Q & A with Lara Elena Donnelly. She talks the timeliness of the story and inspirations among other thinI was blessed with the oppurtunity to do a Q & A with Lara Elena Donnelly. She talks the timeliness of the story and inspirations among other things. Check it out!
Both timely and timeless. Wonderful yet heartbreaking. Completely fucking awesome. Oh, and debut of the year.
A nationalist fervor has empowered the One State Party though they still lack the votes to control Amberlough City. Cyril DePaul once enjoyed the spy game but is now a man who doesn't quite want to admit he may be broken. Called back into field work he is sent to investigate the One State Party (better known as Ospies) and quickly finds himself way over his head. Soon enough he must make some tough decisions as the 'game' puts everything (and everyone) he cares about in danger.
Amberlough City sits on the cusp. At the Bumble Bee Cabaret Aristide Makricosta dances, flirts, and runs a small smuggling empire. His known relationship with Cyril will put them both in danger for many reasons; not the least of which is the Ospies lack of tolerance for their lifestyle. To provide cover Aristide helps introduce Cyril to fellow dancer Cordelia. All three start to play their own games; even as allies none dare share all of their cards. As Amberlough slides toward the fascist Ospie rule tough decisions are made. People are played, betrayed, and other wise used in a frantic attempt to survive in a changing world.
Think something like KJ Parker set in a cabaret club. Less fantasy than secondary world this is a spy thriller with strong characters and a heavy political influence. Also a cautionary tale, historical simile, and yet completely original. Nothing unique; many Ospie tactics are ripped straight from the history books. But original in set up and Amberlough City breaths its own life seen through the eyes of it's diverse cast of characters; spies and dancers, smugglers and police, revolutionaries and true believers.
The book is driven by the constant quest by those most quickly affected by lands quick decent to save something. Many are actually trying to save someone they love yet show no hesitation to throw someone else to the fire. One person's plan can get in the way of another; even if both have a similar end goal. And in the end it shows some of the true horror of a fascist landscape as people willingly engage in the worst in order to save their own (or themselves). In a totalitarian world life doesn't stop but fear takes over.
What makes Amberlough shine is in the way it weaves hope throughout a dreadful tale. At time it is false hope of course, but our main cast holds out that there is always an escape, or a way out, or one last chance to make a difference. That the reader is mostly left heartbroken is just a positive side effect.
Amberlough City stands strong right alongside the characters; setting and people holding equal billing in this robust world. Quickly enough the lands language and political differences become clear even if the characters motivations remained veiled. The Bumble Bee is a perfect setting; a natural place for characters to meet and plots to be hatched. It also sadly a volatile spot to watch during a drastic change; a free wheeling club of ill repute that is exactly everything the Ospies want out of society.
Debut of the year has already been stated and will be stood by, February release or no.
Simple but worth reading. Binti was perhaps not everything I hoped for but as the start of a serial story it is a great start.
Binti is a novella about Binti, mathematical genius and first of her Himbi village to be accepted to a prestigious off-world university. This is a big step in more than one way; the Himbi people do not leave their isolated village. This not being an old colonial fantasy it must be noted that the Himbi are not backward, nor primitive, and are in fact quite technologically apt and Binti was training to join her families technology business. But the Himbi do keep their own ways and said ways are seen as strange when Binti journeys afar.
She initially runs into some cultural friction when she joins the living ships that will take her to Oomza University; strangers touching her hair and pointed questions about the otijize rub on her skin. But there appears to be some hope in the future as quickly friends are made. Though short it is one of the better aspects of the book; a group coming together over their shared love of math.
Then the militant jellyfish (the Meduse) board the ship and the trouble starts.
It is a short and sweet novella with a satisfactory ending. Binti is an intriguing character and as said before someone I want to continue reading about. The early interactions between cultures then move to the true alien culture shock when the Meduse enter the picture (everything is relative after all).
