Warning: Minor Spoilers for The Force Awakens but no major plot points revealed. Proceed at your own risk.
The Force Awakens was one of my favourite movies of last year, coming in only behind The Hateful Eight and Mad Max: Fury Road, joining Steve Jobs and The Martian in the top five. It was a nostalgic trip through the greatness that captured the awe-inspiring feel of the original trilogy, reuniting us with fan favourite characters and introducing us to some great new ones in the process, arguably establishing itself as the third or even second best film out of the entire series. So when the novelization was released I knew I was going to read it sooner or later and it didn’t disappoint, offering the same thrills as well as some brief new content that fleshes out on the more problematic parts of the film that were left unexplained.
Alan Dean Foster is a veteran to movie tie-ins and has written for a whole host of films in the past so it was easy to see why he was chosen to helm this novelization. The story feels smoothly paced and really captures the same feel of the film, with the moments when Han and Chewie arrive on the Falcon for example are just as good as the scenes later on in the film, when the action reaches its peak. Foster manages to answer some plot holes that would have been cut from the film presumably due to pacing issues, such as Poe’s fate after he and Finn crashland the TIE-Fighter and how he manages to make it back to the Resistance. It’s a brief scene that really works, and allows us to spend more time with Poe who didn’t have as much screentime as Rey and Finn in the film.
There’s so much stuff that goes on here it provides a great excuse for revisiting the film so soon after its release in cinema. I’ve seen it twice on the big screen and each time the experience was just incredible so it’s great to see the experience recaptured here in novelization format. It also makes me wonder how much of an impact the Star Wars films would have had had they debuted as novels. Whilst The Force Awakens novelization may miss the epic soundtrack that the film has to offer, you can easily remedy that by listening to John Williams’ score as you flick through the pages, making the novel a very quick read, which is also probably due to its relatively short size as one of the thinnest Star Wars novels so far in the new canon.
Don’t expect any great mysteries such as the identities of Rey’s parents to be answered however, as you’ll have to wait until Episode 8 or maybe even 9 to learn the truth, if they’re addressed at all. There’s still several elements of the unknown left unrevealed, whilst some minor problems are cleared up at the same time. If you’re looking for a stop-gap to read until the release of Rogue One that fits in with the feel of the original trilogy and have already read the awesome Aftermath, then The Force Awakens novelization should be right up your street. Recommended.
Ancillary Justice came out of nowhere when it first was released and took me by surprise as to just how incredibly good it was. It was so good in fact, that it won the Hugo, Nebula AND the Arthur C. Clarke awards, and it’s great to see so far that the trilogy has kept up its consistent pace, emerging as one of the best science fiction trilogies that I’ve read, and that is no small level of accomplishment, because this is a fantastic book. I was kind of worried that the third book wouldn’t end the trilogy on a high note, but thankfully, it has more than matched expectations and is likely going to be one of the best novels of 2015, much like Ancillary Justice was one of the best of 2013, and Ancillary Sword, was one of the best of 2014.
Breq, the main protagonist of the series, has come a long way since Ancillary Justice, having used to belong to a collective group of ancillaries linked up with the AI on the Justice of Toren. However, she has since found herself alone, without the support of the starship following its destruction, but has singled in one target for revenge, the quite possibly insane Anaander Miaani, who just so happens to be the Lord of the Radch, and is heavily armed. The odds are not in her favour, but with running not being an option for everyone at Athoek, she’s going to have to take on Mianni anyway. And so what follows is an excellent read that’s not only complex, ,but also incredibly entertaining, fun and engaging. Fans of the previous two novels will enjoy Ancillary Mercy, as it delivers on all fronts and provides a satisfactory conclusion to the trilogy, with plenty of surprises in store.
Breq herself is still dealing with problems from the aftermath of Ancillary Sword at the start of the book and it’s interesting to see her continued tale of revenge against the Lord of the Radchaai Empire. It’s action packed, entertaining and yet at the same time, balances the quieter moments with the more dramatic ones very well, adopting a smooth, confident pace that keeps heading towards the final act. This book achieves what few others can manage, weaving an ending that not only could see as an end point in the Trilogy, but also as a starting point for a whole new series of adventures in the Imperial Radch world. There’s loads of different opportunities for prequels and other side stories, but at the same time, if Leckie were not to write them, the trilogy stands on its own perfectly well.
Ancillary Mercy is a book that combines the flashbacks and the present narrative so well, with some fantastic structure. Few books make you care as much about the flashbacks and the present day storyline as much as this one does, and with the addition of two new characters thrown into the mix as well, things remain as strong and consistent as ever. They’re both diverse and intriguing new characters that are well-realised, and make excellent additions to the book.
The character driven book brings Breq’s story to an excellent conclusion. Secondary characters such as Seivarden also get some good, emotionally satisfying endings as well, and there’s an incredibly few list of things that this trilogy got wrong. But that said, I recgonise that not everyone is going to like it, however, chances are, if you’ve lasted to the final book in the Trilogy then you will, nine times out of ten, be satisfied by this superb ending.
Highly Recommended. And now I feel a compelling urge to go back and re-read the trilogy again from the beginning, because it’s just so damn good. I can’t wait to see what Leckie comes up with next.
"From the author of the Revelation Space series comes an interstellar adventure of war, identity, betrayal, and the preservation of civilization itself.
A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.
On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.
Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life."
