I haven't five-starred many books this year, but I feel like this one deserves it, especially for the latter half of the book. The beginning is prettyI haven't five-starred many books this year, but I feel like this one deserves it, especially for the latter half of the book. The beginning is pretty standard "throw the reader in the deep end" fantasy--except this takes place in the clouds, not the water. The second part, though, I couldn't read fast enough.
Can you imagine living in a place where you couldn't see the ground? Where every house is made of bone? Where everyone dreams of flying but actually has the means to do it? There are no angels here, but there are invisible monsters (which I didn't actually cotton on to until later in the book, but that could just be me. Besides, how do you describe something you can't see?). You'll read about flying, and it's so well described that it feels right. Sometimes the flying passages get a little bogged down in the physics of things, but the point is that the author did her research.
I loved the setting. There are still questions, like "why are all these people living in the sky, and what sort of animal is providing this ever-living bone?" but you should be able to picture the characters homes, or tiers, very well. The beginning is a little slow, with setting up the story and all, but the action ramps up once our heroine Kirit is forced to join the Spire--the home of those who keep the Laws and punish those who break them. It's a harsh world, but it's not so unrelentingly bleak as the post-apocalyptic settings that everyone seems to love nowadays. Obviously something happened to this world to make its people flee to the sky, but it's been long enough that they have adapted and aren't scrounging for every morsel of food. Unless you break the Laws, that is.
There are plenty of reversals and betrayals here, so fans of interesting conflict will like it. The action sequences are believable and fantastic at the same time, and actually serve to advance the plot in this world where flying means freedom--but carries its own ominous consequences. Readers will root for Kirit as she learns and becomes a woman. She makes choices that change her, and we don't know if it's for the better.
I was so pleased to find a debut author who wrote such a great story. I'm definitely interested in seeing what she's got in store for us next.
Received as a free digital ARC via Netgalley and the publisher. ...more
THE UNDYING LEGION picks up soon after THE SHADOW REVOLUTION, with the same cast of characters. If you liked the first book in the Crown & Key triTHE UNDYING LEGION picks up soon after THE SHADOW REVOLUTION, with the same cast of characters. If you liked the first book in the Crown & Key trilogy, you'll like this one too. It has the same action and sketches of world-building and the same moments that might make you squirm. These books don't dive into straight up horror, but there are definitely bits that made my stomach do a little roll. I didn't stop eating my dinner, but it was a close thing. The uncomfortable parts are handled well, like the instance at Penny's house, which doesn't play out the way it might in a scary movie.
As you might guess from the title, the dead rise in this one--steampunk zombies, of a sort. Our magical scribe Simon and his sometime-romantic-interest/alchemist Kate have to unravel some ancient hieroglyphic sigils found in old churches in London, and it was at this point that I wished ebooks incorporated more images. I really wanted to see these designs!
Thankfully, even though this is part of a trilogy, the story wraps up its major sequences. However, there's a completely new story started in the epilogue, setting up the third book. So I'll be looking for the next story, because I'd like to see how this ends. If you're looking for action with just a hint of romance/sensuality and a side of big pistols (and the attendant gore) check out this series.
Side note: the book I finished reading on my 35th birthday.
Received as a free digital ARC via Netgalley and the publisher....more
A fantasy with no magic. That doesn't happen very often. This story will draw you in and betray you. I had to stop reading for a while near the end beA fantasy with no magic. That doesn't happen very often. This story will draw you in and betray you. I had to stop reading for a while near the end because it was so heartbreaking. So well written, but so depressing, but so making you want to know what the hell will happen next....more
Recently I had the opportunity to see Naomi Novik speak on a panel at C2E2 (you could not escape the blue bags with her this book's logo gorgeously emRecently I had the opportunity to see Naomi Novik speak on a panel at C2E2 (you could not escape the blue bags with her this book's logo gorgeously emblazoned on them there), and that made me excited to read her new book UPROOTED. Honestly, I tried the Temeraire series and stopped after the first book--though that could have just been a case of "too many books, not enough time" syndrome. Resolved to give this very engaging author another shot after seeing her panel, I dove into Uprooted and was very glad to.
UPROOTED has the feel of an old story retold in a very good new way, one of those tales a bard would relate in front of a tavern fire surrounded by folks swaddled in fur. I guess it seems like it has roots in Russian or Polish mythology, with the character and place names. There are many twisty bits in this story--you may think our clumsy heroine is going to simply swoon at her unexpected mentor's feet, but you'll be wrong, to mention just one--and sometimes the action is so furious you might lose track of what's happening, like the first time you see a summer blockbuster (am I the only one who likes to see movies more than once at the theater?). But this is good; seems like quite a few books nowadays are all action, no plot, whereas UPROOTED has a very firm thread to follow. The author upsets tropes without it seeming strange. The story doesn't go where you expect, thankfully. And here, magic isn't easy, and it has a terrific cost.