But it is too simplistic to work on its own. The ending is satisfactory but it comes to easy. Binti is shown to be capable and her mathematical genius helped her cause when the troubles started but a few lucky circumstances had a larger effect; items in her possession when she boarded the ship proved more important than anything she planned out. As well the alienness of the Meduse underwhelming; obviously different in physical appearance and biological functions but remarkable human when communication is made possible.
To be honest this felt like it would have been a fine short story or a great single plotline in a larger narrative. As it stands it was a great introduction to a character but didn't necessarily seem worth even its shorter novella page length. BUT, and this is a big one, a quick glance at the sequel tells me that Binti now has to face the people back home after her taboo escape into space. And that should interest anyone who read the book and knows how hard that will be for our protagonist.
Yes, I wasn't over whelmed. But I plan on reading on and that can never be overlooked when judging a good read.
My expectations are NOT too high. I didn't think so, but occasionally reading Young Adult fantasy books I find myself wondering if IPosted to Booknest
My expectations are NOT too high. I didn't think so, but occasionally reading Young Adult fantasy books I find myself wondering if I expect too much. After all the books are not being written for me (though I am sure no author would be upset to find their book as the next 'all ages' phenomenon). So if I read the latest YA craze and just don't get it, or complain about weak world building, or even just don't like it then I often think to myself 'maybe my expectations are just too high.'
Nope. Walk on Earth a Stranger is exactly what I needed to confirm this is not the case. Like Terry Pratchett and Catherynne Valente's great series' Walk on Earth a Stranger proves that good young adult fantasy doesn't have to be watered down and simplified. It especially doesn't have to be patronizing. It just has to change the point a view a bit to the younger side and then tell the story it needs to tell.
Now maybe Rae Carson is a genius. She set her fantasy in a pre-built world; the United States during the California gold rush. This makes it harder to poke holes in the world building, doesn't it? But she doesn't just borrow our world, she makes her characters fit into it like a glove. Characters I like. Characters I root for. In a realistic world. With smart dialogue and prose that never goes purple but also doesn't insult in simplicity. Yes, Walk on Earth a Stranger is exactly what all young adult fantasy should aim to be.
So what is it? A fantasy about a young girl with a gift (so far, nothing new). But Leah's secret is not your typical fantasy power; she is not about to become the chosen one who saves the world. No she has the ability to witch gold; sensing it from afar and honing in on it with ease. On her families' Georgia claim her father earned the nickname Lucky with no one knowing the real reason of his success. But Leah's dad is ill and the claim is mostly worked when news of gold out West hits. And the fairly happy life Leah leads comes to a shocking end very early in the book and suddenly the gift becomes more curse.
Due to said shocking events (no I won't give them away) Leah goes West hoping to catch up with her best friend. Knowing that at least one person has knowledge of her gift and will do anything to make use of it she chops her hair and heads west as the young man Lee. What follows is one of the most unexpected fantasy books I have seen; a period drama about life on the Oregon Trail. Yes, occasionally Lee's gift comes up. But for the most part life is hard enough without magic or evil men. The trail is hard and Lee's fears (some justified, others perhaps not) make trust extremely hard.
This is a story about friendships and relationships. It is a travelogue that actually goes somewhere. There is backstabbing and bad people but there is also hope and redemption. It is harsh at times, showing an unforgiving look at the Oregon Trail (though I'm not sure anyone died of dysentery so there goes my childhood knowledge). It is a simple, but wonderful, book.
The only real downside is that it is an obvious first book. Lee's gift is obviously going to be both blessing and curse and obviously going to be a catalyst going forward but was only occasionally put to use here. And there will have to be a change in style going forward because (spoiler alert for those who still don't understand how trilogies work) the trip to California is only the first step.
(For those keeping track this is only the second time I have given 5 stars to a YA book, with Pantomime by Laura Lam being the other)....more
“We call them engineers. It's from the Navajo meaning...engineers.”