This is just going to be a quick review here as Slow Bullets is only a short story, but it’s a very good one. Alastair Reynolds is an author who has put out some consistently brilliant hard sci-fi work, be it Blue Remembered Earth or Revelation Space, and the Slow Bullets looks at an intriguing original universe, merging several themes together and putting a strong female lead, named Scur, at the heart of the conflict, and exploring her capture by a renegade war criminal who hasn’t yet heard about a ceasefire.
If you’re looking to explore Alistair Reynolds’ work but are worried about investing in a full length novel, Slow Bullets is perfect. It’s a quick read and offers a very accessible story to new readers, not feeling like most of the hard science fiction that Reynolds normally writes. The short is unpredictable and enthralling, and the lead character, Scur, is a likeable and well developed protagonist. Reynolds manages to weave a compelling and engaging science fiction short far better than a few full length novels that I’ve read recently, with everything falling into place to work perfectly. It’s amazing how, given the short pagecount, Reynolds is able to develop and expand the world, and blends everything together very well indeed.
Slow Bullets is a confident read from Reynolds that will please fans and newcomers alike, and hopefully it will draw in new readers and encourage them to explore more of the writer’s work. Highly Recommended.
A LONG TIME AGO, IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY.... "The second Death Star is destroyed. The Emperor and his powerful enforcer, Darth Vader, are rumored to be dead. The Galactic Empire is in chaos.
Across the galaxy, some systems celebrate, while in others Imperial factions tighten their grip. Optimism and fear reign side by side.
And while the Rebel Alliance engages the fractured forces of the Empire, a lone Rebel scout uncovers a secret Imperial meeting. . . ."
The new Expanded Universe has so far been a positive experience for me despite my love for the previous one. Tarkin, Lords of the Sith and Dark Disciple were all very strong reads, and I’m yet to read Heir to the Jedi or A New Dawn but both look like very appealing titles at the same time. And then there’s Marvel’s Comics, which are very strong indeed, with the main Star Wars title, Darth Vader and the rotating mini-series all being super impressive. With Force Friday behind us and The Force Awakens ahead, It’s a good time to be a Star Wars fan, and whilst Aftermath, the latest novel from one of my go-to authors, Chuck Wendig, (responsible for the awesome Miriam Black novels) may have been met with fairly divisive reviews, it remains another good offering that provides a welcome look into life post Return of the Jedi, because as should be clear by now, the war against The Empire is not over yet. They may have been dealt a severe blow, but there’s still enough threat there to return and strike again, with a new leadership against the newly formed New Republic.
Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath literally deals with the Aftermath of the events that readers will have seen in the films. The Empire has collapsed without a clear leader and there are plenty of power struggles and whilst the Rebel Alliance have formed the New Republic, they’re struggling to find out to maintain the peace in the fallout as the Empire try to start anew through Admiral Rae Sloane on Akiva, in order to bring it back to its former glory. Sloane is one of the many varied characters that we meet in this book, and there’s plenty of them there, as Wendig makes use of both recurring characters and new creations very well indeed. We spend more time with the likes of fan favourite pilot Wedge Antilles, and on top of that, there’s also a fair amount to do for Admiral Ackbar, which came as an unexpected but welcome surprise for the man commonly known for the “It’s a Trap!” line in Return of the Jedi. The new cast also have Norra Wexley to offer them, a Rebel Pilot who wants nothing more than to go home to her son after years of fighting for the Rebellion, but it isn’t going to be as a warm homecoming as she would have hoped for. It’s a diverse bunch, offering some excellent variety to the Star Wars books that may have given us one too many cheap Han Solo knock-off characters in the past.
The decision to focus on unknown characters rather than the more established stars may frustrate some who want to know immediately what their favourites are up to, but fleshing out the new cast always helps. Yes, Han and Chewie may feature, but only in brief cameos, which makes the book a bit more unpredictable than it otherwise would have as we don’t necessarily know that these new characters will make it through to the end. They don’t have that star power that keeps them safe, and with so many books out there that put the main cast in the spotlight, it’s refreshing to see a book that avoids doing so.
The writing style that Wendig uses, third person present tense, will be familiar to fans of his Miriam Black books, but for the readers who haven’t checked them out before his prose will come as a surprise, a break from what the normal Star Wars books have given us in the past. This is refreshing and offers a different look into a familiar universe, and Wendig’s narrative weaves a compelling structure that really feels at home and is something that I'd like to see explored further. Don’t go in expecting too much hints towards what’s going to happen in The Force Awakens – this book doesn’t significantly move forward the events in the Expanded Universe and if you go in with that in mind then you shouldn't be too disappointed. Instead, Aftermath uses an opportunity to tell us how the common people are reacting to the fall of the Empire. Different people with different views and backgrounds all across the galaxy are presented throughout the book and it makes for a far less black and white situation than we’ve had presented to us before, told to us primarily through various interludes in which explore characters who might not necessarily be part of the main struggle.
The story really picks off when Wedge Antilles is captured by Sloane and it never really slows down after that, eventually turning into a fast paced action novel that has a variety of fight sequences that are strongly entertaining, with battles taking place both on land and in space. The atmosphere perfectly hits home with the tone, look and feel of the original trilogy, and whilst the novel may have its doubters, Aftermath is something that I really enjoyed and I hope that we get to see more of Wendig's novels in this Universe in the future. There's loads of potential for some great new stories to be told.