Every so often I found myself calling Mary Sue with the way magic seemed to work, but that could just be me being overly sensitive to such things (a hazard of reading too much fantasy and commentary of such?). Other than that, I have no complaints. The cover is beautiful and appropriate for the story. The characters have roots (pun intended) and don't suddenly change their methods to suit the story. And the setting is at once bucolic and terrifying. Who doesn't like a walk in the woods? "Into the woods, you have to grope, but that's the way you learn to cope..."
Recommended for those folks who've had their fill of grimdark, want a fulfilling standalone tale, and some of what I heard another author call "pastoral fantasy," which I think is a very good name for this type of story.
Received as a free digital ARC via Edelweiss and the publisher....more
I picked up a copy of THE SHADOW REVOLUTION from C2E2 just after I'd been approved for the title from Netgalley, so it was a bit of a thrill to hold aI picked up a copy of THE SHADOW REVOLUTION from C2E2 just after I'd been approved for the title from Netgalley, so it was a bit of a thrill to hold a physical book in my hands again. TSR is a fast read, lots of action, alchemy, a good bit of steam-powered carriage chase scene, werewolves, and a not-yet-fully-fleshed-out magic system that holds promise for the next books in the series.
Most people have an idea what Victorian London was like, which is good, because there's a minimum of description in favor of action in this book. When you want a nice speedy fantasy, this is okay, but I feel like there is plenty more we can discover about this world. This is kind of like a summer popcorn movie--it's entertaining but doesn't delve into philosophy. However, there are several times when this story will make you squirm as you think about the intersection between technology (or magic) and people--or at least I squirmed.
The ratio of kick-ass women to men isn't quite equal in this book, but it's closer than most with three guys and two women (I'll count Penny and her nifty-but-loud inventions). Each character has a unique role, and there's a fun banter dynamic as enemies become friends. Hopefully the "scribe" magic system will be examined in future books, and we'll see some more history of the characters. I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.
Received as a free physical copy at C2E2 and a digital ARC via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review....more
THE JUST CITY is a thought experiment actually carried through. I must admit my classical education is woefully inadequate--I've never read Plato andTHE JUST CITY is a thought experiment actually carried through. I must admit my classical education is woefully inadequate--I've never read Plato and I've barely read Homer--but I still enjoyed this story, and I'm curious to see how it continues. With a little divine intervention (and some of that is quite hands-on), bring together the greatest (known and unknown) thinkers in history and future and have them create a civilization, according to the rules Plato thought would bring about the best world. Some of his ideas are hideous to modern folks--think forced pregnancies and exposing disabled infants--but perhaps some of them really do help a group of people come together.
This book explores many areas of population science, interweaving social dynamics with artificial intelligence, examining the psychology of growing up and becoming upstanding members of one's community. It messed with my head, but it was fun to read about Apollo's befuddlement at human behavior even as he tries to imitate it. Author Jo Walton does a good job at showing how the gods might think while keeping the writing accessible to us mortals. And her female characters are well drawn, espousing all the arguments those of us outside the Just City are still debating. And Sokrates (yes, Socrates) is a hoot, no matter if he's debating robots or trying to make his students think outside their rigid boxes.
It's hard to pin down a genre for this book; time-travel for obvious reasons; fantasy because of the gods; straight up literature because of the philosophical questions posed throughout; social commentary because in every community, there are those that have and those that have not, and even in a perfect society there are those who rebel against the norm. If you want to be challenged by your fantasy, give this a shot. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series....more
Scott Westerfeld has been a supporter of NaNoWriMo for quite some time, so I was pleased to see him put out a book that mentions the program, even ifScott Westerfeld has been a supporter of NaNoWriMo for quite some time, so I was pleased to see him put out a book that mentions the program, even if just in the acknowledgements (but the novel in thirty days sounds familiar, no?). It's good, too. Sometimes it seems a little long, but the alternating chapters (one a story of a high school novelist who miraculously gets a publishing contract on her NaNovel, the other the actual story she wrote) are easy to distinguish and both tell good stories.
I'm sure someone has done the math to see if Darcy's story really is 60,000 words (that's 2k words/day if you want to end up with a novel in 30 days), but I didn't feel like counting. The book certainly is long enough to contain two novels, but it read pretty fast. You'll care about the characters and want to know what happens to Lizzie, and you'll root for Darcy to find the perfect ending. Since I'm not a published author (yet?) I don't know how accurate Westerfeld's portrayal of the New York pub scene really is, but it sure sounds authentic, and scary and exciting at the same time. I certainly would never take the giant step of going off to NY on just my first book advance, but maybe that's just me and my severe risk aversion.
Knowing what I do about agents' dislike of NaNovels, I'm surprised Darcy got an offer on her (unedited?) manuscript. But that aside, AFTERWORLDS is a very interesting book, with characters aren't the typical tropes, a very cute and heartbreaking romance, and enough meta touches that anyone who wants to realize their dream of becoming a published author will appreciate reading this book.
I can only hope that one day my NaNovel will be worthy of a hundred-grand advance.