If you have ever read a short story and thought 'damn I wish this was just a bit longer.' Or if you have ever read a novel and thought 'there is a good story here but the page count seems padded.' Or perhaps you are a person who has been waiting for a steampunk alternative America with a Jamaican protagonist. If any of these statements apply to you then proceed to pick up Buffalo Soldier immediately.
This is the story of Desmond Coke and Lij. The former a covert agent of Jamaica and the latter just a boy. Well, a boy turned into an object to covet being searched for by man unsavory sorts. Searching for nothing more than a place they won't be found the pair leave Jamaica, skirt its rival regional power Albion, and make their way near the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes. This is American that wasn't; splintering at an unknown spot in the historical timeline.
Along the way they meet a colorful cast including a man who claims to be Garrison Hearst and a mysterious woman named Cayt with her own agenda. This is a story with plenty of action (watch Coke's cane carefully) including some Steampunk goodness. But even more so it is a story of family and stories. Coke claims at one point that Jamaicans have the best stories and Lij seems more than willing to indulge him if it means the stories getting told.
This novella gives the reader the best of what a short story often provides; a more streamlined story with a tighter cast. In fact the bones of the plot would have made a fine short story on its own. But the extended length really lets the stories Coke tells shine and meld into the larger narrative. And it lets the relationship Coke and Lij share gain the emotional potency needed for a reader to truly care about the outcome.
This isn't a story for people who insist on answers to every question; the mystery of Lij gets some explanation but is never completely transparent and Cayt's agenda is only half brought out. But it is a story that answers enough to satisfy while leaving just enough to keep one thinking about the implications.
I admit I really hope this is the first of several novellas set in the world. I would be happy to continue following Lij and Coke of course, but Cayt could also prove to be a great main character. Mostly I don't want this well crafted world to be something I only glimpse once; I could see myself spending a lot of time here.
Two unlikable characters. Stupid, completely avoidable mistakes. I would be hard pressed to think of another book where thisNew reviews at Booknest.eu
Two unlikable characters. Stupid, completely avoidable mistakes. I would be hard pressed to think of another book where this combination would work but A Darker Shade of Magic pulls it off and is therefore a rare book that lives up to its reputation.
It works because Schwab deliberately built her story around two characters who have to live down their own mistakes. And because in the process she built a London (and a London, and a London, and yet another London) that is impossible to look away from. Oh, and also because she put two of the best villains on page into the mix to stir the plot and do their best to cause general havoc and mayhem. All of it adds up to a damn entertaining read.
Kell is a man with a special kind of magic that allows him to travel between the worlds connected by London; one of only two people with the ability. In his normal duties of communicating between the kingdoms he gets bored, and worse, complacent. His habit of smuggling small trinkets between worlds is more for his own giggles than any kind of need. But during a journey into dangerous White London he picks up something is about to cause problems.
Lila is a petty thief that has perhaps gotten more of a reputation than is good for her. When she pretends to help an injured Kell she pockets a certain item that is about to complicate her life. Soon these two are tied together in a desperate bid to right the wrong. Trying to stop them are the evil twins who rule White London, the very confused guards of Kell's own Red London who no longer know what to believe, and the magic of the contraband item itself.
Hang on folks, this will be a ride.
In rapid succession the duo move between the worlds that are better explained within the story than any review can give credit for. They will meet guards with magical weapons, a pissed off magician, and any number of people who no longer are under their own willpower as they are guided into Kell (and Lila's) path. If one is looking for a book that goes places they will not be disappointed here.
And while I started off by calling the two main characters unlikable that doesn't make them uninteresting. Slowly I came around to cheering for them. Lila is a take no shit, barely adult who has made the most of a bad situation by being a fairly bad person herself. She is nothing though if not competent; always underestimated and using that to her own favor. Kell's seeming selfishness also becomes a bit more clear as the story progresses; his life is not all roses as others would assume (and if you have read the book then you know I just made the most subtle pun ever and deserve kudos for sneaking it in).