“An excellent, imaginative novel that could well end up being one of the year’s best. Peter F. Hamilton has given us another winner.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
The year is 3326. Nigel Sheldon, one of the founders of the Commonwealth, receives a visit from the Raiel—self-appointed guardians of the Void, the enigmatic construct at the core of the galaxy that threatens the existence of all that lives. The Raiel convince Nigel to participate in a desperate scheme to infiltrate the Void.
Once inside, Nigel discovers that humans are not the only life-forms to have been sucked into the Void, where the laws of physics are subtly different and mental powers indistinguishable from magic are commonplace. The humans trapped there are afflicted by an alien species of biological mimics—the Fallers—that are intelligent but merciless killers.
Yet these same aliens may hold the key to destroying the threat of the Void forever—if Nigel can uncover their secrets. As the Fallers’ relentless attacks continue, and the fragile human society splinters into civil war, Nigel must uncover the secrets of the Fallers—before he is killed by the very people he has come to save.
Peter F. Hamilton is an author who I really should get around to reading more of. I was impressed by The Great North Road, which as a bumper-sized science fiction novel that, If I recall correctly, ended up on the Top 25 Novels of the year list in the year it came out, and when you consider that The Abyss Beyond Dreams is on track to do the same thing, it’s no wonder then why I’ve bumped the rest of Hamilton’s titles up my to-read list. With these two books he’s quickly established himself as a go-to author for epic science fiction, and that’s what helps make The Abyss Beyond Dreams an excellent addition to this year’s strong quality of releases.
First in a duology, The Abyss Beyond Dreams is an excellent look into this new landscape. With the vast pagecount (although this book is still shorter than The Great North Road, even at just over 600 pages) Hamilton wastes no time in getting stuck in, and as a result you get not only plenty of action but also world building. You really get a good understanding of the reality that Hamilton has created here, with a great imaginative idea that looks at the interior of the mysterious Void, which boasts subtly different laws of physics and mental powers could easily be described as magic. And to make matters worse, the humans who are trapped there aren’t the only species – an intelligent, ruthless species known as Fallers always pose a menacing threat to humanity. The Fallers have secrets though, and that’s what Nigel Sheldon, one of the Commonwealth’s founders, is determined to find out upon the infiltration of the void. However, Nigel also has to deal with the people who he has come to save, who it’s safe to say, aren’t that welcoming.
This book has to be my favourite science fiction novel of the year so far. It’s certainly up there with the likes of The Girl with All the Gifts by MR Carey and Robert Jackson Bennett’s epic The City of Stairs as a contender for book of the year and despite the fact that the large pagecount may put some people off, it’s really worth your time. Hamilton handles everything very well and establishes a great concept here that could be fascinating to return to in the sequel. You don’t have to be familiar with any other Commonwealth novels to understand what’s going on here, because I’m not, and it’s great to see that Hamilton has made the book accessible for all. The title is perfect for this book, with The Abyss Beyond Dreams being very appropriate for a book of epic proportions.
Split up into six separate “books”, The Abyss Beyond Dreams weaves a complicated epic that deals with multiple characters. Nigel Sheldon may be the only one mentioned on the blurb but you’ll encounter other players, Lieutenant Slvasta and many more besides. Hamilton handles them all very well indeed and it’s great to see that with everything going on, he gets plenty of character development done in a novel that could have fallen into the trap of being either all action or all world building. Safe to say, it’s none of those things – Hamilton does what only the best authors manage to accomplish and weave a compelling, engaging novel concerning all three elements.
If you’re already a fan of Peter F. Hamilton, then you’ll have probably already purchased this book. However, if you’re not, and looking for some good, epic science fiction, then you can’t go far wrong with this novel. In a year where most science fiction that you’ll read is young adult dystopian, it’s refreshing to read something that’s focused on a larger and more imaginative scale. As a result then, this book comes highly recommended, and expect it to be one of the year’s strongest releases, with very little put wrong.
A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY... Bestselling Star Wars veteran James Luceno gives Grand Moff Tarkin the Star Wars: Darth Plagueis treatment, bringing a legendary character from A New Hope to full, fascinating life.
He’s the scion of an honourable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly . . . and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.
Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel—by intimidation . . . or annihilation.
Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin—whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy . . . and its enemies’ extinction.
It’s a new era for Star Wars. You may have seen the Force Awakens teaser trailer released a few days ago to much fanfare, but before that, Disney’s new Expanded Universe started with several writers getting their first taste of exploring the new Star Wars world. Readers also got their first taste of what to expect, and although I’ve only had the chance to read Tarkin so far from this new batch of releases, the new Star Wars universe looks to be in very good hands indeed.
James Luceno is one of my favourite Star Wars authors and I’ve loved his work in the past so it was a no brainer really as to whether or not I’d pick up Tarkin. Like with Darth Plagueis, James Luceno fleshes out a character who isn’t especially developed, and giving him some depth (although not without its problems, which I’ll touch on later) and intrigue of his own in a novel set before the events of A New Hope. It is very much a prequel novel that really works, telling the rise of Wilhuff Tarkin that’s executed in a strong way indeed. If you want to get a sample of what life was like for the Imperials before the completion of the Death Star then Tarkin is something that you’ll want to read, with plenty of interesting scenes that keep the novel feeling mostly fresh and exciting.
Luceno splits the narrative between flashbacks and the present day pretty well. The flashbacks are deployed to great effect and they are used to explore the different timelines strongly and they don’t really feel disjointed when it comes to pacing, and as a result you won’t find one section to be incredibly fast whilst the other is much slower.
The book itself blends the detective style approach with the look at the Empire’s problems after the Clone Wars. There are still Separatists to be dealt with and everything isn’t quite as clean as Tarkin would have liked it to be. Especially as the Death Star itself isn’t quite complete just yet, and it’s interesting to see how the Empire dealt with things before they had their super weapon.
There are a few problems however. As expected in a novel focused on the villains, and therefore you shouldn’t expect to find any sympathetic characters here. Luceno doesn’t make Tarkin someone you want to get behind and there isn’t anyone that developed to get on their side either, but if you can put that aside, then Tarkin is for the most part, very fun. It’s great for those of you who preferred Darth Vader over Luke Skywalker and as a general rule, fans of darker characters will probably get the most out of this book.
The novel is a good, solid read that explores Tarkin and the Empire pretty well. It gives plenty of page time to Darth Vader, and allows a good cop, bad cop kind of approach with both characters making the narrative very interesting indeed. The pace itself is handled very well and there aren’t really any dull moments, and despite the fact that Tarkin himself may or may not be interesting depending on your point of view, the book itself is still very much entertaining.
In short, you could do far worse than Tarkin. It might not be a perfect read but from James Luceno, it’s a damn good one, that aside from one or two problems, doesn’t disappoint.
“A fun, entertaining Star Trek parody that is consistently entertaining and accessible to all fans of Space Opera, whether they’ve seen Star Trek or not.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
These are the voyages of the starship, A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life life-forms, to boldly blow the…
And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback – a kind of James T Kirk crossed with ‘American Dad’ – and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space’…
The bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his life-long passion for ‘Star Trek’ and transformed it into a smart, inventive and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-hi-tech-kit-along-the-way type over-blown adventure. The result is this smart. inventive, occasionally wildly OTT and often very funny novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.
Steven Erikson is an author who is commonly associated with epic fantasy and whilst I haven’t had the chance to get stuck into his Malazan series yet, it’s certainly high on my to-read list. When I saw this novel crop up on NetGalley as a standalone space opera there was no way I was going to pass this one by with all the hype that I had heard about Erikson’s work, and it would be interesting to get a sampler of what his fiction would be like. As it turns out, Willful Child was not quite what I was expecting from the author of the Malazan series, but despite this, it turned out o be an incredibly fun and entertaining read that pokes fun not just at Star Trek, but at the space opera genre entirely.
Willful-ChildCaptain Hadrian Sawback, our main character, is described in the blurb as being a blend of James T. Kirk and American Dad, which couldn’t be more accurate, as he steers the ASF Willful Child into strange new worlds yet to be discovered by the Terran population. He’s an interesting choice for a lead character that’s handled very well. Erikson constantly injects a high level of humour into the narrative and as a result the book feels incredibly fun. It’s an over-the-top space adventure that should not be ignored with several moments that had me chuckling out loud as I was reading this novel. It’s fast paced as well, and will have you turning the pages to get to the finish line.
With all the dark and serious stuff that I’ve been reading lately, Willful Child came as a welcome surprise. It’s light hearted, fun and is actually honestly funny, which makes a real change from the amount of comedies on TV that I’ve watched recently that have failed to amuse me (pretty much the only one that I watch on a regular basis and can make me laugh out loud more than once per episode is Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and as a result I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what Erikson can come up with next. I know his Malazan novels are nothing like Willful Child, but the fact that this novel is as good as it was may have raised the Malazan novels up my To-Buy list.
The book itself examines several science fiction clichés and not just ones commonly associated with Star Trek. It’s a parody, yet still feels like it can hold its own weight as a space opera novel. The comedy is the revealing aspect of the novel however, so if you want a serious take on space opera I’d recommend searching for another book. However, if you want to be entertained, then you’ve most certainly come to the right place.
Even so, I’d offer a warning before starting Willful Child – not every comedy is for everyone and Steven Erikson’s novel is no different. So expect to see a few hit and miss reviews from this book if you were to look elsewhere.
It’s not quite going to fit into my top novels of the year category, but Steven Erikson’s latest novel is something that comes recommended. Fans of space opera and the original Star Trek series will probably get the most out of this one, but even if you’re not, you could do far worse than this book.
“Charles Stross delivers a book with some strong world building and some great ideas, but ultimately falls short when it comes to creating a good plot, with the storyline bogged down in info-dumping. Whilst some will (and have) enjoyed this book, I can only cautiously recommend it.” ~ Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
"Krina Alizond is a metahuman in a universe where the last natural humans became extinct five thousand years ago. When her sister goes missing she embarks on a daring voyage across the star systems to find her, travelling to her last known location – the mysterious water-world of Shin-Tethys.
In a universe with no faster-than-light travel that’s a dangerous journey, made all the more perilous by the arrival of an assassin on Krina’s tail, by the ‘privateers’ chasing her sister’s life insurance policy and by growing signs that the disappearance is linked to one of the biggest financial scams in the known universe.
This is set in the same universe as Saturn’s Children, 5000 years later."
Charles Stross is an author who I’ve wanted to try out for a while now so that when I got the opportunity to read Neptune’s Brood, I leapt at the chance – and it was only after I finished reading did I realise that this book was a sequel to Saturn’s Children. However, it isn’t really a direct sequel and merely set in the same universe, taking place 5,000 years following the first book in the Freyaverse. As of such, readers can try this book out without necessarily having read Saturn’s Children – however I can imagine that most Charles Stross fans will have probably read it already.