I liked this book. Sometimes that is enough. A quick look at the synopsis of book two is making me cringe (magical sporting event of some kind, bleh) but as I already have a copy on my shelf I will probably read it anyway. This book was strong enough to warrant another look into the world of multiple London.
A new take on an old tale... Scratch that. A new take on a lot of old tales. Cold winters are a fertile ground for stories to bePosted at Booknest.eu
A new take on an old tale... Scratch that. A new take on a lot of old tales. Cold winters are a fertile ground for stories to be told around the fire. And even as the people in Pyotr's village practice Christianity they still take heed of the old stories. It is into this life that young Vasha is born; her birth the dying wish of her enigmatic mother. She grows up on the stories and has no need to believe in them because she can see the truth on her own. Vasha is a wild girl, beloved by her family but never quite understood.
Especially by her father's new wife, Anna. Every story needs its central point of conflict and the stepmother is an old classic. But what if the stepmother isn't evil but scared? Seeing daemons that no one else can see has left Anna shaken; only the villages small church gives comfort. A young priest sees Anna's fear and with it sees his own path to greatness. Sermons gain brimstone and fire and the old ways come under attack. Villagers who once left bread crumbs for creatures of the old stories become more fearful of the vengeful god Konstintine preaches. And fear only grows as the already tough winter starts to bite harder. As the village starts to look with suspicion at the strange girl in their midst Vasha will find herself face to face with two brothers known only in the old stories.
This is a seemingly simple story with a lot of depth. At times it seems to be Vasha vs the world but despite her 'strangeness' she is never short of allies. Nor is it purely a Christianity vs Pagan story as clearly both have power in Arden's version of Russia. It is also not a traditional 'retelling' as it mashes multiple folk tales into a defined historical context. What it is is a strong, original telling of a special girl and her journey between two competing worlds.
There is a lot to love here. Fans of Juliet Marillier should be happy with this debut and not just because of the folk tale influence. In fact when it comes to the prose and imagery The Bear and the Nightingale is probably a step above. This is probably also a good book for fans of Gaiman's American Gods as it deals with a battle between old and new beliefs in a much tighter and smaller focused way. The story is very polished and smartly leaves behind several years in chunks when appropriate. Most importantly the author weaves in the folk tale aspects but makes Vasha's Russia her own. For this The Bear and the Nightingale is worth a strong recommendation.
But it is not a perfect book. A strong character study it is not. Perhaps the most disappointing thing is Vasha's path is mostly laid out for her despite her fight against a predetermined path being her major drive in the book. With a few exceptions other characters fit an archetype (beloved tutor, firebrand preacher) rather than act as full characters. Anna showed a bit more depth than evil stepmother as she fights her own daemons (pun maybe intended) but often it was hard to remember she is more than her spiteful side. Of course this may be a losing battle as the characters are literally competing with the entities of Frost and Death and fairy tales for page space but it makes connecting with characters rather tough.
Overall a strong debut. With a unique voice and beautiful setting this may be a book with some staying power. More importantly Katherine Arden has set herself up as an author to keep an eye on.
Living world ships move through space; if there is any destination the people on the ships don't know it nor any history of another wa link: Booknest
Living world ships move through space; if there is any destination the people on the ships don't know it nor any history of another way. Sadly for these women the worlds are dying as entropy finally seems to be beating out their long living systems. Rival factions war for resources; recycling what they find in an effort to extend the life of their own piece of the sky. Zan wakes among one of these factions and slowly learns she has an ambitious plan for a rebirth of kinds. Problem is an almost complete memory loss gives her no idea what the plan is.
The way Hurley uses such a short page length to build multiple worlds and still have space for a story should be taught in school. No spare time is spent on wasted details yet characters' travels and conversions tell the reader everything that is needed to be known and more. This dying earth space opera checks all the right boxes. It is unique and alien. Dark, occasionally gross, and full of mystery. Strong imagery lets you see experience what Zan and her collected group of outcasts are experiencing. The world ships are a thing of wonder; but also horror as the curtain is pulled back to see exactly what it takes to keep them living for so long.