The concept behind this book is imaginative and creative. Krina Alizond is our main character, a metahuman in a universe where the last natural humans became extinct five thousand years ago (think the Doctor Who episodes where they visited New Earth – only without the Cat people) – and following the abduction of her sister, she sets out across the sea of stars in order to find her. This leads Krina naturally to her last known location – Shin-Tethys, a water world. However, Krina to make matters more complicated there’s not only no FTL travel, but also an assassin after Krina’s head.
So the plot, despite sounding relatively simple, is actually fairly complex and science fiction heavy. Stross has put a lot of effort into developing the world and fans of the likes of Iain M. Banks will find familiar ground here. Stross, a heavyweight prolific author himself – manages to keep things inventive and engrossing in a way that will keep the reader wanting to find out what happens next.
The book may be relatively short, but Stross wastes little of his Wordcount (aside from info-dumping, which I’ll talk about in the next paragraph), crafting a well written tale with some great, confident prose. The world building is great as well, focusing on a universe ruled by Commerce – and creates a very interesting system here that is richly developed.
However, there are unfortunately problems with this book. It’s not perfect. Neptune’s Brood suffers when it comes to info-dumping – which is unfortunate as given Stross’s vast backlog you’d expect an author of his calibre to avoid falling into that trap. We get narrative breaks to fully explain a topic in more than one place – and as a result it slows down the pace. It was a slow haul through Neptune’s Brood for me which was a real shame because of this and I was hoping for a quicker and more entertaining read.And the plot itself was also a victim of being too boring. I wished it could have been more engrossing but it doesn’t keep the reader captivated, and as a result this is where it kind of fails, which is a shame because I wanted to like this book. I mean, Charles Stross has to have put out better works than this, right? There are some good parts about Neptune’s Brood – but equally there are other sections where I wasn’t as engrossed.
It hasn’t put me off Charles Stross’ work entirely and for all accounts and purposes however, Neptune’s Brood is still a decent read and fans of the author will probably get some mileage out of this one. I can see myself reading more of Stross’s work in the future though – however maybe the Freyaverse is something to stay clear of.
"James SA Corey produces an excellent Star Wars book that is one of the best that the franchise has ever given us. As well as being a treat for fans of both Corey and Star Wars, it's also something that readers who are only familiar with the films can jump on board as well with little difficulty. Highly Recommended." ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY...
When the Empire threatens the galaxy’s new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance?
When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo—something the princess and the smuggler can finally agree on. After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.
But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she’s determined to stay behind enemy lines. A pirate plans to sell a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect—including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers. Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he’s to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed. From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.
But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker’s x-wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest of stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from tyranny or ensure the Empire’s reign of darkness forever.
I'm a massive fan of Daniel Abraham's work, whether he's working on his own, as MLN Hanover or with Ty Frank as James SA Corey. His The Expanse series has been one of my favourites of recent years and there was no way I was going to miss out on this book - especially as it was a Star Wars title, which is one of my favourite fictional universes. And what's more is that this series has already given us some high quality authors in the form of Martha Wells with her Razor's Edge title, which was focused mainly around Princess Leia. However, this time with Corey at the helm, the attention shifts to the smuggling duo of Han Solo and the Wookie Chewbacca, and whilst Leia and Luke get plenty to do, the main bulk of the narrative is focused on these two characters.
James SA Corey is an incredibly gifted writer (or pair of writers), and Honor Among Thieves is another stellar hit. Set after the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope, Honor Among Thieves tasks Han and Chewie with an order to extract a high-level Rebel prisoner from the very heart of the Empire. It should be a refreshingly simple task, from someone who has broken into the Death Star in the past. However, there's a catch. The rebel Scarlet Hark doesn't want to leave, for she's dealing with an important mission of her own - the prevention of a pirate from selling a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would do anything to try and get back. So naturally, it's clear that it would benefit the Rebellion, and Han finds himself with no choice but to stick with Scarlet and help her complete the mission.
Honor Among Thieves is quite possibly one of the best Star Wars novels that I've read. It's no surprise given the creative team behind it but the combined action plus good characteristics allow for one hell of a read, making this title an unputdownable novel that ranks among my favourites. What's best about this book is that unlike later Star Wars novels it doesn't rely on years of continuity that fans have to be familiar with before jumping on, all you have to do is be familiar with at least A New Hope and then you're all set. But most likely, you'll have seen the original trilogy - so that shouldn't matter. Aside from Scarlet Hark and a few other original characters created by Corey, Honor Among Thieves casts the principal heroes in the spotlight and drafts a compelling, enthralling and addictive read that hopefully will not be the last novel in this universe by the writing team.
Han and Chewbacca, as one would hope, are pretty much nailed spot on in terms of character. Corey captures the voice of both, crafting an incredible narrative that illustrates just how much Han in particular changed as a character during the course of A New Hope, and there isn't a better way to do that then have him reconnect with one of his old smuggling buddies, Bassen Ray. However, both newcomers, Ray and Hark, don't really stand out in terms of characters at this point - mainly because they're competing against figures a heck of a lot more developed and recognizable than them and it shows, with both characters come across as feeling weaker versions of Han and Leia respectively. But that's really the only problem that I had with Honor Among Thieves - the rest of the book is Star Wars fiction at its best.
Corey writes some incredible action scenes and there are a lot of fun moments to be had. It's not just the combat scenes that are excellent, but there's a great layer of fun that comes thrown in there as well. Star Wars novels that are dull and boring aren't really Star Wars books - because in order for these books to be good, they have to be enjoyable - and Honor Among Thieves certainly succeeds in that department, even if there's no tension because we know that these respective characters are too big to make it out alive.
Whilst certain biases may be there, with the Star Wars characters being among my favourite in the Science Fiction genre ever, and James SA Corey being among my Top 5 favourite writers in that genre as well, I inevitably knew that before I even started reading I was going to enjoy this book. However, I can safely say that it was not a disappointment, and can certainly come highly recommended, whether you're a hardcore Star Wars fan or someone who has only seen the original trilogy and is looking to try out the tie-in universe for the first time. This is the place to start.
SEE MY BOOK REVIEWS PAGE ON THE FOUNDING FIELDS FOR DETAILS BEHIND THE NEW GRADING SYSTEM.
PREVIOUS STAR WARS NOVEL: Choices of One by Timothy Zahn | NEXT STAR WARS NOVEL: Razor's Edge by Martha Wells
Note: Despite being released after the first novel in the series, Razor's Edge, the Star Wars Wiki lists Honor Among Thieves as taking place before the events in that novel, so if you are reading the Star Wars novels in chronological order rather than series order, you would read Honor Among Thieves first. But as they are both focused on different events, you can read one novel without knowledge of the other.
“James SA Corey continues to create an incredibly fun, entertaining and awesome book that moves from strength to strength. Like the last three novels in the saga, Cibola Burn is most likely going to be one of the best books of the year. Highly Recommended.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
ENTER A NEW FRONTIER…
The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity’s home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule.
But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what’s theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden – with help from the ghostly Detective Miller – can find the cure.
Chances are, those of you who have read The Expanse series will have probably either ordered this book already or are going to buy in the near future regardless of what this review says, because we’re now at the stage where this series has a strong fanbase already, most of whom will now be looking forward to the upcoming Expanse TV adaption on Syfy – so it should be interesting to see where it goes both there and in the books. Will we see a Game of Thrones-esque level of quality in space or will it flop like most recent offerings from Syfy (think Defiance, Helix)? I can’t wait for it regardless of how it turns out – (remember Syfy have also given us the incredible Battlestar Galactica), but for now – let’s switch our focus back on Cibola Burn, James SA Corey’s fourth outing in the saga.
Cibola-BurnThe land rush has begun, true wild west style. Settlers from humanity’s core planets are streaming out in endless masses, landing on new worlds. Among these Settlers is the crew of the Rocinante, but they’re not there to colonise. Holden, Naomi, the rest of the crew and the likes of the ghostly Detective Miller have other plans – they’re haunted by the past, and want to find out what happened to the great intergalactic society that was here before them, and the builders of the gates that prevented the people from the Solar System from reaching the stars beyond. And to make matters worse, tensions are growing between various factions, and a terrible disease is brewing.
Despite being the fourth book in the saga that only looks set to get bigger and better, Cibola Burn manages to feel just as fresh as the first book. The novel doesn’t repeat a tired formula, but instead keeps things fresh – the expansion to the rest of the universe playing a large part in this, as well as the expansion in cast members since the beginning of the book. Because of this, it’s a fun read, picking up from where Abaddon’s Gate left off and not disappointing. The action is there and the tension is high, allowing for a page turning read that won’t disappoint fans. Of course, newcomers (if there are any reading this) will want to start from Leviathan Wakes – but trust me, it’s well worth playing catchup. This is one of the best space opera series of recent years and that’s got me looking forward all the more to the upcoming TV series, even if Syfy doesn’t have the best track record.
The cast of characters have expanded since the start of the first novel and only get bigger here. Sure, we get our old favourites – Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are at the centre of things and it’s great to have them back, but there are also new additions that keep things fresh. Development across the whole cast is great, and things are in a very different shape at the end of the novel from the beginning. So when we return to the Expanse saga once more with the fifth book, things should be very interesting indeed.
If there was a tiny problem about this latest entry however is that Cibola Burn sometimes feels like a transition novel, setting up the next act in the saga. However, that’s only a minor issue – because the end result is very positive indeed, with a complex plot that continues the high level of consistency from the previous volumes. The politics and the alien horror/mystery elements are blended well, giving us a very interesting storyline to follow.
So in conclusion therefore, whilst Cibola Burn may feel like mainly a setup novel for the next installment in the series, it’s still executed very well and should satisfy fans of the saga – providing readers with a very strong installment that could end up being one of the best science fiction books of the year. So if you’re a fan who hasn’t brought this book yet, then what are you waiting for? Go ahead and buy it – you won’t be disappointed.
THE EXPANSE: Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate, Cibola Burn ...more
“Every so often, you get surprised by a book. Something that drew you in with its awesome cover and then blows you away – and I’m glad to say that Ancillary Justice was very much this book. Surprising, original, and a delight to read. Ancillary Justice is very much a book that you should look out for come its release. Prepare to be not just surprised, but amazed.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.
I read a lot more fantasy and comics nowadays than I do science fiction, so any sci-fi novel that comes my way I’ll be interested in reading purely because this allows me to get back into the genre. A few years ago it would have been reversed though – Practically all my reading was sci-fi, even if it came in the form of tie-in fiction published by Black Library. I still do read the odd Black Library book every now and again, but something fresh, original and entertaining I’m always on the look out for, and Ancillary Justice manages to hit that spot perfectly, and after a bit of a gamble, being swayed by its amazing cover-art and Scalzi-praise – as well as a few positive reviews on twitter and Goodreads, I leapt right in, not expecting to be blown away.