This is an author with a track record of making readers care for bad people doing bad things; even if there is occasionally justification for each action. Zan seems to be a basically good person; collecting a mixed group of allies as she works toward her unknown cause. Yet she has snatches of memories that make her doubt even her own intentions. Her path seems interlaced with Jayd's, a women who appears to be a friend (or more) but obviously has her own secrets. Both of these women are playing politics with monsters as the rival factions of the Legion cut deals, war, and otherwise live brutal lives on the unforgiving ships.
Though quickly paced the reader is always left one step behind. Because of Zan's memory loss the long game is as much a mystery to her as it is to the reader. Chapters focusing on Jayd are completely unreliable as her mind is so twisted its one is left to wonder if she even knows what she is hiding from who. This is both a pro and a con though. It makes each chapter a must read, one more page, 'oh didn't see that coming' experience. But by playing the cards so close close to the vest surprises can fall a bit flat. Questions of what is a betrayal and what is planned make it hard to get emotionally involved in the proceedings, even if intellectually one is 'all in.'
It is that lack of emotional connection that keeps this from being a really great book; though settling for really damn good is no insult. It is still completely unique, very engaging, and a stand alone to boot allowing one to avoid any fear of commitment. Come award season expect to see it get some run. Though the 'Lesbians in Space' tagline has already got a lot of internet traction please know that The Stars are Legion has an all women cast but is not solely defined by it. Men have no place on the legion and it both works and makes sense; a statement it may be but not one that doesn't back itself up within the narrative.
The Stars are Legion is yet another highly ambitious book from Kameron Hurley and once again she comes through with the good stuff. It has the scope space opera needs, the alienness that anything set in the future should have, and a strong enough story to carry it.
I know, I know! This is possibly everyone's favorite Young Adult book. It is dark and edgy and will appeal to fans of both The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones! (said somewhere, probably, because every damn fantasy book currently gets compared as such). And it is in such a unique setting! And it doesn't fall for traps like love triangles! And.. And.. And..
Ok look, I didn't hate this book. Not at all. Which is really quite amazing because I should hate this book.
The unique world I kept hearing about is the most simplistic Roman empire ever. The rulers are called Marshals. The sea people are Mariners. And the oppressed people who are no longer allowed to read because at one time they knew too much are the Scholars. I assume in the next book we will meet the forest people called Arbors and perhaps some mountain Cliffsmen. The Marshals are obviously a military people who rule through fear (five hundred years of, wait for it, Marshall law). Their best weapons against the Scholars are near invincible fighters called Masks who seem like they should be rare and memorable except for the fact that a damn school cranks them out in mass every year.
The majority of the plot involves a completely contrived 'trial,' a four part event that will decide the next king. It is over the top, full of awkward qualifications and rules designed to make it fit into a story, and frankly kind of dumb. Only four people enter, and they are all from the most recent class of Masks. (Because even one year of experience outside of a confined school would age them too much or something). At least there is an explanation for the randomness of the trials themselves but they still may be the dumbest way to pick a king outside of strange women lying in ponds distributing swords. If I wasn't listening to this book rather than reading it I may have just skimmed the actual trials.
Add on some minor annoyances such as the Scholar's Resistance seeming to have about fifty people total (really everything about the setting is too small in scale). And they are all too willing to meet in one place (split up you idiots!) and the knowledge that this land both speaks English and writes in it (and tattoos family mottos with it). One might think there was nothing about this book I enjoyed. And this isn't true at all. In fact, I am interested enough that I fully intend to read the next book. Let me explain.