Ancillary JusticeI know I’ve been doing a lot of positive reviews lately, and I’m going to have to say here and now that Ancillary Justice is another positive review. I’m one of those people who will find something to enjoy about most things, and I very rarely come across a book that I haven’t liked. Dan Abnett’s Pariah, Descent of Angels by Mitchell Scanlon, The Lost Symbol and Inferno by Dan Brown have all fallen into this category – but Ancillary Justice is certainly a book that does not. I loved pretty much every second of it – narrated in first person by Breq, a strong and rootable female lead character, Ann Leckie weaves a compelling story with an imaginative world building and several fast paced action sequences that are really worth your time.
The book introduces us to Breq, the lead character – who years ago, she was effectively the Justice of Toren, a Radchaai starship. She’s controlled the Justice of Toren for a thousand years, overseeing a vast army of ancillary bodies – operating as one of the more important figures in the ever-expansive Radch empire. Now though, she lacks the assets that she once had available, reduced to ‘merely’ one body – and that’s not the worst thing. She’s on the run, carrying information vital to the Empire, and is alone, not knowing what plans they have in mind for her. As mentioned earlier, she’s a strong character – confident and powerful enough to be the only first-person narrator in the book, more than making up for the fact that we don’t get the viewpoint of anybody else – even if this would have helped add further depth to Leckie’s world, which still manages to pretty well crafted.
The book itself, with just the concept – has managed to be one of the most original and fun books I’ve read this year. Ancillary Justice manages to more than live up to the awesome cover and the praise that it’s gaining – whilst it may not have been a huge hit so far I can certainly see it gaining a lot of followers. It’s clever, inventive and builds up to a pretty awesome reveal. The plot is clever and complex, with strong prose that doesn’t really feel like a début author at the helm of this. Leckie’s worldbuilding is masterful and adopts a slightly different, simple twist on what most books use – the main gender featured here is female. Characters referred to as being female are male, and taking this one step further, Leckie’s main character, Breq – is implied to be female through her body – and thus, naturally the audience assumes that she is a woman, but her consciousness lacks a gender altogether, allowing for an interesting angle where Breq finds herself having difficulty assigning the gender of a person who doesn’t hail from the Radch Empire.
In conclusion then, Ancillary Justice is a pretty awesome read. It’s something that you should give a try when it hits shelves next month. It’s original, refreshing, imaginative and kickass. Highly Recommended, this could well end up being one of my Top 25 books of 2013.
“An excellent read. Martha Wells gets the Star Wars franchise back on track – a lot of fun is to be had here with a great focus on Princess Leia, making Razor’s Edge a book that fans will love.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
ALONG TIME AGO, IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY....
"Times are desperate for the Rebel Alliance. Harassment by the Empire and a shortage of vital supplies are hindering completion of a new secret base on the ice planet Hoth. So when Mid Rim merchants offer much-needed materials for sale, Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo lead an Alliance delegation to negotiate a deal.
But when treachery forces the rebel ship to flee into territory controlled by pirates, Leia makes a shocking discovery: the fierce marauders come from Leia’s homeworld of Alderaan, recently destroyed by the Death Star. These refugees have turned to pillaging and plundering to survive—and they are in debt to a pirate armada, which will gladly ransom the princess to the vengeful Empire . . . if they find out her true identity.
Struggling with intense feelings of guilt, loyalty, and betrayal, Leia is determined to help her wayward kinspeople, even as Imperial forces are closing in on her own crippled ship. Trapped between lethal cutthroats and brutal oppressors, Leia and Han, along with Luke, Chewbacca, and a battle-ready crew, must defy death—or embrace it—to keep the rebellion alive."
I went into Razor’s Edge with a lot of high hopes. Whilst I haven’t read any of Martha Wells’ non-Star Wars fiction, I understand she’s a highly praised author whose work I’ve been meaning to check out for a while now. Thus a Star Wars novel from her, and not just any Star Wars novel, but a book set inbetween the events of Episodes IV and V, my favourite two movies of the saga to date, focusing on my favourite characters of the franchise, Han and Leia, who are also among my favourite all-time favourite characters. Whilst Luke does play a role, it isn’t really as big as I had expected, and was actually quite surprised. However, his impact in the book is certainly felt, just as much as Han’s. However, both aren’t nearly given as much attention as Leia, who dominates the main point of view and is portrayed like the other two perfectly well, never once floating out of character, and Wells gets the characters just as well as the likes of John Jackson Miller and James Luceno or any other A-List Star Wars author, with her first novel for the franchise. (I’d throw Timothy Zahn in there as well, but I haven’t actually read any of his work yet). An amusing moment in the book came from the banter between Han and Leia, when they aren’t ready to admit that they’re attracted to another just yet, proving that the book doesn’t fall into the trap of being too grimdark, with some nice elements of humour splattered across the pages.
Razor's EdgeThe plot itself is pretty action packed and as unpredictable as a novel featuring characters from the films set in a period between the actual films can be – no matter what danger the three lead characters (and the rest of the characters such as Chewbacca and C3PO) find themselves in, we know they’ll make it out alive. However, the same cannot be said for any other character though – Wells does her best to make the book as unpredictable as ever, and even the outcome of the plot can be unpredictable in places. Action is used well, but don’t mistake this for a book filled with nothing but the shooting of blasters and the swinging of Luke’s lightsaber – and to Wells’ credit as an experienced author, she never manages to make the book feel like it’s moving slower during the non-action sequences, with the pacing nailed pretty much spot on.