Despite my complaints this is a fairly smooth story with a couple of interesting characters. Laia, a Scholar girl who deliberately enters slavery in an attempt to free her brother, stands out. She is full of doubt, living in hell, and positive she will fail. But her courage, and eventually her intelligence, prove her courage even to her doubting self. The seemingly unrealistic expectations the resistance have of her become clear in time.
The other protagonist, a Marshal Mask in training named Elias, is less interesting but has a great supporting cast. His relationship with best friend/possible love interest Helena is often entertaining even as it infuriates; but at least his stupid mistakes in this department are typicality mistakes such as not listening. And his mother is the highlight of the book; a scheming women in power where such a thing is rare who exudes pure evil in a way that is rarely seen anymore (I'm choosing to ignore the attempt to humanize her toward the end of the book because to hell with that).
And it is the strength of these characters and the realization that now that the stupid trials are over the plot can actually go somewhere that have given me hope for the future. Yes, I am going to read the next book in the series. I am going in cautiously, and if I so much as sniff a repeat of the trials plotline (Catching Fire I am looking at you) I am gone. So while I didn't fall in love with this book, I do understand its appeal.
Somewhat anyway. Having a four person trial is still a stupid way to choose a King.
'Lieutenant, if I hear you’re late because you have your soldiers practicing four-part harmony, I will smother you with a drum hide. Got that?'
Going into Ninefox Gambit a reader can be forgiven for a bit of confusion. Talk of calendars, formation instinct, exotics and heretical rot make up the bases of everything in this universe but the author pushes right past any sort of introductions, relentlessly throwing the reader right into protagonist Cheris' world. By the end of Ninefox Gambit the same reader can still be forgiven for the same lack of understanding; but they will damn sure understand how each affects each other and the people who use them.
Coming just a few years after Ancillary Justice it is clear that Science Fiction is in a very good place right now. Perhaps unfairly, but with only the best intentions, it is easy to compare Ninefox Gambit to the Leckie's book that took the genre by storm recently. It is the alienness of the not just the world but the very laws governing them; political and physical. The feeling that while readers can read the basic shape of these societies they will never really understand them. And more important, the fact that perfect understanding isn't required because people are still people even in the wildest future.
Cheris is first seen commanding an attack. She is an able commander for the Kel, one of six factions in the Hexarchate. Warfare is dominated by formations; soldier placements can cause calculated effects on reality and make or break battles. The calendars that the Hexarchate live by set the rules for the formations (and many other aspects of life); to deviate is heresy. Cheris shows mathematical skill unmatched, changing formations with speed (though not ease) and catches the eyes of her superiors. This is not necessarily a good thing.
Soon enough she is called up to put down a heresy that threatens the entire Hexarchate. She will have to root it out of a near impermeably fortress and to do so requests the revival of Shuos Jedao; great general and madman being kept alive by science unknown. Tethered to her with methods only a few know she is now reliant on a man who never lost a battle...but 400 years ago murdered the entirety of his own army along with that of the enemy.
This is a fast paced book of near constant warfare but it is not glorying in the bloodshed or battles. The politics Cheris faces running the fleet under her command take up much of her time. Humoring the undead madman while gleaning his advice most the rest. The Hexarchate gives little help; often needed information is withheld or passed on incomplete. When the actual warfare is seen it is short and brutal. Humanity has found ever more impressive ways to kill and the exotics can cause widespread destruction unmatched.
Beneath the brutality and the fog of alien concepts Ninefox Gambit shows plenty of depth. Plenty of humor permeates the text. Glances at the correspondence taken place within the Fortress of Shattered Needles Cheris has been charged to take is often hilarious. But it isn't a forced humor with no purpose, the hints of how something seemingly normal like a democratic vote is seen by society ruled by the calendar is vital to whole story. And it is the necessity of the calendars that drives everything; allowing heresy would result in societal breakdown due to how the calendars are woven in. Yet heresy keeps coming back suggesting that preserving the current society isn't first on everyone's mind. Once the the history of the seventh faction starts to be revealed many of the books most alien concepts, as well as the characters motivations, suddenly become a lot more clear.