If you think female characters are unappreciated in the Star Wars Universe, then you should look no further than Razor’s Edge. Wells not only offers a strong portrayal of Princess Leia, but deals with several other interesting female characters to boot that make the book much more engaging. As well as exploring the state of the Rebellion following the events of Episode IV (hint: It’s not a good one, despite their victory over the Empire in the Battle of Yavin), touching upon just how vital pretty much every mission has become for them. Other factions are explored too, but for a book in a series entitled Empire and Rebellion, it is almost surprising as to a relatively minor role that the Empire play in this book. But their presence certainly is felt, and whilst characters from that faction may not get as much page-time or focus as our main protagonists do, and they play a much bigger role in the book later on. Another element that Wells chooses to explore as well is what happened to the survivors of Alderaan, because even though the planet got wiped out, there was no possible way that Leia could have been the only person who wasn’t actually on the planet at the time. This nice touch allows for a few interesting aspects to come into play – particularly when you consider that her fellow people are now working as pirates in order to survive.
I think it’s safe to say that Razor’s Edge therefore, is a success. Martha Wells succeeds in sticking to canon, getting everybody in character throughout the book and bringing a great, well-paced read that sees the Empire and Rebellion series get off to a very strong start. Rest assured, if you’re a fan of the franchise – Martha Wells’ first outing is one that you won’t want to miss out on, and I eagerly await the next instalment in the Empire and Rebellion series, written by James S.A. Corey.
PREVIOUS STAR WARS BOOK: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster | NEXT STAR WARS BOOK: Empire and Rebellion #2: Honour Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey (2014) ...more
“A wonderful, weird tale that stands in contention with The Age Atomic by Adam Christopher for being one of the most fun reads of 2013. A delight to read.” ~The Founding Fields
It was a bit of a surprise when this book turned up for me in the mail to review, because I’d never heard of the author nor the book itself before. But, the cover looked pretty awesome and the concept had me sold – I mean, I’ve never read a bad steampunk book yet (even if I haven’t read a lot of them) and when you combine steampunk with space opera you have the perfect setting for an entertaining book, my only fear being that it wouldn’t deliver on the premise. But deliver it did, and I really enjoyed what Suddain managed to produce, with the spectacular Theatre of the Gods keeping the author under my radar for any future novels that are released from him.
"Steampunk space opera? Damn right. The fight begins! The Armadas of the universe set sail for the next dimension!
Who will succeed?
M. Francisco Fabrigas — scientist, explorer, ‘dreamer’ (fool), and perhaps the greatest human of all ages (fool) — with his shipful of slave children and mysterious stowaways?
The Pope of the Universe and the dastardly Fleet of the Nine Churches?
Her Majesty Queen Habitas X? (Glory Be To Her, Our Queen, For She Will Live Forever!)
Or a sinister well-dressed mesmerist, who is telling you what to think even now?
All we can promise is this — 170,000 ships depart for the Interior, and not one of them, not a single one of them, will return."
The concept is the most intriguing thing about the novel as well, but the characters themselves are also quite interesting. However, one alarming element that scores a point for Theatre of the Gods - is that it’s unlike any novel that I’ve ever read before. Seriously. Original, fresh and fun - Theatre of the Gods blends the two genres that you’d think could never be connected, steampunk and space-opera, along the same lines of Joss Whedon blending Western and Space Opera together to create Firefly. You’d think you’d never see a day when these two genres were combined – but that day has come. And it couldn’t ask for a better writer at the helm than Matt Suddain, who writes as though this is his 5th book as opposed to his first.
The book itself is incredibly complex. The prose is strong and the writing captivating, allowing for a very fun read. The book itself is – if the message already isn’t told by now – unique, full of wild concepts, great characters, a different way of storytelling and above all – fun. Seriously. If I hadn’t have already read The Age Atomic by Adam Christopher I’d be labelling Theatre of the Gods as my most fun reads of the year, but I think at the moment they’re both tied. I just love the way Suddain has crafted this book, with illustrations included – if you’re looking for something different from your average fantasy novel, then Matt Suddain is your go-to-guy. The writer is confidently impressing and manages to create a strong read with an excellent narrative style that some writers struggle to manage in their second or third go, let alone their first.
Universe exploration stories are always fun, and Theatre of the Gods is no different. Matt Suddain’s writing is compelling, the characters – particularly it’s lead, the explorer Francisco Fabrigas, are strong and the journey that the reader, as well as the character goes on – is an exploration indeed. There aren’t moments where the storytelling feels clumsy or awkward, and the pacing structure manages to keep you going, and this bold début manages to deliver with great confidence. Certainly, if I make a list for most surprising novel of 2013, Theatre of the Gods will be up there for sure. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be this good.
The Characterization is strong, vivid – Francisco Fabrigas certainly feels like the most developed, and the dialogue is fun and it never feels unrealistic, allowing for the book to be strong in several aspects. The cover art is also spectacular as well – it was one of the things that sold me on this book. I mean, how often do you see a ship that is decidedly not your typical spaceship, floating through space? It certainly beats the traditional man-with-a-hood covers that seem to be a common staple in fantasy these days, and was also one of the things that had me sold on the book.
And therefore, in conclusion – there’s only one thing left to say. Upon the release of Theatre of the Gods, buy it, read it and enjoy it. Matt Suddain is an incredibly gifted author and I’m really looking forward to what he can throw at the reader next.