While the hurdles of the book's unforgiving start may intimidate this is absolutely a book that deserves every bit of praise received. Fast paced, smart, and surprisingly funny it is a quick read that stokes the imagination. At no point will Yoon Ha Lee hold the readers hand and ease them through the passages. But the reward for finishing is absolutely worthwhile.
Typically the third book of a trilogy forever sets the tone for how readers will remember the entire series. The first book, sayPosted to Booknest.eu
Typically the third book of a trilogy forever sets the tone for how readers will remember the entire series. The first book, say Dreamer's Pool, is what is responsible for sparking interest in the over reaching plot and (hopefully) major players in the coming story. In many cases this may be a readers introduction to the author as well; life long love may follow from a suitable impressive start. Dreamer's Pool was indeed a book like this, a beautifully crafted fairy tale that introduced many to Juliet Marillier. Most importantly it introduced readers to Blackthorn and Grim, a duo sure to entertain for books to come.
Something different was going on here; a broken 'couple' who needed each other but not in a way typically seen on page. Blackthorn (not her real name) in particular always jumped off the page. She is intelligent, emotional, and complex; a mostly good person who is currently clouded by thoughts that are assuredly not so good. A fae enforced bargain ensures she stays in one place helping the locals as a wisewoman/healer instead of focusing on the revenge she so eagerly seeks. Her partner, Grim (probably also not his real name), provides a balance that she comes to rely on to remain sane. They learn a bit about each other, solve a sticky mystery, and entertain anyone who wants a fairy tale they have not seen re-spun twenty times already.
The second book of a series must then provide a reason to keep reading through the trilogy. Tower of Thorns was not the same magical experience Dreamer's Pool was but it held its own. The two protagonists learn a bit more about each other and confront the fears that may keep them apart. A new mystery is solved. If one was already a fan of the series, and more importantly, already all-in on Blackthorn's plight thenenthusiasm doesn't wane and that third book is eagerly anticipated.
Back to that third book. The one that forever sets the memories in place, Den of Wolves. A book that not only must set up a whole new sub plot (that in reality takes up the majority of the page count), but also must start tying up the dangling plot lines two books before it have left it. Success gives the Blackthorn and Grim series lasting memory. Failure (or worse, mediocrity), dooms it to the dustiest shelves of used book stores everywhere.
Something Marillier seems to excel at is letting the reader think they know where everything is going and rather than shatter that feeling gradually showing that there is way more than even the most astute reader could guess. Having the cake and eating it, who could ask for more? The serial mystery format works surprisingly well and is no exception in Den of Wolves. A construction project with a mysterious history leads both Grim and Blackthorn to question everything about the family financing it. A man with obvious fae ties may be the key to unraveling the mystery but the past is almost a blank to him. All the while Blackthorn suddenly finds herself with an opportunity to provide some closure to her own past (and thus the series). But is she willing to pay the cost?
The two plot lines are woven so tightly they almost feel like one; at no point does it feel like the author is fighting her own story to fit everything in. The frustration with this book may come in how easy it seems the long game comes together. Through two books Blackthorn was defined by her past; at least in her own head. Readers hoping for the epic confrontation with the man her hatred burns for may be disappointing by the almost casual nature of the final showdown. On one side of the coin it actually feels real; it takes more than one person to solve large problems. It also allows the protagonist to fully show her growth, specifically in the decisions she makes when her change at vengeance comes. On the other side of the coin it comes down in a fairly anti-climatic form. Still a bit heart wrenching, but not exactly exciting.
How this series is remembered reader to reader will most likely hinge on how that ending is perceived. Overall this has been a very strong series and a worthy read for any lover of fairy tales tired of the same old thing. Den of Wolves shouldn't disappoint anyone already invested. And those who haven't started Blackthorn and Grim should probably give it a chance. That all important third book did exactly what it is supposed to for the series.